I stand wearily atop the hill and spy the hill beyond with gratitude I’ve come this far and visions further on. I’ll sleep the sleep of one who’s done all he can do for now and wake to promised strength renewed and memories of my vows.
You would think it would be obvious what Memorial Day is about. Wikipedia calls it,”a federal holiday in the United States for remembering the people who died while serving in the country’s armed forces.” Seems simple enough. But in today’s tumbleweed culture the word roots applies more to hair color than to foundational truths.
Barak Obama spent the week leading up to Memorial day traveling to Vietnam and Hiroshima to honor the “victims” of the “evil” bombs dropped on Japan. That’s the warped half-truth he said we must never forget. “We come to mourn the dead,” he said and called for a “moral revolution” to end nuclear weapons.
Forgotten was the fact that Japan started the war against us, without warning, violating international law. Forgotten was the brutal treatment of prisoners, the Bataan death march, the atrocities in Nanking, the destruction in Korea. Unmentioned were the 50,000 Korean slaves killed and 40,000 more injured not to mention Chinese slaves and prisoners. Medical experiments and torture were never mentioned. The scant survival rate of prisoners of war was skipped over.
Obama never mentioned the actual war: the kamikaze planes, the banzai charges, the beheading of captives, the destruction of the world for sheer greed and power. The battles were not named: Pearl Harbor, Southeast Asia, Coral Sea, Midway, New Guinea, the Solomons, Guadalcanal, Saipan, the Philippine Sea, Leyte Gulf, the Philippines, Iwo Jima, Burma, Borneo, China, Okinawa, Guam, Tarawa, Palau and more. The individual battles for ridges and patches of muddy ground like Kakazu Ridge or Sugar Loaf Hill were forgotten.
Individual soldiers were not recalled any more than the countless grains of sand my father ate on Okinawa and Guam and unnamed places. My uncle who served on the U.S.S. Arizona wasn’t spoken about. In fact, not a single soldier, marine, sailor, pilot, seabee, frogman, radio operator, code talker, nurse, medic, mechanic, submariner, torpedo man, cook or merchant marine was discussed. Heroes were ignored. There were no hints of family sacrifices.
The cold calculation required to start an unprovoked unlimited war on one side of the globe while partnering with the Nazis and Fascists that had Europe in flames wasn’t reported.
Less Than Half The Story
World War II was the deadliest, most horrifying bloodbath in human history. Three percent of the world’s population was killed by the Japanese, Nazis and Fascists. No one can ever know the number but world-wide estimates are staggering. Over 80 million people died, most of them innocent civilians.
The lives of many survivors were destroyed, their money stolen, their animals killed, their productivity gone. Enslavement and misery were spread around the globe. Dreams were stolen. Families that could have been were not. An entire race of harmless people was systematically turned to smoke. The good all of these people could have done was lost for all time.
The Japanese army killed more than 20 million people in China, many of them women and children in the most brutal fashion ever imagined by the mind of mankind including biological and chemical warfare.
And yet, sitting United States President Barak Obama took five days before memorial day to travel to Vietnam and Hiroshima to lecture us on our morality.
Memorial Day Is Bigger Than One War
All of the wars the United States has ever fought are wrapped up in Memorial Day. All of the soldiers from the Revolutionary War to the current soldiers who are dying in Afghanistan are included. All of this sacrifice was done, not by professional soldiers, but by average Americans who were willing to put their lives on the line.
They had lives to live and better things to do than battle. They left the battlefield and went home to resume what was left of their lives. They were not conquerors in search of world domination. They left all of the hard-fought, blood-bought territory behind. The spoils of war were not stolen. No one was enslaved. No one was cremated. Prisoners were released. Enemy soldiers were allowed to go home. Aid was given. Money was loaned. Social order was protected.
These things did not have to be.
Once you realize the gaping holes in the history that’s being presented to us, one great question appears––”Why?”
Why take the week before Memorial Day to portray America in the worst possible light? Why demand, out of context and in spite of history, that we need to revolutionize our morality? Why is evil being selectively and deceptively presented? Why is blame for the world’s greatest conflict being transferred to the citizens of the United States?
You might say it’s just politics. Do you expect the truth from a politician? What harm can a lie do?
