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.

THE OTHER JOE

“A Jewish woman had two chickens. One got sick so the woman made chicken soup out of the other to help the sick one get well.”

Henny Youngman, comedian

Okay gang,

Today we’re going to have soup for lunch, Campbell Soup. Not the kind you buy at the grocery store from a company founded by a fruit merchant named Joseph Campbell. No, today were cooking with the other Joseph Campbell, a professor of literature. His most famous book is The Hero With a Thousand Faces. And if you’ve ever heard someone say, “Follow Your Bliss,” they are echoing the words of Mr. Campbell. 

He was a major influence on many Hollywood producers including George Lucas who brought us Star Wars. And I was happy to discover that Professor Campbell was also an accomplished athlete. At one point, he was among the fastest half mile runners in the world. Since I’m a runner too, I’m always on the lookout for inspiration. Since it’s getting close to lunch time, I thought it might be fun to take some quotes from the professor and cook up some Campbell soup for the mind.

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“The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure.”

I watched the highlights of The Columbus Marathon in 1980. And I started thinking maybe someday I’d like to join those folks and take on the challenge of running 26.2 miles. But it was 1986 before I made my way to the starting line. What got me there was not the thrill of watching other runners but a psychiatrist treating me for depression. He suggested I take up running as part of my recovery.   

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“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls.”

Having been in the Marines, I was use to taking orders, so I did what the doctor said. I started running laps around a track. And six months later on a cold November day, I ran my first marathon, finishing in five hours. Because I said yes to that adventure, I have enjoyed four decades of running races and along the way met some great and inspiring people who are also saying a hearty yes to their challenges.

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“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”

A week before that first marathon race I read a newspaper story about Bob Weiland, a medic who had lost both his legs during combat in Vietnam. Mr. Weiland completed The New York Marathon running on his hands – swinging his torso ahead one step at a time – forty-six thousand times. It only took him four days, two hours, forty-eight minutes, and seventeen seconds. When I put down that newspaper, the little voice inside my head started chanting, “I think I can, I think I can.”

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“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.”

Bon Voyage!

SCARECROWS

“Each of us must confront our own fears, must come face to face with them. How we handle our fears will determine where we go with the rest of our lives. To experience adventure or to be limited by the fear of it.”

Judy Blume, author

Fall is a great time of the year. Everything looks so pretty. Have you noticed even the traffic lights change color.

Rim shot!

But seriously folks, today, keeping with our fall theme, our subject is scarecrows.

Not long ago an empty lot beside our house came up for sale. It had been vacant for years and the owner fell behind on their taxes. Apparently the city was losing money paying someone to mow it so they offered us one of those deals too good to refuse. We took it off their hands and now the job of mowing fell to me. And I must admit, for a man who does not get all that excited about mowing grass, in short order I had it looking pretty good.

The lot sits on a busy corner near a school. Before too long my inner artist begged me to let it come out and play. So I did. It started with a rugged old picnic table placed in the center of the lot. Next came a cow standing about a foot tall, welded metal painted blue. Then I found the cow a buddy. Again, metal art, a pig painted pink. I nailed my animals to the table and hung a sign around the cow’s neck which reads, “Spread Joy” Three pumpkins, some leaves, and acorns completed the table decorations.

For an extra touch of seasonal bliss I added two scarecrows. And so far they are doing a splendid job of discouraging birds and other creatures from disturbing my art.

Chances are there are one or two scarecrows looking over your shoulder. 

What are you afraid of?

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

What is holding you back?

Are you scared of looking silly? 

Do you fear rejection?

Not long ago I saw this sign on the wall of a restaurant. I don’t remember what I ate that night but I’m never going to forget what the sign said, “If you don’t ask, the answer is always no.”

And let me add if you and I don’t put our dreams to the test, the universe is always going to say no.

So go out there and take a chance on earning a great big YES!

Once upon a time First Lady and political activist Eleanor Roosevelt offered this challenge, “Do one thing every day that scares you.”

And what cowboy or cowgirl doesn’t want to ride off into the sunset with John Wayne. The Duke, as Mr. Wayne liked to be called said, “Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.”

