Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Merry Christmas!

​The Christmas Express will be picking up speed in the next twenty four hours so hang on!  Christmas is my wife’s annual coming out party. No one does Christmas like her. I’ve come to realize that my wife shows her love for her family by always trying to give everyone all they want and need. My wife is the best gift giver I have ever known. There has never been a Christmas morning when I wasn’t surprised by something. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. I will be spending the day cooking and doing other last minute chores before heading to my 85 year old mother's house to be with my siblings and extended family.  In the past I would also be visiting people on Christmas Day but now I get to stay home and my children and granddaughter come to my house for the day.  This is the benefit of being Paw Paw and Meemo.  We will start with a big breakfast and follow that with our family gift exchange. The rest of the day will be spent chilling out. I am grateful for my family, my friends, and all the many blessings in my life. I hope that all of you feel the same.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Each Bag Represents A Child

The highlight of last week for me was leaving work on Friday and spending my afternoon volunteering at the Salvation Army Angel Tree Distribution Center.  This is where are the toys and clothes end up from all the angels that are distributed in local stores.  It was a chaotic scene when we arrived and I briefly wondered what I had gotten myself into.  We had a brief orientation and then were assigned jobs.  I was fortunate to get the job of actually dealing with the people who showed up to collect toys and clothes for their children and grandchildren.  As the Salvation Army staff told us, “Each bag represented a child”.  I thought about that and also how blessed my own family is at this time of year.  This work was enjoyable to me and had deep meaning.  I felt like I was doing a good thing and it was something that had purpose.  According to the Salvation Army staff there were approximately 10,500 bags that were being distributed.  Even though my son ended up as the priest, I, too, have always felt like a minister.  The best part of my daily work is ministry to me and spending my Friday afternoon helping the poor and disadvantaged was deeply meaningful.  As I handed out the bags I imagined myself doing more things like this when I retire and I have lots more available time on my hands. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Adapting To Change

Someone once sent me a cartoon a grandfather talking with his grandchildren.  One of the boys says “Grandpa, tell us about the days when you had to buy the entire album even if you only wanted one song”.  As someone who grew up in the sixties I remember albums well.  Amazingly they are making a strong comeback as audiophiles debate the differences between analog and digital recordings.  In addition to giving me a laugh, the cartoon reminded me of all the changes I have lived through in my life.  Of course, these changes involved much more than technological advances.  There is a famous book by H.G. Wells called “The Time Machine”.  It has also been made into several movie versions.  In one scene the main character is sitting in the time machine advancing through time.  He and the time machine are not moving at all.  While he is sitting still time is changing all around him.  Sometimes this is how I feel in my life.  I don’t mean to sound arrogant when I say that I am the center of my universe.  My experience of life is based on who I am, what happens to me, who comes and goes, and what is going on around me.  Time is always moving on while I sit in my own time machine.  Sometimes I like the changes, sometimes I hate them, and occasionally they are scary.  Time and change doesn’t care.  Like most of you I have tried to adjust and adapt to all the changes in my life.  Sometimes I am resistance to change when it begins only to love it later when I have accepted it.  I used to have over a thousand albums, now I have thousands of CD’s and an iPod full of downloads.  Sometimes I take advantage of modern change and I only buy one song instead of the whole album.     

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Human Dynamo

After a busy day yesterday, a day filled with a mixture of sadness and joy, I left work, picked up my wife at her office, and drove to my granddaughter’s bus stop to pick her up when she got off the school bus.  I could see her smiling face from a mile away.  When she got into my car it was like receiving a giant B-12 shot.  She is so full of life.  Yesterday was a school trip to Gatti Land so we heard tales of all her adventures while she was there.  I love talking with Chloe about the joys, trials, and tribulations of being a ten year old girl.  Some of you who read these thoughts have been reading about my granddaughter almost since the day she was born.  She’s only ten years old and still clinging to some of the innocence of childhood but she is also growing up quickly.  She has a sophistication and intelligence that often blows my mind.  She told my wife last night that if it wasn’t too late, she would like an iPhone for Christmas instead of a Samsung.  I am not sure what she is really getting but I expect to be receiving text messages from her soon.  She already has more computer skills than I do.  After the combination of yesterday’s meetings, a team lunch, and a few hours with a ball of fire called Chloe, I had to have a nap last night.  I get a couple of days to rest up before Chloe and I, along with Granny, go to Middle Earth on Saturday to fight some Orcs, kill a dragon, and recover the lost Dwarf homeland. 
 
