Advice my parents gave me that really worked

My parents, like most parents were always telling my sister and I how to behave and what not to do. Throughout our lives, like many children, most of their advice fell on ears that quite honestly, did not want to hear what we were being told. That did not mean that the advice was wrong or did not work, but simply that we were not ready to hear it back in the days when the advice I heard the most was to “Always be home by the time the streetlights came on.”  Good advice when the dangers of darkened streets were much less foreboding than they are today, but not very practical when working in the corporate world. Some of their advice, however, has survived intact throughout the years and I would like to share a few of what I learned from my parents back when television was broadcast in black and white and baseball was  enjoyed on our trusty transistor radios, under the covers with the volume turned way down.

  • Get a good education– While this may seem a bit self-serving at this point in my career, I can fully attest to the value of a solid college education. My advanced college degree has served me very well over the years and the information I learned in those classrooms has applied directly to my chosen profession in both the corporate and academic worlds. There is, indeed, great value in learning and applying skills and knowledge and the value of that education far exceeds the time and money you will invest. I always advise my students to pursue a degree in something that interests them, and these days, it is also essential to fully understand how that education can lead directly to employment upon graduation, the process of learning how to think and solve problems, to function as an educated adult, those skills can and will be used for a lifetime. A college education will give you that….and much, much more.
  • Always tell the truth. Easy to say, tough to apply every day. However, this sound piece of advice, heard at some point by all of us, is certainly true. “Little white lies,” used to not hurt someone, fall into the gray area of this sound advice, but, by and large, always attempting to tell the truth, is a rock-solid way to go through life. At the very least, you will not always have to remember elaborate details of your deceptions and, let’s face it, most of us are just not all that good at telling lies. I have had the privilege of working with a few experts in the field of detecting lies and uncovering employee theft and from those experts, I discovered numerous “tells” or indications that what is being said is not really entirely accurate. Spouses, significant others, siblings, parents and close friends can always tell when what we are saying does not seem to match up with the facts.  Our parents were right, tell the truth, it is a whole lot easier that way.
  • Be good to your sister. I wish I had always followed this good advice, but I can report that I really did try to be a better brother. While not the best of role models, I can report that a good family relationship is very important and it is those relationships that really will stand the test of time. Your siblings will, ideally, be with you long after your parents have exited the stage and they know you better than almost anyone. Your brothers and sisters understand the “real you,” because they were along for the ride as you figured out just what that “you” would become. They have laughed with you and at you, have celebrated your successes and comforted you in times of trouble, they have grown up with you and know much more about you than you may care to admit. Simply put, there is no substitute for a sound relationship with your siblings.
  • Always put in an honest day’s work. My father was a doughnut baker when I was growing up and his work ethic was legendary. He worked six days a week, mostly overnights, as the doughnuts had to be ready for the morning rush hour, and, as such, would leave for work around 9 pm, and not get home until 7 in the morning. I never remember him taking a sick day and when I visited him in the bakery he was constantly in motion. He gave 100% every day and kept a great sense of humor about him all the time. He believed that his job was important that he owed his employer a full day of work for his pay and over time, became a role model to me about how to approach your work. Give it your total effort, one day at a time, keep at it and you will have no regrets. While my father gave me this advice often, it was how he modeled it that I remember the most. If my dad was on the job, you knew it would be done right, every time, every day.
  • Treat others the way you want to be treated. Yes, the golden rule, but possibly the best advice I ever received. As we all know, it so very difficult to follow, especially when other people just do not seem to play by the same golden rules, but, as I learned slowly over the years, this advice is a lot like a boomerang. If you treat everyone with respect, with understanding, with patience and a helpful spirit, it can, in fact, it must come back to you in some way. And, equally importantly, as I have also discovered, someone is always watching and those “someone’s” will most likely be your own children. No matter what you say to them, (including the advice contained above,) it will be your actions that do, indeed, speak much louder than your words. For it is how we treat others that really counts. No matter what field of work we choose, no matter where or how we labor, the true mark of what we  really are is revealed in how we behave and treat others. We cannot hide from that truth.

It seemed to me that the older I became, the smarter my parents seemed to become. Things they told me when I was young, and all too frequently chose to ignore, seemed to make a lot more sense when I had children of my own. And, as we have all most likely experienced, we knew we had learned something when the words our parents told us now come out of our own mouths as advice to our own children.  Yes, it is, as the song and movie have told us, “The Circle of Life,” but it is in that circle that our lives are lived and the memories of a lifetime are forged and formed.  Thanks, Mom and Dad, the streetlights are on and I really am home.


Last of the Dinosaurs

I remember the exact time and date that it happened, when I first realized that I had somehow become the “Last of the Dinosaurs.” It was on my very first day of what would turn out to be my final project with my former company. (Before I was downsized during the latest corporate attempt to achieve “right-sizing.”)  This project was perfect and it was meant to be the culmination of everything I had worked so hard to achieve during my entire training career. I had the right project and was in on it from the start. I could select my own team and had a hand in the creation of the training project plan. I could use the ADDIE model from the very beginning, in fact, it was detailed perfectly, complete with shiny diagrams, in the front of project plan. The client was supportive, anxious to begin and I had access to every member of their team, full access, with no limitations.  In a nutshell, it was the ideal set-up for a training professional. All of the pieces for a successful training implementation were in place. I had waited and hoped for this opportunity to come along my entire training career….and finally, here it was. I was the training program manager for the entire project and had all of the tools, equipment and soon..the people, to make it happen, just like in the textbooks.And then, came that moment of realization that I was, in fact, the last of the dinosaurs in my company. There were no other trainers practicing my craft anywhere in the organization. Here is how that happened and what I really mean by stating that I was the genetic end point for my very unique species of dinosaur.

I have been trained, hold a masters degree in this discipline, in fact, in the very wonderful field of instructional system design. Specifically, the field of adult learning instructional design. My training and indeed, my entire professional career have been devoted to the study, design, implementation and evaluation of training programs designed to make adult employees better at what they do on the job. It is a wonderful field, filled with very talented, hard-working and devoted practitioners of the art of training program design and I have been a proud member since 1980, when I first realized that it was indeed a worthy field, worthy of my study and devotion. Over the years, I have used the principles of ADDIE, (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation and Evaluation) to develop many outstanding performance-based training programs for dozens of companies and tens of thousands of employees, with great and, of course, measurable results. It has been a  marvelous way to earn a living and I would not change any of the myriad of experiences I have encountered over the years. And then, one day, I came crashing down to reality. Perhaps it happened that exact same way to the last of the dinosaurs when he or she realized that the large object last seen streaking across the sky had quickly wiped out the entire species and now, with a sudden pang of realization crashing over that unfortunate specimen, the time had come to say “goodbye.” Nice ride, great trip, “Turn out the lights, cue Willie and sing together,”The party’s over.”

