Friday, June 16, 2006

83% agree that Mark Twain had it right on statistics!

Every day you hear statistics. The presidents approval rating us up, it is down, it shows a decline from last time but it is on the increase from the same time last year. This product is proven to lower your cholesterol by this much and raise you good cholesterol by another 15 points. Statistics show this is more accurate, this is straighter, this will improve your sex life, this will gloss your hair more, this will make you better, cuter, smellier, whatever!

How do you know what statistics are saying? I took statistics in college and failed it the first time, I took it again and barely passed. When someone talks to me about statistics my eyes will gloss over and the corner of my mouth starts a little tick. I have a friend who teaches statistics and he seems so down to earth for a crazy person. The problem with statistics is that they look so innocent and seem to say so much without saying anything. The little percentage (%) sign is really a sign that stands for the devil, in fact, I think I can see a 666 hidden in that sign.

Let’s take a popularity poll for a particular idea. You read: “There is a 50% increase in support for people marrying their pet elephant” This may surprise you at first glance that half of the people polled want to marry elephants. What it really says is that the percent of people who support marrying elephants has increased by 50%. So if it was 2%, now it is 3% or if it was 40% now it is 60%. So that statistic really doesn’t tell you anything, in fact you can use that poll to say anything you want. PRO: 50% increase in support for marrying elephants. CON: Only 3% of people polled support marrying elephants. Both use the same poll, both are right, but both are radically, diametrically opposed.

Mark Twain said that there are “Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics” and I agree. Every time you hear a percentage or opinion poll or approval rating remember: those numbers are worse than lies and damn lies. Understand the only reason they are used is to push on you support for the purveyor’s point of view. You will be 62% happier in your life if you only believe statistics 33% of the time.

Fearfully Made

My Lipid Panel showed a few interesting twists, according to my doctor. While my bad cholesterol was good, my good cholesterol was bad. Triglycerides were slightly elevated but not much to worry about at this time; I just need to watch a little better what I eat. HDL levels were low, and that was interesting, “WAY LOW” according to my doctor, they are supposed to be in a range of 40-60 and mine were about 24. My cholesterol to HDL ratio is 5.55 mg/dL and it should be in a range of 2.00 – 4.50 mg/dL while my calculated LDL is at 58 mg/dL. This was taken from my drawn blood after fasting for 8 hours to make sure the reading were not impacted by my last meal. (Which was bacon fat spread on toasted white bread.)

What does all this mean? I really don’t have any idea … none at all. I had a kind of dazed look in my eyes as the nurse handed me a script for some drugs and moved my hand for me to sign my co-payment check. Whatever happened to the doctor visit I used to know? Where you would wait in the waiting room looking at a 3-year-old magazine, struggling to swallow from a sore throat or holding a swelled knee, ankle, or wrist; something that obviously needed a doctor’s care. The doctor would show you the x-ray of the break with his pen and proceed to wrap the appendage with gauze and plaster. For the sore throat you would get a quick look and a touch with a lengthened cotton swab and a script for something nice and familiar like Penicillin.

It seemed like our bodies were much simpler when I was younger. It seemed kind of like fixing a car. It used to be that anybody with a set of wrenches could lift the hood of any vehicle and fix anything in the engine, slam the hood down and say, “try it now.” Today I open the hood of my truck and I can’t even find something that resembles an engine underneath all the wires and computers. Today I go to a doctor and they don’t tell me my liver is broken and needs a cast, they have to give me a chemistry lesson before they can tell me what is wrong with me.

It is kind of scary as I place this strange colored pill into my mouth and swallow; I think I would prefer the cast or knee brace. Scripture tells us we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and sometimes I really understand the fearful part.


“Why did John get 50 cents and I only got a 25 cent raise?”

“Why does nothing ever go MY way?”

“What have you ever done for me?”

“They don’t pay me enough to do that?”

“Why me?”

“Me, my, mine, gimme, gettme, gotcha!”

I cannot tell you how many times I have heard these exclamations. In my time as a supervisor, manager, minister, and father it would total into the thousands. People who focus on their rights and their problems and their issues and totally forget about what others are going through. I have been guilty of it myself a time or two hundred. What is this? Why is our tendency toward selfishness?

From the time we were in the high chair we scream and cry for our rights with puréed carrots on our faces and a thrown spoon thrown to the floor for the umpteenth time; to our first job when we realize how much the government takes out of our paycheck; to the fifth job where we are passed by again for that big promotion or raise; to retirement complaints about Social Security payments and the cost of health care. We are selfish people.

That is why I preach to every business man and women, every church member and especially my kids to “consider yourself in a constant state of indebtedness.” In other words, never go around with the impression that people “owe” you, go around under the assumption that YOU “owe” people. Consider yourself indebted to others and you will find your life so much brighter. Brighter because you will always be thankful for any little thing; brighter because you will find ways to repay people for that debt; brighter because you will distinguish yourself from all others; brighter because you will find joy. So hear it again in this season, wherever you are: “ALWAYS consider yourself in a constant state of indebtedness!”


