WATCHING THE BALL DROP

There are dreams of love, life, and adventure in all of us.

 But we are also sadly filled with reasons why we shouldn’t try.

These reasons seem to protect us, but in truth they imprison us.

 They hold life at a distance.

 Life will be over sooner than we think.

If we have bikes to ride and people to love, now is the time.

Elisabeth Kubler Ross, psychiatrist

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One of my grandchildren asked for a basketball. When I got one for him, I wanted it to be more than just a basketball, so with the help of a black marking pen I took the opportunity to share some wisdom with him. I wrote on the ball,

“It’s not how hard you fall that matters, it’s how high you bounce that does.”

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Like a whole bunch of other people, I stay up to watch the ball drop in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Unlike the million or so people who are actually in New York City, I watch from the comfort of my living room. Covered with 2,688 crystal triangles, the ball is 12 feet in diameter and weights 11, 875 pounds. The ball drop got it’s start in 1907. It sits on a building called One Times Square. Just before midnight on New Years Eve, it makes a 10 second slide down a pole. Fireworks and a whole bunch of partying follow. The new year has begun.

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For you and me the ball called life drops everyday. And this ball does not always bounce in the direction we would like it to.  Author and disability advocate Helen Keller said, “Security is mostly superstition Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure.  Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”

No one is certain how many times you’ll get the ball called life. That simple fact should be enough to get you moving in the direction of your dreams and goals. And somewhere along the road during your quest, you’re going to get clobbered. Now, remember what I wrote on that basketball for my grandson, “It’s not how hard you fall that matters, it’s how high you bounce that does.”

You may have to back up but you don’t have to give up. What have you learned? What can you do different on your next try? And if you can find a way to laugh at your calamity, you’re already bouncing back. Life can be cruel but there is no other game in town. Have some fun. Play to win but expect some bumps on your head and a bruise or two on your heart.

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What is life?

It is the flash of a firefly in the night.

 It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime.

 It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.”

Last words of Blackfoot Warrior Crowfoot

THE PAUSE BUTTON

“If you are depressed, you are living in the past.

If you are anxious, you are living in the future.

If you are at peace, you are living in the present.”

Lao Tzu, Chinese philosopher

Okay, class. Today we are going to have a look inside your brain. Located somewhere between the frontal lobe, the parietal lobe, the occipital lobe, and the temporal lobe is the pause button. My own research indicates that many people don’t realize their brain has a pause button.

Have you ever noticed how fast bad news or gossip travels? As a wise man said long ago, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”

Well now that I’ve had a chance to put on my pants, let me tell you the truth. All the news isn’t bad and not everyone is out to get you. Please hit the pause button and listen to me. Let’s start with one of my favorite Bible verses.

“This is the day the lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Psalm 118:24

Last winter was tough. It was so cold most of the time I had little goose bumps on my arms. And all the little geese were wearing sweaters. But guess what? After Winter, Spring arrived just like it has since the world began oh so many years ago. And I’m betting it will show up again after next winter and all the winters after that. The flowers will bloom, the birds will chirp, and get out the lawn mower because it is very likely the grass will grow.

And if you’ll just hit the pause button now and then you can take in all the good things happening.

The blue sky with puffy white clouds drifting by. The sun coming up and the sun going down. How about that gentle breeze that’s busy rearranging your new haircut. Mother nature has plenty of free stuff to enjoy. How about a walk in the woods or a swim in the lake? Take a little time and plant a garden, the food seems to taste better when you grow it yourself.

When taking care of business, I’ll bet you’ll meet some interesting people in the waiting line at the bank or the checkout line at the grocery. Hit the pause button and start a conversation.

No, I do not live with my head in the sand. I know the world is not always kind. But you and I can be the good news. Hit the pause button long enough to smile at the folks you pass by. Be nice, be generous, be the light in someone’s darkness. I’m sure there is a worthy cause that would be happy to have you as a volunteer. Finally, count your blessings, the most important arithmetic you’ll ever do.

“Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.

Guillaume Apollinaire, French poet

T-Shirts

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

Will Rogers, humorist

I’m doing laundry today.

And I would like to show you some of my t-shirts and explain the message I want the world to see when I wear them. T-shirts got their start in the 1800s as part of work outfits and later military uniforms.

The t-shirt as we know it today with pictures and phrases started to catch on in the 1940s.

