Hope in Hamilton!

I have hope in Hamilton! I have hope in humanity! I have hope in the USA!

This July 4th I watched patriotic, uplifting musicals from dawn to dusk.  Hamilton, followed by Sound of Music, followed by Hamilton, followed by Yankee Doodle Dandy, followed by Hamilton yet again. Then I read on CNN an opinion piece that Hamilton did not age well.  In my best Lin Manuel during Cabinet Battle #2 “Are you out of your ### #### mind”.   Here are five reasons Hamilton is quintessential American, quintessential human, and resonates and resounds.

1. Hamilton is a work of staggering genius!  I love anyone who can take a tome like Chernow’s Hamilton and turn it into a work of artistic genius.  Do not get me wrong.  I read Chernow’s Hamilton from cover to cover and as a history buff, I loved it.  But how Lin Manuel could turn that book into 20+ songs ranging from rap (Hamilton, Not Giving Away My Shot, etc.) to ballad (Quiet Uptown, Burn) to Pop Song (Helpless, Schuyler Sisters, Wait for It), to Broadway classic (All King George songs) is beyond me.  And just so you do not think I am confining to my enthusiasm to this blog.  I stood up at the beginning of intermission at Hamilton and embarrassed my kids by shouting “This is a work of staggering genius!”.  This got some head turns but mainly high fives from those around me.  Lin Manuel is a modern-day Shakespeare!  So, take that CNN!

2.  Immigrants, we get the job done!  This country was built by immigrants.  Hamilton is the prototypical immigrant, who built this country.   He was young, scrappy and hungry, and refused to give away his shot! My Great Grandfather Charles Henry came here during the Irish Potato famine and built a life in the US.  He built a life by the sweat of his brow and love of this country.  One thing I will always remember is he tried to enlist at the age of 50+ during WW II and was denied due to his age!  My great uncles fought with Patton in WW II.   We are a country of immigrants that get the job done!    Read my blog from a past July 4th on the topic here: America the Beautiful But Broken: A Prescription and a Promise (Re-post)

3.  “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I get the gist of the CNN critique of Hamilton.  Yes, the founding fathers punted on the question of slavery.  But I do not agree that they should not be celebrated.  Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton and others set in motion this fundamental truth.  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  They were men of their times but had the moral courage to set in motion a belief that resounds through history.   We as humans are fallible.  But as humanity we progress.  Only when we forget the creator, and the fact that there is something that bonds us together beyond the color of our skin do we diverge from the arc of justice. Fight for the arc! Bend, love and do not break.

4.  Diversity in opinion, breeds innovation and progress.  One thing that really resonated in Hamilton was the diversity.  The play had diversity of race, but I am talking about the diversity in opinion of our founding leaders.  I absolutely love the diversity expressed in the Cabinet Battles and the whole play.  We are free to express our divergent opinions in the USA.  They drive us forward, even at times we may take a step back.  But please in Civil Discourse not in duels. Barbara Jordan taught me Civil Discourse Ms. Jordan’s Lessons on Civil Discourse  No more Quiet Uptowns.  Let us resound the valleys and peaks with liberty and love!

5.  Last reason is personal.  I love Hamilton.  I love the genius of our nation.  That despite the fallibility of human nature, that we progress.  We love.  We wallow in angst but lead.  I love this country with all its flaws but most of all its genius.  I HAVE HOPE IN HAMILTON!!!!!!

Love this Country!

I love this country,

more and more,

From the Rockies’ peak,

To Grand Canyon’s floor!

I love this country,

Yes, it’s true!

Whether in a Red state,

Or one that’s Blue.

Watch West Side Story,

Or Hamilton.

Let’s pull together,

And act as one.

March the streets,

Have your say,

But let’s come together,

At the end of the day,

And love this country!

Love it true,

And wave it proudly,

The Red, White and Blue.

Don Grier, July 2, 2020

The Lessons I Learned When Running Away

Some of the most important lessons we learn from our Fathers are those during time of conflict.  It is inevitable that a son and his Dad will have a confrontation as a son grows to a man.  A good Dad  turns that confrontation into lessons that the son takes with him for a lifetime.  On this Father’s Day, I recall one confrontation and what my Dad taught me.

