Archive for June, 2011

Growth Means Change

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

Although I’ve been busy I’m still trying to find time to move forward in the book I’ve been reading. “The Shack” has grabbed my interest and held my attention through every word so far. One thing that I like about the book is how each chapter begins. They all begin with a quote after the name of the chapter. It’s unique and I like the meaning behind it. For some reason I can easily relate to many of the quotes.

Chapter 8 begins with a quote from an unknown author. It says, “Growth means change and change involves risk, stepping from the known to the unknown.”

That quote struck a chord quite close to home when I sat down and digested it. At first I thought it was kind of cool, but the longer I sat there and thought about it I quickly saw how true it really is.

Sometimes things happen to us that we don’t have any control over. In order to grow from these things we have to change. The change could include anything from our living arrangements, to a great loss or just changing how we think.

I’ve always been somewhat stubborn when it comes to things that I believe in. There have been many times in the past when I knew that I needed to make changes in my life, but I was hesitant to address those issues. I was too comfortable with everything, even if many of the things were negatively impacting the quality of my life. I never wanted to take any risks. I always feared the worse. If I did something to benefit my life I always figured it would backfire in my face. That’s what made me keep plodding along on the smooth paved highway. I never wanted to get off an exit and take an adventure along an unknown road. Comfort and familiarity often keep us on the same road. It very well could be the road to nowhere, but our fear paralyzes us into thinking that we won’t be able to handle any change in our current position, let alone a major change.

Personal growth requires many things in different areas. We need to surround ourselves with positive people who have dreams, aspirations, hope and drive to reach their goals. If you find yourself around people unlike yourself in those areas you will most likely fall into the trap of following their lead. The life will get sucked out of you and every day becomes one of comfort and security. However, if a few risks were taken from time to time you might find yourself chasing dreams that you thought were unattainable at one time. In order to do this you need a lot of support from your circle of friends, your family and your partner if you have one.

Many partners drive the other to succeed. Their support feeds each other. They’re there to celebrate the small victories and to help you when you encounter bumps in the road on your journey. No matter what you do, they show their pride, which motivates you to succeed.

I’ve seen this time and time again from my parents. I mean really…what better role models could I possibly have? My parents have been on vacation in Houston, Texas for the last week. Since my mom was stricken with the viral brain infection a year and a half ago they haven’t been able to do much away from home. I’ve seen many days where other people would have given up, but my mom smiles, stays optimistic and keeps striving to get better. I can’t imagine being 63 years old and having to start all over again. She might walk sideways, have a hard time while learning how to read again, but she never quits. In the process of all of that she also always looks out for her family first. She’s in Houston this week cheering my father on at the Senior Olympics. That support and positive feedback surely drives my dad to succeed. It brings him to another level even if he doesn’t know it.

Yesterday was my father’s birthday. I had such a miserable day that I got so involved in something going on, that by the time I realized I needed to call him, it was what I thought, was too late. I felt like a bad son, especially after everything he has done for me. Then, when I called today he played it off like he didn’t know yesterday was his birthday just to make me feel better. I’m a grown adult, I’m not that stupid. Unfortunately, it’s one of those things I’ll have to live with now.

I spoke with one of my friends today about this topic. I found it ironic how I had already written most of this but had to save it as a draft. My friend told me how it’s “necessary” to keep the walls up and not let anyone inside. It’s a defense mechanism that has worked from day one and offers protection. I personally disagree. I think that so called defense mechanism actually weakens you and prohibits your growth. Sometimes if we let our walls down a new way of looking at life gently finds us. People sometimes become so afraid of letting others in because they’re afraid of what “might” happen. The future is the future and we can’t predict it. There’s no sense in worrying about things that haven’t happened yet. If we do our part everything will work out as planned.

However, if we leave the walls up that’s what we will find in the people that come into our lives. If your walls don’t come down, their walls will remain as well, or your inability to open up will steer them away from you.  There’s no room for growth with that huge obstacle in the way. The wall stunts everyone’s growth which is a real shame.

Everyone gets hurt. We all experience loss, failure and emptiness because of our decisions. There’s nobody out there who doesn’t encounter these things. We can’t base the future on the past. We have to accept the present for what it is and just take one step at a time.

Yes, change does involve risk. If you’re not willing to take the risk, you certainly don’t deserve to be rewarded with the wonderful things that the change will bring to you. I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure that the scenery is much better when you push the wall over than it is if you peek around or through the wall that you refuse to let fall.