I wasn’t even wearing gloves as I sorted through a mound of garbage perched on a literal mountain of waste at the landfill. My department had made a mistake and put some glass that was needed for a $20 million order on top of a garbage can and when the collector went around he assumed it was thrown out. It went to the company’s compactor, then to the landfill and I soon followed. The drivers of the huge garbage bulldozers stood around and watched me in my shirt and tie, knee deep in the refuse searching.

I placed the garbage at the curb this morning and thought back to that experience. I saw the garbage men coming around the corner picking up the bags, dumping the cans, and driving on. I stood at the curb in my slippers and shorts and watched. For a few cents a day I have two men in a big truck drive by my house, twice a week, and pick up the stuff I don’t want anymore – my garbage. They take it, throw it in their truck, and drive it to a landfill. People at the landfill, push it around, compact it, and finally cover it and it turns into a grass covered park, or a ski hill, or baseball diamond, or whatever. We recycle cans, bottles, papers and glass and turn it into roads, benches, and garbage cans and even back to cans, bottles, paper and glass. Amazing.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could do that with the other garbage in our lives? Wrap up that stinky abuse from childhood in a used newspaper put it in plastic and leave it by the road for pickup. Take that broken marriage that still haunts you and drop it into the refuse can and wheel it away to the curb. Take that anger you have had wrapped around you like an overcoat and don’t even fold it as you crush it into the trash. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Maybe that’s what a good counselor can help you do or maybe a good friend. Maybe, just maybe, you CAN remove the garbage from your life. But first of all you have to be ready to get rid of it, no one can help you dump your garbage when you cling to it like a security blanket.

Oh, and yes, I did find that million-dollar glass in the landfill. The workers at the dump just shook their heads as I triumphantly raised it above my head and walked through the rest of the garbage to my car: smelly and smiling.

Harley Dreams

I pulled up to a red light with my window down, smelling the fresh fall air. I adjusted my radio to listen to a good song now playing when a rolling thunder approached. It started as a low rumble which I thought was the bass on my radio, then it grew louder and louder until finally the Harley pulled up next to my open window and I was tempted to roll it closed to protect my left eardrum. I have read that Harley Motorcycles doesn’t sell motorcycles it sells a lifestyle. A lifestyle where a 9-to-5 cubical accountant can ride through a neighborhood and have people fear him.

This man was decked out in full Harley gear. He had the black, shiny half-helmet. He wore a black leather jacket and blue jeans with leather chaps. He had buckled, black boots and black gloves that had the orange Harley logo on them. The bike itself seemed to bulge with chrome like muscles. The chrome-covered engine shook while it idled as if groaning against the breaks, aching to eat up the road. Everybody was aware of the Harley and its rider while he, seemingly, was only aware of the road ahead behind his wrap-around sunglasses: the ultimate in rebel coolness. He revved the engine a few times as the lights began to change, the engine growled at a higher pitch and lowered to its uneasy idle. The light turned green. I pushed my accelerator and expected the Harley to blow by me like I was standing still. I heard a revving, a loud click and as the leather boot lifted chrome into first gear, and then … a cough and … silence.

All of that leather and chrome show was negated in one mistimed clutch. The image crumbled into reality. The makeup came off the blemishes. Someday I will own a Harley. I will buy leather gloves and a leather jacket. I will wear a helmet and sunglasses and probably grow my beard and mustache a little longer. I feel the call of the open road that can be seen only on the seat of a Harley. But I also know that underneath all that I still am me … blemishes and all. Don’t lose yourself in the leather and chrome of life because most people will see through it eventually and those you love see through it immediately. Meanwhile, I’ll keep rolling down my window and dreaming.

Play Money

I looked at the new $20 bill, felt it, turned it over and back again. I just didn’t look real. It had too much color in it and all these new-fangled, fancy-dancy gizmos in it to keep it from being copied. It reminded me of monopoly money: fake. I often feel the same way when I see foreign bills with different colors and different faces and even different numbers: fake.

They don’t always seem fake though. I remember Monopoly games back in Indiana that would go for days at our house. Those golden $500 bills seemed to be worth gold. Collecting that $200 for passing GO was invaluable for getting another house on Park Place or Boardwalk before my brother got around the “Go to Jail” corner. Monopoly money was worth something.

Have you ever thought about what gives that piece of cotton we call dollars it’s value? It certainly isn’t the sum of what makes up the bill itself. For almost forty years now it doesn’t represent a chunk of gold in Fort Knox. Yet that $20 bill is honored in every country in the world, whether in public or on the black market. That $20 bill is used to buy food, TVs, drugs, guns and medicine. What makes the fake become valuable?