That brings us to shirt number one, green with a picture of the famous hobo clown, Emmett Kelly.

I’m hoping that when you see this character and how pitifully sad he looks, what ever your troubles are, in a strange way you’ll start to feel better. Mr. Kelly said, “By laughing at me, the audience really laughs at themselves, and realizing they have done this gives them sort of a spiritual second wind for going back into the battles of life.”

Now let’s pull another shirt out of the dryer. This one has Mickey Mouse on the front. I’m always inspired by the words of Mickey’s creator Walt Disney who said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.”

“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.” So my question for you is, what kind of dreams do you have for your life? History books are full of people who have done what others have said was impossible. I encourage you to add your name to this list.

Here is a shirt with the name Rocky Marciano. He was the only Heavyweight Boxing Champion to retire from the sport undefeated, 49 and 0. 43 by way of knockout. I’m not encouraging you to become a prize fighter. What I am hoping you’ll do is develop the one trait, more than any other, that made Rocky champion. Tenacity, it means not giving up. A sports writer once said of Rocky, “A building could fall on him and he would still be swinging at you.” Pursue your dreams with that kind of passion.

Next we have a shirt with the words “This Shirt Saves Lives” next to a logo for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. They opened their doors in 1962. The place treats children from all over the world who are fighting cancer. And here is the good news, they do it free of charge. That’s right. No patient being treated at St. Jude ever gets a bill. The vision for this project came from entertainer Danny Thomas who said, “No child should die in the dawn of life.”

We have time for one more shirt. This one says “Hollywood” across the front. I am a big fan of the Muppets, especially Fozzie Bear. Their creator Jim Henson said, “Life is a movie, write your own ending.” So friends, what got you here doesn’t have to keep you here. Come up with a plan. Make sure you’re the one holding the pen. Now go to work and make your dreams come true.

Some Knockout Wisdom

“Do not listen with the intent to reply, but listen with the intent to understand.”

Anonymous

Age thirteen.

After reading a book about Heavyweight Boxing Champion Floyd Patterson, I ask for a punching bag for Christmas, the kind that looks like a peanut – sometimes called a speed bag. When it was delivered to the house, my father attached it to the basement ceiling for me. I opened the instruction book and there was a picture of Rocky Marciano, the only Heavyweight Boxing Champion to retire undefeated. In his career he won all of his forty nine fights with forty three coming by way of knockout. And now The champ was going to teach me how to hit my new punching bag.

It was set at eye level, just the way Rocky instructed. “Punch the bag straight on with your fist, then after it rebounds roll your wrist and hit the bag with the back of your hand,” the champ said. “Now keep it going alternating left and right hands,” Rocky, known as The Brockton Blockbuster, continued. I studied everything he had to say. In due time I was making music on my punching bag, incorporating moves with my hands, elbows, and even my head.

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Age seventy.

You’re invited to follow me to the YMCA, I’m still making music on the punching bag. Enjoy the show!

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A speed bag has an important role in a boxer’s training – sharpening their hand-eye coordination.

After a short and sometimes painful amateur career as a boxer, I soon decided that in the long run I would do better as a fan. You might think that men who hammer on each others heads would not have much common sense to share with the rest of us. After listening to some champions, I discovered that notion was false. They do indeed have some knockout wisdom for all of us.

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“I never went to bed in my life and I never ate a meal in my life without saying a prayer.

I know my prayers have been answered thousands of times,

 and I know that I never said a prayer in my life without something good coming of it.”

Jack Dempsey, Heavyweight Boxing Champion 1919-1926

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“We all have the same God, we just serve him differently.

Rivers, lakes, ponds, streams, oceans all have different names, but they all contain water.

So do religions have different names,

and they all contain truth expressed in different ways, forms, and times.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Muslim, a Christian, or a Jew.

When you believe in God, you should believe that all people are part of one family.

If you love God, you can’t love only some of his children.”

Muhammad Ali, The Greatest

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“It’s easy to do anything in victory.

It’s in defeat that a man reveals himself.”

Floyd Patterson, first boxer to regain the Heavyweight Championship after being knocked out

A SKELETON WALKED INTO A BAR

“Any fool can know.

The point is to understand.”

Albert Einstein, Theoretical Physicist

A skeleton walked into a bar and said, “Give me a beer and a mop.”

