Talking Tolkien

Last night I saw the movie Tolkien and I highly recommend it to everyone!  A wholesome movie about a great person and one of the top 5 influences in my life.  The movie documented the fundamental moments of Tolkien’s formation that was behind his masterpieces The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion.  And as I relived his early life through early adulthood, I thought about how much Tolkien and his works were instrumental in my own growth.   Here are the six key moments when the works of Tolkien formed me and changed me.

  1. My First Book Purchase – The first books that I bought with my own money (you can read about how I earned that money here https://weightlossleadership.com/2018/01/14/a-penny-a-minute-a-lifetime-of-lessons/) was the box set of the Lord of the Rings.  I have posted a picture of the Two Towers to show you just how much value for the money I got! Two Towers book well used I remember buying them like it was yesterday at Quakerbridge mall and then using the remaining buck and change on the new entry at McDonald’s – a Quarter Pounder with Cheese and Fries (1973) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quarter_Pounder .  I raced home put my name on the cover in case someone tried to take it and devoured the books like I did the Quarter Pounder.  I have now read those same books with pages falling out at least once a year.  The first time I read them all in a weekend.  For a ten-year boy in the 70’s, it was the equivalent of a new Harry Potter book (which my children equally devoured).  I remember cowering in the bed as I read about the Black Riders for the first time and adding Frodo and Sam to my evening prayers.
  2. Bonding with my best friend – My best friend in elementary through middle school was Paul.  He loved the Lord of the Rings as much or more than me and we talked about it endlessly.  He also introduced me to the Lord of the Rings allusions in Led Zeppelin songs such as Misty Mountain Hop and some Galadriel references in Stairway to Heaven.  He also had pictures from the Lord of the Rings calendars decorating his room where we worked on building rockets for Mr. Pickett’s rocketry club.  We parted ways in high school as our lives took different turns (The Road Goes Ever On!).  But I will never forget the joy I had in discussing the latest calendar and references to LOTR by Led Zeppelin!
  3. Love of Family – My Dad was a Steelworker, no-nonsense Blue-Collar man.  He did not care for Fantasy, elves and hobbits.  In contrast, I was like Frasier to my Dad’s Marty Crane.  All through 1978, I looked for every news item on the upcoming rendition of the Lord of the Rings from Ralph Bashki.  My dad got tickets for the opening day for the whole family, because he knew how much I loved it.   He also got me for Christmas the LP Soundtrack.  The movie was not good but my whole family sat through it as I tried to explain what was happening.  They sat through it and tried to cheer me up as I was disappointed.  Even though my brother David still ribs me by humming the March of the Orcs, I never felt more loved since my family showed their kindness and support for something I cared about.
  4. My Senior High School Thesis – I love to write and get just as much joy from writing as I do from reading LOTR.  I feel exhilaration after writing each one of my blogs and unlike most loved writing essays for school.  My senior thesis for High School was one of my favorites – Christ Imagery in the Lord of the Rings!  I am not sure if that is even a topic that is allowed in school’s today.  I learned so much from studying this subject.  Unlike Lewis who is clearly allegorical in the Narnia series, Tolkien is more subtle but nonetheless profound.  Frodo, Aragorn, and Gandalf all represent elements of Christ.  Frodo the clearest as he carries the heavy burden to Mount Doom.  Aragorn as a king in disguise that leads to a new Kingdom.  Gandalf perhaps the least subtle as he arises from the dead in white after battling the Balrog.  Tolkien did not like allegory, but he did understand those fundamental truths that our highest calling is to sacrifice.  I still remember the exhilaration of getting an A on the paper, but more so the feeling that the LOTR revealed a deeper truth!
  5. Falling for the Fellowship – I waited for 23 years for the next movie version for the Lord of Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring.  My wife and I had four kids waiting for its arrival!  My oldest daughter Kate was at the age where she could stay up late to catch the movie with me on the first day (BTW – she is an English teacher!).  It came out the day before I had to lead an Oral presentation for the biggest deal in my career.  Nevertheless, I got the only 2 last tickets available for the midnight showing on the first day.  In the last two seats behind a bar that partially obstructed my view, I and my daughter waited in anticipation.  I was literally praying that it would not be like the earlier movie.  I will not lie to you.  When the scene of the Shire and Gandalf came on the screen, I wept tears of joy.  Peter Jackson had captured the essence of the books that defined my life.  The decency of the Hobbits.  The goodness of Gandalf and the evil of the Dark Riders that used to make me shake in my bed so many years ago.  This will sound like the ultimate geek, but I count that first viewing of the Fellowship as one of the top 10 moments in my life.  (BTW It inspired me to win the most important job of my career the next day!).
  6. Dancing in the Glade – I thought nothing would ever match the scene of the Shire but last night’s scene from the  Tolkien movie did it.  My favorite story from Tolkien is not LOTR but one chapter from the Silmarillion – Of “Beren and Luthien”.  I love it for three reasons.  1.  It examines the love between people of two different cultures (Elves and Man).  2.  Beren and Luthien fight against all odds to defeat evil. 3.  Last and most important, it shows the never-ending love between a man and his wife.  For the uninitiated, Beren and Luthien Tinuviel represent J.R.R. Tolkien and his wife Edith.  They were married for over 50 years.  Edith was Tolkien’s muse and the anchor to his life.  The image took my breath away as I sat next to my wife of 32+ years and thought of her in that glade.   In the movie, they show Edith dancing in the woods in England, the image that Tolkien explains in his poem below. 