It is the will, the spirit, and the agreement of the people that gives it value. $20 is $20 because you and I agree that it is. We infuse that $20 bill with life and breath because we want it to. We take an inanimate object and breath life into it. Sometimes it takes on a life of it’s own. Witness the 1999 Pennsylvania P quarter. When released we all agreed that it was worth 25 cents, but one in good condition nowadays can get you over 3 times that amount and an unopened roll originally worth $10 is now worth over $50. Why? Because we have agreed that it is worth more.

I think we do the same with people. I have seen a paper thin person swell with pride and joy from one good word of encouragement. I have seen another deflated to near nothing with a put-down or personal failure. Pop stars are that way because we will it; when we no longer will it they show up on VH1’s “Where are they now?” show as has-beens. We breathe life into each other or we take the wind out of their sails. We agree, we chose, so let us chose life and breath and not devalue each other. Let’s pick the penny up off the sidewalk.

Focus on Your Side

I was driving down the road with a friend of mine and I came to a tight squeeze. I have a small pickup and I have been driving it for over 3 years so I know the size hole I can fit it through. I simply looked at my left-side rear view mirror and got it as close to the neighboring car as possible and drove through the narrow gap between the cars. My friend quickly leaned towards me letting out a “whoa!” thinking that I was going to take off his door with how close I was to the neighboring car. “That was close!” he exclaimed. I just smiled.

For a long summer I drove a semi tractor and trailer from Michigan to Florida. My loads were everything from alfalfa hay and bags of feed to sweet corn and watermelons. The only time I was nervous was when I would approach a construction zone where there would be cement dividers narrowing the road to what seemed like a few inches of leeway on each side of my truck. Even at 45 mph it seemed like I had little room for error. I kept telling myself to “focus on your side … focus on your side.” So I only looked on the left and never looked to my right side mirror. If I kept my side as close as I could I knew the other would take care of itself. When the road was wide I could afford to look around and enjoy the trip but under pressure I had to go back to focusing on my side.

As a manager of a Shipping department I found myself saying the same thing to my employees. “Just focus on YOUR side” don’t worry about what the others are doing. I would hear complaint after complaint from employees about other employees or people in other departments especially when the pressure was on and people were worried about their jobs but I wouldn’t listen to them. Focus on your side and the other will take care of itself.

Scripture tells us not to worry about the speck in our neighbor’s eye until we remove the plank in our own eyes. It seems especially when the pressure is on and the gap is narrow that we tend to focus on the wrong side while we should be focusing on OUR side.

The Feel

It’s all coming back to me now. The leathery knobs and the black stripes felt, somehow, right in my hand. It didn’t at first. At first it felt like a rough brick and not at all round in my hands. At first when I bounced the basketball it felt foreign and strange, I had to look down to make sure it was bouncing right and high enough to bounce again. The rim seemed like a hundred miles away. But let me back up a bit.

I grew up on a farm in Indiana with older brothers and most of us lived and breathed sports, especially basketball. If you have seen the movie Hosiers you have seen my back yard. We played basketball all year round and many times we had to scrap the snow off the court before we could play, the slush would stick to the ball and our ungloved hands would ache from the cold. I remember a hoop specially built by my dad out of 4x4s. I remember a hoop attached to the outside of the barn. I remember a hoop attached to a telephone pole in the driveway, upstairs in the hayloft of the barn, in the cattle yard with the cow pies, in the equipment shed, the tool shed, and even on a tree. Nerf basketball hoops showed up hanging on the doors of rooms in the house, the trim above walkways, above the TV, and out in the screened porch. We had a basketball table game with Ping-Pong balls launched to the hoop on a spring-loaded flipper. Even when there was no hoop or ball we would play in our imaginations and our underwear leaping to dunk the ball on the trim over the doorway. I carried a basketball to school, in the bus with me and sometimes even to classes. I carried a basketball to friend’s house just in case. My mom learned to tape broken glasses and broken fingers that came from basketball. I had the feel of a basketball.

As we remodeled our back yard it was my wife who insisted on a basketball hoop. Reluctantly, since my kids are out of the house now, I cemented the pole and hung the backboard and rim. I bought a new basketball and felt the brick it became in my hands. I shot a few times and missed even the backboard, the brick rolled in the grass behind. I turned on the lights on the court last night after a few weeks of bricks and noticed that I was dribbling without looking; my hands had gotten the feel back. I stood at the line and my hands traced the leathery knobs and black lines, I place my fingers where my 7th grade coach told me to place them and watched the ball spin backwards on its way to the hoop. The rim felt closer and the ball felt comfortable. I smiled as the memories of brothers, teammates, coaches, and screaming fans came back to me. I forgot my six knee surgeries and my extra 70 pounds as the ball lightly touched the back of the rim, went through, and bounced strait back to me. The feel.

