A REALLY BIG SHOW

“Patience is bitter, but it’s fruit is sweet.”

Aristotle, philosopher

 

Twenty-two years after graduation, at age 40, I was just about ready to give up on the idea of being in a high school play, but as the great Winston Churchill said, “Never, never, never, never give up!”

The dream lived on.

When my daughter was cast in her school’s production of Bye Bye Birdie, I remarked to some of her friends that I’d like to play the part of Ed Sullivan. After all, I’d been preparing for the role most of my life.

I grew up watching Ed Sullivan. If you were looking for me on Sunday night, chances are pretty good you would find me in front of the television watching his show. Dancers, puppets, bears, dogs, jugglers, comics, actors, singers, and sports heroes; Ed Sullivan had them all. Any performer knew they had made it if they landed a guest appearance on his show.

What was the secret of his appeal?

Most folks say he made it look like anyone could do his job.

He often made mistakes, fumbled names and tripped over announcements. He was a happy man, but had a stiff cardboard appearance that made him look like he was wearing his jacket with the coat hanger still inside. He was an entertainer everyone could enjoy and his show was safe for the whole family. A lot of people made an attempt at imitating him. Some professionals even made a living at it, I got pretty good at being Ed Sullivan.

“Now right here on our stage…a really big shoe! (show always sounded like shoe when Ed said it.)

The Upper Arlington high school production of Bye Bye Birdie went into rehearsal without me. I went back to minding my own business and occasionally acted like Ed for my own amusement.

As a wise man said long ago, “Be careful what you ask for. You might get it.”

I wouldn’t say they were desperate, but opening night was only a week away and they still hadn’t cast the role of Ed Sullivan. The kids didn’t forget me. They told the director about my aspiration. A short time later, opportunity dialed my phone number and I was on my way. The play called for Ed to deliver a few short lines of introduction. This would take place off stage, while some scenery was moved. In other words, the audience would never see Ed, only hear him.

The director recited over the phone what lines were required and I copied them down. Next, I moved into the recording studio. To the average pair of eyes, it may have looked like a cheap recorder in a bathroom, but to me, it was Broadway. After a couple of rehearsals, I cued the record button. A couple of nights later, by way of tape recorder, I was performing in the play.

Now let me borrow a line from Robert Schuller: “God’s delays are not God’s denials.”

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HOLY COW, BE PATIENT

“Adopt the pace of nature her secret is patience.”

 Ralph Waldo Emerson, writer

“May I have your attention.

Quiet, please.

Okay, how many of you ever drank a glass of milk?

Raise your hand.

Let’s see, one…two…three…37…38…39…103…104…105.

Great, almost everyone!

You can put your hands down now. Thank you.

Several years ago a good friend of mine told me about a painting she gave to a young couple as a wedding gift. The picture was of a cow grazing. Underneath the picture was the caption; “Patience, the grass will become milk someday.”

According to the book, American Averages, by Mike Feinsilber and William B. Mead, “On an average day in America, 10,930,000 cows are milked.” So let’s talk about patience and that glass of moo juice you drank today.

Do you see that cow over there eating grass? It’s a dairy cow and she eats about 50 pounds of food and drinks 15 gallons of water a day. Cows are able to make milk when they are two years old and have given birth to a calf. After the babies are taken away, humans make use of the plentiful supply of milk.

I think you’ll find this next bit of information “udderly” fascinating. The food eaten by a dairy cow is tough and coarse. It’s hard to digest. The cow has a special stomach to deal with this problem. In fact her stomach has four parts.

MOO!

When the cow eats, she chews just enough to swallow her food. The food goes to the first two stomachs, which are called the rumen and the reticulum. When the cow is full, she’s ready for a rest.

When break time is over the cow coughs up balls of food called cud. The cow chews the cud thoroughly and then swallows it again. On this trip, the food goes to the third and fourth stomachs, which are called the omasum and the abomasum. This is where it is finally digested. Some of the food goes into the cow’s bloodstream, then enters the udder where the milk is made.

MOO-VING right along.

When the udder is full, it’s time to milk the cow. This is done by hand or by machine twice a day.

The average cow makes five gallons of milk a day.

Next stop is the dairy where the milk is tested, pasteurized, homogenized, packaged, and made ready for shipment to stores. Don’t forget to pick up a gallon on your way home tonight.

Take a tip from the cow. When cooking up success, notice the recipe calls for plenty of patience sifted through set backs, disappointments and heartaches.

The Bible put it this way: “And let us not be weary in well-doing for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” Galatians 6:9

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WRITE ON

“Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.”

Natalie Goldberg, author – Writing Down The Bones

Summer, 2016

Lights! Camera! Action!

Hollywood was looking for me. (Sorta kinda maybe)

A group of prison inmates were learning to write screenplays.

The fire behind this project was a lady named Chinonye Chukwu and her classroom was The Dayton Correctional Institution.

A casting call went out for five films that were to be produced. One film called for someone to act in a short scene as a homeless man. Age 65, sporting long gray hair and a beard, I won the role. The next part of my Tinseltown adventure was to meet the ladies who were bringing their stories to the screen.