“The leaves were long, the grass was green,
The hemlock-umbels tall and fair,
And in the glade a light was seen
Of stars in shadow shimmering.
Tinuviel was dancing there
To music of a pipe unseen,
And light of stars was in her hair,
And in her raiment glimmering.” (Read more here – https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/luthien).

Grave of JRR Tolkien
True Love Never Fails

Six events that shaped a life!  Thank you, J.R.R. Tolkien and the makers of this film, for making this film that explains the life of this man who shaped me and so many others!

America the Beautiful But Broken: A Prescription and a Promise (Re-post)

After a 30+ day shutdown decided to re-post this timely blog. I was in church and as in every week before July 4th we sang America the Beautiful.  This time I really looked at the words and as I sang at the top of my lungs (anyone who ever heard me sing knows that is the only way I do it), I choked up.  You see I could sing some of the lyrics like spacious skies by rote.  But other parts I should read and remember.  And on this July 1 as we head into the celebration of our nations birth, I want to convey the words that choked me up.  In this time of uncivil discourse, I think it is necessary to remember what binds us together as a nation.  It is not military might or economic strength but rather the belief of liberty for all, freedom from oppression, and most of all, the steady march of progression toward a more perfect union.  So, let’s dissect the versus focused on the bolded sections.

1. Verse 1. O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!

America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

Commentary.  We are truly a blessed nation.  We have resources and the freedom to pursue happiness and the means to do it.  So why the vitriol and the rancor on both sides.  We need more brotherhood and sisterhood and less tweeting on both sides.  We do not have a problem, we have an opportunity!  We have people that believe in our country coming to our borders for a better life.  True, it is not all of them.  We cannot take in those impostors who want to harm us.  But most people escaping from the south just want a better a life.  Surely the country that rebuilt our enemies with the Marshal Plan, sent people to the moon, and built a nation of immigrants can discern in a professional way the people that do not wish us well. We have done it before and we can do it again.  Instead of protesting, roll up your sleeves.  This immigration problem is solvable and we a nation built on immigrant citizens and a history of practical solutions to thorny problems can do it.  The President and Congress can do it if they put down the iPhones, look up to the Heavens, and realize how blessed we are.  Call me naïve, but I think at the end of the day, we all want a fair but firm response to the immigration crisis.  Heck we may even consider a new Marshal Plan for the South.

2.Verse 2.O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern impassion’ d stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America! God mend thine ev’ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

Commentary.  This is by far the most consequential verse.  The first line “O beautiful for pilgrim feet” speaks to how the pilgrims escaped religious persecution and later civil strife to find this beautiful country.  Like the pilgrims of yesteryear, the pilgrims of today are seeking the same thing – liberty and the ability to reach their human potential.  We must be a resting place for those men and women of good intent to find their home free from persecution.  Note I said good intent.  There are some with ill intent but we need a humane process and procedure to discern who they are.  Those of good intent have and will protect our nation, build innovation, and will progress us on our path to a better nation.  Which brings us to the later stanzas of this verse.  We have flaws as a nation but we are the best thing going.  Do not kid yourself.  But we will lose our leadership status if we neglect self-control as one stanza of the song points out.  As one President and a famous Saturday Night sketch pointed out we must practice prudence and self-control.  All of us, especially the President, need to stop the late-night twitter rants and practice prudence and self-control.  Lastly, our liberty is built in law.  We somehow need to figure out a way to expedite legal immigration and provide asylum for those who need it and an opportunity for those that want it!  Laws do that and where the law stops or hinders it we need to change it.