Life is all what we make of it. I’ve seen the good as well as the bad. I’ve finally realized that I’m willing to take calculated risks. If I see something that is worth taking a chance to help me grow, I will slowly act on it. I might move at a snail’s pace, but I will take the risk in hopes that I will be rewarded with the change. As my friend says, “Peace out.” Without risk there’s no reward. Take  a chance and you might just be surprised what you find on the other side.

A Day without Complaining

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

As I sat at work today I thought about a lot of things that I could address through writing tonight. Now, as I sit here, my mind is blank. A few weeks ago a friend of mine sent me a quote that I found interesting, so I’ll start there and see where I end up by the time I finish.

The quote reads, “The hardest battle you’re ever going to fight is the battle to be just you.”

It sounds so simple doesn’t it? However, some people live their entire lives without ever really knowing who they are. I can’t fathom it, but I can understand it when I look around. There are so many lost souls who grasp at everything around them in order to find a small bit of acceptance. Once they “fit in” they move on to something else. Instead of looking in the mirror they try to keep up with everyone around them. These people crave attention and will do anything to get it, whether it’s positive attention or negative attention. The end result really doesn’t matter as long as they’re getting some type of attention.

We all like to complain about things. If you think you have a lot of will power try to go through one day without complaining about anything. I never realized how hard it is until someone challenged me with it. It was almost impossible for me. It’s easy to bitch and moan about everything under the sun, no matter how large or small the problem might be. Someone’s bad habits might irritate us. Another person’s bad driving skills might annoy us. Then, we have to complain about these things that get under our skin.

For a reason unknown to me I’ve had a lot of people talk to me about issues in their relationships. Sometimes I don’t say much and other times I lash out because I become irritated. It’s hard for me to believe what people put up with, especially when they are brought down by the events on a regular basis.  A lot of times we don’t think people treat us well and in many cases they don’t. However, we should always remember that we only get treated as badly as we allow someone to treat us. There comes a time when we have to stand up for ourselves, put our foot down and move away from these things that bring us down.

Since this has no direction tonight I’ll add that my father just called from Houston. He’s shooting in the Senior Olympics and after the first day of shooting he’s in fourth place. I’m proud of him. He’s come a long way with his shooting skills over the last five years. Hopefully he can put a good score on the board again tomorrow and not drop any places.

I’m glad that he’s finally enjoying it for himself. I’ll never forget all of those years that he drove me all over the country so I could shoot. I achieved high levels of success and I loved every minute of it when I was competing. I always knew that he was proud of me, but I felt bad because I knew that he was traveling solely for me. I could never ask for a better role model or parent. That’s why it’s so satisfying when he calls me to tell me how he shot. I’m happy for him.

I would like to babble tonight, but I haven’t slept much this week. Tomorrow is Friday and I’m worn out. Hopefully I will feel a little more stimulated over the weekend.

I had  very uplifting conversations both last night and today with different people. Sometimes it’s just a couple of minutes of someone’s time that makes a difference in the day. I’m glad I had the time and ability to converse with these people. A simple smile can often carry you from one day to the next.

The Teachers in Our Lives

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

Last Thursday night I jotted a few last things on a piece of paper and organized some props that I planned on bringing to my presentation the next day. While I’ve done presentations for 4th, 5th, 6th, 11th and 12th graders, I’ve never done one for 1st graders.

Since most first graders are six years old, I knew that I would have to find ways to keep them focused. The younger the audience, the shorter the attention span usually seems to be. When I outlined the things I wanted to cover I tried to find ways that I thought we could interact with each other. I could listen to them and they could listen to me. My primary goal was to let them have fun.  Sometimes a presentation will take a different direction than what was originally planned.

When I arrived in the classroom Mrs. Osgood quickly introduced me to the class. The moment was priceless. The kids seemed excited and some of them were in awe. I could tell that for a few minutes they thought I was larger than life. After I asked a few of them to help me find a chair to sit in, they graciously scurried around to get a “big person” chair for me.

Instead of trying to give my presentation as an adult, I tried to lower myself to their level of thinking, so it would be easier for all of us to communicate.  I asked easy questions that they wouldn’t have to think about for very long. In order to include all of them we went around the classroom one at a time and gave every student a chance to participate. If one of them didn’t want to participate we moved on to the next one.

Halfway into the presentation I realized that I was losing a few of them. At that point I broke out a few of my props. I took out a set of shed antlers from a deer. I gave them a quick lesson about shedding by explaining to them that deer lose their antlers every winter and grow new ones for the following year.

When I reached into my bag and pulled the antlers out I asked if anyone knew what they were. One of the children yelled out, “They’re deer horns!” Suddenly, a small boy quickly corrected her by saying, “No they’re not. They’re deer antlers.”