Five students spent eight weeks learning the craft of screenwriting. They were teamed up with media students, technicians, actors, and other professionals from Ohio and neighboring states. Because of their confinement, they were only able to share their ideas and give direction from inside the prison walls. When the scripts were ready, shooting the films began in different locations around the state with a proxy director.

The subject matter for the films are rooted in the personal stories of the inmates. The film showcasing my acting skills is called FOR THEY KNOW NOT.  It is about a young woman battling heroin addiction. She seeks help but bumps up against a bureaucratic wall. She lives under a bridge and that’s where she encounters a homeless man who offers to share a meal with her.

The other films:

BANG

With no employment and two starving children, a mom is pushed to her breaking point

LOVE OR LOYALTY

On her last day in prison, a woman’s bond with her cellmate is put to the ultimate test

THE DEVASTATING GAME

After years of repeated abuse by her brother, a sister makes the most difficult decision of her life

           TRANS – PARENT      

A young girl’s search for her mother leads to life altering consequences.    

I’ve been to a truckload of church services. But I have never heard testimonials more powerful than those from the women in the screenwriting class. Yes, they had made mistakes. And like me, they have learned to believe in a God of second chances.

The writing program is called PENS TO PICTURES. 

Their mission: Create a platform for the voices of incarcerated women and to champion prison reform.

Along the way the women writing these screenplays are learning new skills and local artists are given an opportunity to hone their craft.

And you’re invited to be part of this important work. Please visit their website www.penstopictures.org and see how your gifts and talents can help this important project.

Everyone wins!

“It would be great if people see the humanity in us and know that everyone has a story.”

Jamie, an inmate and writer/director of TRANSPARENT

“It doesn’t matter where you come from,

All that matters is where you’re going.”

Brian Tracy, author

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POBODY’S NERFECT?

“Value the correction, not the mistake.”

Dr. Haim Ginott, psychologist

Imagine that you’ve been awarded a day long ride in a time machine. You may travel to any destination and attend any event in history. When you arrive, you will not get hurt. You will not get shot at in a war or go down with the ship. Your trip in the time machine will provide you with a safe ringside seat to history in the making. You are guaranteed return to the present in the same condition you left in.

Sound exciting?

While you’re thinking about this opportunity, let me tell you about some the places I would go.

Number one on the list is Jesus. I’ve got a bunch of questions for him. I try to live day by day from lessons based on the events of his life. How incredible it would be to be there.

Next, over fifty years after her death, Eleanor Roosevelt continues to appear on the list of most admired women. An advocate for human rights, devoted to many social causes, she and I share a birthday – October 11th. Other women I would like to shadow for a day include Helen Keller, Erma Bombeck and my Grandma Snider when she was a little girl.

For the serious business of being funny, I would like to appear in a movie with Laurel and Hardy.

After I’ve worked with them, I’ll climb back in the time machine, move ahead a few years to team up with Abbott and Costello for more fun. For a “Shoot ’em up at Dry Gulch Creek” kinda movie –  I would like to work with John Wayne.

“Let’s get those wagons in a circle, pilgrims.”

I’m fascinated with Davy Crockett at the Alamo and George Custer at The Little Big Horn. And I wonder how it would be to chum with Generals Grant, Sherman, and Lee during The Civil War.

Science and technology have created pretty incredible gadgets and gizmos. But I think the chances are slim to none they will create a time machine that can take us back to the events and people I’m talking about. My fantasy will have to remain a fantasy. Even so, you and I own a different kind of time machine.

It is located in a little corner of our brain. All the “Woulda – Coulda – Shouldas and If Onlys are stored there. We can think about them as often as we like, visit our screw up and mistakes, wear out a pair of shoes kicking ourselves in the pants, but it changes nothing.

Forgive yourself.

Get happy.

Move on.

 

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HAMMER AND NAILS

“This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forth unto those things which are before us.”

Philippians 3:13

The echo of sirens and the howling of my dog shattered a restful sleep. I fumbled for the light and rubbed my eyes. It was after midnight. The sirens got louder and an instant later flashing lights were dancing through the curtains.

“Quiet, Lady, quiet,” I said to the dog as I reached for my glasses.

I could feel my heart pounding faster now as I looked out the window at a street full of fire engines, their crews moving quickly to position hoses and ready ladders. The house across the street was fully engulfed in flames. Neighbors were charging out of their houses, pulling on jackets and robes as they moved. I quickly dressed, put a leash on the dog, and joined the group in front of my house. Word got around: Everyone was out of the burning house and safe. The firefighters worked on through the night.

The next day, traffic picked up on Warren Avenue. The burned house, which was now half a shell, became a minor tourist attraction. The smell of smoke still lingered around the rubble.

“They ought to bulldoze the rest of it,” my neighbor commented as we studied the remains from the street.

For the next few days, the sightseers kept up their pace. Then things calmed down. The burned-out shell stood lonely and abandoned as people passed on their way to work and school.

One afternoon, as I returned from work, the Summer sounds of kids yelling, dogs barking, and lawn mowers humming were joined by another group of sounds. The buzzing of saws and the pounding of nails rang out loud and clear. The burned out house was now a beehive of activity. Ladders, lumber, shingles, paint – everything needed to rebuild was being unloaded.