When I was 16, I made the rash decision to run away.  I was distressed that I was moving away from my home in New Jersey and losing my friends.  It was understandable in some respects.  I was half way through my junior year and was tied to my school and in particular my first girlfriend.  I thought the world was ending but really it was only beginning.

I remember the day as it is almost yesterday.  My Dad was a bit steamed after my Grandpop, Uncle, Aunt and cousins came over to wish us off.  As to be expected, everyone was sad to see us leave and a lot of tears were shed.  I remember my Dad saying something to the effect that he could not take another person crying (my Mom’s family was Irish and as the stereotype goes a bit emotional).  I just got upset and belligerent after hearing that.  I told him “Well, I am half my Mom’s side and I am not crying and promised to take off.”  He half dismissed it but I did not.  At that moment, I decided to run away.

My great idea was I would run as fast as I could the 5 or 6 miles to Yardville to my Uncle Johnny’s house and hide out in the woods.  Then when my family left for Texas heartbroken, I would have my cousin bring me food while I lived out in the woods behind their house (I said the idea was rash!).  Just to show what crazy things teen age love can do, I decided then and there to take off.  I ran with all my might and with the stuffed toy Dog (Little Rascal) my girlfriend gave me.  I set off to Yardville to hide out in the woods.

Back then I could run fast.  I ran out of Crosswicks out past Ocker’s Barrel where my Dad worked when on strike (which you see below).  I got 4 and a half miles and was just about to turn off the main street to my Uncle Johnnie’s house when my Dad in the car caught up to me.

Ocker's Barrel
Ocker’s Barrel as I ran past

I do not know how he knew where I was going.  I will never forget it.  He told me that he was sorry and that I and all of my Mom’s side were tough.  He then explained that we needed to move to Texas to make a better life.  Part of the steel mill was moving down South and as a result he was not reelected as union Vice President.  He got an offer in Texas for his work and we needed to move to make a new life.  He then hugged me and I got in the car.

My brothers and my sister (although she was a bit young) can attest that I was not a happy camper on the way to Texas.  I sat sullen and made sure that I never took a turn in the middle seat.  My brothers adjusted better.  Each chance I could I would either write or try and call my girlfriend.  Let’s just say I was not a happy camper.

But I should have been!  Texas turned out to be a great place to complete my High School years.  And we literally were still in Jersey (not New Jersey but Jersey Village, outside of Houston)!  I learned four valuable lessons on my attempted run away and capture:

  1. I was self-absorbed. Yes, I lived 16+ years in New Jersey but my Mom had lived 38!  She was leaving the family and friends she grew up with for the family she nurtured and loved.  I still remember my Granpop’s hands shaking and my Mom tearing up on the day we left. My Dad, although a Texan by birth, was also leaving behind more. He had lived in New Jersey for 20 years and was now had ties as deep there than in his native state.  Known as Big D, he was leaving his friends, co-workers and the community where he was the coach of the Red Sox, the Cubmaster of Pack 55, and institution at NBC wresting matches and football games.
  2. Moving to a new place meant new friends. After a few months adapting (boy the football coaches had fun with me and my brother’s accents!), I met new friends, dated new girls and created lasting relationships that still endure.
  3. I learned a lesson that I covet as a Father. Sometimes when you are providing for your family you have to make a hard decision.  My Dad would have liked nothing more than to stay in New Jersey where he built so many bonds.  But the steel mills were moving South (and later off shore).
  4. The last lesson from him is the power of apology.  I should have apologized to him not the other way around! I will never forget when he caught up to me in the car and took me home.  It takes a big man to apologize to angst filled son!

American Anthem: More Crosswicks less Crosswise

I turned off the news yesterday because I just could not take it any more. Whether you watched CNN, MSNBC, or FOX, it was all the same. People pointing fingers. People shouting at people and not listening to each other. And much worse than that. As I shut down the vitriol on my TV, I asked how has this nation devolved into an us versus them mentality.