That unfortunate realization rushed over me on the first Monday of my first day on the wonderful project I was fortunate enough to now lead, two days before I was to meet with our entire project team, including the client and detail exactly how I was going to implement my proposed training solution as part of the overall project plan. Around 10am, while reviewing my training project plan, I felt the need to gain some validation for my process and I needed to contact a colleague in my company to review my ideas, offer feedback and startling insights, before I faced the rest of my project team in two short days. I went to my rolodex, (in retrospect that might have been the first indication I was nearing the end of the genetic line,) and peered into my training team contact list. First name, gone, and retired. Second name, let go in the last round of layoffs, third name, no longer in the training profession, now building houses for a charitable organization, fourth name, deceased, way too soon, fifth name, well, you get the picture. I inspected each and every name on that list, compiled diligently over the course of a 40 year training career and could discover no one, literally not one soul, who I could contact right now and discuss my training approach. on that cloudy October day. I was completely and utterly on my own. Sure, I had former trainers who I could reach out to, who were still  “in the business.” as they say. All of them however, were now either in very specialized fields, like instructional design, or LMS management and certainly would not want to speak to a former colleague, now adrift in a vast ocean without even a life-preserver, or simply “former trainers,” now toiling in other professions. Where had they all gone, indeed, where had all the time gone and why was this very peculiar dinosaur not among them?

I suspect that the lonely dinosaur, on the brink of extinction eons ago, felt this very same way. One day we were all frolicking together, holding meetings among our teams, reaping the fruits of our labors, enjoying meals together on an expense account and living life, never truly expecting that it would all one day, come to a screeching halt.  Yet, just as that ancient reptile must have also realized, life must go on… for as long as it can, until the door finally shuts and the species, once so vast in number, disappears from the face of the earth; destined to be studied and dissected by scientists, sometime in the future, who most certainly will wonder why that species did not realize its time was nearing the end and why it did not act to preserve the species? I ponder those very same questions, now, as I carefully place my tired, worn-out and now utterly useless rolodex back in the cardboard box, along with the last remnants of my species, once so huge in number and now, like the last smoldering embers of the very last fire of the season, slowly drifting upward and away, questioning where it all went and how bright that fire once was; when we were all young, impressionable and just hoping for that one perfect project to come our way. One last chance to show the world just how valuable we really were, when our world, that moment is time was alive and thriving. As Willie wrote, “It seems all good things must end.” Yes, Willie, they must. I just wish someone had whispered in my ear that the band was tuning up to play their final number and I should be ready to turn out the lights. “Bye bye dinosaurs,” you had a good run, a very good run, indeed.


The best teacher I ever knew

Back in the late 1980’s I wrote an article for “Training” magazine in which I detailed my search for a training instructor. So, much like Marty McFly, who, by the way, should be visiting us this very month, if you really believe in time travel, I am returning to my past to recount something the younger me wrote so very many years ago. Let’s jump on our hover-board and along with me, journey back to the future where I will tell you all about the best teacher I ever knew and the man who helped mold both my life and career. That remarkable man was my tenth grade world history teacher and I will never forget and cannot possibly repay the gift he gave to me, a gift I am certain he never knew was even given.

He was the best teacher I ever had and the major reason I am a professor today. That article I authored for “Training” magazine, outlined the traits I believed made for a great teacher and I stated in that article that what I learned and knew about training and teaching had its origins from that marvelous little whisp of a man who propelled me on a career path I never could have imagined, much less lived. For over 40 years I have wound my way through the corporate world, as a trainer, instructional designer, director of training, internal and external consultant, owner of my very own training and consulting business and now, today, having exited the corporate world, I now find myself looking back at students, so eager and so young. Those students make me ponder where the years have gone that have taken me from student to teacher and to wonder how it all unfolded.  To complete that trip back to my future, and with some of the very same dangers and perils that Marty McFly faced when he, too, jumped back to the present day, I offer for you, precisely what I managed to learn from that brilliant little man who unwittingly shaped my life. Let us together jump in our very own time machine, rev up the engines and journey back in time to a classroom in suburban Buffalo, New York and a teacher, small in stature, but larger than life. Here is what we will learn:

  • Have a plan. Call it whatever you want, a lesson plan, a agenda, a road map, you must always let your students know what they will be learning. That great teacher of mine always wrote on the blackboard, (remember them?) exactly what we were going to cover in that class. Everyone wants to know what will be covered that day or semester and they will learn best when they can see that plan unfold, exactly as planned. Much like today’s GPS, it is comforting to know that you are never really lost and that there is indeed a final destination that can and must be reached. I can still remember the smell of that chalk dust and the residue it always left on the hands of that remarkable teacher I was fortunate enough to know.
  • Keep it simple. It has been said that if you cannot explain the concept you are trying to teach in in just a few words, then you never really understood it at all. How I have both loved and hated that simple truth over these past fifty years. It is most definitely true, and trying to keep things simple has challenged, pushed and prodded me on an every-day basis. That wonderful man and teacher completely understood simplicity and was indeed its master. I can still visualize the smile on his face when he had somehow managed to explain to us why Roman civilization rose and then fell and he detailed it to us in very few, yet well-chosen words. He seemed proud of himself because he knew that we had that “ahh- ha moment” and that fact brought him immense joy and satisfaction. It does for me, too on those all too rare moments when I  see learning flash over the faces of my students. I just wish my role model had told me how exceptionally difficult it was to accomplish this feat on a regular basis. He always did. I am still trying and learning what was so natural for him. For me, it takes a lot of hard work. And it must be accomplished.
  • Be positive. I have witnessed the power of this skill over and over again, both in and out of the classroom. As a coach, I quickly learned to always accentuate the good in each of my young baseball players. Yelling screaming, belittling, and anything negative never worked and should be thrown into the scrap heap. If you strike out, you already know that is not good. Why stress that negative all over again? Received a poor grade, well, we all know why and totally understand the potential consequences, why punish your students even more? Find the positives, reward successes, praise even the smallest of victories, celebrate championships. My history teacher knew this and even the tiniest smile from him, when I finally understood why it was that ancient Greece was so vital to our own United States of America, was motivation for me to learn even more. I soon came to realize that I was sharing the classroom with someone truly special and that I may never pass that way again. I cherished those moments of understanding and to this very day, try to make those moments happen for my students. It really does work when you accentuate the positive, students learn better when they are encouraged and applauded.
  • Be authentic. Always be yourself. Never stray from your core concepts and remain forever true to yourself. Students like to know that their teacher will never let them down, that the principles of outstanding training will consistently be followed, both in and out of the classroom. Students expect and deserve a teacher who is authentic, at all times and it is comforting to know that what their professor says in the classroom is also modeled off- campus. There is a great deal of comfort that comes from knowing that the person you see in front of the classroom is exactly the same person you will encounter out on the street. My wonderful teacher always practiced this important truth, I know that because he lived on my street. I will never forget the day that I found him talking to a group of five kids who had apparently just broken his front window with a baseball. He had them formed in a circle in his front yard, teaching them something about thinking and planning ahead before acting. They were paying rapt attention to him and I remember thinking to myself that here is someone who was facing the prospect and costs of replacing a very large window and he had instead seized upon that fleeting “teachable moment,” to impart wisdom on those young minds. I also learned something very valuable that summer’s day. I learned that no matter what the circumstances, no matter what the distraction, my teacher remained true to his teaching roots. He was authentic.
  • Be enthusiastic. I felt so very proud just yesterday when one of my students wrote that he enjoyed my class because I was so enthusiastic about my subject and that enthusiasm helped him to learn better. I was proud not just because my student was praising me for something I try to exhibit every day, but because I had also witnessed that same zest for a subject that my remarkable world history teacher displayed every day in our long-ago.classroom. I have tried to emulate his zest in my own classrooms over the years. I can still recall that teaching guru leaping up on his desk to illustrate a concept, (no, I have never performed that leap, even once.) He would rush from one end of his classroom to the next on his wheeled chair, seeking to compliment a  student, and sometimes he would quietly siddle up next to a student during an exam to either praise her for a good answer or to quietly suggest to her that “She just might want to reconsider that choice.” (We always change it and it was always the right move.” I discovered that I learned much better when the teacher found his subject so interesting and exciting that he could not contain his enthusiasm for the subject matter. I have always sought to show my students, through my enthusiasm for the subject matter, that great things can indeed happen when you simply throw yourself into your work, completely, totally  and with 100 percent of your energy and efforts. To hear from a student that it just might be working, well, that is why I am in this wonderful profession.