I had to explain to the class that, yes, indeed, they were antlers and not horns. As the antlers made their way around the class the kids were having a ball. A few of them held them on their heads and pretended to be deer. I had to help one or two of them when I noticed the antlers were facing the wrong direction or they weren’t quite in the right place on the head.

After I took the antlers out the children were once again paying close attention to what I was saying. From there I asked all of them to make animal noises. After they made their noise I would try to guess what the noise was supposed to be. I did quite well until we got to the end of the class.

The boy made a noise that I didn’t recognize. Actually, I couldn’t even guess what it was, so I timidly asked him if he could tell me what the noise was supposed to be. With a big, toothy grin he politely informed me that it was a lion. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. I smiled at him and said, “That sounds like a pretty weak lion. I think your lion needs to be a little louder and more intimidating.” At that point a few of us tried making lion noises together. When we were done I think we were much closer to the actual animal kingdom noise than where we had started.

As time was winding down Mrs. Osgood asked me to sit in the rocking chair while the kids gathered around on the carpet. She wanted me to read a story to them before they left for the day.

To my amazement I had their attention through the entire story. Although the newness of my visit had long since faded, I could still see the excitement in many of their faces. Although I can’t read a first grader’s mind, I’m pretty sure that they all liked me. I tried to make them realize that we were all the same. The only difference between us was that I had more years of experience to draw from. Earlier in the presentation I told them about one of my first grade experiences that I will remember for as long as I live. That’s when I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. I missed a lot of school that year, but I was still able to move to second grade the following year. I also shared the story with them about the time that I was sitting on the carpet during story time and peed my pants. Although they all laughed and found it funny, I’m not sure Mrs. Osgood was so thrilled. I just tried to make them realize that even I had done something  when I was their age that I wasn’t too proud of. Sometimes we have to make kids realize that it’s ok if something happens that we can’t control.

After a few pictures were taken the bell rang, which signified the end of the school day. A few of the kids came rushing back to say goodbye, while others scampered out the door. A few of them wanted hugs and thanked me for making their day special.

Mrs. Osgood took the bus riders to the bus and I gathered my stuff that was scattered across the room. As I sat there waiting, I felt a great sense of accomplishment. I hadn’t done a thing, other than made a group of kids happy for a little over an hour. I’m not sure if any of them will ever remember me as their lives move forward. If they don’t, I will know that I made them smile, laugh and carry on, while they were listening to me talk. If you can make a difference in anyone’s life, especially a child, there’s a feeling associated with it that can’t be compared to anything in the world.

This August it will be 24 years since I showed up at SUNY Oneonta for my first year of college classes. I wanted to be a teacher, but beyond that I wasn’t really sure what life had in store for me.

When I got into my second year I made a choice that steered me away from teaching. I’ll never know for sure if it was the right or wrong choice, but any way that I look at it, it’s the choice I made. Since I’ve been doing the presentations at different schools it has made me realize that I probably could have been a good teacher. I also think I could have made a difference in the lives of a few children along the way.  That’s why I try to give back as much as I can. It’s never too late to make a first impression.

I have a lot of friends who are teachers. The friends are men and women alike. They’ve been educated all over the world, too. They all share one thing in common. They’re my friends and I’m proud of  them. They’re good teachers and they enjoy what they do. I consider myself very lucky to hear their stories. I can see the light in their eyes when they talk about their students from the past and the present.

If you get a chance think about some of your old teachers. We all have teachers that stand out in our minds. Those are the teachers that truly made a difference in our lives. I know that three of my closest friends are these type of teachers. Two of them still teach and one does not. The one that doesn’t simply chose a different career path for the time being, but it wouldn’t surprise me if she ends up back in the teaching world.

We come across many teachers in our lives. These teachers aren’t always in school either. Sometimes people appear in our lives to give us guidance in areas where we are lacking expertise. They might know what to say to us or they might know how to give us a gentle nudge in the right direction. No matter what they do, we should always acknowledge these special people and thank them for everything they do for us. That’s our responsibility. Don’t ever let these people fade into a memory. Try to realize that without these people we might still be stuck on a road to nowhere. Thank you to everyone who has ever helped me on my journey. I will never forget any of you.

Sadness is a wall between two gardens

Sunday, June 5th, 2011

I’m currently reading a book that my friend Leon recommended a few years ago. Knowing the kind of person that I am he thought that I could gain something from reading it.

Since I’m a person who likes quotes I’ve found the quotes at the beginning of each chapter to be entertaining. The title of Chapter 4 is titled “The Great Sadness.” The quote below the chapter header reads:

Sadness is a wall between two gardens.     Kahlil Gibran

After I read the quote I found myself concentrating more on the substance behind it than I did on reading. Eventually, I quit reading and focused on the meaning behind the quote.