3. Verse 3. O beautiful for heroes proved In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life!
America! America! May God thy gold refine

Till all success be nobleness,
And ev’ry gain divine!

Commentary:  It is a disgrace to those men and women that laid down their lives for this beloved country, that we cannot stop the bickering, and the twittering, and find a solution to this immigration issue (and other issues facing our nation).   We are to be refined, refined by the blood of patriots, and anyone who does not look in their hearts to find a middle way does the soldiers that fought and died for this country dishonor.  We also must show mercy to those like us are seeking a better life and freedom. I ask everyone to rise-up, roll up their sleeves, and put on their working boots to solve our issues.  And our President and Congress need to lead the way or get out of the way!

4. Verse 4. O Beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam,
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

Commentary:  The patriots dream is that their country continues to press for a future!  One that sees beyond the years and today’s expediency to understand the nation’s imperative is to welcome those decided in the course of liberty and freedom.  In the end, America is not a nation but an idea.  An idea that those with the will and the drive can escape to a new beginning where the tears will stop, the freedom will flow, and the nation will prosper!

Flag on July 4th
Photo by Stephanie McCabe on Unsplash

Strength in the Broken Places – A 2019 Resolution

The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places
Seeking Strength in the Broken Places

One of my favorite quotes is from Ernest Hemingway in A Farewell to Arms.  He writes “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places”.  Truer words have never been written!  Each of us one day will face a hardship that tests our very fiber, but if we make it through, we will grow and flourish.  You assuredly learn from your mistakes, but you grow from your pain. The imperfections of this world are designed to test our mettle and prepare us for a more perfect world beyond.  

Although the world breaks everyone in some way, many but not all become stronger in those broken places. What gifts have been bestowed on us, so we can be strong in the broken places?  St. Paul provides us with the answer:  Faith, Hope, and Love with the greatest being Love.  As we end this year, let me provide three examples of these saving gifts through the lives of others.

Faith is trust in God and self that things will get better either in this world or the next.  It isa powerful weapon in confronting hardship and in forging a new life.  One example of abiding faith is St.  John Paul II. As a priest and bishop, he showed faith that his beloved Poland wouldshake the bonds of oppression from the Soviet Union and it came to pass. As a new Pope, he had faith in the protection of Mary who shielded him from anassassin’s bullet.  He later showed faith in the redemption of others by forgiving this would be assassin.  As he aged, Saint John Paul II showed faith in God’s plan by showing us his weakness as he confronted Parkinson’s.

Hope is the belief that things will get better despite current hardships.  Gandhi epitomizes hope to me.  He faced obstacles and trials as he strove to establish the modern nation of India.  Any one of the obstacles that he faced would have dissuaded a lesser person.  But through the March to the Sea, the horror of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, and his many imprisonments,  Gandhi retained his hope that the dignity of man would prevail. In his words, “To believe that what has not occurred in history will not occur at all, is to argue disbelief in the dignity of man.”  Hope is the belief that the ultimate purpose of man will shine through despite the broken places.

Love is the greatest gift.  It transforms the heart and soul.  I have seen it do this to my brother David, his wife Debra, and his mother-in-law Marge.  Debra is dealing with the debilitating disease of Aphasia and has been in a nursing facility since September. Please read more at this link https://www.gofundme.com/6d948wg .    She can no longer speak and must use a respirator and eat through a feeding tube as she rehabilitates.  Though she may not recover fully, she shows her love to David and Marge by getting up each day and taking on the rehabilitation exercises.  Marge shows her love for her daughter by coming by daily and sharing time.  Despite some of her own health issues, she is always there for her daughter in this time of hardship.  Perhaps the most transformed by love is my brother David.  We have had our occasional arguments over the years which is to be expected from a younger and older brother.  He has in the last year become an inspiration to me and others.  He is there after work every night to spend time with Debra and provide her with support.  He also fights for his wife as he strives to get justice from the insurance company.  I am inspired that the kid that used to tantalize me daily has been blessed with love in the broken places. 

