My obsession: being on time

The clock in my head was going off: beep, beep, beep. The blaring sound got louder with every passing moment. I was late and the alarm wouldn’t stop until I got to my destination, my local county courthouse.

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I wasn’t technically late yet. I was still a few minutes early, but I needed to find the nearest parking lot and the entrance to the courthouse. I had received a jury summons several weeks earlier and needed to be at the courthouse by 8 a.m.

I was in the vicinity, but I didn’t want to miss the lot and be forced to drive around the busy city block again. In my mind, I could see the big bold letters on the summons: “Jurors failing to report could be held in contempt of court, taken into custody, and/or fined”

Tick, tick, tick

I tapped impatiently on my steering wheel waiting for the red light I was stopped at to turn colors. “It’s green, go already buddy,” I yelled to the car in front of me. If the guy was standing directly in front of me, I wouldn’t dream of saying anything to him in a million years. My parents brought me up better than that, but since he was in his car, and I was in mine, I had no problem blurting out for him to go.

Finally the car in front of me moved and I drove half a block and turned into the parking garage. I quickly parked, grabbed a book to keep me busy during the day, and race-walked to the courthouse. It didn’t matter that the courthouse was a stone’s throw away, I was still going to be late.

Brring, brring, brring

As soon as I stepped through the courthouse, I was greeted by a phalanx of security officers and a lengthy line to go through the metal detector. One officer saw the smirk on my face and calmly explained that it was for everyone’s safety. I didn’t explain that my smirk wasn’t a commentary on the safety precautions, but my own sarcastic view on my prospects of being late. 

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One scan later and I was through the line. I took the elevator and was greeted with two clerks who took my information. A slew of people came in at the same time as me. We all waited a second or two and were calmly directed to another room to wait for jury registration to begin.

I sat down in my seat at exactly 7:55 a.m. I wasn’t late. I wasn’t too early. I was right on-time. As I looked around and watched other jurors still entering the room, my internal alarm clock finally clicked off.

Potential jurors kept coming in until 8:30 and even as late as 8:45. As each late-comer came through the door, I kept saying to myself that I would be going out of my mind if I was in their shoes.

Five minutes early is still late

There’s no way around it: I’m an idiot when it comes to time. I hate to be late. It drives me crazy. It can be something important like a graduation or getting to the airport for a security check or even something trivial like meeting up for lunch with a friend: I hate to be late. I’ll go to great lengths to be on time.

I have to be on time. And on time for me means being a few minutes before the expected start time. I wish I wasn’t built this way, but it’s just who I am.

Now if the rest of the world worked the same way!

 

Memorial Day: A time to remember

When wave-after-wave of Japanese fighter planes attacked Pearl Harbor a little before 8 a.m. on December 7, 1941, Chief Watertender Peter Tomich was on duty below the USS Utah working in the ship’s boiler room.

The ship, moored off Ford Island, suffered significant torpedo damage in the raid and began to capsize. As water started to flood the hull, Tomich ordered his crew to abandon ship. He remained below working to secure the ship’s boilers, preventing a larger explosion that would have claimed even more lives.

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Tomich’s actions gave the ship’s crew precious minutes to save themselves before the ship rolled over and sank. Fifty-eight men — including Tomich — went down with the ship. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his lifesaving actions.

Ninety minutes after the surprise Japanese attack began, it was over, killing a total of 2,335 U.S. military personnel, including 1,177 from the USS Arizona, and wounding 710 others. Eighteen ships, including five battleships, were sunk or run aground.

My wife and I visited Pearl Harbor a little over twenty years ago and it remains one of the most solemn places I’ve ever visited. As we walked the surreal grounds, where oil and gas still leak from the USS Arizona, Tomich’s story and, so many others like it, touched me. He didn’t think about his own safety. He just acted — all in an effort to save others.

Memorial Day plays such a big part of our culture. I have many fond memories walking in my local community parade as a kid. I have others too as an adult. It’s fun to grill, poke around in the yard, and spend the long weekend away from work with family and friends.