On this point I want to be very clear – one man’s lies started World War II. He lied to the German public. He systematically used schools to separate children from their parents with the Brownshirts. He lied that the Jews were responsible for Germany’s problems. He lied to dehumanize them and make the Holocaust seem like a solution. He lied to the Jews to get them into the Ghettos. He lied to them to get them passively into the gas chambers. He lied to the Russians to keep them out of the fight. He lied to persuade Christians while practicing a twisted paganism. He lied to muslims to turn them into part of his war machine. He lied that Germans were a super race.
It was all a lie.
Japanese militarists lied to their people about the Chinese to unleash hatred in unthinkable ways. They lied that the Americans would eat their children to the point that soldiers and civilians committed suicide to prevent a fiction. They lied about medical experimentation, chemical and biological weapons. When the bombs were dropped the Japanese public thought they were winning the war.
It’s this simple: lies kill.
Why Does This Matter To Me?
Freedom of speech is one of the founding principles of this country for good reason. The Bible puts it this way – all men are liars. The corruption of lies can only be washed away by a fountain of truth.
Complacency is the enemy of truth. We don’t have to participate in the lies. We just have to stand by in silence.
The corrupting lies by socialists, atheists, race-baiters, politicians, teachers, entertainers, scientists, heavily financed institutions and foundations in this country are growing ever bolder. They rail against the foundations of the nation. Religion and family are openly mocked. Democracy is derided. Capitalism is vilified. Government is magnified. The sacred core convictions of my family are made into jokes.
Any possible human weakness is exploited. People’s religious convictions are being outlawed. Ridicule is used as a weapon. Freedom is being wiped away in favor of ever more oppressive politically controlled thought.
The lies and misinformation are no longer subtle. History is being replaced by propaganda. Over and over again we hear America is at fault.
The President’s unprecedented trip to ground zero after Vietnam is a calculated attempt to make us feel guilty, to shame us and perform moral jujitsu. Our highest elected official challenging our morality is yet a further insult to years of unwarranted apologies.
It is time to stand up for the truth.
This Is Personal For All Of Us
My grandfather was attacked by a weapon of mass destruction when Germany gassed him during World War I. He barely survived. Had he not, I wouldn’t be here.
My father and his brothers were farm boys from Mississippi who grew up with a knowledge of the dangers of war and still went when their country called. My dad was waiting to attack the Japanese mainland when the bomb was dropped. Had my father not survived the landing I wouldn’t be writing this today.
I probably owe Harry Truman and the Manhattan Project team my life.
War was declared. Multiple warnings were issued by leaflet and radio. No warnings were needed as the full might and intentions of the U.S. had already been amply demonstrated. All of Japan’s major and many smaller cities had been devastated by incendiary bombs. The Japanese were surrounded and driven back to their home islands. Germany and Italy had already capitulated. When Russia officially declared war on Japan, every significant power on earth was aligned against them. Yet still they fought on.
Top secret for forty years, we now have the declassified plans for Operation Downfall to take Japan. It was more than twice as large at the D-Day landings yet it was still less than half the number the Japanese made allowances for in defense plans. The Japanese military had no intentions of surrender and had trained their soldiers to die before capitulation. Experience proved they would do it.
It would take something beyond belief to make them change their minds. An atomic bomb did not do it. Let’s take that in for a moment. An atomic bomb was not enough to make Japan surrender. Hiroshima was vaporized. Japanese scientists were flown the same day to the sight and confirmed it as an atomic weapon. Yet, they fought on.
More than anything else, this proves the need for the atomic bomb – it required two of them.
One apocalypse was not enough. This one fact reveals the mindset of the Japanese command. But there is more. There is an even more compelling reason to believe that we are not the evil that we have been made out to be.
Beyond all of the above, there is one reason that I sleep at night with a clear conscience. There is one powerful fact that demonstrates that our moral compass is not wrong, that we do not need a moral revolution, one reason that I know we are not monsters.
After Little Boy and Fat Man, there was a third bomb that remains unnamed for one reason – we never dropped it.
One of the most powerful ways I found to help us through the toughest of times are the stories of other people who have been through the worst things imaginable. They reveal the unbelievable power of small things to pull you through. Things like chocolate . . .
The summer sun was still sweltering when I had my first clue that this Christmas would be different. I’m not normally known for being observant, much less prescient of things to come, so it had to hit me over the head. Suzie looked at me with a mischievous sparkle in her eyes and announced, “I’m finished!”
