A Walk with History (Part 2): Meandering Toward Monticello

Some of the best events in life are not planned.  That was indeed the case when my wife and I set off from Washington, DC to Monticello, VA.  Our plan was to leave Reagan National about 9 AM and drive the 2-and-a-half-hour ride to Monticello to arrive around lunch.  But as luck would have it, my medication and my body’s reaction to it was cause for some serendipitous detours see map below:

Map of historical sites
Map of stops while meandering toward Monticello

This time I mixed up one of my medications. I usually delay taking this medication when on a road trip, because its purpose is to rid my body of excess water, making numerous bathroom stops necessary.  Essentially, I need to stop every 1 hour (or less) to do number 1.  So unbeknownst to me at the start, our route to Monticello would be a meandering one.

The urge to purge struck me about 10 miles from the Chancellorsville Visitor Center.  I did not know at the time that I was stopping there but when I saw the National Park sign 8 miles later, I had to decide.  Pulling into the parking lot with nary 15 seconds to spare, I put the car in park, left the car running (lucky my wife is used to this) and sprinted to the Visitor’s Center restroom.   I really should be on one of those “Got to go commercials” for overactive bladders!

After finding relief, I linked up with my wife again and said since we are here we might as well look around.  I am glad we did since he learned some historical lessons.

Chancellorsville was a tactical victory for the Confederacy but ultimately a turning point in the war for the Union.  How can I say this? The Confederacy did win on the battlefield against Hooker’s Army of the Potomac with an army half its size.  But it lost one of its two indispensable Generals – Stonewall Jackson (Lee being the other one).  Also, Lee was unable to stop the withdraw of the Army of the Potomac.

In the hour I spent meandering on the trail right outside the Visitor’s Center, I learned two important lessons in history and life.  First, often the hinges of history rest on the shoulders of one or two people.  Think of Winston Churchill in WW II.  To a somewhat lesser extent, what if Stonewall Jackson, the  ears and eyes of the Confederacy was at Gettysburg.  I am glad he wasn’t for the sake of this great nation, but the question made me ponder how often one person can impact history.  The second thing was I was surprisingly moved by the simple stone monument put up on the National Park site to recognize where Stonewall Jackson was shot and ultimately died.  It was put there in 1888 by members of Stonewall Jackson’s staff.  In the current debates of today, it would be easy to say pull the monument down.  But I think not.  It is a pivotal part of our nation’s history.  If we tear it down, we would remove the memory of how the tide of the Civil War started to turn.

Historical Marker
The marker showing where Stonewall Jackson was gravely wounded at Chancellorsville

With our first circuitous stop in our march to Monticello completed, my wife and I got back in the car.  It was now 11:30.   Our stop had taken a big bite out of the time we could spend at Monticello, so we looked for a plan B.   We looked on the map and decided I would never make it to Monticello without taking another rest room break.  Looking at the map and scanning the internet, we noted that Montpelier, the residence of James Madison was closer and would make a good stop.  So, after taking a bite to eat, we drove to Montpelier.

I barely made it!  Again, I came to a racing stop at the visitor’s center as I rushed into the rest room.  After regrouping, we decided to take the Constitution tour or Montpelier.  And I am glad we did!  Our second serendipitous stop taught us the good, the bad, and the ugly about James Madison.

The good was the brilliance of James Madison and his contribution to our country.  Thomas Jefferson is known as the poet of the American Revolution with his writing of the inspirational Declaration of Independence.  But James Madison was responsible for the prose of the American Revolution – the Constitution and Bill of Rights upon which our republic is built and the Federalist papers that underpin these documents.  The Declaration of Independence without the construct of the Constitution is essentially no more than a dream.  The Constitution and the Bill of Rights make it a reality.  And James Madison was the driving force of both.

Montpelier - Home of James Madison
Montpelier – Home of James Madison

The Bad was the paradox of slavery.   James and Dolly Madison were slave owners and Montpelier would not exist if it was not for slave labor.  Here was James Madison who created the Constitution and Bill of Rights that declared all men equal under the law denying the freedom other men and treating them as property.   There is an excellent exhibit at Montpelier called “The Mere Distinction of Color” that shows the unvarnished truth about how James Madison and other founding fathers treated the slaves.

This exhibit eventually descends into the ugly truth of Montpelier.  James Madison to bail his stepson John Payne Todd from debtor’s prison had to mortgage Montpelier.  Later when he died, Dolly to pay off her son’s debts primarily due to his alcoholism had to sell all of Montpelier and the slaves residing on it.  Families were torn apart as they were separated and sold to different slave owners, creating an ugly legacy for the architect of the Constitution – the greatest force for freedom and liberty ever designed.   What irony!