The above is one of my favorite pictures of my granddaughter and me when she was still a little girl.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Sadness

Sometimes when life is going along in its usual fashion a sudden and unexpected sadness is thrust upon us.  It can stop us in our tracks and life seems to come to a screeching halt.  Many people I know in my office are feeling such a sadness today.  We all seek joy in our lives but pain is often what makes us most human.  When this pain is shared with others, our common humanity shines forth.  Our sadness can seem magnified when it intrudes into a time when we are preparing for the holidays.  Sometimes we take joy and happiness for granted.  Sadness, however, especially when it is unexpected, gives us pause and most people reevaluate their life and priorities as a result.  Sadness is a wakeup call.  We are not made to be sad.  We are made to be happy.  Most of us would not appreciate our happiness if it wasn’t balanced with some sadness.  The pain that many people are feeling today is part of life.  We must embrace it and allow ourselves to feel it.       

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Look Into Your Own Heart

It sometimes seems there is always someone in our lives who tries to make us feel inadequate.  It can be a boss, a parent, a spouse, our children, our friends, or the world in general.  Just because I don’t meet another person’s every need does not make me inadequate.  I am at a point in my life where I am no longer apologizing for who I am.  If who I am is not your cup of tea, try another blend.  I am not saying that everyone has to like everything about me.  I know I am not everyone’s cup of tea.  I also know that some people think I am great just the way I am.  At my age I am probably not going to change much although I believe I am consistently trying to be the best version of who I am that I can be.  If I am not the perfect boss, employee, spouse, father, son, brother, co-worker, or wonder worker, that’s just the way it is.  In my mind I am more than all of these things anyway.  In fact, none of these things is who I am, they are merely what I am.  None of these things define me.  My being is more than what I am or what I do.  Don’t live your life based on what other people think.  Most of them won’t even be part of your life over the long haul.  Don’t misunderstand what I am saying.  I am not saying that we can all act anyway we want and other people just have to deal with us.  I am not encouraging anyone to be a jerk.  What I am saying is don’t let other people determine who you are.  Everyone else’s opinion is just a perception.  Look into your own heart and follow your own bliss.  Be the best person you know how to be and be grateful for who you are.  You will please some people and annoy others.  Some will love you and some will misunderstand you.  If you listen to your own inner voice your will know the path you should walk and along the way you will meet all kinds of people.  Some you will love and some you will simply tolerate.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Slow Down, Be In The Moment, Lower Your Expectations

After Brown Thursday, Black Friday, Buy Local Saturday, and Cyber Monday, the holiday season continues to pick up speed for the next week and a half.  Let me come out of the closet.  I am no Clark Griswold but I am no Ebenezer Scrooge either.  What I am is a person who often find the holidays difficult.  More often than not, I find the holidays a little depressing.  I have no identifiable reason for this since I have never had a bad holiday experience.  I think what is difficult for me and many other people is what I consider the unreasonable expectations for the holidays.  On a very basic level, most people struggle financially all year long.  The pressure of gift buying only adds to this challenge.  Another pressure is the mandatory happiness and joy we are all expected to feel.  On top of this is the busyness of decorating and trips to the Mall.  Whenever my granddaughter comes over my wife and I stress ourselves out moving the “Elf on a Shelf” around our house.  I am also a little sad because my granddaughter is growing up and I am not sure how much longer she will believe in Santa and little elves.  I think this year she is on the fence.  She does seem to get excited when the Elf moves from the shelf to the Christmas tree to riding bareback with one of the three Wise men.  One year she picked up one of the three Wise Men and asked me if he was the Burger King.  Through all of this I try to put on a happy face and to be appreciative and grateful for everyone and everything in my life.  If you are also a person who struggles with the holiday expectations, know that you are not alone.  My advice is to do what I try to do all year long.  Be in the moment and be grateful.  The holidays are well intentioned even if the demands and expectations are usually unrealistic.  I once read a holiday mantra from Joe Zarantonello at Loose Leaf Hollow Retreat Center that said, “Slow down.  Be in the moment.  Lower your expectations”.  Sounds like good advice to me.       

