Updated: The Real Art of Racing in the Rain

I am reposting this blog about my brother on his departure from this world and on to the next. I am so glad he got the opportunity to drive through the rain and find a new life and love. David was one of a kind. Miss you brother.

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 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. Now that David has passed I feel the story even more. And a pray that it brings some solace to my new sister in law and my siblings.

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.   It is even poignant today with the passing of David.

“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, and the dogs.  Race on through the rain and love unconditionally.  Turn away from the wall and toward new life through love!

The Return: Have A Vision As Big As Texas

We are approaching Thanksgiving.  This year, 19 years since my Dad’s passing, I will be thankful for the lessons that I learned from him. 

I wrote about two of those lessons in previous blogs linked here. Getting the Iron Out Door – Lessons from Big D for DevelopersLife’s Game Changers – The Power of Thanksgiving The second blog is about the day of his passing and the miracle of the Thanksgiving cows.  This October for the first time in 19 years, I returned to the Land described in the blog where I thought the last lesson from my Dad occurred.  But another lesson, equally as important was waiting to be discovered this year!

As discussed in the previous blog, my Mom and Dad left Houston for the Land in the late 90’s.   It was out in the middle of nowhere in East Texas.  I never kept the hand-written directions.  So, I did not know how to get to it anymore, since it was before the time of Google maps and I did not have the street address.  Until on a whim while on vacation in Tyler, TX, I found the new street address on-line!  I now had the location and was close enough (still an hour away!) to drive to the Land on the way back home.

The land and the house that my Dad built looked much the same.  I was a bit amazed at how well the metal house has stood the test of time for 20 years.  The only thing missing were the cows.  I walked around a bit and again thought about that amazing, last Thanksgiving when 10 new calves were born.  Getting up to leave, I glimpsed the lake that he dug with an old rusty backhoe. And with that I left for home with what I thought was the last lesson still in my mind’s eye.  Except it was not the last one!

I remember the first time my Dad started building the lake.  He had just got the backhoe and had begun scraping out a ditch.  He took my brother and I out there.  Then pointing to a muddy gouge with a few puddles, he said  proudly, “Look at my lake!”.  My brother and I started laughing.  Dad said, “Why are you laughing?”.  My bother pointed out, “Dad, when you say lake it connotates images of water!  This is not a lake. It is a puddle.”  Dad just shook his head, climbed in his backhoe and said, “You will you see smart alecks”. 

And we saw.  A year or two later there was full-fledged lake.  The next year there were fish in the lake and a dock.  But Dad kept tweaking the lake up to the day he died.  We wondered why he did this, since he proved his point and given us our initial lesson.   Having returned to the land and now with the direct coordinates in hand,  we were about to find out.

The Land and the Texas Lake

I sent my daughter the coordinates just before leaving from home. She fed the coordinates into Google Earth while we were driving back. The resulting aerial picture of the land and the lake floored me. The picture is above. The lake is more than a fair replica of the State of Texas! The lake was dug before satellite imagery or drones were available. My Dad through persistent sweat, determination, and will made a lake in the shape of the state he loved! He also left us several final lessons from the grave that are applicable for everyday life.

1. Plan with the end in mind.  We did not know it until many years later, but my Dad had an ultimate vision for the lake.  With each tweak and every plough, he was turning a mud puddle into a lake in the shape of Texas.  The lesson for all of us is always start something with the end in mind.  A clear vision gives you a clear direction and keeps you on course even when the going gets tough.   

2.  Don’t get discouraged.  My Dad did not get discouraged even when his two oldest sons mocked his first efforts.  There will be trials along way.  Some rain must fall when building a lake.  But drive on through the rain and stick to the plan. 

3.  Strive to the end.  The weeks before my Dad passed away, he was still making tweaks to his lake to make it further resemble Texas.   He was striving for excellence up to end.  This is a lesson for us in our work.  It is important that when we achieve some success not to stop.  For the excellence of today is the mediocrity of tomorrow. Finish the race.  Keep striving to the end to make your goal a reality!