RIM SHOT!

But seriously folks, there are 206 bones in the human body. Sooner or later winners in the game of life discover the three most important are the wish bone, the backbone, and the funny bone.“

Regarding the wish bone; entrepreneur, writer, film producer, and the man who gave us Mickey Mouse and Disney World, Walt Disney said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.”

So the next logical question is “What do you want to be, do, or have?

Next, you want to put your answer in writing. What successful people call SMART goals. The SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Action Oriented, Realistic, Time Specific. Got it?

Now for some guidance regarding work, let’s go to The White House and hear from some former presidents. “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.” Those words come from Thomas Jefferson third President of the United States and the man who wrote The Declaration of Independence. You can see his picture on a two dollar bill.  

Franklin Roosevelt has his picture on that dime you just dropped into your piggy bank. He said, “Happiness is not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.” Mr. Roosevelt was the longest serving president, four terms until the rule was changed to two. He gave us the Social Security System and guided us through most of The Second World War. Abraham Lincoln who signed The Emancipation Proclamation, made Thanksgiving a national holiday, and endured The American Civil War said, “Things may come to those who wait, but only things left by those who hustle.” His picture landed on the penny and the five dollar bill.

Now for some comments on the value of the funny bone, climb in the time machine with me and travel back to ancient Rome. Horace the lyric poet had this advice, “Mix a little foolishness with your serious plans. It is lovely to be silly at the right moment.”

So far I’ve never been asked to make a speech at a high school or college graduation. But just in case I do here is what I have to say, “Members of the senior class, everything is broken, take your gifts and talents, go fix it. Then I’ll follow up with this quote from author and disability advocate Helen Keller. “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”

And one of the things you’re going to need on your journey is a well oiled and fully functioning funny bone. At times, it may be the only resource you have.

“Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”

Psalm 30:5

WISDOM FROM THE FRUIT BOWL

“Once in a while you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right.”

Grateful Dead, Legendary Rock and Roll Band

Gather round the breakfast table. I have some exciting news. Fruit is not only good for our bodies but understanding it can make us better runners and ultimately more successful in the game of life.

Let’s get started.

The world manages to come up with over 9 million grapefruits a year, mostly from China, Vietnam, The United States, and Mexico. The benefits to our bodies from eating it are many. But to me, the most interesting feature of a grapefruit came from a very wise man who long ago observed, “Life is like a grapefruit, you never know which way it’s going to squirt.”

Just suppose your grapefruit squirts in a direction that in some way hurts you or turns your happy life into a pile of rubble. You really only have two options. You can become bitter or better. As yet another wise man from long ago pointed out, “A kick in the pants can still be a step forward.”

I am amazed with some of the folks who show up to run a marathon race. They have clearly chosen better over bitter. They are running 26.2 miles to prove to the world and that grapefruit that in spite of what life squirts at them, they can handle it. I’m talking about people with missing limbs, the blind, recovering alcoholics, burn victims, cancer survivors. And some of the money raised at these running events benefit just about every charity on the planet.

Now lace up your running shoes and make friends with a bowl full of grapes. Yes, I said grapes and I’ll let comedian Demetri Martin explain. He said, “My favorite fruit is grapes. Because with grapes, you get another chance. ’cause you know, if you have a crappy apple or a peach, you’re stuck with that crappy piece of fruit. But if you have a crappy grape, no problem – just move on to the next. ‘Grapes; the fruit of hope.”

The Bible put it this way, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer.” Romans 12:12

The lesson here is very simple. Treat every calamity like a bowl of grapes and never give up. If one solution doesn’t work, back up and make another run at your problem with a new idea. Now, here comes another wise man. His name is Anonymous and his advice, “If you don’t like the fruits you are growing, then change the seeds you are sowing. Very well said, Anonymous. Maybe the answer to your problem is a new bunch of friends, a better menu, or more sleep. But you’ll never find out if you give up. Before we leave the breakfast table, one more piece of advice from humorist Will Rogers.

“You’ve got to go out on a limb sometimes because that’s where the fruit is.”

Rethinking Sputnik

“Sometimes all you need is a second chance because time wasn’t ready for the first one.”

Anonymous

October 4, 1957, one week before my sixth birthday. Russia launched a Satellite called Sputnik.