This is certainly not a complete list of what I learned from that remarkable teacher and person from so very long ago,; but they are a few of the most important. As I now round the final turn and race toward the finish line of my career, I am beginning to realize that there has been a certain symmetry to that path that has become my life and chosen profession. I realized from the very first day that walked into his classroom that Mr. Mooshie had launched me on the road to what would define my career. “Education is my life,” is what I replied to one of the people interviewing me for my position when he asked me why I wanted to teach. Reflecting on those fifty-plus years of teaching and training and traveling down lonely roads and busy airports, I am just now beginning to realize how much of an impact that man had on my life. I have been striving to become more like him and that learning curve has driven me hundreds of thousand miles into and out of countless classes and thousands of students, and yet one thing has remained forever constant…I would not be where I am today had  I not have had the good fortune to have entered that tiny classroom so very long ago. For it was in that classroom that I  first unearthed what would become my life’s work.  I was inspired, motivated, just a little bit awe-struck and more than a little impressed by what I experienced, learned and lived for one remarkable sophomore year. That teacher was one of a kind, a “once in a lifetime” role model and a truly unique human being. He never knew what a lasting impact he had on the life of one student, sitting in the back of that old classroom in western New York. It seems we always leave an impression, either good or bad, on those people we encounter every day and we will never know or even fully realize if that impression has remained or is, in fact, ever more than a forgotten experience. That is what I now realize was the most important lesson I learned from Mr. Mooshie. Be careful what you preach, there just may be someone listening and watching and you may never know what they are truly learning from you and your actions.  Mr. Mooshie, you were the very best teacher I ever had and you are the reason I am a teacher today It all began with you and I only wish that I had told you what an impact you had on my life. So now, finally, and way, way too late, I just have.



Where have all the sandlots gone?


Credit: NARA

Today, I was detoured down some backstreets and happened to pass by some old baseball fields that my son used to play on when he was in Little League. It was around noon and the five fields lay dormant, not a player or game in sight. It got me to thinking about my youth, when I was growing up in Kenmore, New York. At high noon, on any day when there was no school, those fields would have been packed with yelling, screaming and laughing hordes of players of all shapes and sizes. We never let a free moment go by without walking to the sandlot and getting a pickup game going. All we had to do, was, as you most likely have heard before, “Be home before the streetlights go on.”  We played and played and played, always dreaming of making the big leagues, where we could play this game every day and get paid for it. Sadly, those dreams never came true. Even more sad, as I witnessed today, is the question of, “Where did all those pickup games go?”  Surely someone must want to play. As has been quoted from  Field of Dreams, “Build it and they will come.”  Well, Ray, they did build them.  It just seems that everyone stopped coming. How did that happen and where did those dreams go? I think I just may know the answer.

Those sandlots are vacant because we simply let them get away from us. The pickup game of baseball has given way to organized leagues, traveling leagues, leagues where you have to drive to play another team. The kids in the neighborhood are scattered through traveling leagues, elite teams, teams comprised of the best talent from the area. Gone are the teams from the neighborhood, replaced by teams of superstars, chasing the dream. Gone is the bucolic nature of a pickup game where everyone gets to play pretty much every position and everyone is a star. (At least in his or her own mind.)  Score was kept, but standings did not exist. We played nine inning games, 3 or 4 games a day, so slumps were pretty much impossible.  You might have a bad game, but there was another game coming right up, if not today, then certainly tomorrow. You would pick up your glove and your battered wooden bat, hope you could find that ball you hit in the weeds and be ready for the next game tomorrow. That is where the sandlot game went. It left us while we looking away.

My greatest baseball memory played out on one of those wonderful sandlots. Our neighborhood team was truly a neighborhood team. We were made up of kids who lived no further than 4 blocks away and were coached by my best friend,Skip”s dad. My father, a doughnut baker, was the sponsor and we were always rewarded with doughnuts after every game. (Win or lose.) Since my dad was a baker, he rarely could get to every game as he had to be to work early, but on this day, he was there, doughnut boxes in hand. My ambition was always to play center field for the Detroit Tigers. I was not a great hitter, I batted right and threw left, a rarity in the sport. However, I was fast and actually enjoyed playing the outfield more than hitting. (It might explain why I could never make even my junior high team.)  I loved to chase down fly balls and then “double up” a runner who never believed I would catch that hard-hit ball. I was quick back then and had already figured out how to track the path of a ball, so I was a starter and usually played left field, where most of the hits in our league seemed to go.

Another plus for playing sandlot baseball is that your team practices were actually just more supervised versions of what you did every day. One big difference, was that our coach would always tell me to “Back up third base on all throws” and would holler at me if I did not. After a bunch of hollering, I got to the point where it became a habit and all throws to third base would see me running to be certain any wayward toss would come my way. And on that special day, all my practice and all that hollering paid off.

It was the bottom of the last inning and we were leading Knabb Brothers Construction 10-9. Our pitcher was tiring, but we had two outs, even though there were runners on first and second. Tension was running high because our pitcher, Dave, was not himself and we really did not have anyone else on the team who could pitch. He had to finish, he was only one out away from victory. The opposing team seized on opportunity and attempted to conduct a double steal with both runners taking off as soon as Dave delivered the pitch. It was wide left and our catcher, Jimmy, grabbed it and sure enough, tried to throw out the lead runner, who, by that time was about 5 feet from third base. From my training and all that hollering, I was sprinting as fast as I could toward third base, gaining ground on the bag and watching the play unfold in front of me. Sure enough, the throw was high, too high for our third baseman to catch and the ball sailed high over his head….right into my glove. Since I was running at full speed all I had time to do was to wind up and throw as hard as I could toward home, trusting that Jimmy would be there, blocking the plate. He was. The ball bounced once, about 3 feet in front of Jimmy. He tagged out the totally surprised runner, who did not even attempt to slide, (after all, who would be backing up third base anyway?) He was out by 5 feet and the crowd, all 50 of them, went crazy.  I kept right on running and was mobbed, along with Jimmy, by our team, our coaches and a few folks who had scampered down from the stands. All I remember is telling coach that “See, I backed up third!”  Mr Nies simply smiled and said, “I knew you would be there.”  How could I not?  He had drilled that play into me for over 4 months. We won that game on that tiny and remote sandlot over 50 years ago and I still remember it as if it were yesterday. That memory remains, as well as all of those games on the dusty sandlots of my hometown. Where have the those sandlots gone?  They have retreated to the recesses of our minds, where we can replay those games over and over again….as long as we are home before the streetlights flicker on.




