Micro Stories

Katy Bourne is the sister of my friends.  She wrote a book called Weirdo Simpatico: Little Stories for Short Attention Spans.  Amazon is where I got my copy, and I’ve really enjoyed it.  She talks about how she started by writing little stories about words which others would give to her. 

I was telling a friend about this, and mentioned that I had a mind to try it.  Did he have any words?

“Yep”, he said.  “Burp, fart, and sneeze”.

“I can’t write about that”, I said. 

“Then you can’t write”, he replied.  “Those are the words”.

So, my pride and ego on the line, all I could say was, “Challenge accepted”. 

You can decide whether I get it or not.  Oh, I did add a couple of extra words of my own.    

Burp—

It took the room by surprise.  Completely.  Thoroughly.  The sound roaring like a flash flood raging through a dry creek bed after a torrential rainstorm.  Where once only the soft clinking of glassware, and the tinkling music of silver had mixed with the murmur of intimate, close conversation, now came a force of nature, shattering everything in its path—the intensity of the moment so unexpected, so quick.  The diners froze in horror as if they had just sat down to dinner in Pompeii.

Fart—

She wasn’t sure she was that happy about it.  Yes, for a moment it had seemed wondrous.  The pain was gone in an instant.  She felt light.  She felt free.  She wanted to leap for joy.  But now, the consequences had begun to set in.  Her eyes burned, and her nose urged her to flee.  “Run!” it cried.  “Run now!”

Sneeze—

It built slowly like soft, white cumulus clouds on a hot summer’s day.  At first there was only the tickling of a faint breeze, so faint, in fact, that she could not be sure it was really there at all.  But just as the clouds grow higher and higher, so did the pressure.  The air turned angry, and the clouds darkened.  For a moment, the world held its breath.  Then, the flash of lightning, the rumble of thunder, and the rain falling down until it rested lightly on her soufflĂ©.  

 Salad—

"Weeds again?”, he said.
"They're not weeds, it's salad. It's good for you. Now stop it and let's enjoy our meal".
The Waiter returned and stood quietly, pad and pencil in hand. 
The lady gave her order, including the House salad.  With Vinaigrette.  
"On the side please", she said. 
"And you Sir", said the Waiter. 
He hesitated. She looked daggers at him. 
"The salad", she hissed. 
"I'll have the salad" he said, looking at the Waiter. 
"Yes Sir.  House or Caesar?"
"Macaroni", he replied. 

Survival—

“Run”, she cried.
 “Run now!”
 So I ran.  Then ran some more, staying tight to her speckled white hip and swinging black tail. 
“Why are we running”, I cried out. 
“It’s what we do”, she called back. “Just stay with me”. 
Across the green grass, splashing through the cold water, and stumbling, flailing against the black mud which sucked my feet deep into the earth.  Eyes blurry from wind and effort.  Lungs on fire.  The only sound in my ears, the roar of the blood racing through my veins. 
“There!”, she cried.  “Over there, the gap in the thicket.  Do you see it”?  She pushed her nose into my shoulder to guide me to where she was looking. 
Where?  Where?  My mind was on fire and I could not focus.  What gap?
Then suddenly I saw it.  A dark space.  A shadow on the wall of trees ahead.  I pointed my nose towards it, pushed hard with my hindquarters and I was through.  Ahead of me, the old Appaloosa mare was slowing.  I caught up to her and slowed with her.  
“But why are we running?   I still don’t understand”, I gasped.  The mare slowed to a walk and swung her head towards me.  “It’s what we do.  When we don’t understand, we run.  We run first and figure the rest out later. Don’t ever forget it.  It’s how we stay alive”.   

Of Daylight, Time, and Madness

“I don’t care what they call it, it’s still 7 o'clock!”, said I, quite irritated.

“Spoken like a true curmudgeon”, replied the Sergeant Major.

“Well, it’s true.  They think they can just change time, but they can’t.  It’s still 1pm Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).  All they’ve done is to make me go to work from 7:30am to 4pm, instead of 8:30am to 5pm.  The Earth is still rotating at the same rate.  It didn’t speed up at 2am Sunday morning!”

