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Treasured mentors

Last Sunday, I had at least one thousand books adorning the shelves of my den. I can’t be sure how many were there because I gave up counting when I hit eight hundred. I don’t know why I started counting the books in the first place, or why eight hundred was the number that made recognize the absurdity of what I was doing.

At six hundred titles, I began to realize how difficult the process of purging a lifetime book collection was becoming. I still managed to keep at it for another two hundred more titles before I stopped. About one hundred of them made it to the dining room table for sorting before, overwhelmed, I abandoned the project.

I’ve looked at—ignored, really—those books on the table every evening this week. I also refused to acknowledge the more than seven hundred remaining books on the shelves behind my desk. I knew ignoring them would not make the task disappear. Still, I hoped that I would be able to come up with some rational approach to sorting out the books to keep, and those to eliminate from my collection. After a week of considering options, I arrived at the conclusion that a rational person would not have more than one thousand books in the first place. I am clearly not rational when it comes to books.

I began pulling the books from the shelves today. I sorted and separated them—several boxes to the church yard sale later this month and most of the rest to the public library for the annual book sale. Among my collection were paperback copies of A Brave New World, required reading in 12th grade,...

Mortgaging castles

Yesterday I was reminded my body has an expiration date. I know I will die someday, but the dreamer who drives my soul doesn’t like to think of such things. The statistician in charge of my brain, on the other hand, does expiration mitigation calculations thousands of times per day. I just don’t like the reminders from the outside world.

While I remain hopeful for at least fifty-one more years of life, I recognize living to be 100 with a sound mind and body is an unlikely possibility, especially since both are already questionable. Despite the fact I aggressively manage my health, there are hundreds of non-health related reasons that could end my life well before my planned expiration date. This is troubling to me because I still have things to do, people to see, places to go, and trouble to cause. I don’t want to run out of time before I’ve accomplished it all.

My arrival at middle age a few years ago came with a piece of baggage labeled, “oppressive sense of mortality.” The luggage is scuffed, tattered, and covered with stickers from travels around the world. Its hinges are worn from the constant opening and closing. Bungee cords hook together over latches that no longer have the strength to hold the baggage closed. It’s ugly, this baggage, and still I’m compelled to look inside for whatever answers it might hold.

I’ve learned from my far too frequent peeks inside that my first twenty-four years of life were for learning the basics for living, and my last twenty-five years were for creating a life. The baggage shows my future, too, swirling amongst all of my hopes, dreams, and plans—those I’ve accomplished and those I now wonder if I ever will accomplish— without a clear direction or any certainty of duration.

Perhaps the...

An uncontrolled spin

I once had the privilege of being the marketing director for a large ski resort in the southeast. It was a cool job, with many perks–free skiing and snowmobile access. I even had a furnished condominium on the property as part of my compensation package.

These perks were meant to offset being on call 24/7 to address guest complaints, as well as the thirty-minute-plus drive down the mountain to a grocery store or a decent bar. It never balanced, though. During the ski season, for example, it was nearly impossible to escape the mountaintop, even for a few hours.

These perks were meant to offset being on call 24/7 to address guest complaints, as well as the thirty-minute-plus drive down the mountain to a grocery store or a decent bar. It never balanced, though. During the ski season, for example, it was nearly impossible to escape the mountaintop, even for a few hours.

Occasionally, my boss took pity on me for those long working hours and would grant a weekend furlough. On one such, get-away I spent the weekend in a major city about three hours from the resort. I left on Thursday night and spent a relaxing weekend with friends and family. I wasn’t quite ready to return to the mountain after such a great trip so I stalled my return on Sunday until about 4:00 p.m.

Because I was running later than planned, I decided to take a short cut. About halfway into the drive between the city and the resort I could drive over a scenic parkway and shave twenty minutes from my trip. However, when winter was in full swing, the parkway had a barricade at each entrance to prevent motorists from being stranded at the higher elevations.

On this particular Sunday, I arrived at the parkway entrance to find the...