It was not always that way.  We once had civil discourse and the social intermediaries (clubs, little league, community centers, and other institutions) that brought us together.  I think the late Charles Krauthammer who both served as Walter Mondale’s speech writer and conservative commentator, said it best: “Of course we are shaped by our milieu. But the most formative, most important influence on the individual is not government. It is civil society, those elements of the collectivity that lie outside government: family, neighborhood, church, Rotary club, PTA, the voluntary associations that Tocqueville understood to be the genius of America and source of its energy and freedom.”

We have gotten extreme, but it was not always that way. We did not always launch ourselves into the opposing sides of Twitter feeds at the drop of a hat, but rather listened to the opposing sides of people we respected in our community. We sought out the commonalities that brought us together and the spark of humanity that resides in each one of us.   We listened to one another and learned from one another at the PTAs, Little Leagues, Community Centers and institutions of everyday life.  We need to return to these social institutions and turn away from the emptiness of social media.

The best example of a community of sharing and caring is the town that I grew up in Crosswicks.  My town’s main claim to fame was it was the launchpad of the revolution – the Battle of Trenton that won us a country and a nation.  In that town of Crosswicks, we had a mix of liberals and conservatives that all got along and progressed for the betterment of our country and our community.  Thinking about my hometown, I started thinking how did our nation – the collective Crosswicks – become so Crosswise?  What caused the demise of the democracy?  Simply this.  When you cross the wicks (Crosswicks) of a candle, the light burns brighter.  But when you get cross wise, the fire of freedom becomes extinguished.

Picture of Crosswicks

So tonight, I will ruminate on what made our little hamlet of Crosswicks bring people together instead of pulling them apart.  And the answer is quite simple – it was community organizations not affiliated with governments, Facebook, or corporate organizations.  It was organizations by the people, for the people and run by the people.  Let me talk about three of them:

  1. Little League – Back before the day of club Soccer run by professionals, we had Little League. It was run by volunteers who wanted to teach kids a sport and bring communities together.  I am now 55 and can still remember every moment of every Chesterfield Red Sox versus Chesterfield Black Sox game.  The whole community came together to watch the teams compete.  There may have been some arguments on the fields of friendly strife, but what I remember the most was being with my friends, learning from my father and other parents, and sharing fun with the community.  I am not trying to cut down club soccer which is still a unifying organization.  But there is something different learning from the people of your community instead of professionals that are getting paid.
  2. Scouts – I cannot talk to Girl Scouts, but I can talk to Cub and Boy Scouts. These institutions brought together people from all walks of life for fellowship and fun.  Both my mother as a Den Mother and my Father as a Cubmaster were involved.  We got to learn how to compete fairly in the Pinewood Derby and Rocket races.  We also learned how to develop our skills and help one another with our various badges.  As part of a Den, Pack or Troop, you learned how to cooperate and care for those in your group.  You also learned about how through differences and diversity, you create strength.  I will never forget how our Boy Scout troop was able to take the disparate talents and succeed in a weekend campout.
  3. Community Center and Library – The heart of Crosswicks was the community center and library.  In the summer program at both institutions, I first fell in love with books, learned how to draw a cartoon dog and cat, and participated in parties on Halloween and Christmas.  It did not matter the color of your skin, your political institution, or your religion.  All the people in Crosswicks were brought together to share in fellowship and learn new skills.  In the end, it is really what you learn and apply rather than what you earn and deny that makes a mark on the world.

These are just three of the intermediary institutions that brought us together in Crosswicks.  I will never forget the friends that I made. And, even 40 years later, when my friends from Crosswicks express their disparate views, some quite different from my own, I listen and learn.  Never underestimate the power of Crosswicks and intermediary institutions to bring people together.  Let us all as a nation, cross wicks and make the light of our common humanity shine brighter!

Commissioned to Love

What does it mean to be commissioned?  The simple Webster definition is “an instruction, command, or duty given to a person or group of people.”  But what is the instruction, what is the duty?  Who gives the command and to whom is the command given? And is their one great commission that we all should follow? 

I started thinking about this on May 24, the day when as a Catholic, I celebrate Jesus’s Ascension and the Great Commission.   Here is the first reading that occurred on that day from Acts 1:

He answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons
that the Father has established by his own authority.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you,
and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem,
throughout Judea and Samaria,
and to the ends of the earth.