I am the product of all of the choices I have made in my life. I am confident that everyone reading this post can agree with that statement, however, over the past several years, I have grown to fully understand that those choices I have made, the paths I have selected, the jobs and positions I have served in, all of them, have led me to exactly where I am today. Most of those choices have turned out to be excellent ones. My choice of a wife, without a doubt, was the best decision I have ever made. My choice of occupation, while made very early in my life, has also proven to be a very wise one. Taking the job that eventually led me to my current residence, also very fortunate. Yes, there have also been some very poor choices, which I do not intend to relate here, but suffice it to say, those poor options have been relatively few and none of them have proven “fatal,” at least not yet.

People have often told me that there must be someone looking out for me, or, that I have been just “plain lucky.” I always laugh and smile a very knowing smile, because, you see, I know better. It has not been luck that has pushed and pulled me down the paths I have selected; rather, I firmly believe it is a higher power who has guided me every step of the way. God has been there to help me choose. How do I know that? Because I have prayed to him for guidance and wisdom, for every choice I have made for almost all of my life. And He has never let me down… Not even once.

Of course, His answer has often been “No,” and sometimes, “Not yet.”  I have also heard “Not for you,” and even, sometimes, just plain silence. However, for each and every major decision in my life, I have been guided to where I should go, what I should be doing and even how I should be doing it. I have never been alone, even when I truly have been all by myself. In strange and sometimes unwelcoming places, in situations that might have even been a bit dangerous. I could always count on Him.  He has been by my side.

I know He has been there and answered my prayers, not simply because I am where I am today, but also in looking back on where I might have been if I had made those decisions all by myself. I could have chosen another woman to be my wife. I might have selected a different profession. I might not have taken that job offer, which almost everyone I knew said it was a really bad decision. All of these major decisions, left to my own volition, most likely would have been the wrong ones. I simply could not have made so many good choices all by myself. I had to have help and I did. He was with me and He also sent me the best confidant of all, my wife, Kathy.  She has also helped guide me to the right path. All you need to know about her is in my book; “Words for my Children.” I would not be writing these words today without her. I certainly would not be the person I am today without her.

I have come to realize, over the years, that God also provides little signs along the way, to let us know we are on the proper path. Certain words, songs, people and events will appear to tell us that yes, He is there and I am heading in the right direction. The latest example happened just the other day. Here is what happened:

Kathy was chosen to sing the National Anthem at the swearing-in of one of our friends, to become a Federal Judge. Obviously, this was a huge event and the invitees included both of our Senators, the Bishop, pretty much every judge in our region, the DA and way too many lawyers to count. To say the least, Kathy was a bit nervous, although I knew that her voice and talent were certain to carry the day. She had performed our National Anthem on many occasions and had once even sang the Canadian National Anthem along with our own. (We grew up in Buffalo, New York and both anthems were frequently played before sporting events in western New York.) She has talent and she would come through.

As we entered and the crowd was gathering, we took our assigned seats, where a placard was placed, imprinted with our names, to reserve those seats for us, since the courtroom was packed. I glanced at the placard resting on the seat directly to the right of my wife. It read, “Stephen Kennedy.”  My wife’s maiden name is Kennedy. Her father, George, who passed over a decade ago, would have been so proud to hear her perform our National Anthem. George had served as a policeman and had been in courts, just like this, hundreds of times during his career. Many of his friends and relatives had been lawyers, district attorneys and judges. Our daughter’s godfather is also a judge and a life-long friend. How, with all of the hundreds of available and assigned seats in that courtroom, had Kathy been seated right next to the one person named Kennedy? I whispered in her ear, ” Your father is right next to you, take a look at the name on the seat.” She looked, she smiled and then sang one of the best renditions of the Star Spangled Banner that you have ever heard. As she returned to her seat, the “Kennedy” seated next to her leaned over and said, “Great Job.” I could feel His presence and I knew that her father was right there, as well.

In my book, I mention that one of my favorite poets is Robert Frost. I have quoted him often and have taken his poem, “The Road Less Traveled,”to heart. The poem refers to a life where the road less taken is the one he has selected. I, too, have frequently taken the path that is less worn, less used, less traveled. I have meandered past swamps, complete with snarling beasts, I have picked the road that is not only overgrown with weeds, but also, seemingly endless. I have raced down “highways” that are little more than dirt roads.  And yet, I have always known that I have never really been all alone. A higher power has been there with me, helping me choose that pot-holed, often unsavory path, and each and every time, it has been the right choice for me. My path. The less-traveled one.

Now, as I find myself very much closer to the end of that path than where I began;  as I enter upon what very well may be the final turn in that long and winding road, I look back at the steps I have taken, the journey and places that I have seen across all of those years and realize, that while I have been looking forward, He has been looking down on me; nudging me here and there, prodding me now and again, sprinkling tiny clues along the way, all the while, never once leaving my side. I have chosen those paths not by myself, but rather,along with Him right by my side. As Frost writes at the end of his poem, choosing that path less traveled has made all the difference. Yes, indeed it has.


Leap of Faith

In the remarkable movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones, played brilliantly by Harrison Ford actively and in his usual frenzied fashion, pursues the Holy Grail, a chalice purported to have been used by Jesus at the Last Supper. Through the usual trials and travails, Indy is chased by what appears at times to be the entire Nazi army, various ghosts and goblins, as well as the usual cast of nefarious evil-doers from around the globe. Somehow surviving, often by the most miraculous of happenings, Indy finally reaches his destination; the secret hiding place of the Holy Grail. Alas, the Grail is located in yet another building and room, with a vast distance separating Indy from his long sought-after goal.

With the army of evil-doers closing in from behind, literally racing up the stairs behind him, Indy faces a dilemma. There appears to be no possible way to reach the cup, except to jump, but Indy almost certainly faces certain death as he cannot jump far enough to reach the room; yet, right behind him is that angry horde, intent on preventing Indy from reaching the Holy Grail. What is Indy to do?  Jump to his almost certain death or be captured and almost certainly killed by his evil pursuers?  Indy chooses the former, and, remembering something he had read earlier, takes a leap of faith toward the chalice. Of course, as he leaps and begins to fall, an invisible staircase suddenly appears in the mist and Indy is able to climb those stairs to reach the room that contains the Holy Grail. (Of course, Indy’s troubles continue once he is in that room, but, to not spoil the ending if you have not seen the movie, I will not reveal the outcome at this time.) Rather, let’s concentrate on the “Leap of Faith” that Indy took.

Indy chose to jump, relying on nothing but his faith that the stairs would appear, in spite of the fact that no stair was visible when he chose to leap. Indy trusted completely that there really were stairs out there and his trust was rewarded, right on the spot.  He did not die, he lived to complete his quest. Why did Indy leap when almost everyone else would never have attempted or even thought of making that jump? I believe that Indy jumped because his faith was simply so strong, that there was never a doubt in his mind that what he held to be true, was in fact possible, even though all evidence did not support his choice. That leap of faith had to arise from the supreme confidence that he was right and everyone else was wrong, or at least did not have all of the information that Indy possessed. I greatly admired Indy for making that leap just as I admire anyone else who has the courage and utter confidence to trust in their own beliefs so strongly even when that belief seems to go against all logic and all evidence points toward a different conclusion. Truly remarkable!