Friday, June 09, 2006

I Still Dream of Playing Basketball

In my dreams I can still fly through the air doing a two-handed-power-jam. In my dreams I am so light on my feet that the basketball almost lifts me towards the hoop. In my dreams I “take it to” the big man on the opposing team and I run back down the court to play defense while pointing at the guard who just fed me the perfect pass. In my dreams I am so in shape that I can play the entire game and still have the energy left for a last minute steal and a full speed run down court for another jam just as the final buzzer rings. In my dreams ….

Reality comes crashing into my dreams as soon as I wake like a sledge on concrete. I wake to find my mid-aged body racked by back pain and my knees unstable by six knee surgeries. I climb out of bed and carry my 40 overweight pounds to relieve a bladder that seems to be the only part of my anatomy shrinking. I move to my trusty La-z-boy to spend a few midnight hours and allow the ibuprofen to kick in before heading back to bed. Yet I lean back and rock dreaming of playing basketball.

My daydreams are different; my mind runs through thousands of scenarios as I read the morning papers and books next to my chair. I plan as I listen to the news, to music and to the small waterfall in my pool outside. I dream up so many schemes, possibilities, and adventures that I would drive my wife crazy if I shared one in a hundred with her.

It was during one of these marathon sessions of planning that I realized I was living the dreams I had back when I played basketball. Here I was lying on a floating mattress in my pool next to my beautiful wife of 26 years in a job that I love and in a city that I love. I am living my dream of 30 years ago as a teenager. I don’t live in the past I love the present too much. Take a look at what you are doing now. Are you using your past to improve your future or are you living in the past to escape your NOW.

Meanwhile, if you see me smiling while dozing off on a Sunday afternoon in my La-z-boy don’t wake me. I still dream of playing basketball.


I woke up in the middle of the night with my whole arm numb. I was laying on it wrong and the blood quit circulating and so … numbness. It was kind of funny as I got up because it was useless, I could lift it but I had no fine motor control. It was reminiscent of the Tim Conway/Harvey Korman routine where Tim is a dentist and keeps giving himself a shot of Novocain instead of Harvey and as various parts of his body go numb Harvey cannot stop laughing while in the dentist’s chair. It is one of my favorite Carol Burnett Show moments. So here I was standing at the sink trying to brush my teeth with a numb arm. I held the brush in my good arm and squeezed the toothpaste all over the counter with my bad arm. I even tried to brush with my bad arm and it looked more like I was shaving than brushing. I was laughing at myself (I do that a lot) until ….

It started with a tingling in my arm as blood began coming back into my veins. The tingling quickly turned into a million pinpricks attacking my arm and successfully covering every square inch. With the toothpaste still on my face I drop the brush and flex my arm muscles attempting to hurry the wave of pain along. The wave lessens to a dull ache and I can finally clean my face, no longer smiling. I am sure all of us have experience this numbness to pinpricks to dull ache cycle many time in our lives.

What came to my mind was the numbness that I got the last time I was on drugs. Legally mind you, but I was taking painkillers for recently pulled teeth and I remember the numbness. My mind was lazy, my body was unresponsive, and sleep was fleetingly shallow. After a while I was faced with a decision, I knew in my cloudy mind that I could not stay like this forever, eventually I would have to face the pain and get off the drugs. I did, the pinpricks came, and finally the dull ache before I returned to my version of normal.

I believe many people don’t make that choice. The upcoming pain is too hard to face so they stay in the cloudy comfort of numbness. They keep the circulation cut off without realizing that for every minute there is no circulation, that piece of you dies a little bit more. Numbness seems peaceful and easy and pain may seem prickly and hard but it does mean you are coming alive.

I am Tired of it!

It is less than a month before the elections and I have had enough! I am SO tired of it all. Most have made up their minds months, if not years, ago; so why do they spend millions of dollars trying to get our vote? But that is not enough! First, we have to put up with every other advertisement being a political one. Second, we have to put up with debates over everything we already know about. Third, we have to put up with the news telling us what they said, which we already knew. Fourth, we have to put up with partisans from both sides telling us what they said that we already know and what they think about it, which we already knew too. Fifth, we have to put up with the news telling us what the partisans said about what the candidates said about the issues we already knew about. And so on … and so on … and so on ….

I am tired of it. I have taken to watching the history channel and checking in on the news every now and again just to make sure the world hasn’t changed. H.L. Mencken says, “Under democracy one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule--and both commonly succeed, and are right.” I think I will stay off cable news until the first Tuesday in November and think seriously about investing in TiVo or some such device.

It is unfortunate because I have seen a change in the last 10 years in our electorate. Many people claim that we are more polarized now than we have ever been before, but I don’t think so. I think we are more showy than ever before and less substantive than every before. The important decisions of war, poverty, education, and security of all kids are still there to be made but no single president can make a difference in those kids of decisions. The best a president can do is nudge the nation in a certain direction and hope the one that follows will keep nudging, after decades this behemoth of a democracy might alter it’s course by a few degrees. Even a HUGE, life-changing event like 9/11 didn’t alter our course by much, we are now, three years later, back to the same bickering and division we were then. I am tired of it.