Acts 1

And what was the power that was bestowed by the Holy Spirit?  The power to know that you are loved and to bestow that love on others. To live out the commandment in courage and strength that Jesus gave on the last supper

This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.

John 15:12

This was the Great Commission and commandment that we are meant to follow.  What happened on May 25th , 2020, the very next day after this celebration, was the opposite of the Great Commission.  Call it the Great Betrayal.  An officer who was commissioned:  “TO PROTECT WITH COURAGE, TO SERVE WITH COMPASSION” did the exact opposite.  There was no compassion shown to George Floyd nor courage displayed by the officers that renounced their commission.

Now as the nation struggles with this betrayal and the many that have occurred before it, we need to cling to the hope and love set forth in the Great Commission. We need to practice the three P’s:  Protest Injustice, Protect Your Neighbor and Heart, and Pray for Love and Understanding.  We have seen many doing just this but unfortunately there are others who tear down instead of build-up.

In search of hope, I look back and forward to two other commissioning’s – one recent and one happening this week.  On Saturday May 30th,  Nasa and Space-X went on a successful co-mission as they launched the first commercial manned rocket to the space station.  The private and public sector blended their unique talents on a co-mission to space and allowed us to hope that we could boldly go were no man has gone before – a world were differences are celebrated. As Gene Rodenberry, creator of Star Trek puts it: 

“If man is to survive, he will have learned to take a delight in the essential differences between men and between cultures. He will learn that differences in ideas and attitudes are a delight, part of life’s exciting variety, not something to fear.”

Gene Rodenberry

I also look forward to the graduation and commissioning of the West Point Class of 2020 on June 13th.  I look forward to the cadets to taking the oath to serve.   In the words of LTG Darryl A. Williams, our first black West Point Superintendent (you can read the full letter here https://s3.amazonaws.com/usma-media/inline-images/about/Public%20Affairs/homepage/pdfs/superindendent_sends_06.04.2020.PDF):

“The oath to support and defend the Constitution binds us together as one team, dedicated to defending our Nation and upholding its values. We strive to embody these ideals and aspire to live by our core values of duty, honor, and country. Every word, every action, and every attitude should uphold those values so that we may live and lead honorably. The Nation looks to West Point as an example of what is possible when people from diverse backgrounds unite and aspire to honorable living.

Consider how your words, actions, and attitudes impact other people. Are you building up others and making them feel valued? Are you strengthening trust within the team? Are you extending forgiveness, and actively listening to other points of view? Are you inspiring others to greatness? If so, encourage others to do the same. If not, then choose to improve—immediately. Muster the moral courage necessary to confront and solve problems with effective, honest, and empathetic dialogue that seeks solutions rather than sowing seeds of division and disunity.”

LTG Darryl A. Williams

Let’s build up instead of tearing down.  Let’s celebrate the differences.  Let’s love one another and protect each other’s heart.  Let’s live out the great commission!

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!

A Mother’s Love Goes On

My site is about weight loss and leadership. But today, on the eighth year of my Mother’s passing (May 7th), I feel called to write about the lessons of leadership and life that I learned from my Mom.

My Mom was the leader of the family.  She was the soul and the heart who taught us how to laugh, love and get along in the world.  I learned many lessons from my mom but here are just three with appropriate antidotes.