So, why do we almost always hesitate to take that leap of faith?  Why do we instead choose to take the safe road, stay with the herd, stay back, never volunteer, never try something new?  It seems to be human nature to avoid risks, to become part of the group, never make waves, never trust our own intuition. No risk, no mistakes, no hurt or harm. Rather we choose to remain firmly planted in place, just like everyone else.  And, in the process, we never really live.

It has been said that if your motto is “If at first you do not succeed, try, try again; then you really should never take up sky diving as a hobby.” While that may most certainly be true, it also will firmly plant you right there on the ground,directly where you stand, while others take that leap of faith out of an airplane, thousands of feet in the air.   Is that how you really want to live your life?

Only you know if you will take that leap of faith. Only you know what your personal leap has been or will be. All I know is that without truly believing, without truly trusting in what cannot be seen, I will never know the joy of discovering new things, new experiences, new opportunities. I may not see those stairs in the distance, they may, in fact, not really exist at all, but I do know, that if I believe strongly enough that what I know is the correct and proper path, then I will most certainly make that leap of faith. Every time, no doubt about it. Faith in what I cannot yet see, faith in my own abilities and faith in the future. I believe that, no matter what I choose to do, choosing NOT to take that leap, is simply not an option for me. I believe and I know that I will not fall. Take that leap of faith and your stairs will be there to support you. All you have to do is believe.


My Business Travel Adventures

Recently, many of my friends and colleagues have taken the grand leap and entered upon their retirement years. My finish line is still just a bit down the road, (but it is closing rapidly,) I recently had some time to contemplate my over 46 years of work experience. It all began by delivering papers and I have held more jobs than I could have possibly imagined when I tossed my first paper on a wind-swept porch, so many years ago. Some of my employment choices were great, many very poor, and a few, well, they just never should have even been attempted. However, as I pondered all of those jobs, a smile slowly appeared on my face as I recalled the many business trips I was required to make over the years.

First, you need to understand that business travel is not exotic. Many people, mostly those who never had to travel, believe  that traveling on the company dime is a fun-filled way to work; with one fantastic experience after another. As anyone who has racked up way too many hotel and airline points will tell you, business travel is anything but a joy.

There have been a few times, however, when my business trips have brought some measure of satisfaction to the hustle and sometimes terror of journeying someplace that your boss tells you you need to go. Please allow me to share some of my most memorable moments from over four decades wandering this remarkable country of ours.

I have visited most of our 50 states, from Maine to Washington and Minnesota to Florida. I have seen the hottest days I could ever imagine in South Texas and the coldest morning of my life in northern Minnesota. I have flown west on the 4th of July and witnessed a seemingly endless display of fireworks as the airplane raced the sunset west.  I have also watched in wonder as a lunar eclipse unfolded, from the window seat of a 757 flying over the Rockies at 35,000 feet. It was a far better view than the movie being offered in coach.

I have visited large cities and sampled the best foods that New York, San Francisco, Dallas and Chicago have to offer. I have joined the “Around the world in beer” club in a small town in Wisconsin, during a two week stay conducting classroom training for a major retailer. (I attempted to sample all of the beers, alphabetically, and never got past the “C’s”)  Management informed me that 4 thirsty souls had sampled them all, although I wondered if any of those lucky 4 patrons still remained sober enough to tell the tale. What I did learn was that to find the very best places to eat in any city, all you had to do was ask the hotel bartender and then tip him or her very well. I have never been  disappointed by the recommendations I received from these marvelous individuals.

I have been to St. Patrick’s day in Boston where they brought out the mounted police to drive the crowd home at closing time. I have experienced Savannah with a “local” and traversed many of the same adventures that the hero had taken in “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” I even had the opportunity to converse with the local Sheriff who told my friend and I that we simply had better go home now, since his town could not provide us any more fun that evening. (I quickly took his advice.)

Many of my training sessions involved team teaching with another instructor and sometimes, the local group would take both of us out to dinner to celebrate their “graduation.”  On one of these trips in Dallas, they took us to a comedy club where offending patrons were asked to step down into “The hole,” a trap door leading underneath the stage where their guest would stay for around 10 minutes while the comedians made fun of the remaining guests. Needless to say, we did not go back. We did retrieve all of our friends, however.

I have also been taught how to line dance in Dallas, Nashville and Tampa. In every city my training simply did not “stick” once the real music started. Those who did learn are truly talented and there really is nothing like the sight of a large number of people moving in unison to a memorable country western tune. It is a talent I just do not have. What I did learn, however, one evening in Tampa, along with the entire group of people we were there to train that week, was how to 2-step. That dance step, I could learn and immediately put into practice. In fact, my partner and I actually won the dance-off that followed the training later that evening. It was a contest where the audience helps determine the winner and the band leader goes onto the dance floor and taps the losing couples on the shoulder and tells them to leave the floor. When only 2 pairs remain, the audience takes over the voting and since our entire class remained to cheer us on, we naturally won; although I seriously question if we were truly the best. I still insist that the 2 step is actually 3 steps, but maybe that is just the “Yankee” in me.

I also remember the days when there was a smoking section in the last few rows of every plane. During one flight from Philadelphia to Dallas, I was seated in the back with 3 businessmen who almost drank the plane completely dry of alcohol. (Times were certainly different back then.) They told terrific stories and laughed all the way to the gate in Dallas. These fine businessmen gave me the names and locations of Dallas restaurants I frequent to this day, but their advice on all other matters was suspect, at best. The sure could drink, smoke and eat.

I have also survived one very frightening flight. As our flight was nearing our destination of the Detroit airport, the captain made an announcement that he was not certain that the front landing gear had locked into into place. He thought the gear had come down and was going to circle the tower to see if they could determine if the wheels were down. The tower said they were, but the captain came back on the intercom and said the indicator still told him the wheels were not locked, but he really could not be certain. So the plane circled for what seemed to be hours, dropping fuel, while the flight attendants drilled us on how to assume “The crash position.”  (I think they really need to come up with a better name for that position.)

When the fuel had all been dropped, we too, began losing altitude. The captain informed us that we should not be afraid, the wheels were most likely down and locked. He also said that they had “foamed down” a runway for us and to not panic when we saw the foam and the fire trucks chasing down our plane from behind. His final words to us were,”Let’s give this a try,” and the runway and the fire trucks quickly came into view. We all assumed the crash position” said a prayer that the wheels were indeed locked and the aircraft entered into its “final approach” (Another term that really needs to change.)  The plane touched down and, as it turned out, the wheels were most certainly locked. As we rolled to a stop on a very distant runway and the fire trucks loudly chased us down, a cheer went up from every passenger. We had made it!  (And yes, I did fly again, although many folks on that plane vowed never to do so again.)

Most of my trips were far less adventurous than that plane ride and I met some outstanding people over the years. I have discovered that almost every person really wants to do the right thing and nearly every stranger I met tried to make me feel comfortable during my travels. I have had lunch with a candidate for the House of Representatives from Minnesota and flown to Phoenix seated next to the owner of a major sports team. I have dined with football players, Olympic cyclists, hockey players and minor league baseball players. I have met a Prince, who is much more of a gentleman than his public image portrays and may have also sat next to a Princess on a flight from New York to Los Angeles.