I am tired of it but I am also hopeful. I know that we will be done in a few weeks with another round of this messy democratic process, and we will have a breather for a few months. I happen to agree with Winston Churchill who said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, apart from all the others.”

Turn Down the Volume

I sat back and watched two people argue the other day. The “Bob” told “Jon” that he was hurt by something Jon said. Jon said that he didn’t SAY that, he said this. Bob said he didn’t hear this, he heard that. “Well, that is not true!” said Jon, “this is true!” “This cannot be true because I heard that!” “But I already told you, THAT is not true, this is!” “This isn’t true because you said that!” “I DIDN’T SAY THAT, I SAID THIS!” And on and on it went. I am sure that you have heard the argument and maybe even participated in something like that. Basically, the people were talking right past each other and not hearing a word the other was saying.

I sat and watched, and analyzed. I was happy that I was not a part of it but uncomfortable that I had to hear it along with 20 other people who were in the same place. The argument started low key enough but ended at high volume with both Bob and Jon yelling their version of the “truth.” The fact is neither of them had a handle on the “truth.” Neither of them was totally in the right, and neither was totally in the wrong. So how did they try to resolve the problem? They both came up with the same solution that we all try at one time or another … we turn up the volume. With each round of “yes you did … no I didn’t” the volume got turned up a notch. The volume got turned so far up that both were red-faced and spitting at each other.

Now were did we come up with the idea that increased volume means increased truth? I think maybe intimidation has a lot to do with it. Intimidating people are not just those with huge muscles, they are the people who know how to ratchet up the anger to the point of scaring the other person and therefore getting their way, and therefore believing in their own version of truth. I think that the “squeaky wheel” syndrome may apply when one of the people arguing decides his version of the truth is simply not worth the volume the other is projecting so they give in. I think there are many factors to increased volume.

Increased volume does not mean increased truth. So the next time you find yourself cranking up the volume in an argument find the knob and turn it back down. Often decreased volume means increased self-confidence just think of The Godfather.

No Pain, No Gain

While playing basketball in High School a teammate of mine passed me a high-speed pass from only two feet away … right at my face. Being relatively quick I got my hands up in time to catch the ball and save a broken nose. But … in that fraction of a second that my hands went from my sides to my face to catch the ball, my left-hand thumbnail caught my tooth. (Read that sentence again) The quickness of my hands in saving my face ripped my thumbnail off my thumb. Well, not quite off my thumb, there was still a bit attached at the base of the nail hanging on like a leech to my skin. Stunned, I stopped the game, and walked over to my coach expecting sympathy and maybe a hospital visit. He looked at me, looked at the thumb, looked at me again and then grabbed the dangling nail and pulled it the rest of the way off my thumb. YEEEEEOOOOW! He then put a band-aid on it, wrapped it in tape and told me to get back into the game.

I was at my favorite Denny’s getting breakfast when my waitress sat down across from me in tears and told this story. Her granddaughter asked her if she could move in with her along with her six-month-old great-granddaughter. The waitress said no because she believed her granddaughter needed to get her life straight, quit partying, quit drinking, quit hanging with the wrong men, and take responsibility for her child. Basically her granddaughter wanted a free place to live and a free babysitter so she could party. Grandma said “no.” She was babysitting three times a week while her granddaughter worked but now the granddaughter is punishing her by never letter her see the baby again. At least that is the threat. She asked, in tears, if she did the right thing. I told her my thumbnail story and the rough, thick nail that reminds me of the pain often. She said she was so upset that she missed work for two days and still doesn’t feel like being there. I told her I understood, that she did the right thing, that the pain was right and okay, but that she had to get back into the game. I then told her that I didn’t think the ban from her great-granddaughter would be permanent and she agreed. She wiped the tears with her Denny’s apron and thanked me.

When I left Denny’s I left a big tip and noticed she was making the other people she was serving smile and calling them “honey” again. I looked at my thumb and smiled – she was back in the game.

The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth

We have all seen the small-framed women with short hair and big eyes cowering behind some huge hairy husband afraid to say a word without his approval. When the unseen signal of approval is received she opens her mouth for a one-word answer to your question in a small “mousy” voice and an apologetic smile and then goes running back behind the husband as if in retreat from battle. I ran into this couple at a recent event we attended together. She was literally one-third the size of her husband, never left his side, and spoke only when there was no other option available. This is the person we give many names to: mousy, shy, insecure, bashful, meek, quiet, unassertive, and timid.

Wait a minute. Let’s play the Sesame Street game of “One of these things just doesn’t belong here!” Which of those names or labels really doesn’t describe this woman? Meek. We call mousy, quiet and timid people meek. That is not a description of a meek person. Let me give you a better definition of meekness. Meekness is controlled strength.

