Lost and Found

I wish I could reach back,

Reach back in the past,

When my soul was innocent,

And my heart pure.

When I could look at something,

And say “There, that’s right,

I know it to be right,

I have no doubts.”

But age begets doubts,

And time desperation,

In a world charged with sorrow,

Nothing is for certain,

nothing for sure,

All we can do is love,

And love some more,

Hoping God is smiling on us,

To bring about a better day!

The Lessons I Learned When Running Away

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commissioned to Love

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

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

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

Acts 1

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

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

John 15:12

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

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

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

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

Gene Rodenberry

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

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

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

LTG Darryl A. Williams

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

A Mother’s Love Goes On

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

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

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

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

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

Be A Good Neighbor: TM

This is the fourth blog of the Be Good, Not Great series.  The initial idea for the blog series came to me in a dream about my Grandpop and resulted in a poem and a blog in less then an hour.  Read it hear. https://weightlossleadership.com/2019/03/16/be-good-not-great/

The series focuses on people that strive for goodness over greatness; who eschew money, wealth and fame to care for other people.

I still remember the first day at the first home my wife and I owned as if it were yesterday.  We moved into an established community in our then sleepy, now rapidly growing town.  The house was 70’s vintage and we were excited but a little daunted. 

We got the home for a good price.  But it did come with some things that we needed to fix.  The most urgent being a large bump in the sidewalk that led to our door.  The bump was due to a tree root that grew under one of the sidewalk panels.  It was a hazard especially for my wife who was pregnant with our second child and our 4-year-old.   I was ready to fulfill my duties as a husband, father and new home owner.

I had managed to lift the sidewalk a bit and was trying my best to cut off a portion with a small axe I had.  I was not making any headway and was sweating buckets.  When out walks a wiry, 60ish year old man with silver hair, from next door.

I stopped my work for a moment and greeted him.  he introduced himself and said, “I am TM your neighbor and son you looked like you could use some help!”  I said, “Hi Tim.  I am doing ok, but it is sure good to meet you”.    Which was wrong on two accounts. 

First because of his Texas twang, I called him Tim instead of TM.  This part was ok because he thought he heard TM due to my Jersey roots. Second, I was not Ok.  I had worked for an hour and made hardly a dent on the root.

After 15 minutes, TM returned with his own axe and said “Don, please let me help you out.  I have been doing this for awhile and we can knock it out together.”  Even though I was embarrassed I relented.  And I was glad I did.  TM immediately made more headway in 10 minutes then I had done in the last hour and a half.  When it was my turn to spell him, he let me use his axe and technique.  We got the root out and sidewalk level in less than 40 minutes together.  It was the start of a great friendship and mentorship.

TM was the perfect example of seeking goodness over greatness.  Born and bred in Leander, he moved to Cedar Park during its infancy to run one of the Cedar Yards for which the city was named. He was a great mentor, devoted husband for 68 years, loving father and a devout church goer.  You can read more about TM here. https://www.dignitymemorial.com/obituaries/austin-tx/thomas-pearson-7060600

There are four lessons from the life of TM to follow as we strive for goodness:

  1. Be a Good Neighbor.  The help with the tree root was just the first example of TM being neighborly. He was always there with a ready hand and a kind smile to help my wife and I with our expanding young family.  With both of us working, we did not always have time to keep the yard up.  When he saw us struggling, TM would take the time to mow the side of our yard closest to him or water some of plants when we did not get to it.  He also helped us with some ideas on landscaping and brought over some vegetables from his garden.  We in return tried to help him out, but never could match his generosity.
  2. Be a Good Family Man. TM was a devoted husband and father.  His only daughter was confined to a wheel chair after she was in an accident.   He and his wife helped care for her.  To make things easier, his daughter and her husband lived with TM.  TM had a specially outfitted van and helped with the medical visits and care.  He was always cheerful and willing to help. I also never saw a harsh word exchanged between the two couples despite the stress of living under the same roof. 
  3. Be a Good Mentor. TM was also always ready to pass the lessons of fatherhood to me.  One conversation stands out.  I was playing soccer with my son in our backyard and we were getting loud.  My son kicked the ball and it sailed into TM’s garden.  Instead of a harsh word, he handed over the soccer ball with a smile.  I told him I was sorry and asked him if we were bothering him by being too rowdy.  TM said, “You do get a bit loud, Don. but I know what you ae doing and you need to play with your son.  It is what they remember and how they learn so have at it!”  I try to remember that lesson when the two boys that are our new neighbors kick a soccer ball against our car.
  4. Take care of your community.  TM also reached out to the larger community.  His yard was an example to the whole community.  He also put on the best Christmas light show for many years.  Showing pride in your home and community inspires the same in your neighbors.   TM also sang and played guitar at his church.  He used his talents to the joy and betterment of those around him and the world is better for it.

We moved to a new home about a mile away in 2007.  Up to the end of our time next door, TM remained a good neighbor and friend.  Even helping us with fixing up the house for sale. Unfortunately, I did not follow his good example.  I got caught up with work and growing family and despite living only a mile or two away from him, we did not go to see him that often.  When he passed in 2016, I did not know until quite a bit later.  This is something I will always regret.

Robert Frost writes in his famous poem “Mending Wall” see full at this link https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44266/mending-wall:

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,

And spills the upper boulders in the sun;

And makes gaps even two can pass abreast…

He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’

Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder

If I could put a notion in his head:

Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it

Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out,

And to whom I was like to give offense.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,

That wants it down.’ I could say ‘Elves’ to him,

But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather

He said it for himself.”

I now know what does not love a wall.  It is not elves, it is God and his love.  Be like TM and not me!  Break down the walls of cell phones, work, and a busy life.  Take a sledgehammer to that wall, much like TM took an axe to that tree root and make time for your neighbor.  And above all, love your neighbor as yourself!

The Real Art of Racing in the Rain

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

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

Three dogs ready to race!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be Good, Not Great!

Be good not great,

For the time is late,

And we have but a day,

To show God’s way!

Seek kindness, not power,

Make Love a tower,

Your heart the leaven,

To seek out heaven.

Take time don’t wait,

For eternity is our fate,

If we do what he asks,

And complete His task.

Seek the Cross not fame,

As your temptations you tame,

For the time is late!,

So be good, not great.

Love’s Everlasting Kiss

Love does not come easy,

it’s often built in trials,

minute by minute,

day by day.

It is built on sorrow,

As much as hope,

Tears and hardship,

As much as laughter.

It does not flit,

It does not float,

It is SOLID,

and it ENDURES!

Why love then?

It is our purpose and mission,

What we were built for,

What God designed!

Because love does not last,

for a minute or an hour.

It lasts a lifetime,

and through eternity.

So, drive on through the pain,

And strive through the sorrow,

And with one last kiss,

Reach for the tomorrow.

And, remember in waiting,

Not the words left spoken or tears,

But the smile and loving eyes,

That resound through the years.