After visiting Montpelier, it was 4 O’clock.  Too late to visit Monticello that evening but only 29 miles away from Charlottesville and our hotel for the evening.  Even I can make it for 29 miles without stopping for the restroom.  So, we pulled into our hotel.  More meandering on our trip to Monticello would happen after dinner as we visited the University of Virginia.  But we will leave that for Part 3 of this blog series to be discussed together with our visit to the UVA founder’s home – Monticello!

If you found this blog interesting, please click on the following link for the first in this series. A Walk with History (Part 1): Overcoming Slavery’s Stain

A Walk with History (Part 1): Overcoming Slavery’s Stain

I am just returning from a week long vacation visiting historic sites in Virginia.  My wife and I visited DC, and then went to Chancellorsville, Montpelier (Home of James Madison), Monticello (Home of Thomas Jefferson), the Historic Triangle (Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown, Yorktown), and returned to visit heroes and friends at Arlington National Cemetery.  In this trek in the past, I learned a lot about our great country and gained insights into our future as we continue to perfect our union.

This is the first of a series of blogs on what I learned.  This lesson is the most important.  I gained it while my wife and I spent 4 hours in the National Museum of African American History and Culture in DC (not nearly enough) and had tours/talks on slavery at Montpelier, Monticello, and Colonial Williamsburg.

National Museum of African American History and Culture
National Museum of African American History and Culture

What I took away from this experience is four things:

  1. We owe a debt of gratitude to those enslaved and their descendants for building this country that is hard to repay. The impact that African Americans had on building this country far surpasses their percentage of the population.  From the plantation slaves to the Tuskegee Airmen from Marcus Garvey to Martin Luther King, the smarts, sweat, ingenuity and determination of African Americans was a driving force in building this country.
  2. Slavery was just pure evil and despite the myth, there was no such thing as a “good” slave owner. This was hammered home on both at the Montpelier and Monticello tours.  Madison’s stepson John Payne Todd after taking over the estate, ran the estate into bankruptcy and along with his mother Dolly Madison sold off the slaves and broke up families in attempt to pay off debts due to John’s profligacy.  Monticello’s tour of Mulberry Row hammered home even more poignantly the evil nature of slavery.  Our tour guide was from the Bronx and in the typical no-nonsense way of a New Yorker shattered the myth that Jefferson was a lenient slave owner.  Although he decried slavery in his writings, he only freed 6 slaves (less than 1 percent of those at Monticello).   And, of those freed, 4 of the 6 were his children by Sally Hemmings as genetic testing suggests.  Most of the rest were sold to pay off the debt of Monticello upon his passing.  This does not take away from all the good that Thomas Jefferson and James Madison done.  Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence and Madison’s Constitution set in motion the ideas that would eventually topple the paradox of slavery.  But these flawed men could not fully escape their times.
  3. Slave Quarters at Monticello
  4. Slave Quarters at Monticello
  5. The stain and impact of slavery continued through segregation and still echoes today. The African American museum is arranged so you start underground with the initiation of slavery and progresses as it is abolished in the Civil War and segregation is ended with the Civil Rights Act. You learn the impact on family structure as families are broken apart and sold to different owners.  You see the injustice of people being lynched just because of the color of their skin.  Perhaps, the most moving moment in the whole museum and one that makes me ashamed of my historical ignorance was the memorial to Emmett Till.  I always thought that the event that initiated the Civil Rights campaign of the sixties was Rosa Parks, but it was the murder and memorial for Emmett Till six months prior.  Emmett, a fourteen-year-old young man, who was visiting his relatives in South, was brutally murdered for supposedly looking at a white woman in a disrespectful manner.  His beaten body was then dumped in a swamp.  When his body was recovered, his mother bravely requested an open casket funeral for all to see the evil of racism.  Unbelievably, the two individuals that all evidence points to have committed the act were found not guilty by an all-white jury.   I was happy this week to see the case to be reopened with new evidence.

Emmett Till and his brutal murder was one of the key event that launched the Civil Rights movement and we as Americans must remember its history along with Rosa Parks, the sit-ins, and Martin Luther King.  We must not forget.

  1. We must be ever vigilant. The museum climbs from the basement to the ground floor with the presidency of Barrack Obama.  In this way, it is meant to show America as it progresses from the depths of slavery to the promise of a more equal future.  But there is nothing in the museum that prevents a person from walking back down through history into the basement.  We still hear the echoes of slavery and the vestiges of the past.  This time I spent in our nation’s past has hammered home in me the need to be ever vigilant.  We cannot let the mistakes of the past repeat themselves.  We must continue to stand for civil rights and secure justice.  To be on guard and fight for equality for all and a more perfect union.

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

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!