I used to wrestle on the living room floor with my kids when they were young, much to the chagrin of my wife. I would take on all three of them as toddlers and we would laugh and giggle until finally they ended up pinning me to the carpet with all on top of me. If I wanted, I could have easily thrown them off and across the room, but I didn’t want to. For reasons of love, joy, peace, patience and self control I didn’t WANT to. It was a decision I made to be meek.

This woman I describe may have been meek, I don’t know for sure. But what I do know is that people have a skewed view of what it means to be meek. We don’t consider meek people as strong people who simply control their strength. We run into situations every day where we need to be meek. At work and at home, with friends and with family, we face situations were we could control it, muscle it, silence it, or push it out of the way … but we don’t. We chose meekness instead. Have chosen meekness lately, enough? If you have you “shall inherit the earth.”


I was settled into my easy chair. I had my soda on the end table within reach, the TV set on the news, and the latest newspaper on my lap. After busy days this is my state of rest. The chair fits my body, soothes my aching back, and is rest for my spirit.

I am a confessed, news junkie, I need my fix so: Flooding my ears were stories of the latest hurricane to hit Florida, the latest attacks on each of the candidates, the latest war news, the latest terrorist news, the stock market going up and down. In my hands I read of locals going loony and killing each other, traffic problems, local politics, and businesses screaming for my attention through the print. In the newspaper the articles have a particular bent, even though they claim to be neutral, it is impossible. The ads make claims for your money. The TV stations each have their own agenda so I switch between for a rounded perspective on the news. Then I run into a section of pure fun. It seems to me that the comics are pure gratis and I eat them up.

Yesterday I was reduced to tears of laughter from a comic strip. I have found that certain comics relate to me at certain periods in my life. When my kids were young “Calvin and Hobbes” was the best strip and I read it every day. When my kids hit teenagers I found “Zits” to zero in on my funny bone. When I was in the business world “Dilbert” was perfect since I worked for a company that made cubicles. This particular strip was from “Get Fuzzy” who has been having back problems of late. I simply could not read the third frame of the comic without breaking into laughter, I pause and took a drink of my soda, I watched the news again but all I had to do was open the paper and the tears started flowing again. I began to make strange noises as I tried to stifle the guffaws. I finally had to put down that section of the paper and go on to death and destruction.

Laughter is the best medicine but that dose simply wore me out. Now I don’t wish to make light of the events that face our nation and each of us but there was no pill that would have made me feel better than those 15 minutes of pure laughter. When was the last time you were reduced to tears of laughter? When was the last time you took a laugh break? Maybe it’s time.


My wife and I celebrated our anniversary this past week by taking some time off and going to a hotel for a few nights. We went away from work, away from our house, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. While my wife spent a few hours at the spa I lay out by the pool and read books and magazines that I had been pushing back for lack of time. Outside of that couple of hours we spend the two days together. We simply spent time together. I found out that my wife is a pretty competitive go-cart racer and cut me off as I tried to pass countless times and put me into the rail. I smile now as I think about it.

These yearly events fascinate me. I am an amateur etymologist, which means that I am fascinated with the origins of words. Anniversary is an interesting word combination. The first part is “annus” from the Latin meaning “year” and most of us recognize that from other similar words: annual, Anno Domini, annals. But the second part of the word Anniversary makes for some interesting discussion. In Latin the word is “versus” which means “to turn.” Based on it’s usage in the word or phrase it can mean, “to return to” as in Anniversary, or “to turn against” as in Michigan vs. Indiana. I wonder if the Romans, who came up with the word, knew the possible variations when used in a WEDDING Anniversary. Every year the bride and the groom “return to” their wedding day or “turn against” each other.

Sometimes it seems as if we are against each other in our marriage but I will always return to that day in celebration. I am asked once a week if I feel people should live together before they are married. My answer depends. If they are religious then living together is wrong based on scripture. But most people aren’t looking for the religious answer so I give them the practical one. Living together BEFORE you are married is the surest way to make sure you get divorced later. It is also a way to guarantee any children you might have will get divorced and have many social ills to boot. Why do I say that? Statistics from the last 40 years of liberal marriage and divorce laws, as well as 40 years of the “sexual revolution” show that people who live together before they get married are THREE TIMES more likely to get divorced as those who do not live together before marriage. Three time more likely! So if you want to triple your odds of getting divorced, live together before you get married.

In fact, I think living together before may be the difference in the etymology of the word Anniversary. Yearly do you “return to” in celebration or do you “turn against” each other in guilt?

Monday, June 05, 2006

Olympics III

Rulon Gardener sat in the middle of the matt and took off his shoes. I cried like a baby. Normally when tears come after someone takes off their shoes it has nothing to do with emotion and a lot to do with smell, but this was different.

Four years ago Rulon defeated the scariest human this side of Jason and Freddy. His name was Alexandre Kareline and he had won the Olympic Gold Medal in the previous 3 Olympics and every World Championship in between. Alexandre is thought to be the greatest Greco-Roman wrestler in history and had beaten Rulon easily the last time they met. These heavyweights were a study in opposites. Alexandre was a chiseled, square-jawed, muscular giant. Rulon was a baby-faced, easy-smiling, fat kid from Wyoming. Rulon did the impossible and handed the Russian giant his first loss in almost 15 years during the gold medal match.