“Finished with what?” I asked. I had no idea what was up but she was obviously pleased with herself.
“Finished Christmas shopping!” She smiled in triumph. I couldn’t believe it.
“No way!” was my eloquent response. Suzie had, for the first time ever, begun buying presents during January sales at the beginning of the year. But I didn’t realize she’d kept it going. “Wow, why?” I asked. I’m prone to imaginative responses under pressure.
“I don’t know. This year I just felt like being smart. Once I got started, it was a challenge.”
“So, what did I get?” That rapier wit again. She threw something at me. She has little tolerance for rapiers in the house. In fifteen years we had never finished shopping until a few days before Christmas. Or moments. I’d never even thought of it. I’m not sure I knew it was possible. Yet somehow Suzie perceived that this Christmas required a new strategy.
We bought our Christmas ornament early, too. Suzie had long been taken with Hallmark’s Nostalgic Houses series. It had become a tradition with the goal of building a tiny Christmas village on the tree itself. We had a few laughs the year we had a kitchen fire and the ornament turned out to be a red brick fire house. Maybe we should have taken notice earlier when the current ornament was a drugstore. At the time we just thought it was cute. Nostalgic, even.
Thanksgiving changed all of that. A routine check up had prompted more tests and our worst nightmare came true. Breast cancer. Suzie’s mother had died a slow and painful death from it. Her aunts all had it. After surgery and radiation they lived but we concluded, for Suzie, it was inevitable.
What we didn’t expect were three separate primary tumors, breast cancer times three. A bilateral mastectomy was not on our Christmas list either but we were relieved when they sent Suzie home with a positive prognosis. Chemo after the holidays then reconstruction and she’d be fine, they reassured.
The doctors gave up with the brain tumor. They didn’t tell us, of course. Two weeks after her surgery Suzie awoke to find she couldn’t put together a sentence. She thought clearly but words wouldn’t come out. She was trapped inside her brain. An MRI confirmed that the tumor was huge.
The difficult surgery went all day and late into the night. In recovery we were ecstatic when Suzie could recite tongue twisters. The doctors were happy, yet restrained. We had no way of knowing metastatic breast cancer spread to the brain was usually fatal. We couldn’t imagine why they told us we could go home instead of looking for more tumors. Why would we wait?
We really didn’t understand their joy when the biopsy showed it was not breast cancer but a different kind. We thought that was bad. They thought it was a blessing. Their joy turned somber, however, when more tumors were discovered in Suzie’s kidney, liver and spine.
“I want you to know, your situation is not entirely hopeless,” was her oncologist’s idea of encouragement.
This time Suzie was given no option but going home. Even life-saving super doctors took holidays. The new year would begin with more surgeries and exploration. For now, it was Christmas. Since Suzie couldn’t travel, close family decided to bring Christmas to us. No one said out loud that it would probably be Suzie’s last.
There would be two weeks before her next doctor visit. Two weeks to think. Two weeks to try to pull together a semblance of a holiday for the children. Two weeks for Christmases past, present and future to play through our heads. Two weeks to ponder what the new year would bring before the long winter ahead.
When I saw the strange car pull into the drive, a wave of emotions swept over me, an all too familiar mixture of gratitude and guilt. It was another family taking time out of their busy Christmas season to bring us food. I checked the room quickly. The kids were watching TV, toys were everywhere, a busy mess. Not up to Suzie’s standards but it would have to do.
Not that we didn’t need the food. Suzie had been unable to cook since Thanksgiving and I was no substitute. My answer was usually fast food but there was no money for that kind of extravagance anymore. A hot chicken casserole delivered to the door was a welcome treat, not to mention the bar-b-que, roast, pizza, cakes, homemade pies and cookies. The kindness was overwhelming and humbling. At the same time it reminded me of the fact that we really needed the help, hence the guilt.
As the car door opened this time I saw, not a casserole, but a Christmas tree emerge. Well, this was different. It was four feet tall, green and covered with red ribbons. Behind it I caught a glimpse of Richard Gay, the preschool minister at our church. Suzie had answered one of the church’s endless calls to keep toddlers while adults were in class. I came along to help. Richard was in charge of it all but he’d never been to our house.