 As we ring in this new year, let us learn from the examples above and strive to become stronger, more perfect in love!  Let’s God’s glory shine through the broken places to be an inspiration for all to see.

America the Beautiful But Broken: A Prescription and a Promise

Today I was in church and as in every week before July 4th we sang America the Beautiful.  This time I really looked at the words and as I sang at the top of my lungs (anyone who ever heard me sing knows that is the only way I do it), I choked up.  You see I could sing some of the lyrics like spacious skies by rote.  But other parts I should read and remember.  And on this July 1 as we head into the celebration of our nations birth, I want to convey the words that choked me up.  In this time of uncivil discourse, I think it is necessary to remember what binds us together as a nation.  It is not military might or economic strength but rather the belief of liberty for all, freedom from oppression, and most of all, the steady march of progression toward a more perfect union.  So, let’s dissect the versus focused on the bolded sections.

1. Verse 1. O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!

America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

Commentary.  We are truly a blessed nation.  We have resources and the freedom to pursue happiness and the means to do it.  So why the vitriol and the rancor on both sides.  We need more brotherhood and sisterhood and less tweeting on both sides.  We do not have a problem, we have an opportunity!  We have people that believe in our country coming to our borders for a better life.  True, it is not all of them.  We cannot take in those imposters who want to harm us.  But most people escaping from the south just want a better a life.  Surely the country that rebuilt our enemies with the Marshal Plan, sent people to the moon, and built a nation of immigrants can discern the sheep from the goats. We have done it before and we can do it again.  Instead of protesting, roll up your sleeves.  This immigration problem is solvable and we a nation built on immigrant citizens and a history of practical solutions to thorny problems can do it.  The President and Congress can do it if they put down the iPhones, look up to the Heavens, and realize how blessed we are.  Call me naïve, but I think at the end of the day, we all want a fair but firm response to the immigration crisis.  Heck we may even consider a new Marshal Plan for the South.

2.Verse 2.O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern impassion’ d stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America! God mend thine ev’ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

Commentary.  This is by far the most consequential verse.  The first line “O beautiful for pilgrim feet” speaks to how the pilgrims escaped religious persecution and later civil strife to find this beautiful country.  Like the pilgrims of yesteryear, the pilgrims of today are seeking the same thing – liberty and the ability to reach their human potential.  We must be a resting place for those men and women of good intent to find their home free from persecution.  Note I said good intent.  There are some with ill intent but we need a humane process and procedure to discern who they are.  Those of good intent have and will protect our nation, build innovation, and will progress us on our path to a better nation.  Which brings us to the later stanzas of this verse.  We have flaws as a nation but we are the best thing going.  Do not kid yourself.  But we will lose our leadership status if we neglect self-control as one stanza of the song points out.  As one President and a famous Saturday Night sketch pointed out we must practice prudence and self-control.  All of us, especially the President, need to stop the late-night twitter rants and practice prudence and self-control.  Lastly, our liberty is built in law.  We somehow need to figure out a way to expedite legal immigration and provide asylum for those who need it and an opportunity for those that want it!  Laws do that and where the law stops or hinders it we need to change it.

3. Verse 3. O beautiful for heroes proved In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life!
America! America! May God thy gold refine

Till all success be nobleness,
And ev’ry gain divine!

Commentary:  It is a disgrace to those men and women that laid down their lives for this beloved country, that we cannot stop the bickering, and the twittering, and find a solution to this immigration issue (and other issues facing our nation).   We are to be refined, refined by the blood of patriots, and anyone who does not look in their hearts to find a middle way does the soldiers that fought and died for this country dishonor.  We also must show mercy to those like us are seeking a better life and freedom. I ask everyone to rise-up, roll up their sleeves, and put on their working boots to solve our issues.  And our President and Congress need to lead the way or get out of the way!

4. Verse 4. O Beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam,
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

Commentary:  The patriots dream is that their country continues to press for a future!  One that sees beyond the years and today’s expediency to understand the nation’s imperative is to welcome those decided in the course of liberty and freedom.  In the end, America is not a nation but an idea.  An idea that those with the will and the drive can escape to a new beginning where the tears will stop, the freedom will flow, and the nation will prosper!

Flag on July 4th
Photo by Stephanie McCabe on Unsplash

Stop the Negative Talk and Take A Walk

Some say the key to weight loss is reducing calories while others say exercise is the key.  Both are important but for me be the key to weight loss is controlling negative thoughts.  A positive outlook and a can-do attitude works wonders on both your body and your soul.   It has in my case!  In the past three years, I have been able to shed over 170 pounds and a lot of mental baggage by doing three simple things.