You see, I often made up roles for myself on flights, if I felt the person seated next to me was either trying to sell me something or if I simply could not get them to stop talking.  While I assumed these fake identities, I also practiced my listening skills, which I frequently taught during my classes. On that cross-country flight, I found myself seated beside a very talkative woman, who, at one point, claimed to be a Saudi Princess. I thought that was so outrageous a claim that I quickly assumed the identity of a Protestant minister, hoping that would discourage further conversation. (It did not.) In fact, she continued on and on, since a “man of the cloth,” was just what she needed at that point. (I fear I will have to answer for taking on that role at some point in the future.) This woman spun a dreadful tale about her treatment as a female in Saudi Arabia and she complained to her father so loudly that he was sending her to America to “teach her a lesson.” I really needed all of my listening skills to just get through that flight.

When we landed, while I was waiting for my luggage to find me at baggage claim, a group of 4 very large men approached her and told “princess” that they would handle her luggage, as her limo was parked right outside the door. And there, parked next to the curb, was the largest stretch limo I had ever seen. It was white in color and appeared to be several blocks in length. The princess offered me a ride to my hotel, which I politely refused. She may have been a Princess after all, but then again, maybe not. Either way, my own transportation was the very best option.

However, it was in South Texas, where I was on a long-term assignment, that I met some of the finest people I ever encountered during the course of my business travels. It was a long assignment and I was away from home far too much. I rented an apartment about 50 yards from the Gulf of Mexico, where I walked almost every morning. I joined a church and was warmly welcomed by the local priest, who immediately had me volunteering. In that church, I met a retired high school football coach who had the strongest handshake of anyone I have ever met. He and his wife made me feel right at home and he once told me that I was the finest ‘Yankee” he had ever met. (I think that was a compliment.)

I also frequented a local pub that had a collection of characters who would make the cast of “Cheers” proud. There was “Mr.Dick” the 75 year old retired golf pro. The owner, who everyone claimed was a former CIA operative, could spin yarns with the best of them. The local college administrator, who could never seem to find his wallet, became a friend because I often bought him a beer. There was also a small group of regulars who always wanted to talk and play fantasy football. I enjoyed the live music that was offered up almost every night and the conversations that simply made me feel welcome. They were quite a unique mix of people from all over the country.

However, it was at a different bar, that I met a remarkable musician who almost immediately became my best friend. He was a guitar and harmonica-playing musician from Baltimore who had arrived in South Texas to take care of his sickly aunt Dorothy. I would listen to him play in a few different venues over the course of a few months. He had an unbelievable talent and a collection of the finest friends you could imagine. These folks quickly became my friends, too, and I was no longer alone on the island. He soon met a wonderful woman, wrote his only love song for her and they enjoyed an eventful year together as man and wife. And then, cancer found him, he suffered for about 6 months and died. I had left South Texas about a month before his passing, but I can still hear him playing, especially when I travel.

When people ask me what has been most memorable of my travels, I relate to them the story of my musician friend and also two other moments that I will never forget. One involves a fish and the other is all about American history. Let’s start with history.

A friend of mine and I were team-teaching a seminar in Williamsburg, Virginia. Along with our client, we went to one of the many fine taverns with the waitstaff dressed in full colonial garb. At one of the taverns, actors, portraying historical figures from the time of the revolution frequently show up and sit along with you at a common table. This particular night, Patrick Henry entered and sat down at our table of 8 and began to regale us about the evils of the British and the necessity for revolution. Well, my friend and I, both history majors in college, many years ago, decide to take the side of the British. For over an hour Patrick Henry, my friend and myself debated the merits of the revolution versus the need to stay British. The other members of our table, a family from North Carolina seemed stunned, most likely believing it was part of the show. We talked louder and louder and people pulled their chairs up near us to listen. When it was all over, no one had really “won” the argument, but we did receive a loud round of applause from the crowd. Patrick Henry even tipped his cap to us as he left, stating that he still had a lot of work to do.

Finally, my most memorable trip involves a fish; a rainbow trout, to be exact. I was on a business trip with many others from the company, to visit the ranch of one of our suppliers. The suppliers ranch, hundreds of acres in size, was high up in the Rockies, containing some of the most beautiful land I have ever seen. Our group was asked to decide on two activities to pursue for two days. We could choose golf or fly fishing. All but two of us chose to golf. My friend and I elected to fly fish. I had never fished before, let alone fly-fished, but I was assured that our guide, a retired ranger, could easily teach me how. I think she regretted ever making that statement.

The three of us boarded an all-terrain vehicle and climbed ever higher into the Rockies. We drove for about a half hour until we came upon a babbling stream, containing  the most pristine environment I had ever encountered. I could hear countless birds singing, insects flying  past my ear and the most vivid colors ever imaginable. What I heard was silence, save for the sounds of nature. I felt as if I could spend the rest of my life right here in this spot. My friend, an expert fisherman, loped to the far side of the stream and immediately began casting for the prized trout. The ranger began trying to teach me how to fly fish. She stated that since I had never fished before, she would not have to ‘unteach” me how to cast. After about a half hour of practice casting, I was deemed able to perform as instructed and so began my fly fishing adventure.

I was unsuccessful for most of the day. The three of us came back together for a late lunch and, of course, talked about fishing. I discovered that fisherman really do love to spin tales. The fishing in this area was all catch and release, so whatever we caught would go immediately back into the stream. My friend claimed to have caught a dozen fish, the ranger, twenty. My catch total stood soundly at zero. The ranger told me she would switch out the flies that she had given me and to see what would happen later in the day, when she claimed the fish were more hungry. (I suspect she was trying to make me feel better, since neither my friend or her had any problems landing fish.)

After about two hours of non-success for me, she returned, offered some more advice and sat down behind me. After one more tepid cast, it finally happened. I had hooked a trout! A rainbow trout. She continued to give me advice and slowly, after what seemed to be forever, I brought the trout to shore. I picked him up, removed the hook and gazed at him. I could see why they were called rainbow trout. His colors contained most of the colors of the rainbow and he glistened in the sunshine. The ranger smiled, my friend gave me a ‘thumbs up” from across the stream, and I gently released my trout back into the water. I never caught another fish, not then, not now.

What I did manage to catch that day was a memory so strong that I can still hear the sounds, smell the flowers, see the sights again in my mind’s eye and hear the water lapping constantly at the shore. I can still recall the magnificent beauty of the colors in that trout. I can still see that cumulus clouds that so often covered the sun about every half hour and the majestic mountains,seemingly surrounding us at every turn. The absolute quiet was a welcome relief from the busy and noisy days of my job and I had just accomplished something I never thought possible. I had fly-fished in the Rockies and really caught a fish. My father would never have believed it. I find it difficult to believe myself. I am so glad I did not choose golf.

As my travel days are now coming to a close, I can always recall what I have lived, learned and endured on my trips. People frequently ask me what I have learned from my travels and I will relate two things every time. The first lesson I have learned is that travel is a whole lot more pleasant when somebody else is paying for it. The second lesson I have learned, and this is the most important thing, is that people, no matter where they call home are really very good; or at least they want to be. Sure, there are a few rascals and scoundrels out there, always have been always will be. But, what I have found, is that almost everybody really wants to help a stranger and they will help you every time, if you just treat them as you would want to be treated if they were visiting you in your hometown. Listen, learn, ask for advice, compliment often, smile, really hear what they have to say and quite literally, the world will soon be yours. “Seek and you will find. Knock and it will be opened to you.”  Travel well, my friend and remember…… always take the time to truly listen.