  1. How not to take myself so seriously!  Anyone who knows me knows that I am an intense guy.  Part of that is from my Dad who always said this or that is the greatest or the best thing ever.  And part of that is just my anal retentive self.  Mom was the opposite.  She used to loosen me and my Dad up.  Here is an anecdote.  My mom went with me to back to school day back in my junior year when we moved to Texas.  Every 15 minutes we would have to switch classes and meet the teacher.  I walked directly to class while people were trying to flag me down and say high.  My Mom in her Jersey accent would say Donn…nie, why didn’t you say hi to those cute girls that were saying hi to you!  I said something like Mom we have to get to class and I do not want us to be late.  As always, I was too focused on the mission and what was next.  My Mom tried to focus me on relationships and what was now.
  2. Sing from your heart.  My love of singing and whatever literary skills I have come from my Mom.  She loved Debbie Reynolds and old Irish songs.  I grew up with the songs “Tammy”, Irish tunes, and “Frankie and Johnnie Were Lovers” running in my mind.  She taught me to sing from your soul, from my heart.   She also was quite a writer herself as was my Mother In Law Audrey.  To this day, I can never hear the song Tammy without weeping out loud.  It was the song of my childhood and is cemented on my soul!
  3. Love, love, love to the End!   What is it with Mothers?  They love us always and to the end.  My Mom was the same way (as was the Mother of all, the blessed Mother).  Two anecdotes stand out.  I remember back in Jersey being bullied by some kids.  I was the nerdy kid.  Heck my nickname was Richie Cunningham.  My Mom one day tracked them down and chewed them out.  They never bothered me again! The second anecdote was the time in the aftermath of my Dad’s passing.  Mom was the rock that kept us all going.  She demonstrated devotion and everlasting love by staying out in the country of East Texas until the house was sold and the estate settled.  She was struggling but she continued to lift us up and get things done.

Last Thoughts.  My last memory of my Mom is the most meaningful and testament to her love.   I was sitting in the hospital in Richmond, Texas.  My mom was on a respirator and the Doctor asked me and the rest of the family if we should pull her off the respirator.  Even though she pointed to it to stop, we were struggling to give our OK.  We sat there and finally gave our OK.  But Mom had saved us.  She knew her time and had passed.  I will never forget her final act of love.  How she protected us from that decision.

In closing, there will never, ever, ever be someone as great and more deserving of your respect than your mother.  Love them!  Bless them! And, thank them for what you are and what you will be!  Not just this Mother’s Da

Be Good to Your Family: John Walton

This is the fifth of my Be Good Not Great blog series.  The idea for the series came to me in a dream of my Grandpop in the original blog: https://weightlossleadership.com/2019/03/16/be-good-not-great/  and  a related poem: https://weightlossleadership.com/2019/08/01/be-good-not-great-poem/.  In this series, I tell stories of people that fulfilled God’s purpose of being good while foregoing worldly greatness. 

To date, the series has included only real people with whom I have directly interacted.  In this blog I focus on a person that I have interacted with since the seventies, but only through TV– John, the father on “The Waltons”.

For those not familiar with the series, “The Waltons”   ran for 9 years in the 70’s and early 80’s with specials continuing into the 2000’s.  It covers the trials and tribulations of an extended of family of 11 (John, his family, and John’s parents) living through the depression and World War II in the backwoods of Virginia.    The Waltons make it through those hard years of poverty and personal tragedy with their souls intact largely due to the sacrifices of John and his wife Olivia (who is equally deserving of being the subject of this blog). 

One of my favorite episodes of the series clearly demonstrates John’s focus on being good while foregoing opportunities for wealth and fame.  In the episode, John is uncharacteristically anxious and short with others.  His high school reunion is approaching and one of his fellow classmates want him to organize the reunion.  The classmate came to John because back in high school he and his classmate Grover where always vying for the lead position in the class.  Grover went on to Washington to lead an agency in the Roosevelt administration, while John stayed on Walton’s Mountain eking out a living for his family.  John becomes even more anxious when the person who was supposed to host the reunion cannot and John’s wife Olivia  agrees to host the reunion at the Walton home.

When the seemingly successful guests arrive, they all have problems.  Grover, for instance is having marital problems and his wife does not attend the reunion.  Another one of his classmates, a rich car salesman, has kids who act spoiled and misbehave throughout the reunion.  In contrast, the Walton children are the epitome of hospitality and work together to make the reunion a success. 

The show ends with what I considered the greatest quote from the show and one that highlights the difference between being good not great.  Grover, John’s former high school rival says the following: 

“Six years in grade school, five years in high school-everything I ever ran for, I was always running against the same Johnny Walton… The greatest day of my life was when I beat John Walton out for senior class president. I don’t think he ever lost any sleep over it. Now I’m an ambitious man – some would say successful; probably it’s all John’s fault. I was always running; he was always going past me at a walk. And here it is, 25 years later-here I am, and there’s John. Then look at me… and some of you… still running, still wearing ourselves to a frazzle for all sorts of things that John Walton has accumulated while he was out walking – a happy home, a fine wife and children. We’re sitting here well fed at John’s table, and I’m still boy enough to be graveled at the sight of him. ‘John – the boy most likely to succeed.’ Well, he’s the boy who did.”