Friday, December 12, 2014

Do Not Expect To Be Appreciated

In whatever you so, don’t expect to get anything back, don’t expect recognition for your efforts, don’t expect your genius to be discovered or your love to be understood.  Do it for the joy of doing it, or otherwise it is just another ego trip.
-Dharma
 
Most of us are good people who try to do good things and who generally care about others.  We give our best and do what we can and much of it goes unnoticed or seems unappreciated.  Sooner or later we realize that we must do what we do simply because it gives us joy or because it is the right thing to do even if we never get any credit, recognition, or appreciation.  Ego is a big thing in our lives.  The desire to be loved and appreciated is equally huge.  Hopefully, we do feel loved and appreciated most of the time whether it be from family, co-workers, friends, or strangers.  Follow your bliss and all that gives you joy.  As St. Augustine once said, way back in the 5th century, “Love and do what you will”.  Do good works and even if there is no immediate gratification, I believe your goodness will come back to you.  History is full of famous people who changed the world.  Most people, however, labor day after day with little recognition.  Some plant trees under whose shade they will never sit.  What’s the point?  I think we should all strive to do what is good and right even if no one else knows we are doing it.  I think many of us will be remembered more from our eventual absence than by our current presence.  We all want attention.  We all want to be noticed.  We all want to be appreciated.  However, you may not get any of these things so don’t depend on them for your happiness.  How you act in secret, when there is no spotlight, says more about your character than most public acts. 
 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Christmas Anticipation

As Christmas Day approaches my inner child gets more excited.  Although I am confident I will receive some nice and thoughtful gifts, I find more joy in the happiness of others.  My wife and I are generous with our children and granddaughter.  I have the empty wallet to prove it.  Although many people think I look like Santa Claus, my wife is the real Santa Claus in our family.  Christmas Eve and Christmas Day used to be a lot busier for me.  There were parents, grandparents, and aunts and uncles to visit.  Now my wife and I are the older generation.  My mother is still alive so we go to her house on Christmas Eve, followed by a visit to a sister in law’s for my wife’s side of the family.  Christmas Day, however, I get to stay home and my brood comes to my house.  In years past I was very busy and a little stressed because I basically prepared the equivalent of the Frisch’s Breakfast Bar for my family.  Since my youngest son is now a priest and must be present at Christmas masses in the parish where he is assigned, my family Christmas celebration and exchange of gifts will not happen until Christmas afternoon.  This allows Santa and Mrs. Claus to sleep in a little and not be so rushed.  The best part of Christmas, however, is my granddaughter.  She still believes in Santa although she gets a little more suspicious every year.  To be honest, she is not 100% sure I am not really Santa.  When she was a little girl I went to her daycare center about this time of year dressed in a red hat and coat.  I created a small riot among the children.  Some thought it was very cool that Chloe’s Paw Paw was Santa Claus.  Chloe will be at my home this weekend so my wife and I will be busy moving the Elf on a Shelf when she’s not in the room.  She’s getting a little more suspicious and inquisitive about that Elf too. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

An Unfiltered Life

It is said that every time two people meet there are six people in the room.  For each person there is the person they think they are, the person the other person thinks they are, and the person they really are.  I was thinking about this after reading some thoughts on how to see life and reality unfiltered.  Let’s be honest.  Few of us see life as it really is.  Most of us see life and reality through a variety of filters.  These filters, much like the many layers of our personalities, have been formed throughout our lives by all the experiences we’ve had, the way we were raised, and, in many cases, by our education or lack of it.  It’s probably safe to say that few of us truly see things the same way.  In the work environment, for example, there are people who are very happy and content.  There are some people, however, who think they are in a concentration camp.  Some people are happy with everything while others are happy with nothing.  Our happiness is generally in direct proportion to our gratitude.  Some people are grateful just to wake up in the morning and realize they have been given another day of life.  Others people are never grateful for anything.  Why are some people happy and grateful while others are unhappy and feeling like nothing good ever happens to them?  Certainly attitude is a big factor.  Another factor, however, is how unfiltered your life is and how much you are able to see life realistically.     