But it’s also important to remember what the day is all about in the first place. We can never forget the sacrifices that countless men and women, like Tomich, before us have made. We have our freedoms all because of their sacrifices: their blood, sweat, and tears and ultimately their lives.

We wouldn’t be where we are today without them.

How my worst day became one of my best

I can still hear the metallic crunch.

Twenty five years later, if I close my eyes, I can still hear the crush of metal upon metal. I had just bought my first new car. I was working as a small-town newspaper reporter and had gotten a great deal on a new Geo Storm.

The beater-up car that I had been driving, an old Renault Encore that my brother had generously passed down to me, had finally given out. I wasn’t making a ton, but I had scrimped and saved and had picked through my budget enough times until I found the money to cover the cost and maintenance of a new car.

The Unveiling

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I came home with the Geo Storm on a Thursday and showed it off right away to my parents. They couldn’t have been happier for me. I happened to mention to them that when I got off work on Friday I was planning to make the three-and-a-half-hour drive to Alexandria, Virginia to spend the weekend with my long-distance girlfriend. My mom asked if that was really the best idea to put so many miles on the car so soon. My dad and I joked that cars are meant to be driven and that I would be fine.

I got caught up in a mini-emergency at work the next day and got a later than normal start for my trip. I momentarily considered cancelling or leaving early on Saturday, but I was too excited to change my plans. Who would have known something bad would happen?

In any event, I made it to the American Legion Memorial Bridge along Route 495, crossing from suburban Maryland into Virginia, without any problems. I felt lucky that I made it to the bridge when I did. An hour later and the five lanes of traffic heading in each direction would be a glorified parking lot.

However, the next thing I know, the driver behind me slammed into my rear end. Crunch. Crush. In that one instant, my new car,  my two-day-old new car, wasn’t so new. All my hard work . . . gone. Up in smoke.

Damaged goods

interstate-44249_640The car was drivable, but looked like a Godzilla-like character took a big, monstrous bite out of the rear. My insurance carrier clearly placed the fault with the other driver and took care of the thousands of dollars worth of damage that the crash caused. In my mind, however, the car never drove the same. I always felt like the car drove differently — with more noise coming from the rear and not quite as smooth.

The day ranks as one of the worst in my life.

In the same vein, it also ranks as one of my best. After the accident, I crawled tail-between-my-legs to my girlfriend’s apartment. I was a mess. I was upset. I was angry at the other driver for driving too fast and failing to pay attention to traffic. I was angry at the highway department for not making the road wide enough to fit all the traffic. I was angry at my work for making me late. I was angry at the world.

I felt like all that I had worked for was lost. My girlfriend though helped me see through my angst and gloom, to be grateful that I escaped unharmed and that the car could be replaced, and to even grudgingly see the humor in the situation.

In that moment, I saw how lucky I was to have her in my life. And before I left to drive my damaged car home, I told her for the first time that I loved her. It became the first of many times to come.

In the end, my worst day became one of my best days.

 

Your feel-good story of the day

There’s no way around it: People can be downright horrible.

lake-1398088_1280I feel like all that I’ve heard lately are stories about the terrible things that we do to each other supposedly in the name of love and friendship. I’m not talking about war or terrorism. I’m referring to the run of the mill things that we all come across: two friends who have turned their backs on each other over a silly misunderstanding; the ex-husband who told his then-fiancé that she should marry him because she couldn’t do any better; the boss who fired the cancer-stricken worker when he most needed the benefit of a health plan.

We all hear stories like these; they fill up water cooler and text message conversations. There’s no question that life can be hard. Today, however, I’m focusing on the good in people. We’ve all seen this side of life too. We just tend to overlook it. I’m making an active choice today to remember:

–The sixth-grade teacher who taught me that life has its ups-and-downs, but to see the good in things. He taught me too that I was special, that I had something to offer.