I opened the door and he reported taking up a collection for us in the children’s ministry before I realized what was happening. When I looked closer I saw the ribbons on the tree held green bills folded like origami ornaments. The tree was covered in money!
I asked him to come in but he forced the tree into my hands and walked away while I was still in shock, saying he didn’t want to interrupt us. My mouth opened and closed a few times and I think I got out a thank you before he closed the car door and was gone. I glanced down at the armful of tree. On the corner of one of the folded green decorations I saw a 20.
Christmas trees naturally attract kids, as does money, so Rebekah, Sandy and Billy made enough of a stir to wake Suzie. She called from the bedroom to see about the commotion. With white silk tape and bandages cocooning her head, Suzie’s eyes widened as I squeezed through the door and popped when I told her the decorations were made of cash.
In forty years of living it was the most unexpected and generous gift either of us had ever received. It came from total strangers. We were the only teachers in our class and had barely met anyone else.
I set the tree on the dresser so Suzie could see it and we pondered how much money was there and what we should do with it. There was no question we would need it. The question was, how long could we keep it? And what could we do with it that would be worthy of such generosity?
The week before Christmas was peaceful, kind of like the quiet that settles in the eye of a hurricane. For a while the sunshine and bird calls seem surreal compared to the raging storm that just passed. We decorated the house. The kids played video games, argued and giggled. Meals were eaten.
Suzie couldn’t get out of bed much but managed to sit up and join us for brief moments. She directed things from her bedroom sanctuary but tired easily. I was on a mission to be encouraging and make this as good a Christmas as possible, under the circumstances.
We didn’t talk about the looming issues of life and death. We didn’t talk much about the previous month of constant crisis. We didn’t speculate on the tests to come. Instead, we enjoyed life in an almost studious way, trying to soak in all of the rare and precious everyday moments, to heighten the experience with the urgency and perspective of near-death.
It can’t be done. It’s exhausting to try.
We did manage to lock worry away for hours at a time. It made no sense at all to ruin the short time we had left worrying about the short time we had left. Foolish, in fact. So, we soaked up the sublime beauty of such perfect moments as washing the dishes together. Chores of daily life became events to be cherished and memorized.
The endless needs of children took our minds, thankfully, off of ourselves. We felt like a family for the first time in weeks.
The big issues were still there, packed firmly away, building pressure. The stress grew as we got closer to Christmas and family visiting. Having been scattered by a rolling crisis, we grew jealous of our time alone, just our young family. We clung selfishly to each moment and simutaneously felt bad about it.
The tension broke through occasionally as a lack of patience with the little things. Things that normally wouldn’t matter. If things were normal. The flare ups of frustration also scared us a little. We were striving to be strong and reassuring for the kids and each other and had managed the nightmares relatively well. But if we couldn’t handle simple tasks like housecleaning or getting ready for company, what would happen when the coming storms broke again? Were we finally losing it? Were we past the end of our strength when so much more would be needed?
The breaking point finally came when my Mom, Dad, brother, sister-in-law and nephews arrived the day before Christmas. They understood the situation and were the model family, kind, helpful, sensitive, loving. They stayed in hotels so they wouldn’t bother us. There wasn’t a cross word spoken. I was even on my best behavior. So, when I found Suzie in her bed crying I was surprised.
“What’s wrong?” My crisis alarm pegged. Suzie was one of the strongest women I knew and had faced the horrors of the previous month with barely a tear. Now they poured.
“I’m sorry. I’m just overwhelmed. I’ve ruined Christmas” she answered.
“That’s not true, and if anybody has a right to be overwhelmed it’s you.” As usual, I only made it worse. Tears welled again.
“Everyone’s here and I can’t clean my house or cook or do anything. I feel helpless. We have no money. There’s no food in the house. I can’t even take care of my children!”
Suzie is one of the strongest people I know. I’d seen her mad and I’d seen her snarky and I’d seen her in pain and I’d seen her exhausted but I’d never seen Suzie in tears for herself. I knew she was at rope’s end.
“It’s not you or anyone else.” Seriously, she was apologizing. “I feel terrible because everyone’s being so nice but I just want to be left alone with my little family!” For Suzie this outburst was the equivalent of Mt. St. Helens erupting. She hadn’t used the phrase “my last Christmas” but it hung in the air. Not sure what to say, I sat on the bed and found myself staring at the dresser.