Soon I was standing with a group of neighbors gathered to watch a small blinking object move across the sky. You could barely see it. It looked so tiny but it was creating some big news. Russia had beat the United States into outer space. And it appeared our country was afraid the ability to launch nuclear weapons at us was next on their list.

Our country went to work and soon caught up with Russia’s space technology. What followed was a contest to see who could build the most bombs, missiles, and rockets. Both teams now have more than enough to destroy planet earth many times over. So far, even though we have come close a time or two, no one has pulled the trigger.

My first impression about the folks living in Russia was one of fear. They were out to get me. Now, I’m rethinking Sputnik. Most of those people probably want the same things I do, peace and love. And according to these Russian proverbs they feel the same way I do about a lot of other things too.   

“A kind word is like a Spring day.”

When I’m running on the trail near my home, I make it a point to say, “Good morning” to everyone I meet. And if I happen to see those same folks when I loop around to head home I say, “Have a good day.” I don’t always get the response I’m hoping for but at least I put some good vibes in air. And that brings us to our second Russian proverb.

“A spoken word is not a sparrow. Once it flies out, you can’t catch it.”

Life on this planet didn’t come with any guarantee of how long we’ll be here. I don’t mean to bring down the party but it’s always good to remember your next words could be your last words. Knowing that should make it a whole lot easier to say nice things.

“Don’t blame the mirror for your ugly face.”

One of my morning rituals is standing in front of the bathroom mirror and putting on a red clown nose. Next, I spread a smile across my face and say to the reflection, “Today I’m going to make someone glad they met me.” I put the clown nose back in my robe but I wear the smile as much as I can during the day. And I pretend I’m Johnny Apple seed and sprinkle kind words wherever I go.

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I did some research and discovered they have a marathon race each September in Moscow, the capital of Russia. Nearly thirty thousand runners take part from seventy countries. This sounds like a lot more fun than dropping bombs on each other. What do you say we sign up.

RISE ABOVE IT

“Little minds are tamed and subdued by misfortune; but great minds rise above them.”

Washington Irving, writer and diplomat

Have you seen any funny bumper stickers lately?

I saw this one not long ago, “Blondes Are Not Dumb.” It was on the car bumper upside down.

Another bumper sticker, also upside down, read, “Why Be Normal?”

One driver made this declaration on his bumper sticker. It read, “I Hate Bumper Stickers.”

Way back in the 70s, a popular bumper sticker among Christians was, “Jesus Died For Your Sins.”

At the time I was in the marines. One of my friends was a Sioux Indian. And he told me that many of the cars on his reservation had bumper stickers that read, “Custer Died For Your Sins.” This, of course, referred to General Custer and The Battle of The Little Big Horn where the Sioux helped annihilate the general and his soldiers.

Now and then I’ll see a clunker of a car and wonder just is it that keeps it going. Sometimes these cars will have a bumper sticker that reads, “My Other Car Is A Rolls Royce.” or “My Ferrari Is In The Shop.” I like the honesty of the clunker driver whose bumper sticker read, “My Other Car Is A Piece of Shit Too.”

I like this one. I think I saw it on a car driven by Colonel Sanders. “I believe in a better world where chickens can cross the road without having their motives questioned.”

Here is some good advice for all of us from a bumper sticker, “Don’t believe everything you think.”

I can relate to this on, “I don’t suffer from insanity – I enjoy every minute of it.”

If I have to pick one bumper sticker as a favorite it would be this one, “Rise Above It.”  

I don’t know what the “IT” is for you. What I do know is that if you live long enough you’ll get clobbered, stomped, banana peeled, tricked, trapped, blindsided, and bamboozled by life a time or two.

My “ITS” have included severe depression, failed relationships, trouble keeping my piggy bank full, some setbacks on the job, trouble in school, and a spider bite that almost killed me.

Helen Keller, who certainly had more challenges than most of us, said, “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of overcoming it.”

It’s a very short journey out my front door until I meet someone carrying a much bigger load of trouble than the one I have. So my first rule for taking on the day is pray for those less fortunate than I am. Counting my blessings is next. It’s the most important math I do. Finally, the next order of business is to do the best I can with whatever comes down the road.

I support the Special Olympics. And I wholeheartedly believe in their motto, “Let me win. But if I can not win, let me be brave in the attempt.” 

THE PIGGLY WIGGLY CHALLENGE

“It’s not about ideas, it’s about making ideas happen.”