–The coworker who’s running a full Ironman triathlon — a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a 26.2-mile marathon run — and should be worrying about his own upcoming race, but goes around helping others, cheering them to do their best.

–The elderly woman who checks on my mother each day, making sure that she gets up-and-around and gets out of her apartment.

–The friend who took me out for lunch recently, letting me vent for much of the hour on a work-related issue and proceeded to pick-up the check because he thought it was “the nice thing to do.”

–The mother of a former student who recently sent my wife a thank you note that has put a permanent smile on my wife’s face.

–The clerk at Dunkin Donuts who takes great pride in her job and serves me my coffee (my daily dose of adrenaline) each day so quickly that I’m always surprised how fast I’m in-and-out and on my way.

–The professor, who helped pave the way for a summer internship for my daughter and has encouraged her to believe in her dream.

aurora-1197753_1280–The cashier today at Five Guys (I had to treat myself) who was so happy that she had gotten into an accident. Happy? Yea, I had to question that too. In quick staccato bursts, she told me that a little old lady hit her driving into work, but the accident caused no damage. I still wasn’t sure about the happy part. She went onto say that she’s pregnant and the accident could have been so much worse. She and her baby were fine though and she felt lucky to be alive. How could I not be happy and grateful after hearing that story?

Small stories? Yes, that is true, but they make all the difference in the world. They are what make life fun and interesting . . . and worthwhile!

Five things I’ve learned from my dog

After a long, long day running from meeting to meeting, I came home from work the other night and, if you had never set foot in our house before, you would have thought I had been away for decades.

I opened the front door and our dog, Nittany, a five-year-old Bichon Frise – Shih Tzu greeted me, jumping up and down, and racing around the room. She couldn’t have been happier, jumping up on my leg and wagging her tail a-mile-a-minute. She continued on nonstop.

IMG_3528 (1)Finally, I acknowledged her by rubbing her ears. You would have thought I had just given her a 10-ounce sirloin to gnaw at in her bowl. I felt glad to make her happy. Nittany has been a better friend than some people. I’ve learned a lot from her over these past five years. The lessons have been so impactful that I’ve been putting them down on paper. Some of the lessons include:

The power of a good walk. Nittany is a small dog, but she loves to go for a walk. She loves getting out and seeing what nature has in store. I used to get frustrated with Nittany because she inevitably wanted to stop when I wanted to keep walking or running. Finally, I let Nittany win. I started to stop with her and I found the wisdom in her actions. When I go for a walk with her, a real walk where I stop and look around and take everything in, I find that the walk always does me good. I’m calmer, I’m more patient. I see the good in life.

How to greet a friend. I may never be a star athlete or rock star, but thanks to Nittany I know what it’s like to be greeted everyday by an adoring fan. She greets me with licks and excitement each time I come home from a long day. It helps that Shih Tzu’s have a reputation for being a loyal and protective breed, but I don’t care, the excitement always makes me feel like I’m loved.

How to forgive and move on. I was getting ready for work the other day and I accidentally stepped on a small sliver of Nittany’s tail. She yelped and quickly stepped away. I felt horrible for hurting her, but she came running back to me, like she was worried about me. I’m sure it was just a natural reaction, but she knows how to make you feel wanted and appreciated. The end of the day, no matter how the day has gone, Nittany always finishes her day lying next to me. My loyal friend.

NittanyDogBowlHow to chill and just be. I want Nittany’s life. She sleeps, she eats, plays with the family. She doesn’t have a concern in the world. No worries. No fears. Who wouldn’t want that life?

How to love. Through it all Nittany is loyal to everyone in our family. She’s our pet, but she’s also a best friend.

I’m sure I could come up with other lessons, but these jump to the head of the line, sort of the same way Nittany jumps up and down and makes a fuss over me when I come home from work.