“We could use the money tree,” I finally said.
“But we were going to save that for something important.” I saw a flash of hope on her tear-streaked face. This was not a time to be sensible.
“I think this counts. How much do you think is on there?” Her eyes lit up.
“I don’t know but it’s a lot,” she said. By the time we got through untying ribbons and smoothing bills there was more than five hundred dollars spread on the bed. From total strangers. We were amazed.
We could have been more sensible and fiscally responsible with our gift, but we weren’t. We could have treated the money from the tree as an investment, but it wasn’t. It was a gift. And a gift is more than a paycheck. It holds the spirit of the givers. It is undeserved, earned by the sacrifice of others.
So, in that spirit, Suzie made a list, I went to the store and bought a feast. We turned our thoughts to the meaning of Christmas, God’s gift of a son who loved us enough to sacrifice himself in our place. We thanked God for the blessings of family, friends and total strangers.
On Christmas day the house swirled with aromas of food, spices, chocolate and coffee. The tree was decked, the ornaments hung. The kids opened presents and played. My father blessed a sumptuous dinner. Before we knew it they were all packed into cars and driving away, waving.
It was a meal provided by strangers in the spirit of the One Christmas celebrates. A free gift we got to share, provision both for ourselves and others. Christmas itself is such a gift.
*Please note – I started this post last Saturday and couldn’t finish.
Today I bandaged a dog’s foot. It was not my plan.
Daisy, my nervous, tiny, loving, competitive, unobservant, endlessly shivering Boston terrier, got stepped on by my massive, loving, competitive, unobservant, big-footed, rake-clawed, tightly wound Labrador retriever, Nessie.
Though Boston is assuredly capable of winning endless Superbowls, in the battle to get through our back door a decade old pup bred to sit on the lap of a Boston blue-blood is no match for a hound the size of a walrus bred to swim the Labrador Sea in the icy north Atlantic, dragging fishing nets behind.
Competitors, Sisters, Best Friends
It can’t be easy for Daisy living in the house with Nessie, but she doesn’t believe that it’s the size of the dog that counts. Daisy is, in a word, fearless.
She can often be found barking at the back fence at our neighbor’s giant black mastiff. Not just barking but digging in a frenzy while throwing frenzied doggie challenges to the unconcerned bear-sized monster. She wants a piece of him.
Daisy has clawed down chunks of wooden fencing in her pursuit, and if she wasn’t stopped would dig through. I’m certain she would stand her ground between us and Godzilla if the need arose.
But her late night dance at the back door in between Nessie’s lumbering paws did not go so well. She squealed as she got stepped on twice. Last night she bounced right back but by this morning she couldn’t put her left foot on the ground. Closer inspection revealed a nasty gash between her toes. Something had to be done and since Suzie was at work it was up to me.
Ideas Are Easy
My plan this morning was to change the world. I would bound out of bed, work out furiously, get Suzie to work and write something that would make a difference. I would start a business, invent time travel, find the cure for heartburn and take a break for lunch.
Instead, I stumbled out of bed, shuffled my way to the back door to let the dogs out and found that Daisy couldn’t walk.
After debating an emergency trip to the doggy ER, I decided I could probably take care of her paw. I drove to one store for bandages and another for a doggie boot to keep the bandage on. I washed the foot, applied antibiotic pain-killing goo, bandaged and booted a bull-headed dog and fell asleep cuddling her. Sigh.
I must remember this. There has never been an idea or a dream worth pursuing that didn’t immediately spawn buzzing distractions, urgent interruptions and downright emergencies.
I’ve been spoiled by recording studios. Imagine a sound proof room designed for creating with people turning away distractions at the front door and holding all calls. Cell phones are off. There are electronic locks, intercoms and buzzers to preserve your creative privacy.
No clocks are allowed. People actually expect to work late into the night. Talk is kept to whispers and flashing technology dances at your fingertips. Producers crack the whip and you can really get work done.
Change The World . . . Tomorrow
But out here in the real world I have no dog-bandaging interns. Puppies need love now. So do the rest of us. And there’s the point.
All of my world-changing ideas are a poor substitute for simple kindness and committed love – right now! Not movie love or novel love or internet love but the plain old, everyday, hard-working kind of love that the real world needs: take-out-the-garbage, clean-up-baby-vomit, change-diapers, bandage-the-dog kind of love.