Scott Belsky, author and entrepreneur

I like to eat.

And in order to make that happen, I’m on my way to the supermarket. Not just any supermarket. I’m on my way to Piggly Wiggly. Just in case you’ve never heard of Piggly Wiggly, let me tell you about them. Not only can you buy food there, you can also get a good dose of inspiration when you study their history. Piggly Wiggly is an American supermarket chain operating in the south and Midwest parts of The United States. Today, I’ll be shopping at one located in a town called The Plains in Southeastern Ohio.

The first Piggly Wiggly opened in Memphis, Tennessee. The year was 1916 and the owner was a man named Clarence Saunders. Piggly Wiggly store was the first supermarket to offer self service shopping, checkout stands, individual item price marking, and shopping carts. Before this bundle of amazing ideas, you handed your grocery list to a clerk and waited for them to return to to the front of the store with your goods. And that bit of history brings us to what I’m calling The Piggly Wiggly Challenge. Author and disability rights advocate Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”

So what about your next daring adventure?

Do you have any bright ideas?

Is there something you want to be, do or have?

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“A ship in harbor is safe – but that is not what ships are built for.”

John A. Shedd, author

Just like that ship Mr. Shedd is talking about, your ideas and goals are not going anywhere unless you take some action. What Mr. Saunders did at Piggly Wiggly changed the way we buy our food. And I bet a bunch of merchants kicked themselves in the pants because they didn’t think of it first. Even more painful would be the poor soul who had the idea but failed to act on it.

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I am about to run in The Athens Marathon. No, not Athens, Greece. Not far from that Piggly Wiggly where I shop is the town of Athens, Ohio. That is where I’ll be running 26.2 miles on race day in April.

The first time I ran this marathon was in 1992. Obviously I am older now. Am I wiser? We will find out on race day. This is where The Piggly Wiggly challenge becomes real for me. All the folks who are suppose to be smarter than me when it comes to running a marathon say the same thing. You will have to train differently as more and more candles are added to your birthday cake.

Like Piggly Wiggly I’m trying out some new ideas. I’ve added yoga, weight training, and alternating running days with swimming laps in the pool.

“Never be afraid to try new things, and make some mistakes, it’s all part of life and learning.”

Anonymous

JUST IN CASE

“The first and the best victory is the victory over yourself.”

Plato, Athenian Philosopher

Along with a medal, the winners of the Boston Marathon are given an olive branch wreath crown.

These crowns got their start at the Olympic games in ancient Greece and they have been a part of the Boston awards ceremony since 1984. The Greek government provides the wreaths to the folks in charge of handing out the prizes.  I come from the school of anything is possible. But just in case I never come in first at The Boston Marathon, I decided to take matters into my own hands.

I’ve been a runner over thirty years. I’m now in my late sixties. And it seems like it takes me a little longer to cross the finish line of a race than it did a few years ago. Either I’m getting slower or some joker is moving the mile markers further apart. At my last race, when they passed out numbers to wear on the front of your shirt, they gave me one of those orange triangle slow moving vehicle signs that warn others on the road someone is moving slower than the normal flow of traffic.

But seriously folks, I’m still out there putting one foot in front of the other and beating everyone to the finish line who doesn’t show up for the race. I deserve a prize. And that’s why I was excited to discover that if I made my way to the third floor of the local library at 2:00 on December 21st someone would help me craft a crown of winter-greens and flowers. With that news, I was about to become a Holly King or Ice Queen and a marathon champion at the same time.

I showed up right on time along with a dozen or so other artists. I can’t say for sure but I’m willing to bet I was the only one there waiting to be crowned a marathon winner. Our supplies were spread out on a table. After being measured for the wires that would wrap around our heads and serve as a foundation, we went to work. I wrapped or tied some some ribbon, holy berries, flowers, tree branches, and a few other novelties around the wire. The ceremony took place in the restroom with only my reflection in the mirror to watch the historic event unfold. I declared myself the winner – the best me I could be. And then I returned to the party.

The legendary runner and author George Sheehan made this observation, “From the moment you become a spectator, everything is downhill. It is a life that ends before the cheering and shouting die.” George also said, “I have met my hero and he is me.”

I have learned that the whole world is not going to love you. But for the folks who want to love you, it makes it a whole lot easier for them if you love yourself.