So there you go, partner. Saddle up. The world is waiting for the gifts only you can offer.

Yee haw!

THERE IT GOES AND HERE IT COMES

“If speaking kindly to plants helps them grow, imagine what speaking kindly to humans can do.” Anonymous, but it sounds like Mr. Rogers or Captain Kangaroo

Once upon a time I delivered blood for the American Red Cross to local hospitals. At one of my stops the technician who signed a receipt for my delivery was Oriental. I’m not sure if it was a problem with my hearing or her broken English. Either way I could only understand about every fourth word she said. It really didn’t matter. She was so happy and her energy was so positive, I just liked being in the same room with her. This might be a stretch but I bet if we were going down on the Titanic together she would somehow make it fun.

There is an old saying that everyone has the power to brighten up a room, some by coming in and others by going out. The question we all need to ask ourselves is which one do we want to be?

Did you hear about the unlucky fellow who wanted to get a new boomerang? The trouble was he couldn’t get rid of the old one. We’re talking karma here. Whatever you put out there is going to come back on you. So we should all be very careful with what we say and do.  The famous novelist Henry James reportedly gave his nephew this advice when asked what he ought to do with his life and how he should live it. “Three things in human life are important. The first is be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.

Very well said, Henry. I agree.

As a child attending church, one of the first things I learned about Jesus was his advice, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Later I learned that same concept was taught in Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Taoism and just about any other religion you can name. I think they’re really on to something special here.

Now add this to the mix, “You will reap what you sow.”

One night during combat training in the marines, we fired tracer rounds at targets on a hill. Trace rounds light up the path of your bullets so you can direct your firepower. Our targets were totally destroyed. On the way back to our barracks one of our drill instructors said, “What they didn’t tell you is all that shit can come flying back at you.”

So be careful with what you sow with your words and actions. Do you remember the legend of Johnny Appleseed, the American pioneer who traveled the Midwest planting apple trees? Why not use him as a role model. Let’s try planting kindness and goodwill wherever we happen to be traveling.

Try as hard as you can I’ll bet you can’t wear out the words, please, thank you, good morning, and have a nice day.

TOO MANY AND NOT ENOUGH

“The only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing.”

Socrates, Greek philosopher

Have you read any good books lately?

When I ask that question, I always feel sorry for the folks who say they’re too busy to read.

The trouble for me is people write books and get them published faster than I can read. If, by some magic, my home office became an airplane, it would never get off the ground simply because the weight of the books I have there would be too much. I’m happy and healthy to the point of my doctor telling me each year during my annual exam that I’m a boring patient. Even so, the odds of me living long enough to read all the books that interest me are at best pretty slim.

Occasionally I will load up a box of books and donate them to the local twig at a bookstore benefiting the hospital here in town. It doesn’t seem to help my situation all that much because I tend to pile them up quicker than I give them away. And even though I’m a regular patron at the library, I still like the idea of owning a book.

If you happen to draw my name for the Christmas gift exchange, one suggestion would be to give be a package of highlighters and maybe a glue stick or two. You see I like to highlight what I think are the most important passages in the self-help books I read. Then I go back and reread those highlights several times to make sure the information sinks in. If I plan on keeping a book, I’ll use that glue stick to add a cartoon, picture, or inspirational quote to the inside cover.

So regarding my book collection, you may ask, “How many is enough?” Mark Twain said it better than I ever could, “I was gratified to be able to answer promptly and I did. I said I didn’t know.”

There will be sixty-nine candles on my next birthday cake this year. Knowing the odds makers will likely say I have more birthday cakes behind me than I do ahead of me, I started thinking about what to leave behind for my grandson. How about some of the books that have helped me up the street and down the road. I’ll start with these.

The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale

 

Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus

 

The Fall of Freddie the Leaf  by Leo Buscaglia

 

Silver Boxes by Florence Littauer

The Game of Life and How to Play It by Florence Scovel Shinn

Thank and Grow Rich by Pam Grout

I Want to Grow Hair, I Want to Grow Up, I want to Go to Boise by Erma Bombeck

As a Man Thinketh by James Allen

The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp

You Don’t Have to Be Blind to See by Jim Stovall

Be Happy by Monica Sheehan

The Flower Man by Mark Ludy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NO STRINGS ATTACHED

“Either you are a puppet or a puppeteer, there is no, in between.”