1. Stop Negative Talk. The very first thing you should do when striving to lose weight and be a better leader is stop the negative talk.   You need to replace the words can’t do with can do.  Also, you need to stop the practice of “worst casting”.  This is the racing voice inside your head that blows the simplest setback into a full fledge downward spiral.  Here is an example of thoughts in my head before I learned how to tackle it.

“This project is not going well. But I am the only one that can do it.    I need to work to at least 10 PM to pull it out or it will not get done.  I am so tired.  Need some energy.  But if I take a break I will never pull it out.  And then everyone will come after me.  How can I get some energy to keep going?  Grab a cup full of peanut M&M’s and another cup of coffee and I will make it.  I am still too tired but worth a shot”.

This my friends is how I gained over 80 lbs. in less than a year.  I worst casted myself into weight gain!  I reveled in being the Iron Man that could beat Murphy and stop disaster from coming down upon us.  But in truth, Murphy’s law (Everything that may go wrong will go wrong) was not in play.  Instead, I was being both a pessimist and an arrogant leader not trusting of the collective wisdom of the team.   It was only when I had faith in myself, a clear realization of the situation, and the belief in my team that I could break the cycle of worst casting.

So here is how the sound of the voice in my head is now.  “The project is having some problems but we can tackle them.  But I am still so tired.   I will call up my team to see if they have some ideas.  Then I will take a walk and clear my head.  We will then be able to solve this tomorrow. [Don takes a walk].  I came up with three ideas that will solve this by leveraging the ideas from my team.  I am energized.  I write an email, set the plan for tomorrow and go to bed!”

See the difference.  When I let the negative talk dominate, I worst casted myself into eating M&M’s, sitting in a chair, losing sleep, and not engaging my team.  I was still able to overcome Murphy’s Law because it was not really in play!  Also, I did it by force rather than smarts.  When I stepped back and stopped the negative thoughts, I exercised, engaged my team, got some sleep, and came up with a better solution with a cleared head.  First rule to weight loss and leadership – stop the negative thoughts in your head.

2. Take a Walk. I already alluded to this in rule 1.  When your mind is raising and your feeling stressed, don’t reach for a Whataburger – take a walk!  Preferably outside.  It will do three things for you.  First, it will destress you and calm you down.  Especially if you are out in nature and you can hear birds singing and smell the flowers.  Second, it will allow you to catch up with your thoughts and put them together in coherent patterns.  One thing that really helps on this second one.  Listen to a relevant audio book.  I cannot tell you how many times I solved the latest problem or come up with a blog story.  Third, it will allow you to capture ideas in a less rushed manner.  Nearly half my blogs and many of my work solutions start the same way.  I am walking around Town Lake listening to a self-help or sometimes a philosophy book.  An idea or a solution pops in my head.  I press the button on my iPhone and say Siri Take Note.  Then I record the idea and use it when I get home.  It is a great way to solve problems and write great blogs (and often to scare the person walking beside you!).

3. Be Kind. The last thing to defeat negative talk, work inefficiency, and weight gain is KINDNESS.  Be kind to yourself.  You are doing the best you can.  Be kind to others.  Often, they are doing the best they can and if they are not, you need to help them achieve their potential.  I will not lie to you.  Kindness is something I am still working on.  It is hard to tackle 50 some years of being a driver and a bit of curmudgeon.  But more often than not, you can kill the problem with kindness.  And shed the weight by being kind to yourself as you move to a healthier you.

IMG_3391

American Anthem: More Crosswicks less Crosswise

I was watching a documentary on the life of Charles Krauthammer today and was surprised that he was once a speechwriter for Walter Mondale.  This leader of Neo-con Republicanism once wrote speeches to elect the most traditional Democrat that ever existed, Walter Mondale.  And as I watched, I asked how 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.  Listening to Charles’ life, I have to agree with Charles when he said, “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!

143 – A Father’s Day Message on Weight Control, Leadership, and Love

This is the second of my Father’s Day blogs and it is inspired by a movie that I just saw on one of America’s most famous Father figures – Fred Rogers.  Some may not think of Mr. Rogers as a father figure.  He was not the image of the prototypical human father.  He was not strong, dominating or particularly stern.  He did however have characteristics of our heavenly Father.  An image of compassion who suffered the little children to come to him.  He sought to protect children from the vagaries and violence of the modern-day world through the explanation of the simple truths of compassion and right living.