Change The World A Little At A Time
In the end, this kind of love is probably more valuable than the self-glorifying, big-idea, propose-while-skydiving, rent-a-limo, one-up-this, post-it-on-Facebook kind of love.
I know there’s a lot more everyday need.
All things added up, the everyday love that we give yields a lot more real-world results than a few big idea fireworks. Just imagine a world where no one took out the garbage.
Kindness happens one person at a time. It doesn’t trend, make headlines or stadium kiss cams. It’s more powerful than that.
Persistence is the most powerful tool available to mankind. Persistent love is the best application of it.
It adds up every day like God’s version of compound interest. How does that work? Like this.
I can’t change the world in a day. But I can change the world everyday. I just can’t change it very much.
So, the thing that matters the most is not the thing I do today; it’s the thing I do everyday, consistently. All I have to do is do it again.
First = Last
On the big list of world changers my name would probably be close to the bottom. Few people know who I am. I have an average number of friends. I haven’t invented anything amazing. I haven’t discovered any breakthroughs. I don’t have a billion dollars to give away.
But I have as much love as anybody. And I have today. Fortunately, in God’s economy cash is not king. Instead, love reigns supreme.
Added up over a lifetime, that’s the investment that counts that most; it’s what matters.
That’s why I smile at my little terrier barking at my neighbor’s mastiff. It looks comical, like she’s taking on too much, but she’s not.
Her method is my example when facing big, scary problems. She knows fear is not an option. She knows it’s not the dog who barks loudest that matters, but the one that barks longest. She knows that silence never wins; persistence does.
Truth needs a voice.
It’s been two days since Daisy’s foot was hurt. She’s curled up on the love seat, not because she’s hurting, but because the mastiff is banished back inside his house.
She pulled off the boot and bandage the next morning. I re-bandaged for one more night. She’s not the only stubborn one.
Now she’s running around like nothing happened. Time for me to get back to work.
I did not officially over-commit myself. I was a little slow to start a project. I ran into technical difficulties on another project. I got sick for three days, exposed because of another project. My computer nuked a necessary program that will take time to get re-authorized. The net result is that I’m out of time.
I, while attempting to do something good, got overwhelmed – by circumstances, by underestimating my own speed and by forgetting that even good things requires time.
So, what do I do about it?
1 – Don’t stop I can’t let emotional feelings stop progress. I can’t lose the time I have worrying about the time I don’t have.
2 – Prioritize Sometimes urgent things take precedence over important things for awhile. I have to do them even if I think I have better things to do. I have to trust I will have more time later.
3 – Act There may actually be a better way to do what I’m doing but I don’t have time to find it. Committed, focused effort works miracles. I’m always amazed later on at how much I got done.
4 – Don’t Make It Worse While digging out of a hole, I have to remember not to dig a deeper hole. During the few moments I have to rest, I need to resist the impulse to say yes to some future commitment because I think there will be more magical time later. I have to get things done before I agree to more things.
Stay calm. Work hard. Don’t add more work. Oh, and one more thing . . .
5 – Smile Things have been worse. (Much worse.) Things can get better. (Much better.) Life, after all, is good.
That’s all I have time for today. If you have any comments or suggestions about how you get through crunch times, please add your thoughts below in the comments section. Thanks for taking time out of your busy day to read.
I sat across the booth from Suzie picking through a shepherd’s pie while my head swam. We occasionally looked at each other, smiled and shook our heads. I held back tears with difficulty. There’s no crying in restaurants.
“Wow,” was the best I could come up with.
“Yeah,” she answered.
There are few moments in life when perspective is possible, when you can peer down the long corridors of history, when you grasp the true significance of a moment, when you can take it all in.
Becoming a grandparent is such a moment.
The Power Of Beauty
A recent study revealed that people become more spiritual when confronted with awe inspiring scenes of great beauty. There is, inside of us, a need to ask the question,”Why?” At such moments it is easy to see that something far beyond us is at work.
Surely holding your first granddaughter minutes after her birth is a moment of awe.
It’s different from holding your own newborn, another awe filled moment, because of perspective. It’s been twenty-four years since our family held our last newborn.