This ending always gets me because it shows the choices a parent makes for his family.  There are so many episodes where John demonstrates his love for family over that of money of fame.  Here are three examples:

In one of the later episodes, John demonstrates his ability to organize competing, local sawmills in Virginia to deliver a large order for a rich government contractor.  Noting his ability, the contractor offers John the role of Vice President of lumber operations.  This job holds the promise of wealth, travel and a fine home.  The only issue is John would have to uproot his family.  He declines the role for the lesser opportunity of running a co-op in his hometown for a lot less money and prestige. 

One of the key attributes of a good father is being humble enough to accept the sacrifice of your children.  In another one of my favorite episodes, John and Olivia use all their emergency money to buy their son John-Boy, a new suit for college.  The whole family participates in the joyful event.  John is proud that he can provide clothes for his son to fit in with the wealthier students not on scholarship.  Then the family’s milking cow Chance dies and John is humbled since he does not have the money to replace it.  John Boy takes it upon himself to sell back his suit to pay for a new cow.  This action shows the goodness of his father John in two ways.  First, John-boy is following the example of sacrifice he has seen modeled by his father.  Second, John is humble enough after initial reluctance to accept the money.  John does what needs to be done even though it eats him up inside to provide his son this simple gift.  

In the last example, a developer comes to Walton’s Mountain and notes the beauty of the nature and a hot spring on the mountain.  FDR with his affinity for Hot Springs has raised the demand for these resorts and the developer offers John a lot of money for the mountain and his home.  He at first contemplates selling the land and moving the family but decides against moving the family, especially his parents from the home.  This episode clearly illustrates the sacrifices many sons and daughters make to care for their parents in their older years.  A good father indeed must first be a good son.

I could list at least another 20 episodes of the basic goodness of John Walton and his love for family.  Caring for your family and your spouse is what a marriage is all about!  A good parent thinks of their family first and career second.  Money and fame disappear, but a love of a good parent lives on! So, when facing a decision, let’s be like John and focus on what’s good for the family, rather than what is great for you!

The Real Art of Racing in the Rain

The other day I went to see “The Art of Racing in the Rain”.  At first, I was not sure why I wanted to see it.  I hate driving cars, especially in the rain.  Just ask anyone who has had the misfortune of driving with me.  I am also not overly fond of Dogs.  I despise being headbutted and sniffed by my daughter’s overly affectionate Pitbull or any dog not named Boots (he is OK). 

So why did I absolutely love this movie about a racing car driver, his family, and his Dog Enzo?  And why did I cry a river of tears when (spoiler alert) both the driver’s dog and his wife died?  A bit because I am the ultimate sap!  I punch my fist in the air when Mr. Smith saves the boy scout camp and weep at every Walton episode.  But this was something more.  Then I realized.  The movie reminded me of my Brother David, his love of cars,  his recently departed wife Debra, and their dogs – Alvin, Jasmine, Zooey.

Three dogs ready to race!

David has loved cars ever since he was a little kid.  One of the most memorable events of my childhood (and one that haunts my dreams) is when David, I, and Gary were waiting for my parents in the station wagon to go on a trip.  David all of 4 years old sat in the front seat. Suddenly, he switched into the driver’s seat, shifted the car in neutral and started steering the car like a crazy man.  My brother and I were helpless as the car backed down our sloped driveway.  We drifted down the hill across a major road (safely thank God) and ended up in the neighbor’s front yard across the street. My parents rushed out to get us and I will never forget the joy in David’s face or terror in the eyes of my brother and me! 

Terror was also in my eyes every time I drove with David.  He treats the Houston highway like the Daytona 500. My heart races as he passes cars, barely missing the bumper.  I in contrast drive like the future Grandpop I aspire to be.  He has translated his love for cars into a career as a truck driver.   He can drive the biggest rig with speed and precision.  He was a lot like Denny, the movie’s lead, except he drove trucks instead of cars.