One of the most compelling parts of the documentary was the explanation of Mr. Rogers’ daily ritual to control his weight.  From his days in the seminary to his last days on earth, Mr. Rogers sought to maintain a weight of 143 lbs.   Why do you ask?  There were three main reasons and each of them is compelling.

  1. Weight control – Mr. Rogers was pudgy as an adolescent boy.  Although the documentary does not cover this in detail, I suspect that he was bullied over his weight (more on the impact of that later).  Because of his concern to be happy and healthy, Mr. Rogers strove to maintain his weight at 143 lbs. daily.  He had a daily ritual where he swam 1 mile in a pool and then weighed himself to make sure that he was at 143 lbs.  I am no Mr. Rogers but I have a similar construct related to weight maintenance.  Each week before my Weight Watcher’s weigh-in, I strive to weigh 185 lbs. or less.  This is within the weight allowance to maintain Lifetime status but there is a more important reason for this target (as there is for Mr. Roger’s target which I will explain later).  I was in the class of 85 for West Point and our class motto is “For Excellence We Strive, 85!”.  The reason I believe in this moto is explained in this blog Life Lessons – Strive for Excellence Always!.  The reason for Mr. Rogers weight goal is even more inspirational!

2. Leadership – It is hard to contemplate that a meek and mild man such as Mr. Rogers as the ultimate leader (especially in the current climate of shouting on both sides of the political spectrum) but he was!  In my mind, he was the penultimate leader.  He came of age when TV was reshaping the culture of America.  He was dismayed with the children TV shows of the day that were nothing more than people shoving pies in each other faces and frantic cartoons of action and violence (unfortunately it is only worse now).  He made it his mission to slow down the pace of TV and to talk to children in simple truths about love, compassion and being a good neighbor.  He did this without puppets not pageantry.

After seeing the documentary, I got additional perspective on Daniel the Tiger.  I always knew that Daniel the Tiger was an extension of Mr. Rogers but the documentary showing Mr. Rogers as a kid cemented it.  Just knowing the period and seeing Mr. Rogers as a pudgy, sensitive, rich kid indicated to me that Daniel tiger and Mr. Rogers were one in the same.  He must have withstood a lot of bullying and poured out the lessons of dealing with that pain in the words of Daniel the Tiger.  You can viscerally feel the inspiration and the heart of Mr. Rogers every time Daniel the Tiger explains his experience and fears.  The attached link on the death of Bobby Kennedy is one example Mr. Rogers on Assassination.  Fred Rogers led the fight to protect our children and his message resonates now more than ever.  As Jesus proclaims in Mathew 18:3:  “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”, Mr. Rogers sought to protect to the hearts of little children and those of adults to seek a higher calling.

3. Love – In the end, Mr. Rogers’ weight and message is one of a Father’s Love.  His reason for maintaining a weight of 143 was due to the number of letters in a three-word phrase: I (1) Love (4) You (3).  Mr. Rogers’  message to both himself and to the rest of the world is I Love You just the way you are!  It does not matter if you are a different race, creed or color.  It does not matter if you have a disability (see clip Mr. Rogers on Disability).  You are a creature of God with a purpose and passion to better the lives of you and your neighbors.  In this time of discord and constant bickering, we should strive to be good neighbors like Mr. Rogers.  To see the good and with love, overcome the differences.  And like Mr. Rogers like one another for their unique characteristics.  I will close with a song by Fred Rogers and Josie Carey on the Mr. Rogers show and this clip concerning 9/11 Mr. Rogers 9-11:

I like you as you are
Exactly and precisely
I think you turned out nicely
And I like you as you are

I like you as you are
Without a doubt or question
Or even a suggestion
Cause I like you as you are

I like your disposition
Your facial composition
And with your kind permission
I’ll shout it to a star

I like you as you are
I wouldn’t want to change you
Or even rearrange you
Not by far

I like you
I-L-I-K-E-Y-O-U
I like you, yes I do
I like you, Y-O-U
I like you, like you as you are

Getting the Iron Out Door – Lessons from Big D for Developers

This is the first of a series of Father’s day blogs.  The leader that I learned the most from (which is probably similar to a lot of you) was my Dad – Big D.  Yes believe it or not I am Little D or Donnie, Jr. to my family . Here is a picture of Big D and Little D.

big-d

One of my Dad’s favorite sayings was you have to “Get the Iron Out the Door”.  Coincidentally, that is the root of the title of the Quarterly Professional Services newsletter, “Getting the Iron Out the Door”.  Two of the lesson I learned from Big D relates to getting the iron the door.