Reminiscing

I have nearly 3,000 songs on my iPod, and the Little River Band’s Reminiscing shuffled into rotation today for the first time in over a year. It was oddly suspicious timing considering where I am on my life journey because music carries such strong memories for me.

Hearing this song took me back to my ninth grade Homecoming Dance in 1978, where I spent the evening dancing with a petite brunette, a seventh grader, I had taken as my date.

We had such crushes on each other and hung out together nearly every school day in the fall of that year. There were no real dates. No movies. Just talking at lunch and sometimes after school.

The innocence of the times made the Homecoming Dance a magical place for an awkward ninth grade boy and a girl at her junior high school dance. We danced all evening, doe-eyed and love-struck, sticking together on the song breaks while we drank punch.

Ten o’ clock came too quickly. The music stopped, and the dance was over. The dancers filed out of the gym and to the front of the school where everyone waited in line, while, one-by-one, parents pulled up to take their children home. My mom arrived in the family station wagon, and we climbed into the back seat.  We held hands as we rode silently to her house. I caught mom glancing in the rear-view mirror from time to time.

We never kissed. I was too nervous.

The holiday break came soon after and we didn’t see each other for two weeks. When we returned to school, it just wasn’t the same. The Homecoming Dance became our only evening together, and this one song captured a memory of a moment in time better than any picture ever would.

I think memories are much better than pictures.

While over time our...

On faith and Aurora

Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor, posed this question Tuesday via Twitter: Where was God in the Aurora Massacre? On the CNN Belief Blog, he added, “It’s a fresh take on an age-old question: Why does God allow suffering, natural disasters or – if you believe in it  evil?”

I saw the Tweet yesterday and got around to reading the blog this evening. The key responses ranged from it was God’s punishment, to God’s will, to the devil at work. There were a few other viewpoints in between. It was odd to read, and it troubles me that so many people abdicate their individual responsibility for humanity.  I guess some people need a way to absolve mankind, or maybe themselves, from such actions in our world by placing the responsibility on some greater power.

In my opinion, the shootings in Aurora were simply a desperate act of a disturbed individual. Neither God nor the devil had anything to do with seventy people being shot and wounded, and twelve people dying. This is about a man and his actions.

The concept of free will—man, is free to make decisions that coexist with a higher power and is morally and ethically responsible for those decisions—is at the core of my beliefs. Others will most certainly disagree with me, but I cannot believe a higher power punishes, or even allows such horrific happenings. It would be difficult for me to believe in a God so vengeful—what parent wants to see their children suffer? This is man’s work.

I also don’t believe a supernatural creature with horns, or with cloven hooves, who eagerly await opportunities to infect our thoughts, directs evil...

A brain in default

I’ve often attributed the way my brain works for my life’s successes. It’s also the most significant contributor to my failures. This is especially true in difficult life situations when instead of fostering deliberate thought, my brain allows me to fall easily into old habits of coping, or thinking without effort. It may appear as if this is a conscious decision on my part, but often it is not. From time-to-time, my brain just puts itself automatically into this “default mode” of thinking so it can help me find a mental place of safety and security. My brain does not like me to feel insecure or unsafe.

This default mode is when my brain says to itself, “Hey! I don’t like this situation. How can I change it? Hmmm….this looks sort of like that time when we…No. This is not really the same, but…..What the heck, it’s close enough. It will make us feel a little more secure. So…recall pattern. Check. Engage default operations mode. Check. And….warp speed ahead!”

When my brain calculates a success rate of at least 45% while in default mode, I assuredly will hear a voice inside my head say, “This is clearly the approach to use, dude. Go!” My brain is not naturally risk adverse.

Whether you realize it or not, this probably happens to you, too. Our brains know there are differences in every life situation, yet they work overtime to find enough parallels between some past situation and a current one to weigh the odds of a positive outcome, and then take the necessary steps to give the illusion we’re in control of the whole situation. They do all of this within a fraction of a second. That’s just how our brains roll.

We’re rarely in control and our brains are keenly aware of this fact. Our...

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