We now hold in our minds the collective history of two generations that gave birth to this moment. It’s a lot to take in over dinner.
It’s kind of rethinking your life because, looking back, things take on an entirely different meaning.
In the present, life takes your full concentration. It takes everything you’ve got. You don’t have the time or the ability to speculate on where it all leads.
When Suzie faced her first cancer we never thought about the years that would follow. If we had, we would not have imagined the blessings and joys our family has given us. We were just hoping for a future at all.
When the second and third cancers popped up unexpectedly we steeled ourselves for a fight. We never considered the joy of seeing all of our children graduate high school. It wasn’t even on our radar screen.
When the fourth cancer robbed Suzie of her ability to speak and we had to argue with doctors and nurses to get seen, we were not thinking of all of the Thanksgiving meals we would share.
When the fifth, sixth and seventh cancers appeared on a wider scan, the future all but disappeared from view. The sight of a doctor crying did not inspire confidence. We would have been thrilled to know for sure that Suzie would make it through the year. Thoughts of school plays, Christmas musicals and college degrees played no part in our determination to fight on.
The long search for “the” prom dress or helping our son pick out his first tux were not on our minds when the eighth cancer was discovered by accident. We were wondering how you treat a cancer that no one could even identify.
When a cut lung turned a routine breast reconstruction into a life threatening event, we did not dream of seeing our children travel the globe or go on mission trips to desperate or dangerous countries.
During six long months of chemotherapy fog and nausea we did not pause to wonder whether our daughters’ engagement rings would be gold or platinum.
Wedding dresses and color schemes didn’t inspire us when seizures led to heart arrhythmia. We didn’t try to guess the subject of our son’s screenplay or the tempo of his first song.
During the dreadful year of “adjusting” epilepsy medication we never imagined our daughters working in hospitals helping others or envision the endless miles conquered in Relay For Life events.
We had no idea what would happen. We just went on faith that life would be worth the trouble.
Because there’s always trouble.
This we could easily anticipate. It became a powerful motivator. We knew how much help we needed and wanted to be there for our children whatever trouble came.
And it came. Our children faced a lot of problems. A few of them caused by us. Okay, maybe more than a few. (Sorry about that, kids.)
The stress of growing up in a home with multiple cancers has caused more than one child to run off the rails. Ours did not. While we could be there and listen and pray, the survival of their generation is credited to them. They faced life’s biggest issues from a young age with courage and grit. Including problems we never faced.
Our daughter, over the last six years, lost three babies. Landon was immediately whisked to Vanderbilt Children’s hospital across town. She never even got to hold him. The heartbreak of that cannot be conveyed.
So the moment my brave daughter handed her daughter to my courageous wife was, in a word, glorious.
During the cancer years my wildest imaginings did not include the sight of Suzie, nineteen full years later, holding her first granddaughter.
The hopes and dreams, the struggle and survival of two generations summed up in one tightly wrapped bundle. I can only imagine what my Mom must feel.
When I say never give up, it matters . . . more than you can probably appreciate right now.
Here’s a principle to live by:
Don’t Quit Before God Does.
If God says it’s time to quit, you will quit. You won’t have an option.
So, if you are still here, then you’re not done yet.
You cannot imagine the future. You can rarely gain perspective on the past. No one can. We are trapped in the now.
But if you give your all and never give up, then one day you will reach a moment of perspective and see your life from a larger vantage point.
I believe that there is a gigantic calendar for the cosmos where all events are secretly scheduled. It’s just a personal belief. It could be a galactic Facebook page or an interstellar notebook of some kind. But it’s out there. And it has my name on it. And probably pictures of puppies.
I believe this odd thing because every time I get busy something important happens in my life. Or three important somethings. Or seven.
The converse is also true. Every time something important happens a thousand unimportant things pop up to compete.
Boredom Begats Boredom
On the other hand, when nothing important is going on then boredom sets in like concrete. No one calls. No one friends me on Facebook. (I think I may be addicted.) And no work pours in.
It’s very easy to stay in this doldrum. I have to do exactly nothing. I don’t have to think or plan or write or invent. I don’t have to log hours, invoice anyone or answer urgent emails. (Like such a thing exists.)
The Cosmic Calendar leaves me alone, as long as I sit still.
But just let me try to do something, to even think about doing something significant, and watch out. All manner of ridiculously urgent things occur.