A Father’s Day Tribute: The One Song That Always Makes Me Cry

I think for all of us there is one song that strikes so much emotion that by the end of the song, we can’t avoid the tears.  I know the song for me and it is particularly poignant on this Father’s Day: Trent Tomilson’s One Wing in the Fire.  Quite frankly I can’t make it through the first verse without breaking down most of the time.  Here is the song if you want to listen. One Wing in The Fire

When we are growing up, most of us think of our Dads as heroes and some of us (like yours truly) as God like.  They protect us, nurture us and lift us up.  As we get older, we usually evolve into a more nuanced view.  Our fathers may lose a bit of the hero or God like status.  But as we deal with our own personal struggles as Fathers we realize that with all their faults, our Fathers may not be Gods but at the very least, they are Angels, even though they may have One Wing in the Fire.

My Dad, known affectionately as Big D, was larger than life to his family and friends.  He was our Cub Master, Baseball Coach, Union Vice President, friend to our friends, and all around great Dad.  But he did like all of us have flaws.  He was like the subject of Trent’s song – An Angel with No Halo and One Wing in the Fire.  I would like to reflect on three portions of that song to explain why it is so important to me and even now 15 years since his death brings deep emotion.

The first verse has these words:

“Daddy’s been a back-row Baptist
With his share of front-row sin
His Saturday night still on his breath
Every Sunday when he’d walk in
He’s never led the Benediction
He’s never sang in the choir
But he’s an angel with no halo
And one wing in the fire”

My Dad always called himself a back-sliding Baptist, even as he supported our Mom in raising us Catholic.  He also had been known to have a few drinks on Friday and Saturday nights and raised a little heck.  But he was an Angel in the way he cared for Mom, me and my siblings both spiritually and physically.   I remember him attending each of our Sacraments and religious holidays.  He also supported our church by being the coach of its basketball team.   He may not have sang in the choir, but each St. Patrick’s Day and Easter, he sang the protestant hymn the Old Rugged Cross to be part of the Henry clan singing Irish tunes and hymns around the kitchen table.

If I can make it through the first verse,  I usually falter on the third verse.  This verse goes like this:

“Daddy’s always been there for me
From T-Ball to touchdowns
Fixed my car and fixed my heart
When they’ve been broken down
I know he calls for more forgiveness
Than most folks do require
But he’s an angel with no halo
And one wing in the fire”

Truer words have never been said than the first four lines of that verse.  My Dad coached me from T-ball through Little League.  Many in Crosswicks still remember the rivalry between Don Grier’s Chesterfield Red Sox and Bill Haluska’s Chesterfield Black Sox!     Besides being my baseball coach, he was my Cubmaster, basketball coach, and all-around Football and wrestling supporter.  The picture attached here shows Dad supporting me my Junior year in Football.

big-d

He was always the loudest in the stands (although sometimes he got a little too loud, like the time he was expelled from the Shawnee Wrestling Match).  Finally, let’s not forget about fixing cars and hearts.  My Dad could fix our family car by himself except on rare occasions.  Even though my brother and I could not help him that much since we could not tell a 3/16th wrench from plyers (think Frazier and Marty Crane from the Frazier TV show and you get the picture)!

If I am still composed by this time, I cannot make it through the last verse:

“Well, I just can’t imagine
What Heaven might be like
If me and mama make it
Without daddy by our side
Lord, could you please remember
When it’s time to call us higher
That he’s an angel with no halo
And one wing in the fire”

This last verse always brings me back to one of the most poignant days of my life – my Dad’s funeral.  Even though my Dad was a Baptist, my Mom asked me if I could get a Priest to preside.  With some trepidation, I asked the local Priest in Palestine, Texas to preside.  He was a missionary priest from India and I was concerned that his homily/eulogy would not resonate with my Dad’s side of the family.  I was also concerned as to whether he would do it since my Dad was not Catholic.

But God works in his mysterious ways.  The priest not only agreed to do the service but gave one of the most memorable homilies of my life.  The gist was this.  We all enter this world crying.  We have left the nurturing embrace of God and mother’s womb to face an uncertain world.  But when a person leaves the world, it is his family and friends who do the crying, but they should not.  It should be a time of joy and hope since the departed is returning home.  It is the duty of those on earth to wish them well and pray for a speedy return to the loving embrace of the ultimate Father.

On this Father’s Day, I ask all of us who have Dad’s who are Angels who may have one wing in the fire to pray for their speedy flight to Heaven.  Think of all they have done for you and pray God dusts off the ashes, shines up their halo, and welcome them home.

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.

Lessons on Weight Loss and Life from the Royal Wedding – The Redemptive Power of Love

Like so many previous blogs, this one was inspired by my morning workout with two added kickers – the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle and the memory of my son’s college graduation the night before.  I was watching the wedding while walking on the treadmill at 6:00 AM in the morning.