What is the Iron?  Where is the Door?  The iron refers to large turbines that reside in dams to generate electricity.   Big D was a steelworker/machinist and later the manager of Turbocare in Houston, Texas.  These turbines would come in the “door” of Turbocare from all over the world (Columbia, US, India, etc.) for maintenance or emergency repair.    As soon as the turbine came in the door, it was Big D’s responsibility to drive his team to get the repair done as quickly as possible while fixing the root problem and maintaining quality.  You can imagine the pressure to get these turbines back repaired.  They powered cities like Detroit or Bogota.  Every day that the turbine spent being repaired, part of the electrical capacity powering the city was out.  A brownout could occur or even a blackout.  In addition, they could only be carried by a train or ship and for some of these places the ship or train schedules where tight.

Now “Getting the Iron Out the Door” did not mean rushing around and slapping a fix in, as Big D explained to me.   It was too costly to send a half repaired turbine out the door.  The shipping costs alone are enormous.  You first needed to physically and electronically inspect the turbine to determine the root cause of the problem which was usually a blade bent a fraction of an inch. Then and only then you could precision machine or weld the blade or rotor with the problem.  Lastly and most importantly, you needed to test the balance of the turbine to precise specification.  The whole while the clock was ticking and the ship or train was waiting.  If you made the right decisions on balancing speed with quality, the Iron went Out the Door and did not come back.  See the picture of a turbine going out the door of Turbocare below.

turbine 1

How do I take Big D’s lesson in leadership to my life as in Accenture overseeing IT engagements?  Maybe our systems in Public Service do not power cities but they help feed hungry children (SNAP), keep a family afloat in an emergency (TANF), and help care for people with urgent medical conditions (Medicaid).  Our job each day is to “Get the Program Checked In”, so we can meet the deadlines of our client.  In so doing, we cannot sacrifice quality for speed.  The “shipping costs” using our analogy are families not being served.  How do IT developers like Big D see the clock ticking but not hear it, “Get the Iron Out the Door” without it coming back in.

  1.  Do a careful analysis to find the root cause of the code problem or a careful impact analysis to perform a comprehensive design.  This is analogous to finding the blade bent by a hair or the hair line fracture in the Turbine.
  2. Next follow the design and analysis precisely.  Use precision code and tools to fix the root cause of the problem or make the new functionality first time right!
  3. Lastly, test your application to specification.  A program not to specification will be subject to warranty (come back in the door) or worst yet cause a family to miss the benefits for which they are eligible.

I miss Big D each and every day.  Let us heed his words of leadership well and Get the Iron Out the Door and not allow it back in!

Memorial Day Walk with Heroes – 50 Miles of Memories

Memorial Day
Memorial Day at Sun City

In my most recent blog, I discussed how it is important to set forth improbable goals; to reach for the stars (read it here Go Big to Get Small – The Art of Improbable Goals).

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.

Today I had the pleasure of attending a moving ceremony in memory of Memorial Day at Sun City in Georgetown, Texas.  Senator Cornyn (listen here Memorial Day Speech   ) and others spoke on how for over 230 years the servicemen and women of this country have laid down there lives for this idea.  They gave their lives to keep us free and to allow the experiment of democracy to proceed.

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.

I also spoke about in my previous blog about how I walked 50 miles in honor of Veterans, the aforementioned “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, 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!

Go Big to Get Small – The Art of Improbable Goals

For the followers of my blog, this is the short form of this blog.  The longer form is here. Long Form

My son Kyle turned me on to Tim Ferriss, the podcast king, a few years back.  What I love about Tim and the stories he tells is he always strives to do something new, something impossible.  Just to name two of the incredible things he has done is teach himself to swim a mile in one week and to become Jujitsu World Champ in a few months!  You can listen to more of Tim here! Tim Blog

Another one of my favorite podcasters is Father Mike Schmitz.  Recently he did a series on the definition and examples of courage.  According to Father Mike, “Fear is not taken away, courage is given!”  To paraphrase, you cannot be truly courageous without fear.  Courage is striking out even when you have that dry pit in your stomach.   Indeed, being fearless is a bit of a misnomer.  You must drive through your fears to become a better person, a better you.