4.  Try and Try again.  I will perhaps never know how Dad shaped the lake into the outline of the Texas!  He did not have satellite imagery to guide him.  But what he did have was a vision, determination, and the willingness to try and try again.  He ploughed and experimented until he got the lines right.  Sometimes a wrong turn threated to turn his Texas lake into one of Oklahoma!  But he shifted his backhoe, back filled the wrong cut and soon he was on the right side of the Red River! 

Happy Thanksgiving from the Land with one last message from Big D, communicated almost 20 years from his passing from this life to the next.  I know he is up there in the heaven smiling down on a little ranch in Slocum, TX and a lake in the shape of Texas that started as little less than a mud puddle.  May we all strive to the fulfill a vision as big as Texas!

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!

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.

Elvis and the Pandemic

Two songs sung by two Elvis’s are my go-to’s during this Pandemic. Both speak of driving through hard times with hope around the corner. They acknowledge the pain while seeking the future.  And my favorite part.  You can belt them out with a beer in hand after a hard day.

The first one is from that other Elvis, and truth be told my favorite Elvis – Elvis Costello.  Unlike his other hits, he did not write this one (Nick Lowe did) but Elvis does the best rendition – “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding” . For you have not hear it, here is the official version https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ssd3U_zicAI.

I once listened to this song on repeat at least 20 times after a hard week.  The first verse and the chorus tell the story:

“As I walk through this wicked world
Searchin’ for light in the darkness of insanity
I ask myself, “Is all hope lost?
Is there only pain and hatred and misery?”

And each time I feel like this inside
There’s one thing I wanna know
What’s so funny ’bout peace, love and understanding?
What’s so funny ’bout peace, love and understanding?”  Lyrics Nick Lowe

Every time I read a friend attacking another friend on Facebook in some political fight or hear about the loss of another brave soul I ask myself the same question in the first verse. But then catch myself and realize that the peace, love, and understanding lies within me. Our soul longs for peace. We just need to cling to it and understand that everyone carries pain. It is up to you to bring inner peace, to show love to your friends and enemies, and understand the pain and hope of others. Rise to the occasion, extend a hand and be the peacemaker.

The second song is by the THE Elvis – Elvis Presley. This song was sung for the first time in Elvis’s Comeback Concert in 1968 at the end.  It was written by Walter Earl Brown and came 2 months after Martin Luther King’s assassination.  It also contains some MLK quotes.  Only 5 at the time, I still remember it.  Here are some of the words. 

“There must be lights burning brighter somewhere
Got to be birds flying higher in a sky more blue
If I can dream of a better land
Where all my brothers walk hand in hand
Tell me why, oh why, oh why can’t my dream come true,

Oh why.

There must be peace and understanding sometime
Strong winds of promise that will blow away the doubt and fear
If I can dream of a warmer sun
Where hope keeps shining on everyone
Tell me why, oh why, oh why won’t that sun appear

We’re lost in a cloud
With too much rain
We’re trapped in a world
That’s troubled with pain
But as long as a man
Has the strength to dream
He can redeem his soul and fly”

The Elvis’s sang the truth!  What’s so funny ‘bout peace, love, and understanding?  Absolutely NOTHING!  Is there a light shining brighter somewhere? It is in our grasp.  If we choose to live, love, learn and lead!  

Here is my attempt at channeling Elvis.

Not Elvis but maybe not bad. Be the brighter sun! 

NYPD Blue

23 died when the towers fell,

You left your families, walked through hell,

For a cause both righteous and true,

Selfless sacrifice of the NYPD Blue.

42nd street was a mess,

And so was Times Square,

In the eighties,

Before order was there,

You built back a city,

Where dreams again flew,

You restored it,

The officers of the NYPD Blue.

The whole world took notice,

At the work you had done,

And sought to learn,

How the streets were won.

How soon they forget,

What is undeniably true,

New York is not New York,

Without the NYPD Blue.

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