That was four years ago. Now Rulon comes to the Olympics, again, an underdog. Many have fought and won matches against him, he was stranded out in the mountains of Wyoming and had severe frostbite, and he was still a baby-faced fat kid. Rulon lost his second to the last match in the Olympics and then won the Bronze medal match. In tears Rulon shook hands with his opponent, his coach, and then walked to the center of the matt with the crowd cheering and took off his shoes. In the world of athletes when one of their own takes off his shoes that means retirement. His shoes were beat up, marred, used up, scuffed, and smelly but were also beautiful as they sat by themselves in the middle of the matt. These shoes were a poor representation of the gentle farmer who wore them but they were a good representation of the battles he had fought, the wins and the losses.

I think that is a good representation of our lives too. When you leave your shoes in the middle of the matt what will they say about your life? We used to make fun of kids with brand new tennis shoes in school because they hadn’t DONE anything. Shoes that were beat up and molded to your foot represented people who were in the game and not on the sidelines. What will your shoes look like when you leave them on the matt?

Olympics II

Yesterday I watched a Chinese “girl” who was only about five foot tall clean-and-jerk a barbell almost three times her own weight. Then later that night another Chinese girl, about the same height, flew through the air, twisting and turning, and finally landing on the floor exercise in gymnastics. Both were amazing, both were unbelievable skilled and dedicated, both will go home without a medal.

Thousands and thousands of athletes in Athens and only a few hundred medals available. Why in the world would someone do that? Many of these athletes will be at the peak of their performance only this once – this one Olympics and there is no other shot. Many of these athletes have their place in the spotlight measured in seconds. Think of that! Only the top three get medals and at time what separates the fourth from those first three is hundredths of seconds. In speed cycling they time to three decimal points, so the difference could be thousandths of a second between medal and no medal. In archery a man practiced for 10 hours a day, everyday, for the last 15 years and went home with nothing but the experience.

Wait a minute. The experience. They ALL go home with that. The experience is that moment, that hundredth of a second frozen in time forever. The experience is being there. The experience is participation, even though you are the one that gets lapped in the long run. The experience of walking around with passes and tags around your neck, being in the Olympic Athletes ONLY Village, going in the Athletes ONLY places, and getting the Athletes ONLY warm-ups. Every athlete goes home with the experience.

After my six knee surgeries what I miss about basketball is NOT the winning. What I miss is the camaraderie, the “good play”, the great shot, the good move, the sweating and exhaustion, the EXPERIENCE. These athletes compete because they love the experience of competition. It is the journey that is the important part – not the goal. It is the experience – not the medal. Sometimes we forget about that in our life’s journey as well, we spend so much time focusing on the goal, that we forget the experience of the present. Stop and take a minute to enjoy the experience, the competition, and the journey.

Olympics I

I won’t be getting too much sleep over the next few weeks because the Olympics is now on. Once every four years I create a huge groove in my easy chair as I lay ease my frame into it for hours at a time. I love the Olympics; I love the spirit of it and the camaraderie of the teams. I have watched fencing, volleyball, soccer and the first running event already and I am hooked again.

The first thing I have noticed is the age of the athletes. The OLD ones really stand out because the young own the Olympics. In gymnastics you are an old lady if you are 20 years old. The Cuban volleyball team looked like junior high kids to me even though they were all over 6 foot tall and could jump over my head. The Brazilian superstar women’s soccer player is still in High School. During the opening ceremonies the youth from every culture parade by the cameras. They come out dignified in their national uniforms to hear their country announced in three different languages and then the cheers of the crowds. For most of them, that will be their only moment in the TV spotlight as the file into the stadium since they have no chance of medalling in their event. As they approach the TV camera for their 15 seconds of fame they wave their small flags and then look strait into the camera and … stick out their tongue, pull a funny face, and even say “hi mom” just like every teenager in the world would do.

You can take the kids out of their teenage years but not the teenagers out of the kids. All the sacrifice and hard work that got them there is forgotten as they pose for the camera for those few seconds. To be at the Olympics is the goal and the win becomes secondary.

As we continue in a season of war and terrorism in our world we take a breath and pause for just a few weeks and focus on the joy of being human – together. Competition breeds respect, which breeds acceptance, which leads to understanding and perhaps … love.

Use it or Lose it

I was heading to my truck, parked on the 6th floor of a parking ramp when I saw a man wandering through the ramp with his armed raised. He was looking from side to side and pressing a button on his keychain that would set off an alarm or horn on his vehicle. He had clearly forgotten where he parked and was using his alarm to find his car. As I drove out of the ramp I saw him on a different floor still searching with his arm upraised and thumb pressing the button repeatedly.