Reflections of a Baby Boomer

As this aging boomer races ever more rapidly toward another birthday, I have found myself pondering what, if anything, I have learned during my brief time upon this marvelous blue orb. Alas, I soon discovered that quite a few of the lessons I have experienced have come at a terribly high price. I have frequently learned by trial and error, or rather, many, many errors, before the lesson finally struck home. It is my wish to pass on what I have learned for you to ponder, reflect upon, agree or disagree if you desire; but, I hope, cause you to think just a little, before another year passes you by. Here are ten things I have learned along the way.


  1. Every life is precious. Treasure each and every minute of yours and do all that you can to protest the lives of others.
  2. Family is everything. Never place work, deadlines, other priorities ahead of family. Many things and a great number of people will fail or disappoint you in life, they may even be members of your family. Remember, though, that they are YOUR family. Genes mean a lot and you share some of  that very same DNA with your siblings, parents and relatives.
  3. If children and animals love you and are drawn to you. then you most certainly are on the right track in life.
  4. Why did we go to the moon and then stop exploring the rest of the universe? There is so much more to learn, so many new discoveries just waiting out there to be found. Have we lost our explorer zeitgeist?  We need to get going and get going now.
  5. War, by whatever name we call it, must always be our very last resort. (See number one above.) We must stay strong, be a deterrent to those who want to do us harm, but we have to try absolutely everything possible before putting people in harm’s way.
  6. Friends will come and go in your lifetime, true friends manage to stick around for the entire trip.
  7. Let it go. These three words are much more than a really memorable song; they should also become your mantra. Do not hold grudges. Forgive everyone. Life is too short to squander on petty rivalries or injustices. Save your angst for the really important stuff.
  8. The vast majority of people really want to do the right thing. Give them that chance and treat them like they are truly special. You will be surprised at how wonderful they can be. Ignore those who disappoint and who are just plain mean. They really are in the minority.
  9. Every single human on this planet has a talent for something. Your mission in life should be to discover your unique talent and then work every day to develop it into something truly special.
  10. Donate, give back and pay it forward. You will quickly discover that it really does come back to you in many different forms, shapes and opportunities. Along the way you will also meet some really terrific people, trying to do the very same thing you are doing. Quite a neat crowd to hang around with, for sure.

I have learned many other lessons, as well and I will share what I have found in future posts. As I wrote in my book, Words for my Children, it has taken me a lifetime to fully understand what I am experiencing and that path to knowledge has never been short or straight. All I know is that I plan to keep learning something new every day and I suspect that fully understanding what life is trying to tell me, will keep me mighty busy for a very long time. Enjoy your own path of discovery. The truth really is out there.

SAMMY the Brave

At precisely 4:30 pm on Tuesday, October 21st 2014 SAMMY passed from this world to the next, with Kathy, our veterinarian and your grieving author close by his side. His time with us was over, his journey to the other side of the curtain was just beginning. The needles from the three-shot medications that eased his passage lay silently on the table behind us, providing mute testimony to the final procedure our poor kitty had to endure. SAMMY was finally free of pain, delivered from the insidious diabetes that slowly robbed him of his favorite foods, daily routines and ultimately, what brought us sadly to this day, his mobility. There was never a more loving creature ever created. How he obtained his all-caps name is a wonderful story.

SAMMY would playfully jump up next to my computer, near the left lower portion of my keyboard, gently resting his head down about three rows from the bottom of the device,firmly locking in place the “caps lock” button. I would always gleefully type a few quick lines of gibberish, smile down at him, pet him fondly and then move him about 5 inches west of his current and preferred location. SAMMY would then purr loudly and immediately fall back to sleep.He really enjoyed that game and I treasured those moments fondly…… but they would not last.

Over the course of the past year SAMMY stopped visiting me upstairs in my office, preferring to plant himself squarely in front of the sliding glass door that led to our deck and backyard, not to mention the warm sun that he adored. In that backyard were a cat’s greatest dreams come true. A constant and every-changing visitor list of birds, other cats and critters who came to taste the food and water that I set out for these interlopers every morning before sunrise. One very good friend of SAMMY’s, that we named Midnight, would frequent our deck multiple times a day, always pausing to look directly at SAMMY through the glass,just inches apart. Neither appeared afraid and neither ever uttered a sound. SAMMY would just stare, Midnight simply would eat and then carefully slink back to wherever he chose to wander. Midnight is an outdoor cat, SAMMY, much to his pleasure, was an indoor feline. He preferred it that way.

SAMMY, you see, was a rescue cat; delivered into our home one fine Saturday afternoon in the year 2000. Our daughter, Kristin and I, decided that we needed another cat and under the thinly-veiled disguise of a present to my wife and Kristin’s mother, Kathy, embarked on a lengthy journey to discover the next member of our family. We traveled from shelter to shelter, in an elusive search for that seemingly non-existent feline who would call our house his forever home. Kathy, who I have always dubbed the “perfect picker of animals,” for her uncanny ability to choose just the right one for our eclectic home, rejected each and every kitty that Kristin brought her way. Kathy stated that she would know the perfect cat when she held it, finally and reluctantly agreed to visit just one more shelter, our local SPCA, about 2 miles due east of our house. Kristin and I were losing faith that we would ever bring another critter into our home. But fortune was waiting for us at the SPCA. We did not know how lucky we were about to become.

Our faith was restored at that shelter. While Kristin and I scurried to the kitten section of the shelter, Kathy moved directly to the older cat section. That, we learned over the course of the long Saturday afternoon, was where folks seldom seem to trod in search of a new kitty. Most people, like Kristin and myself, would rush to play with the newest and youngest residents…. the adorable kittens. Kathy always chose to visit the older cats first. She reasoned that they needed the most attention and the most love, since their adoption prospects seemed bleak at best. It was there that she discovered our treasured SAMMY. Kathy found him at the bottom of the first row of older cats. The bond was instantaneous.

As Kristin and I finished our play session with the kittens, we slowly wandered the shelter in search of Kathy. We found her in the older cat section, of course,with a big white feline, over her shoulder, head facing her, rubbing against her cheek. Kristin and I had learned, over the course of several previous searches for a new feline resident of our home, that whenever a critter found his or her way to Kathy’s shoulder, its next destination was certain to be our house. And that was the way with SAMMY, he found his way to our house and also into our hearts.

“You just have to love SAMMY” we told everyone. And it was true. Everyone loved him. He would greet all visitors, animal and human alike, with an enthusiastic head butt that we deduced, came from his time “in the wild.” The kind folks at the SPCA informed us that they had “food trapped” SAMMY near downtown Bethlehem. (We could easily believe that, SAMMY loved to eat!) They estimated his age at just over a year when he came into our lives and we eagerly began our time with the most loving creature that God has ever placed on this earth. SAMMY, we would soon discover, loved EVERYONE. His head butt would greet them, his purring would capture their hearts and his great size belied his true self. He was a gentle giant, a loving, completely white, bundle of of fur. SAMMY’s love knew no bounds.

I am fortunate enough to have a job where I can work from home, so I spend many hours with SAMMY and our other cat, Kato. Kato is also a rescue cat, that I saved from the inside of a soft drink cup in South Texas, where I was working at the time. His personality is the exact opposite of SAMMY’s, but that never did deter SAMMY from always using his head butt technique with Kato. Kato did not seem to mind too much, even he knew that SAMMY was a big bundle of love. SAMMY’s entire day, for that matter, was; love his human and feline family, eat, sleep, do his duty, eat and sleep some more, love his family and then repeat the cycle over and over. We found this routine very acceptable and I suspect that SAMMY did as well. He was one very content kitty.