The job I loved to hate

I was a mess. The dust from the tar roof that we were ripping off naturally settled on whatever skin of mine that was exposed — mainly my arms and face —and when mixed with my sweat burned like I had put them in the middle of a raging bonfire.

workers-951114_640The sun, with the temperature hitting the 95 degree mark, bore down on us without mercy. The high temperature and the lack of any substantial shade bothered me, but that wasn’t everything. My back ached from getting up-and-down so many times throughout the day. I had a bloody cut that ran up the side of my left leg, where my workpants got tangled with some sheet metal, and my whole body felt like I had run a marathon.

And it was just Tuesday. I had three more, twelve-hour plus days left in my work week. Continue reading “The job I loved to hate”

A father and son: Two different morning routines

My son went about his normal routine. He got a quick shower and got dressed without a care in the world, like it was just a regular school day.

I stubbed my toe and felt on edge.

My son made himself some coffee and grabbed a bagel for breakfast. When he had eaten the bagel and still felt hungry, he downed a Kellegg’s Brown Sugar Cinnamon PopTart.  You wouldn’t have expected anything was out of the ordinary. By contrast, I had little to no appetite and forced myself to down a small piece of toast.

hands-407388_1280My son finished up the rest of his routine like a pokey puppy. He was in the bathroom, he was out of the bathroom. He went upstairs, back downstairs, all without much purpose. I was so fidgety I dropped my car keys three times and kept thinking I forgot my cell phone, only to “find it” in my hands the whole time.

Get the picture? A crazy, bizarre morning. Continue reading “A father and son: Two different morning routines”

Peace I leave with you

As a reader and writer, I love the power of strong, commanding words.

Several weeks ago my priest read from John 14:  “I have told you this while I am with you. The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. You heard me tell you, ‘I am going away and I will come back to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father; for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe.”

I can’t think of many stronger words. I’m especially drawn to the section that reads: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” In total, 11 small words that form one sentence. Yet, I find these eleven words to be some of the most calming and powerful in the English language.

The phrases ranks as some of the most powerful phrases that I’ve ever heard or seen written or I wish were said to me. The others include: “I love you,” “Thank you Dad,” “Marathon Finish Line – 500 Feet,” and “Right this way to Heaven Brian, we’ve saved a special spot for you!”

In any event, I give the phrase “peace be with you” such weight because the words give me the strength I need to carry on in my life.

sunrise-1157963_1280They give me the courage to stand up and share my beliefs, to write publicly about how God has helped me in my life. They quiet my soul too so that I can block out the noise of society — the naysayers and the time stealers — to listen to my conscience and do what is right and needed.

Most important, they support me when it feels like everyone and everything is against me, when I get stuck behind a tractor trailer and I’m late to pick up one of the kids; when an acquaintance says something that tears down instead of builds-up; or even when the Check Engine Light starts blinking on my car.

These are the words I hold onto when things don’t go as expected, when we come across a surprising medical diagnosis, or when life doesn’t go the way I want it to go. These are the words that give my life meaning. I run to them and they carry me over, through, and past the challenging time.

These are the words that give me hope for tomorrow that God has a bigger plan for my life, that my time walking on Earth is more important than one little work project or one little bill payment. These are the words I carry deep in my soul.

These are the words that remind me that people are more important than things. These are the words that remind me to open up to my family and friends . . . and complete strangers for that matter. And in the end, these are the words that soothe my driving hunger and give me peace to fight another day.

With that in mind, what better way to end this blog: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”

Seven things I should understand, but don’t

Sometimes you just have to laugh at the world … and yourself. Where am I going with this?

It hit me the other day that the number of things that I don’t get or understand any more are starting to outnumber the things I do.

I think I could be turning into a mean, old curmudgeon. At the risk of alienating myself to others and making an even bigger fool of myself, here’s my list of things I don’t get:

blog-372771_1280The World Wrestling Entertainment Inc (WWE). Let me say right from the get-go: I just don’t get the hype. It’s fake. The stories are made-up and choreographed. You may as well be watching a day-time soap opera, it’s the same thing, same premise, same idea, same format. Some of the wrestlers are supposed to be these Adonis characters, but look plain fat to me. Yes, there are plenty more who could squash the likes of me, but they’re still at the mercy of the story. Forget about athletic excellence. Story is everything.