Parking tickets are written, car tags expire, batteries die, tires flatten, dogs eat socks, heads are bumped, remotes stop working, neighbors visit, traffic jams, prescriptions run out of refills, library books go overdue, companies close.
(Insert your list here)
Sometimes the urgent is important
But more often the most important things are easily overlooked because they don’t make noise. They don’t demand attention. They are usually totally void of urgency. No one will call you up and demand that you have an important life by the stockholders meeting this Friday.
You will never see a commercial interrupt a prime time TV show to remind you to do the right thing.
If you’re going to do something significant with your life, you will most likely have to do it alone, quietly, without fanfare. It will be hard. It might make other people angry, or uncomfortable.
Because important things aren’t entertaining. They do not make others feel good about insignificant choices they may have made. They challenge others by contrast.
There will always be something else to do that’s easier, that feels better, that makes you more money, that garners more fame, that gathers more votes, that gets you more Facebook friends and retweets.
Built-in Excuse With Rinse Cycle
You can blame it on the economy or the battle between good and evil or cultural decline but the world always has an encyclopedia of ready-made excuses for being average.
The people who have done the important thing have always fought these battles and done it anyway. In spite of. Instead of.
That’s what I’m trying to do. Now, more than ever. You can watch my failures here. But they don’t matter.
Music has been my job for thirty plus years. From my first guitar to writing to singing to playing to recording to producing, I’ve bathed in music for most of my life. But this post, thank goodness, is not about me. Music has never been about me. It’s about us.
Oh, I started out playing for myself and I liked the way my parents smiled. Later on I liked the way the girls smiled. But after a few years passed I began to notice that people weren’t interested in me so much as the music.
My Song Was About What?
I would write a song and say exactly what I meant to say but people would come up after I played and thank me – for writing a song about something that happened in their life. It often had nothing to do with the song. It had nothing to do with me. It was all about them.
How they heard the song, their history, their feelings, their interpretation, was more than half of the experience for them. I wrote something that sparked thoughts and memories that they already had inside.
It was a powerful and confusing thing to a songwriter. I would write one song and they would hear another one. In fact, they kind of kidnapped my song and turned it into their own.
It was frustrating for awhile because I thought I wasn’t communicating my intention. But slowly it began to dawn on me that it didn’t matter. What was happening was better than my original idea. So, what was happening?
How Did They Know?
We all have things inside that are too big to express. My entire life floats around inside of me in the form of memories and emotions that are beyond communication. When someone writes a song that expresses a glimpse of what I feel then I latch onto it as precious. I take it as my own.
It’s as if the writer looked inside of me and wrote the inexpressible song in my heart. And it sets me free. (Of course, it also makes me wonder why I didn’t write the song, but that’s another issue.)
That’s the cathartic power of music. It communicates that bigger thing inside of us. It touches our toes and makes us want to dance. It touches the corner of our mouths and teases out a smile. It is the joyous soundtrack to the movie of our lives. It reflects our feelings but it does more.
It also has the power to change how we feel. Whether we want to or not.
Bypassing My Brain
I was driving into town one morning, late, stuck in traffic and angry about things at work. I knew it was going to be a long day dealing with difficult personalities and unnecessary chaos. Then a song came on and the intro caught my ear. I’d never heard it before. By the end of the first verse I’d forgotten I was mad. By the second chorus I was singing along and playing drums on the steering wheel. Three minutes later my world had changed, the sun was shining and I loved life.
Oh No They Didn’t!
Afterward, the D.J. announced that it was a new single by a band I knew personally. They were a scary clown circus on wheels, a terror to work with, but the surprising thing was that it didn’t matter to me. I had to shake my head and give them their due.
In the end, it wasn’t about them. It was about me and a song that strummed the chords of my heart.
What? Did I just say that? I know. I’m a jaded music professional. I’ve seen and heard it all. I’m supposed to be immune to this sort of thing. Apparently not.
Perhaps, more than anything else, the value of music is to communicate shared emotions. The idea that someone else feels the same thing and the ability to share that moment is life-altering. It’s communion beyond words. Socialization for the soul. Understanding. Inspiration. The melody of hope.
How Powerful Is That?
I could give countless illustrations but this one is fresh on my mind. It’s hard to top . . .