I used to be good at remembering phone numbers. I could still rattle off the phone number of my home in Indiana from 40 years ago and other than my college dorm room number I can give you every one up until now. I know my in-law’s number, a few brothers and sisters and even a grandparent’s number. But something has happened recently. I was asked the number for my wife’s cell phone and I was stuck … I said, “Umm … all I know is that it is number one on my speed dial.”

That man in the parking ramp and I are victims of “Use-it-or-lose-it” syndrome. Modern technology has cause us to use totally different parts of our brains and even different parts of our body. I bet we have teenagers with the most versatile thumbs in history because they grew up using them on computer games, TV remotes, and arcade games. We have adults that have learned to dial phones, drive, and chew gum at the same time. This amazes me but what have we lost with all these advances.

It used to be on the farm that all the neighbors HAD to get together at harvest time because one farmer could not bring in the crops on time by himself. Modern technology allows more self-reliance but a loss of neighbors as friends. I have my cell phone with me at most times and I have lost meals without interruptions. I can make my car’s horn honk from a distance but don’t remember where I parked it. I can call my wife but I cannot tell others how to call her. We’ve gained but what have we traded?

“There’s the rub.” What is the tradeoff? Have you ever stopped to ask yourself what you must let go for this new gadget?

Where the Sharks Are

I lay down in the water floating. The pool is cooler than my body temp but my body quickly adjusted to the point where it felt like I am floating on nothing. I breath carefully because a deep exhale would send me under and dramatic breaths caused me to bob like a buoy in a windstorm. I looked up into the evening sky and see airplane lights and a few stars peaking through the thick Las Vegas night. The only lights are the lights of the pool, underwater, causing the pool to have a clear glass with a green tint look. But those lights make all the difference.

We had a pool growing up on the farm and I used to like to swim at night there too, until something happened. That something was a movie called Jaws. After I saw the movie I felt strangely uncomfortable swimming at night. As I would float I could almost hear the “DaDumDaDump” of the movie soundtrack, as the shark got closer. Any little movement or a touch from the floating chlorine dispenser would send me into waves of convulsions escaping the danger. Years later at the cottage owned by my in-laws I would swim at night and be reminded again of things that swim, unseen, under the surface. While I was able to control the convulsions I would feel an adrenaline rush if some seaweed brushed my leg during those night swims. These swims were as calm and relaxing as a rollercoaster ride.

The difference is light. Illumination causes fears to flee. Darkness creates unseen and unimaginable and, normally, unfounded dangers. I float easily and relaxed in a lit pool, but uneasily and nervously in a dark one.

There are so many areas that could use this as a metaphor I don’t know which one to chose from: The illumination of knowledge over the darkness of ignorance; the shadows of lies versus the shining light of truth; the beauty of the full spectrum of color compared to the monochrome grays; and the hidden fears dispelled by shining understanding. All of these could be used and would make a great column – but I won’t. I will use this for a simpler message: Stay in the light! Flee from the darkness! Simply, don’t go where the sharks are.

Science Faith

What do you do when science and logic disagree? We are so used to logic and religion or religion and science disagreeing but what happens when logic disagrees with science? Science tells us that if you cut the distance between two lines in half and keep doing that. Keep cutting the distance between two lines in half to an infinity amount of times, the lines will never meet. Science tells us that you can go from an inch apart to a half inch, quarter inch, eighth inch, sixteenth, thirty-second, sixty-fourth, etc. and the two lines will never meet. Logic tells us that this cannot happen, that infinity of halves is impossibility. Logic cannot exist in a system of quantum physics. Logic says if A = B and B = C then A = C. Logic says that if A = B then A m B is false. If A equals B is cannot NOT equal B at the same time. Science now will tell you that A can be both B and non-B at the same time. It goes beyond light as both a ray and a wave. It applies to many equations and is covered in phrases like: dark matter, hidden factors, inherent errors, false integers and unknown equations.

All the math and physics going on at major universities now are delving into areas where logic never dared or could tread. Papers are being written in speculation of things hidden that will someday be revealed as we build bigger and faster computers. Dark matter of amazing power will be revealed when we super collide atoms. Mysteries will be revealed when the patterns of prime numbers found in pi are deciphered and gathered. Megabytes turn into Gigabytes which turn into Terabytes, then to Petabyte, then to Exabyte and beyond.

It is interesting to watch and read about this conversion of science. No longer are we talking about healing the sick with medication and surgery we are talking about altering genes and nanotechnology to heal. To us lay people, science will be a matter of … “I don’t know what it is, but they say it is supposed to work.” I read in a magazine recently that we will soon have genetically enhanced, robotic leaches and parasites that will email us information on how our body is doing and what we should eat in the upcoming meal. We will take it as a matter of … faith?

Hmm… Maybe within the next few years those universities should pull down their “Science and Math Department” signs and put up “Department of Faith and Religion” signs.