But most of all, I’ve never been able to look past the money. Follow the money and you’ll find a huge parent company and tons on money floating into the purse strings of CEO Vince McMahon. He’s made a very comfortable living off of the poor schmucks who pay his pay-per-view events and merchandise. Explain to me why or how that helps the fans. Sorry, but I’ll be turning the channel.

Starbucks. I’ve come to love coffee. Yes, love coffee. I’m hooked. It took a while. I somehow survived four years of college; waking up in the wee hours of the night to rock not one, but three of my kids to sleep; and even managed to earn my master’s degree without becoming glued to coffee. A friend, though, got me hooked a few years ago and I’ve been on the coffee roller coaster ride ever since. (Some friend, right?) Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your viewpoint, I’ve never gotten hooked on Starbucks. Yes, it tastes great, but I’m not a fan of paying an expensive fee for a service and getting little in return. Notice a theme here? Plus my Australian friends tell me that I need to travel there to taste the real thing. Now where’s that plane ticket?

Craft Beers. I love beer just as much as the next Tom, Dick or Harry or in this case, Ken Grossman (founder of Sierra Nevada), Dick Yuengling (owner of Yuengling) or Jim Koch (founder of Sam Adams). I love it. However, I tend to like what I like. I’m not a fan of the different craft breweries. I have friends who can recognize the slightest differences in hops and barley. I wish I could, but the different tastes are usually lost on me. My taste in beers though has made my wife happy. It makes me a cheap date.

Sound systems. When you lose a good chunk of hearing in one of your ears, you come to see the value in hearing pretty quickly. You would think that would make me come to value state-of-the-art sound systems even more. You would be wrong. The high-end improvements are lost on me.

Funny story: several years ago, a friend couldn’t wait to show off his new entertainment center and the surround sound. He went on-and-on for weeks about the improvements and how even a “loser” like me would have to rush out and buy a new system once I stopped by his house and heard it for myself. I kept warning him, but to no avail. When I finally stopped by his house, he ramped up the volume and kept asking, “Isn’t this great?” I really did hate to deflate his ego when I truthfully said, “Um, no I can’t tell the difference.”

Business Jargon. Business professionals love it. They love to “leverage” and “synchronize.” They get excited over “paradigm shifts.” They love “win-wins” and like to flex their “core competencies.” They like to take a bite from the “low hanging fruit.”  And “at the end of the day,” they want “close the loop” and want “full engagement.” Meanwhile, I just want simple communications that get the job done.

Cellphone calls. I may be a curmudgeon but I do have one thing in common with today’s millennials. I hate, hate, hate talking on the phone as much as they do. The best way to get a hold of me: text messages. OMG.

The Three Stooges. A former coworker of mine loves The Three Stooges. He’s got a poster from the old black-and-white TV show prominently displayed in his office and home. I had a college roommate who loved them too. Somehow though I never found the TV show all that interesting. The show used to air on an endless loop on one channel or another years ago, but it never managed to suck me in. I stumbled across a rerun the other day and it hit me how quickly I flipped onto the next channel. I know some of the back story and I know that a lot went into the stories . . .  it just never clicked.

Oh there’s one more thing I don’t get. This one is pretty important: what women want, but since I’m a man, that one goes without saying.