Also, like Denny, David loves dogs.  In this, he is like his namesake, Uncle David.  Both love Dogs with a passion I cannot fathom.  Uncle David currently has 8 and David 4.  They bring them both joy and I never realized why.   The dogs yap and yip.  Not my cup of tea.  Until the movie showed me why – Dogs are more empathetic than people.  They can realize when you are hurting and give you just what you need to race through the rain and not crash into the wall of life.

In the movie, Enzo the dog helps Denny deal with the premature parting of his wife Eve.  Enzo realizes the signs of Eve’s impending death and helps Denny and Eve deal with her illness and eventual passing.  Eve is like my Sister-In-Law Debra who was afflicted with various neurological  and eventually led to her passing two weeks ago.  You can read more about Debra’s passing in this link. http://obituaries.acremation.com/o/grier/44141/?fbclid=IwAR13i5PLQAHaRBC57t9KCHuu0ZcY4DzbH95BjYpVd7iZS7ql-umZeC3nu6I

Enzo kept Denny whole by driving with him as the rain pulsed down.  Likewise, David and Debra shared the latest antics of Alvin, Jasmine, Zooey, and Cuddles.  David would make Debra’s eyes twinkle with his imitation of the dog’s barking for Debra’s return.  The  dogs also helped my brother to be strong for his wife through unconditional love.    

In closing, there are two quotes from the book/movie that really resonate with me. This one is a quote from the movie.  “If a driver controls his own conditions, then the rain is only rain”.  David through his dog imitations and frequent Facebook posts worked to control the uncontrollable.  In so doing, my younger brother taught me a lesson of how to keep strong through the storm. 

The last quote is from the mind of Enzo the dog.   It is so poignant and meaningful I cannot do it justice.   To me it will always mark the moment that Debra passed and reveals  the true nature of her kind soul. 

“I saw her soul leave her body as she exhaled, and then she had no more needs, no more reason; she was released from her body, and, being released, she continued her journey elsewhere, high in the firmament where soul material gathers and plays out all the dreams and joys of which we temporal beings can barely conceive, all the things that are beyond our comprehension, but even so, are not beyond our attainment if we choose…”

Tonight, before you go to bed be like Enzo, David, Debra and their dogs.  Race on through the rain and love unconditionally.  Turn away from the wall and toward new life through love!

The Ballad of Big D

He was larger than life, his name – Big D,
Born with a heart of gold for all to see,
He loved and fought for his family,
A hero and a teacher, he was everything to me.

Water’s for tear drops, Dickel’s for drinking,
you always knew what Big D was thinking.
Whether at a baseball game or Union hall,
There was never a doubt on what side he’d fall.

Chorus: Big D was not perfect, but he showed perfect love,
In the right direction, you didn’t need to shove,
He always led, never followed,
His pride he at times swallowed,
Guided by a nudge from the Lord above.

He drank a little, cared a lot,
His friends, Big D never forgot,
Luby, Pete, Andy, and John,
None of them forgotten, all of them gone.

We lost him that day, out on the land,
And what followed seem like it was planned,
For God conspired to bring forth new life,
Baby calves to ease the sorrow of his kids and wife.

Chorus: Big D was not perfect, but he showed perfect love,
In the right direction, you didn’t need to shove,
He always led, never followed,
His pride he at times swallowed,
Guided by a nudge from the Lord above

Bridge: Love endures, Faith abounds,
In the silent solace that was found,
From the last story he told his family ,
We love you forever, Our Dad Big D.

Chorus: Big D was not perfect, but he showed perfect love,
In the right direction, you didn’t need to shove,
He always led, never followed,
His pride he at times swallowed,
Guided by a nudge from the Lord above.

If you want to read more about the stories behind the ballad read these blogs on Big D:

https://weightlossleadership.com/2017/12/28/lifes-game-changers-the-power-of-thanksgiving/

https://weightlossleadership.com/2018/04/04/the-lessons-i-leaned-when-running-away/

https://weightlossleadership.com/2017/12/26/lessons-from-leaders-how-to-get-the-iron-out-the-door-and-not-have-it-come-back-in/

https://weightlossleadership.com/2018/06/17/a-fathers-day-tribute-the-one-song-that-always-makes-me-cry/