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Acting Your Age

Yesterday one of my younger…much younger…co-workers told me that I don’t act my age.  What a wonderful compliment!  I hope I never act my age.  Like many of you I was born very young.  I grew in stature and maturity.  When I was an adult I got married, started a family, and, along with my wife, raised my sons into men.  Parenthood demanded that I be an adult.  When dealing with children someone in the room has to make the rules and keep everyone safe.  My wife and I did this to the best of our abilities.  Our children turned out well so I guess we did a pretty good job.  Now my children are adults.  As they have grown up, I have aged.  Keep in mind that I did not say I am getting old.  I am simply aging.  One of the nice things about aging in that in many ways you grow younger.  Admittedly the body isn’t what it used to be.  I am not as strong as I was in my youth, I take a nap every day, occasionally I lose my balance in the shower, and sometimes I forget why I went into a room.  The mind and heart, however, grow younger.  There is a lightness of being that seems to come with age.  The years of child raising and career building can seem oppressive at times.  The burdens of life can weigh you down.  As one ages you let go of things, you lighten your load, and doing this frees you.  Yes, I still have concerns and obligations.  Experience, though, teaches you that most crisis and challenges are merely bumps in the road that are quickly forgotten.  I am 63 years young and my “elderly” wife still tells me to turn down the volume on my music.  It’s tough living with an older person. (smile) 
 

Monday, December 08, 2014

Living Without Expectations

It is a rare experience for me to be disappointed.  This is not because everything goes my way or I get everything I want.  It is because I have few or no expectations about anything.  When you live with few or no expectations every good thing seems like a gift and every bad thing is not a shock.  I try to see life as neither good or bad.  Whatever happens, happens, and whatever is, is.  This may seem like a negative way to approach life.  Living without expectations does not mean you live without hope or dreams.  It means that you learn to accept life as it is, that you are grateful for life’s blessings, and that you accept life’s trials and challenges as part of the experience.  I tend to be optimistic and positive.  More often than not life does go my way and I do get what I want.  My life, however, has been relatively free of disappointment because I do not expect life to go my way and I do not expect to get what I want.  Living without expectations increases the potential for being "surprised by joy."  I believe that the more you expect, the more you will be disappointed.        

Saturday, December 06, 2014

The Three Gates

The Three Gates
 
The old Sufi taught that right speech had to pass through three gates.  The first gate asked, “Is it true”?  The second gate asked, “Is it necessary”?  The third gate asked, “Is it kind”?  The old sheik taught him that it would be better to be silent than to utter words that had not passed through the three gates.
 
For those that do not know, Sufism is the mystical side of Islam.  This teaching is very similar to the kind of teachings also uttered by the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the early Christian era.  I tend to think that many basic teachings such as this one can be found in all the major religions.  This is a great teaching regardless of what religion or philosophy you follow.  Who among us couldn’t do a better job of guarding one’s speech.  I try to avoid complaining, gossip, and any kind of hurtful speech.  I am human, however, so there are times I do all of these things.  I strive to minimize complaining by focusing on gratitude.  Workplace gossip is an easy trap to fall into.  I think the best way to minimize workplace gossip is for leadership to be as transparent as possible and for everyone to always tell the truth.  I am doing better with minimizing hurtful speech because age and the awareness of my own weaknesses has taught me to be more patient and tolerant of others.  Even though I don’t always remain silent, I also believe it is better to be silent than to speak a lot.  I can't remember who said it but I did read once that “one should not speak unless your words improve the silence”.       
 

Thursday, December 04, 2014

A Calm Start To Your Day

As Christmas approaches and the mornings are dark and cold, I start my work days at home, sitting in silence, coffee mug in hand, looking at the twinkling lights on my Christmas tree, and focusing on my breathing.  The early morning is my favorite time of day.  I schedule my time, especially on work days, so that I have approximately twenty minutes each morning that can be devoted to meditation.  It gets my day off to a positive start and it helps me stay centered throughout my day.  I am not one to get up at the last possible minute so that I have to rush getting ready, then drive like a maniac in order to get to work on time.  In my working career I’ve witnessed many people virtually running into the office, stressed out and frazzled, because they couldn’t or wouldn’t get out of bed a little earlier.  I like to see the day coming and not be thrown into a day that started without me.  I not only love mornings, I love evenings as well.  I love the quietness of early morning and I like the feeling of crossing the threshold of my home after a good day at work.  Occasionally I struggle with the whole middle part of the day but I always try to enjoy every minute of my life.  There is no doubt that when one gets to the age I am you start to have a whole new appreciation for time.  I am not in a panic about time but I am realistic enough to understand that I have more time behind me than I do in front of me.  I urge you to make the effort to add quality to your time.  Savor the moments and avoid the mad rush of always being late for something.  Spend some time being with yourself and doing nothing.  When you get ready in the mornings, don’t gulp your coffee.  Feel the warmth of the mug in your hands.  Notice the aroma.  Enjoy the taste.  Life is made up of moments.  If you don’t pay attention, you will miss them and when you get to the end of your life, you’ll realize you missed your life too.      
 