My cry for help

I was “depressed.” I couldn’t seem to break the downward swing I seemed to be on. I was upset over nothing and everything: the test I thought I had failed; the close friends I didn’t seem to have; my brothers, who I missed and were off at college; the trouble I seemed to get into daily at home; and the persistent sad and anxious feelings that overwhelmed me.

country-road-1149161_1920One minute I felt like the world was crashing down on me. I felt like I could barely breathe. The next minute, I was racing down a steep narrow, curvy mountain road — the kind that goes one direction and then switches back to another with the snap of your fingers — in my parent’s car. The road was simply named “Greenwood Road,” but I wasn’t thinking much about that. My mind was elsewhere. The speedometer on my car raced well past 75 mph. The thick green woods on either side of the road were a blur. I knew I should slow down. I knew I should get the car in more control. I was a new driver, but I had driven the road plenty of times on my own to know that the road curved significantly at the bottom of the hill. I would have to cutback my speed to the mid 20s to be safe and that was probably still not slow enough. I knew all that and still I sped up. A part of my brain didn’t connect, didn’t react. I simply wanted the restlessness and hopelessness churning in my mind to go away.

I wiped away a tear that trickled down my face and looked up to see the curve, of course, coming towards me like a 3D image, but with incredible power and force behind it. I was approaching the curve too fast. If I didn’t stop in time, my car would race down a ditch and then jump high up and into the woods. I would die instantly.

I’m not sure how, but at the very last minute I managed to slam my foot onto the brake and turn my wheel. I kept pumping my brakes with everything I could muster. My car fish-tailed on the road first to the left and then back to the right and felt for one unbelievably long second like it was going to roll onto its side and flip into the trees. The car though held firm skidding to a stop in the gravel along the side of the road.

country-road-850124_1920I shook my head in amazement. I should have been dead. The car should have been a mangled mess. I couldn’t comprehend how I had survived. I slowly moved my car to a safer spot, a small overlook less than a quarter mile up the road and closed my eyes, putting  my face into my hands. I sat there for an hour before I felt calm enough to drive the five minutes or so it took me to get the rest of the way home.

I should have been dead

I’ve thought a lot about my near-accident over the years. I’ve long attributed a part of it to being a new driver and being overly confident in my driving skills. It would be wrong though to downplay the role of my mental state in putting me in that situation. In my own mind, there’s no doubt that it was a cry for help.

I’m not sure a medical expert would have described my state of mind as clinically depressed. While certainly sad and upset, I know that I didn’t meet some of the standards for such a diagnosis. In addition, I wouldn’t want to diminish the symptoms and challenges that millions of people diagnosed with debilitating depression face each year. My situation though highlighted for me that something was off, something was wrong. I was headed down a dark path and needed to take action to ensure that I wasn’t in the same position ever again.

The problem that never seems to go away

I’ve been thinking a lot about my close-call after a 15-year-old girl in my community recently committed suicide. The parents came forward with her story in the local newspaper to help bring attention to the disease. I read the story several times and each time I scrolled through it, I couldn’t help but feel tremendous pain and sorrow for the family.

Unfortunately, the hold of suicide doesn’t seem to be decreasing. Researchers at the Center for Disease Control examined death records and recently released their findings that found that the number of suicides in the U.S. have been on the rise since 1999. In 2014, 13 people out of every 100,000 took their own lives, compared with 10.5 per 100,000 in 1999. The suicide rate increased every year from 1999 to 2014 among both women and men and in every age group except those 75 and older.

I find these numbers staggering. I was fortunate that my search for help brought about significant change in my young life. I was able to talk to others about how I was feeling; express myself in my writing and journaling; implement stress management tools, and begin an exercise and running program that turned my life around. I was fortunate too that I had teachers and coaches who pushed me. I had an internal desire to better myself.  I also had a faith in God that I was destined for better things.

Having a grateful heart

When I hear about a suicide in the community today, I think that’s what bothers me most: that mental illness and depression play such terrible tricks on its victims, making them feel that they don’t have someone to turn to in their hour of need. I find the loneliness the most bothersome.

Fortunately for me, God was watching out for me in one of the darker moments in my life.

I haven’t driven on that old mountain road in years, but when I do I’m always struck with how thankful I am that things worked out the way they did. I wouldn’t be here today if they hadn’t.