The pomp and circumstance were amazing and the pastoral introduction that Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury invoked was moving.  It talked to the power of love in marriage and the foundation of family as a society.  Then Bishop Curry, the Episcopal Head of the Episcopal Church in the United States, took us all to church and expanded on the redemptive of power of love to renew the world.  In his words, he said:

“If you don’t believe me, just stop and think and imagine, think and imagine, well, think and imagine a world where love is the way. Imagine our homes and families when love is the way. Imagine neighborhoods and communities where love is the way. Imagine governments and nations where love is the way. Imagine business and commerce when love is the way. Imagine this tired old world when love is the way.”  Bishop Michael Curry

He then tied marital love to the great commandment as proclaimed by Jesus.

“But love is not only about a young couple. Now the power of love is demonstrated by the fact that we’re all here. Two young people fell in love and we all showed up. But it’s not just for and about a young couple who we rejoice with. It’s more than that. Jesus of Nazareth on one occasion was asked by a lawyer the sum of the essence of the teachings of Moses and he went back and reached back into the Hebrew scriptures and Jesus said, ‘you shall love the lord, your god, with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength. This is the first and great commandment.’

And the second is like it. Love your neighbor as yourself. And then in Matthews’ version, he added, he said on these two, love of god and love of neighbor, hang all the law, all the prophets, everything that Moses wrote, everything in the holy prophets, everything in the scriptures, everything that god has been trying to tell the world, love god. Love your neighbors. And while you’re at it, love yourself.” Bishop Michael Curry

Now, we have not yet realized the redemptive power of love as a society as what happened yesterday in the high school in Santa Fe can attest.  But one thing I can speak to you from the heart and from experience is the redemptive power of love as it applies to my own experience and my weight loss journey!  Love of yourself, Love of your neighbor (and the Love of your Neighbor for you), and Love of God were the keys to becoming a healthier and happier person and hopefully projecting that to joy to those that I encounter.   Let me illuminate each point as it pertains to my own experience in weight loss and life in ascending priority order and relate it to my son’s graduation

  1. Love of self – Loving yourself is the first step to loving others and becoming a healthier, happier person.  Prior to 2015, I did not often practice self-love.  Grumpy, griping and overweight, I dwelled on what I didn’t do rather than focusing on what I could or would do.  Chewed up by self-centered anxiety and stress, I overate and overcompensated for my failings.  The nadir in self-doubt and recrimination came sadly on a day that should have been one of my joyful one – the graduation of my third child and only son from high school.  Over 330, unfit and unhappy, I was not an example that I wanted my son to uphold.

I said this was the nadir but really was not.  This graduation and the picture taken their drove more self-loathing and more weight gain, although it did sow the first seeds of change.  I idolized my Father and thought to myself of the example I was setting for my son.  And it was not just an image thing.  I was so worn out from the little exercise walking to and from the car to the graduation, that I nearly did not have the energy to get in the picture, let alone look happy in it.  I truly wondered if I would make it to the next one.

It was only when I joined Weight Watchers and started to see small victories that I could slowly stopped beating up myself.   I no longer focused on the past or had anxiety for the future but started to focus on myself and today.  Our Weight Loss lead Julie has a saying that echoes those of flight attendants, “You first need to put your own mask on before putting on the mask of others”.  By first focusing on loving yourself, you are then able to get on the right track and ultimately get place to help others.

2. Love of others – The love of others from my friends, family, and team members in Accenture Active and Weight Watchers were key to my renewal and in redeeming myself in my own eyes and perhaps those of others.  I cannot tell you the number of times that a kind word from someone lifted me up and drove me forward.  I learned so many lessons from their love and experience!  Countless times a thoughtful word or suggestion helped to pick me up and get back on track to becoming a healthier person. I am now trying to pay their love forward by helping others with the lessons and gifts given to me.  The impetus of this blog is to help others struggling with weight loss and anxiety with words of encouragement, useful information and love.  You help yourself by helping others!

  1. Love of A Power Greater than Yourself – The last and most important element in the recipe of love is the unconditional love of a power greater than oneself.  In my case that power is Jesus Christ as proclaimed by the Catholic Church.  For others, it may be different, and I am certainly not here to proselytize. But what I am here to tell you is there is a power in moving beyond ourselves and being thankful for what was given to us from up above. The power of prayer and thankfulness transform!.  It was key to renewing my body and to refreshing my soul and for other.  But more importantly, it affords the opportunity to have a closer relationship with God and to give thanks for both joys and sorrows in life.

My personal favorite prayer is the Rosary because it reflects the love of God for us and a Mother for her son.  I started the practice to say at least a rosary a week.   Likewise, I keep a daily, thankfulness journal to remember all that God has done for me.

In closing, love has the ultimate power to redeem and renew.  Yesterday. I attended our son’s college graduation a 150+ lbs. lighter with a renewed body and improved soul. If the power of love can renew a curmudgeon such as I myself, it can do it for you and in time the world!