Over the next several weeks, an amazing transformation took place. The burned out shell of a house, considered by many a total loss, took on a new life. Before long, the last coat of paint was applied and, as if to affirm a new beginning, flowers bloomed in the yard. The house that had risen from ashes to become one of the best looking in the neighborhood, once again became a tourist attraction. This time to admirers. To me, it became something else.

From then on, whenever I faced disappointment, I stepped out onto my front porch. From there I looked across the street to the house that was once rubble but became new again. It said to me, “You can start over. You can rebuild bigger, better, and stronger. As long as you have a good foundation, you can become new again.

You just have to believe.

And for a strong foundation and blueprints for rebuilding, look to the master carpenter.

Look to Jesus.

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THREE MONTHS AGO THIS SOUNDED LIKE A GOOD IDEA

“It’s very hard in the beginning to understand that the whole idea is not to beat the other runners. Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants you to quit.”

Dr. George Sheehan, runner and author

 I celebrated my 65th birthday – and a week later lined up in the early morning darkness with thousands of people on a street in Columbus, Ohio. We were there to take part in a marathon. Fireworks, music and the roar of spectators started the 26.2 mile race at 7:30 AM. 

 Running with a pace group, our goal was to finish the course in 4 hours and 30 minutes. The weather was ideal and the long hours and many miles of preparation had me glowing with confidence. The estimated crowd of 150,000 strung out along the route were about to see a senior citizen glide his way to the finish line with the grace of a ballet dancer.

 And for 14 miles the people watching me, I’m sure, were more than pleased with my performance.

 For months leading up to my birthday, I had been telling everyone within the range of my voice how I was going to celebrate by running in this race. Sounding like Muhammad Ali, I boasted…

 

“I am going to shock the world.”

 “I’m going to run ten minutes faster than the world record.”

 “The army is going to name a bullet after me.”

 “They are going to paint my picture on the next rocket to mars.

 “And they are even going to dig up Ed Sullivan just so I can be on his show.”

 

Apparently my left foot and ankle, which had given me trouble in the past, didn’t recall any of my promises. They decided I had run far enough. And if I was going to finish this race, it would be without their cooperation.

 Now my goal for the remaining 12 miles and 365 yards to the finish line would be to win the battle between the voice in my head and the pain shooting up my body. One voice was cheering me on and the other was urging me to hail a taxi.

 I gimped my way to the next mile and then the next mile…looking back now and then to see if anyone was behind me.

 What I needed I found at mile 18. Someone had posted a sign.

 

THREE MONTHS AGO THIS SOUNDED LIKE A GOOD IDEA

 Suddenly, my face remembered how to smile. And now I was back in the race. At least from the neck up.

 After all, marathons are designed to test our mettle.  

 Recalling some sage advice I had heard long ago from Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, author of The Power of Positive Thinking, “It’s always too soon to quit.” I gimped on.

6 hours, 11 minutes and 4 seconds after the starting gun – I crossed the finish line.

 Just wait till next year.

 

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ME AND THE ELEPHANTS

“One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas I don’t know.”

Groucho Marx, comedian

You never know what you’re going to discover when you start looking through the branches of your family tree. I found some elephants in mine.

Yes, elephants.

You see actor Wallace Berry is my cousin. He won an Academy award for his role in the 1931 movie, The Champ. For a time, he was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. But his show business career didn’t start in front of the cameras. Along with his brother, young Wallace ran away from home and joined Ringling Brothers Circus. He became an elephant tender. In fact, he came up with the idea for the elephants to march in line trunk to tail.

Not long ago, after battling animal rights protesters for years,  Ringling took the elephants out of their show. And soon after that they called it quits all together.

So the elephants may be gone from the circus but they are still part of my DNA and have a very important role in the way I conduct my life.

*            *            *

“The way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.”

Robert Schuller, minister

I’m a marathon runner. A marathon race is 26.2 miles long. Running since 1986, I’ve completed over forty marathons in cities all over the country. But I’ve never run all 26.2 miles at once. No, I’ve run 1 mile 26 times in a row. And then another 365 yards for a grand total of 26.2 miles.

And so it goes with any goal – break it down into bite size chunks and in time, with determination and grit, you’ve eaten the whole elephant and crossed the finish line.

“When you have an elephant by the hind legs and he is trying to run away, it’s best to let him run.”

Abraham Lincoln, Sixteenth President of the United States

There are things you can do something about and some things you can never do anything about. So the sooner you figure out which is which, the better off you and whatever elephant you have by the hind legs will be.

We can’t do anything about our age so rather than complain about wrinkles change their name to twinkles and move on. We can’t do anything about the weather because no matter what you say about it, it does what it wants to do. Put on your snowshoes, grab your umbrella, adapt and keep smiling.

And if someone chooses not to love you, it hurts. But you won’t find someone who will love you if you let that elephant drag you and your heart down the road.

“When elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers.”

African proverb

There is no guarantee how long my life or yours is going to be. So let’s be friends. I’ll bet we’re more alike than different. Peace is a whole lot more fun than war.

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