To be like Mike and to take on Tim, I started the practice a few years back to declare improbable goals and then set out a plan to accomplish them.  I used these goals and the efforts to reach them to overcome fear, gain confidence, and lose weight.  The best example of this is finishing a Kennedy Walk – 50 miles in 20 hours or less.

When I started my weight loss journey in 2015, walking 50 yards was hard enough.  I was 358 lbs. with a distinct fear of throwing out my back even walking around the block.  I tell you all this to understand just how impossible this goal seemed at the time.   To me, it was just short of climbing Mt. Everest.

I needed something big to compel me forward, something with my back history was just a bit scary.  I wanted to walk a long distance.  I started to research on the internet what was equivalent to a marathon but for walkers.  And I found it –  the Kennedy Walk.  The Kennedy walk was established by John F. Kennedy to demonstrate the fitness of the Armed Forces.  It must be completed in 20 hours.  Bobby Kennedy famously completed the walk one winter’s day in his loafers walking along the Potomac.

One key element for establishing a large goal was done, I now had the target.  But I needed a second element – a reason.  The reason in this case was more important than the goal.  I wanted to honor a former colleague in the Army who was lost while serving this country in Afghanistan – Richard McEvoy and to raise money for returning vets.  Dick was KIA in Afghanistan on August 22nd, 2015 while training the Afghani police. He was a contractor after serving 28 years in the service. Col McEvoy (then Captain) and I served together in the 3-60 Infantry Battalion. He was the epitome of the USMA motto: Duty, Honor, and Country. In honor of Dick, the walk served as a fund raiser for the Merivis Foundation, a non-profit that trains returning veterans in Austin for the IT industry and the Young Marines, a service group in Austin.

With a worthy cause and a goal firmly established, I set out to complete a 50 mile walk in 20 hours or less.  But I could not do it all at once.  So, I broke it out in sizeable chunks.  I also picked a venue – the Lady Bird Lake trail in Austin – that could be walked 5 times to equal 50 miles.   So, in the spring of 2016, I started to train for the first Annual McEvoy Memorial Kennedy Walk.

Every Saturday, I took an increasingly longer walk.   Lady Bird Lake trail was the perfect venue.  It is shaded much of the way, had adequate rest rooms and water and the city was immediately reachable.   I started breaking up some of my longer walks by stopping at a restaurant or store to eat some healthy food/snacks (and ok a beer).  Slowly, I went from 3 to 5 to 10 to 30 miles!  I was ready.

I finished the 50 miles, McEvoy Memorial, Kennedy Walk on Nov. 5, 1986.  Here is a video of me introducing it.  Kennedy Walk

Here is me at the finish.

cropped-don-finish-e1514210274247.jpg

I made it in approximately 16 and a half hours.  The drive to finish the walk gave me the impetus to reach the Lifetime distinction at Weight Watchers.  As I walked along the path, I thought about how striving for big goals helped me to serve a great cause and to become smaller in weight and more confident in my health.  I came up with these three major elements that commend the art of setting improbable goals.

  1. Compelling Purpose to Move Forward – Setting a major goal that seems improbable gives you added motivation to stick with the day to day difficulty of staying on track.  Once I set the goal, I could not let myself, the Veterans, and the memory of my colleague down.  Life is indeed 90% perspiration, but you need the 10% of inspiration to compel you forward to a better you.
  2. Decomposable into Smaller Chunks – You cannot achieve monumental goals in a day or a week (unless you are Tim Ferris who makes a living out of it).  For ordinary people such as myself, the only way to achieve something big is to plan to break it down into smaller chunks.  In this case, the selection of the Lady Bird Lake loop was the perfect venue.
  3. A Cause Worthy of the Effort – When you are selecting an improbable goal, it is important to back it with a worthy cause. In this case, the cause was worthier that the effort.  Our Veterans, both the fallen and the living, protect us and sacrifice for a greater purpose themselves – the freedom and liberty of the United States.  50 miles is not nearly enough to walk for sacrifices they have given.

On Memorial Day, I will do a five-part sequel to this blog with the words that I spoke at each 10-mile mark in 2016.  Never forget our soldiers and service people this Memorial Day.