He was also deemed very brave by our vet, who, unfortunately SAMMY got to know all too well during the last year of his life. In fact, SAMMY even earned two “Bravery Certificates” from the vet staff, for his extraordinary bravery shown during his diabetes testing and treatment. They told us that very few cats ever earn two certificates for bravery, (although I suspect they tell everyone that same story.)  What I can relate without a doubt, was that every person at the vet’s office, staff or visitor, it made no difference, would always tell us what a sweet, wonderful and gentle creature SAMMY was. Everyone, without exception, would tell us the exact same thing. They loved SAMMY!  How could you not? That gentle giant stole everyone’s heart. And he stole ours, right from that first moment we saw him to yesterday when that huge heart stopped beating forever. I know that because I felt it stop. My hand was right over it when it beat its last. And I cried.

There will never be another cat quite like SAMMY, there just could not be. God broke the mold when he created that marvelous creature. SAMMY was one of a kind, a miracle, a joy to know and love. Every day he would greet us with a purr and his signature head butt and end his day the same way. Even near the end, when his body was failing him at every turn, he never stopped purring and loving. And, during his final trip to the vet, he remained true to his nature. We petted him for what seemed to be hours, awaiting the result of the dreaded blood test, that we knew would seal his fate. We were prepared for the results, but we were not, as well. We knew the prognosis, we listened to it with heavy hearts, knowing that we were doing the best for him….but the absolute worst for us. Together we eased his passage to the next world, with the sure and certain knowledge that we would see him again. The drugs quickly did their job, his heart slowed and then stopped and we were left alone in that tiny room, just Kathy, SAMMY and me. We stayed for a while, but we knew he was somewhere else, we packed up the now empty cat carrier and bolted out the back door.We will return in a few days to gather up the tiny box that will contain the earthy remains of our beloved companion and gently carry him home… one last time.

It has now been less than 12 hours since SAMMY has left us. I find sleep almost impossible, the memories keep flashing before me like an old movie. I try to remember the good times, but I dwell far too long on the last hour of his time with us. I remember his cold nose, his soft and constant purring and his gentle and loving soul. How could a creature who never uttered even one word have taught me so much about what it means to live a good life?  He stole my heart and I miss him so much.

My sister, Karen, has offered to set up a memorial for SAMMY at the shelter or home of our choosing. She knows all too well the meaning of pain and loss and her generous heart will surely help us through the worst of the next few days. I suspect we will choose to honor SAMMY at the shelter where we found him, late on that sunny Saturday afternoon. That would be fitting, completing the circle of life… a life like no other. SAMMY the brave, two certificates testify to it. SAMMY the loving, his life and how he lived it is a tribute to it. SAMMY our dear, sweet, adorable kitty. You are home now. No more pain, no more needles, no more dreaded vet visits. Save one more head butt for me, SAMMY. I am sure I will receive it promptly when we meet once again. Love you, SAMMY, stay strong!

Miracles Happen Every Day

Miracles happen every day. I am not talking about those big, obvious life-changing miracles; like the birth of a child or a surprising and unexpected recovery from a severe illness. I am referring to those small, sometimes quiet and often very spectacular miracles that are happening all around us….if only we look hard enough.

Have you ever thought about how really wonderful it would be if a long-lost friend happened to call?  And then they did?  Have you ever been running late for a meeting and wished and hoped that the meeting would be cancelled?  And then it was? Have you ever been lost in a strange city and then, suddenly, right in front of you, your destination suddenly appears?  Was it luck? Was it just a  coincidence? Would that have happened anyway, just by chance? Or is it something more? Does a larger presence actually help and assist us when we need Him most?  Some may say “no”  I choose to believe that miracles happen every day, we are just often too busy to notice them on a regular basis.

We have all had that feeling that something beyond our understanding is happening. Many of us get that feeling after the death of a loved one or a cherished pet. We will be sitting alone, maybe just waking from a difficult sleep and there in the corner of our eye we see what we think is a vision or a passing glimpse of that very loved individual. That vision is almost always reassuring, as if the departed one is trying to tell us that things are fine and that they are truly in a better place doing very nicely, my friend. Our friends and relatives will try to reassure us, but we know they are thinking that the real answer is that we are just grieving and seeing things that just are not there. Yet, we know what we saw. Or at least we think we do. I prefer to think of these visions as another little miracle that happen every day.

Have you ever had an experience where you decided, on a whim, to not take your usual route to work and then discover later that there was a terrible accident on your usual path to the office?  Have you not often said,”That could have been me?” Again, another little miracle that happens every day. What caused me to alter my route?  Why did I decide to go another way?

Have you ever had a terrible experience, the loss of a job, an unexpected illness or mishap? Perhaps it was an event where you caught yourself saying “How could this happen to me?” I am a good person, doing good things, helping people, paying my taxes, taking care of my family, and now this happens?”  I think we have all been down that road many times. How often, however, have we also later said that without that setback, that job loss, that misfortune, we would not be where we are today? Another miracle, that often goes unnoticed. Serendipity, perhaps? Another miracle that happens all of the time?

Many miracles happen all around us and we are frequently just too busy to notice them. I walk, almost every day, very early in the morning. Depending on the season, many of these walks take place in complete darkness. There is rarely a sound, only an occasional passerby or that random creature seeking food, shelter or, perhaps, sleep. It is mostly a quiet and very tranquil time of  day and one that I recommend to anyone seeking time for thought, reflection and insight. The sky is very often clear, the stars and planets clearly visible, while the moon that constant interloper, loving to play his game of hide and seek. It is in those special times that I truly can hear and see more sharply than when the noise and clutter of the day force their way into my life. I observe events and hear things that I know are present when the day is in full bloom, those events are just easier to ignore when people and the business of life get in the way.

In that quiet time of my walk I sometimes hear the flutter of wings on some distant branch. I can smell the faint and distant aroma of people rising and preparing their morning meal. I see glorious streaks of light on occasion;the waning evidence of some planetary rock discovering the physics of our earthly atmosphere and protector, leaving scant evidence of its fitful journey to our planet in streaks of many hues. I can peek at tiny eyes gazing at me from the protection and shelter of a leafy bush or billowing tree and every once in a while, the distant wail of a lonely locomotive rushing all too hard to be somewhere else. Miracles that are happening all around me, but I am often just too busy to notice.

Over the course of my sixty-plus years on this planet earth, I have only just recently come to understand that God is truly all around me, each and every day. He is an active and constantly reassuring presence in the course of my life. He guides me where I need to go, nudging me around those detours I often take, all the while trying to keep me on the path that He knows is the proper one for me. I believe that He places these markers in the road, these every day miracles for me to see and hopefully, understand. He wants me to know that He is there, that He has not forgotten me, has not left me alone.

For it is often in the most troubling days of our lives, that we finally take note and look all around us at those miracles that happen each and every day. Those guideposts, those markers, those miracles; they are placed there for each one of us. We simply have to take the time to slow down and notice them. And when we do, the true miracle of it all is that we will finally see the world for what it truly is. We will understand our place in it and where we really must go. Miracles are happening all of the time. We simply must first seek and then we will find them.