Akshay Vasu, author

 

One of my childhood adventures took place on the sixth floor assembly area of a downtown department store. I was there to see a puppet show. I don’t have a clue what the show was about.

What stays in my memory was my fascination with the puppeteers perched above the stage. Their job was to pull the strings attached to the puppets making them move and dance. That was over sixty years ago.

It has been a slow climb up the show business ladder. But I’m happy to report I have now moved from the audience to the stage. I am a puppeteer in an anti-bullying show for young children. After answering an ad and a short audition, I became the voice of Monk which is short for monkey. His friends are Elle and Tiggy –  an elephant and tiger, who join forces with their teacher Mrs. Bear to show mean mister Lion bullying is wrong and there are benefits to being kind.

Unlike those puppets I saw all those years ago, the puppets in the show I’m doing now are hand puppets, no strings attached. So that brings us to a new twist on an old quote by our friend, William Shakespeare. “All the world is a stage and we are all puppets.” And the question I have for you now is whose hand is up your puppet or who is pulling the strings attached to your marionette?

“Free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.”

C.S. Lewis, author

Not long ago, Corporal Kyle Carpenter was awarded The Medal of Honor. As a twenty one year old Marine serving in Afghanistan, he threw himself on a grenade to save his best friend. It took military doctors over forty surgeries and two and a half years to put him back together. In his book, You Are Worth It, Kyle talks openly about a breakdown as he struggled with recovery. He came to the conclusion that if he gave up on life then the enemy who threw the grenade would win. And so Kyle chose to live a full life as best he could. He was going to be the puppeteer, the one pulling the strings.

If the book, Mans Search For Meaning, is not on your reading list, it should be. The author, Viktor Frankl, was a renown psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor. Having lost family and all his worldly possessions, Frankl made this observation which, in part, enabled him to survive, “The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.”

So it should be with all of us, don’t give up your strings to adversity, you are in charge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SHARING MY CAKE

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

Proverbs 27:17

I am excited to share my birthday, October 11, with Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk. Once nominated for the Nobel Peace prize by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Eleanor Roosevelt, former first lady and political activist. Although I’ll never have the chance to hug Eleanor or shake hands with Thich, I consider them my friends. These kind and gentle souls offer some great advice for living a happy life. So please have a piece of my birthday cake and let’s listen to what they have to say.

Let’s start with Eleanor who said, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” So the logical question to ask ourselves is what do we want to do be or have? Do you want to be a circus clown, run in The Boston Marathon, or earn a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame? As long as it’s legal and you’re not hurting anyone, I wish you the best. And I also encourage you to take some steps to make that dream come true. Eleanor also said, “Do one thing every day that scares you.”

Now let’s hear from Thich. He said, “If in our daily life we can smile,  if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it.  This is the most basic kind of peace work.” A smile, I have been told, is one of the few things you can give away and keep at the same time. And there is no law that I know of that limits how many smiles you can give away. So on your next trip to the market, gas station, work, or school why not go for the Olympic Gold in the smile division.

Here is another tip from Thich, “The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.” Just like smiling, it doesn’t cost anything to be a good listener. And I confess I’m no where near the top of my game on this one. But, as a wise man said just the other day, “The biggest room in the world is the room for improvement.”

So I promise you, next time we meet I will do my best to hear what you have to say and unless you ask for advice, I’m just there to be your friend, to share your laughter or tears.

Now it’s time to “loosen the bone.”

Look who else just showed up for a piece of my birthday cake.  Singers and musicians; Daryl Hall, Gene Watson, Todd Snider, Andrew Woolfolk, Paulette Carlson, Scott Johnson, and Leigh Gibson.  All born on October 11. Now it’s a party.

And how about we finish the night with a few laughs. Here comes comedian Artie Lange, also celebrating a birthday on October 11.

Thank you, everyone. Have another piece of cake.