Whenever we read quotes the quote will bring a different meaning to everyone who reads it. There’s no two people that can have the same exact feeling. That’s what makes our individuality so unique. We are allowed to give things our own meaning and let them tie into our lives as we see fit.

I smiled when I first read the quote because I found comfort in knowing that someone shared the same type of feeling that I’m currently in. The wall that stands between two gardens can be taken down if we make an effort to do so. However, the wall can also loom so large and indestructible that it will never come down if we don’t allow ourselves to imagine the things on the other side of it.

Gardens are typically places where things grow. Usually you’ll find the most common gardens to be filled with flowers or vegetables. Flowers usually bring a smile to our faces. If someone gives us flowers it means that they care about us. They are sending us a message that is uplifting and powerful. The beauty of flowers often comes from the internal beauty of another human being.

Many years ago when I walked through the Eisenhower Gardens I felt the energy that was there. It has always amazed me how a simple change in scenery can give off such powerful vibes. I was encompassed by beautiful flowers and plants. I was mesmerized while I was there. It’s one of those trips that only lasted about an hour, but has found a place to stay in the back of my memory.

I remember the strawberry garden that we used to plant every year in the yard when I was little. Sometimes I would sneak into the garden and steal a few strawberries for myself. They always tasted so good that I couldn’t resist picking them. I made sure that I only took a couple because I didn’t want my father to find out that I was responsible for taking them for myself.

I also find it amazing that I never did the same thing in the vegetable garden. I guess you could say that the cucumbers, pumpkins and tomatoes didn’t taste quite as good as the fruit.

Sadness is something that none of us can avoid. We encounter many situations on our journey through life that bring great sadness. Some things make it seem like the world is going to cave in around us, while other things are only momentary lapses of sadness. We all find different ways to deal with these things when they confront us. There’s no right or wrong way to do it as long as we find a way that works for us.

I’ve been  in between the two gardens for a while now. I’ve hemmed and hawed as to what I should be doing. What’s good for me and what isn’t? I never seem to commit to one thing in order to jump over the wall or simply push it over. Instead, I let it loom between the two gardens. While, I’m not letting sadness consume me, it does have a presence in my life.

Most of my sadness is self-induced which makes the problem easier to solve. When sadness that accompanies the death of a loved one or unexpected news we sometimes can’t control that type of sadness.  I’m pretty sure that many people can relate to what I’m saying when I talk of self-induced sadness. We let things start off small and build up speed as they roll down the hill. Instead of latching on and trying to stop the ball that’s rolling down the hill we let it unravel our well-being. Before we know it we’re caught up in turmoil and indecision. It seems like no matter what we decide to do it’s the wrong thing. We know it’s not, but we convince ourselves that it is.

Instead of letting things roll, we try to control things. We want to step in the middle of the events that are unfolding and make things go in the direction that we want them to go in. We become scared of the things that are happening and things that haven’t yet happened. We worry about little things and let other things consume us.

Then, the few of us who are lucky enough to see the light and get out of our own way find a way to push over the wall between the two gardens. At that point they find themselves in the middle of the most beautiful plot of land that they ever imagined. That huge wall has disappeared. Now, all that remains is a small wall that is half the size of a baby gate. It’s easy to step over it. It doesn’t block our vision or hinder our progress from one garden to the next. It’s just there to remind us that nobody can go through life without a small bit of sadness. We must do what we have to in order to make our gardens flourish.

The book I’m reading is very deep on a philosophical level. It questions the existence of God and makes us think about a lot of things in our own lives. I’m glad I listened to my buddy Leon when he told me to pick up a copy of the book. He’s a 70 year old man who claims that I inspire him. I’m not sure that I’ve ever been given a better compliment than that. It still amazes me every time that he tells me. Well, he inspires me, too.

Sadness is like happiness. We have to embrace it when it’s there. If we don’t, we won’t learn how to turn things around and learn from them. Just as rainbows always follow rain, sadness is always replaced by happiness. We are responsible for growing and learning from the things that bring us down. If we don’t do this, we will get stuck behind that wall. The vegetables, flowers and fruit will eventually become brown and we’ll be left with nothing. If you find yourself battling through bouts of sadness keep pushing forward until you find a way around the wall. You’ll surely get there if you don’t give up. It’s always nice to have good friends to help us through these times. If you have to, jump on one of their backs and let them carry you until you’re able to walk on your own again. There’s no shame in that. Friends help each other no matter what they have to do. Sometimes being sad for a friend helps us battle our own sadness. If we find happiness, it might just help them, too.