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Organized Chaos

I once read an article about geese flying south for the winter.  When geese fly in a group they are in what appears to be a V formation.  I’m hoping that at some point in your life you have looked up at the sky and have witness this.  The article said the flying pattern is a more complicated than a simple V formation.  Within the V formation, and around it, some geese are in different positions that could be considered organized chaos.  All the geese, however, seem to know exactly what they are doing and the seeming chaos is not random.  Scientists believe there is a high level of communication going on between the geese and there is an overall harmony and order that is occurring.  If you’ve ever seen this formation of geese flying overhead on an late fall or early winter morning, it is a thing of beauty.  When there is order in the universe, and everything is working in harmony, there is always beauty.  This is why so many people find solace in nature.  This is why people flock to national parks and retreat houses in rural areas.  People love beauty, harmony, and the order that creates them.  It is soothing for the soul and it helps us to be centered and grounded.  When life is wild and crazy and dis-ordered, it frays our nerves and destroys our harmony and inner peace.  Let’s all try to fly in formation today even if a few of us may appear to be in organized chaos.     

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Cooperation Versus Conflict

I strongly dislike conflict.  I know it is part of life and it sometimes serves a purpose but I still dislike it.  I find it exhausting and it rarely brings out the best in me or others.  I prefer cooperation, compromise, and peacemaking.  Compromise is the end result of skillful negotiation.  It represents a win-win for everyone involved.  As President Obama once famously said to his Republican opposition, “Compromise isn’t you getting everything you want and me getting nothing I want”.  Compromise is a meeting in the middle.  In today’s world the art of negotiation and compromise seems to be a lost art, especially in the world of politics.  Conflict sucks the life right out of me.  On the other hand, cooperation energizes me and motivates be to work harder.  It improves my attitude and increases my desire to be a team player.  When conflict is the result of one idea versus another, we should seek ways to combine the best of both ideas.  Conflict often happens when people think dualistically.  Conflict occurs when people think a solution must be either one way or another.  Cooperation happens when people think in terms of both/and rather than either/or.  I am not na├»ve to the fact that conflict is difficult to avoid and that compromise is not always easy.  However, I would prefer to use my energy compromising than fighting.  Blessed are the peacemakers and those who strive to bring people together.  We are always better as individuals and as groups when we work together and support one another.   

Monday, December 01, 2014

Waiting Patiently

I am currently reading a small booklet called Daybreaks by Ron Rolheiser, OMI.  In the preface the author states that "we spend 98% of our lives waiting for something else to happen to us."  This would indicate that we only spend 2% of our lives actually being present to what is happening to us now.  We all do this and most of the time we are totally unaware that we are doing it.  As I write these thoughts I am already projecting ahead to when I am done and I can sit in my favorite chair.  We are now in the liturgical season of Advent.  It is a season of waiting for the birth of Christ on Christmas.  In our modern culture we are not very good at waiting.  We are impatient and expect instant gratification in almost everything.  Nothing in our lives seems fast enough.  We have lost all sense of life unfolding at its own pace.  We want to push, pull, shove, bypass, or manipulate just about everything because of our impatience.  However, if we push life too much, it will push back.  When we are anxious and impatient for the next moment, the next event, and the next experience, it is virtually impossible to appreciate the current moment.  As the speed of the holidays ramps us, and we struggle to accomplish all our tasks, lets breathe and learn to wait patiently.  Let’s spend more time in the moment and less time trying to fast forward to the next task or experience.  Sometimes God is more present in our longing than in our fulfillment.