By now I was highly agitated, and that, along with some coffee, was the primary reason I was even awake.  Yes, I know that farmers are supposed to “get up with the sun”, or some such nonsense, so I guess I’ll just have to be the exception to the rule. 

But while we’re on that subject, my animals find this change annoying as well.  They measure time by the sun, as they should.  Now, because their farmer has gone off his rocker, they will be eating their meals an hour earlier.  That will go on for some months until it suddenly changes back and they find themselves eating at the proper time, or an hour later, or something.  No wonder they remain somewhat skeptical of humans.  We can be quite inconsistent with even the very basics. 

The only ones who win are the chickens because they have food and water available 24/7, and the rooster still crows at sunrise.  Nothing arbitrary and capricious about that.  Sure, the couple that comes by to see them every day will wander by an hour earlier than usual, but so what? 

For the horses, pigs, alpacas and donkeys, tough luck.  People screw with me; I screw with you.  Stuff flows downhill, as they say. 

But why?  Why do we bring this pain on ourselves?  According to my research it can be described in one word:  Evil.  The guys who came up with this abomination were 1) Early risers, and 2) Busybodies.  They were up.  The sun was up.  Why was everyone else still asleep?

“You’re wasting daylight”, they cried. 

“So what”, said the Farmers.  “The dew makes it too wet to cut hay until later.  We’re going back to bed, thank you very much”. 

And so they did, and slept just fine until World War I, when the busy bodies returned in force. 

“There’s a war on you know”, they cried. 

“The cows don’t care”, the Farmers shouted.

And for reasons still not fully understood except that people tend to lose their minds in war time, Daylight Savings Time became a reality.  For a while. It was repealed after the war, and it stayed gone until, you guessed it, the next World War.  This time the rallying cry was to “Save Energy” although it’s never been clear that it actually saves very much energy.  At any rate, after the war, it went away again, but like any other really bad idea, it just wouldn’t stay gone.

So how do you keep selling this bad idea?  “For the children”, of course.  Thousands of school children would be mowed down by speeding motorists while they stood in the road waiting for the bus.  Or some such thing.  But Americans being Americans if it “saves even one child’s life” we have to do it. 

And so we do.  Funny thing is though, the people who actually made this happen were the grill and charcoal makers, amusement park owners, fast food companies, and the makers of sporting goods—People who all benefited if Joe the Plumber got off work at 4pm instead of 5pm.  He and his buds now had an extra hour to grill out, drink beer, or go fishing while their wives could run down to the store or take the kids to the amusement park while it was still daylight.

This is why I get to spend two weeks in the Spring and another two weeks in the Fall, feeling like death warmed over while my body reluctantly adjusts its Circadian rhythms to please a bunch of early rising busybodies, in cahoots with businessmen and politicians. 

Quit telling me that “Time changes”.  No.  Nature’s time is Nature’s time and my animals and I know it.  You might have the power to make me go to work an hour earlier, and get off work an hour earlier, but you didn’t change time.  All you did was change my schedule.  

Ask the people in Greenwich.  Time didn’t change a bit, GMT is still GMT.  I agree with the unknown person who made this observation: “Only the government could believe that if you cut a foot off the top of a blanket, and sew it to the bottom of the blanket, you will get a longer blanket.”

Art, Music, and Soul

They say that Art shapes society.  I agree.  Art is communication between a “Speaker”—the Artist, and the “Listener”—the Audience.  It can take a variety of forms—painting, sculpture, photography, films, literature, music.  But it must convey a message from the Speaker to the Listener. 

Personally, I enjoy Art most when the message is positive—when it instills virtue, or celebrates a joy.  My favorite though, is when it creates a sense of oneness.  When it shows us that we are a lot more alike than we are different, even if we are separated from each other by race, or class, or time. 

I consider myself one of the lucky ones.  Art was a big deal when I was growing up.  “Picture Study” as we called it, was taught in the elementary schools.  I still remember learning the names of the great paintings, the Artist, and their country of origin. 

We had theater too.  Our local theater group, “the Playhouse” was made up of people who we knew.  When I saw Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” performed, it was my teachers, and my neighbors that I was watching.  And it wasn’t limited to small productions either.  They performed “Camelot”, and “The Royal Hunt of the Sun”.  Dozens of people were involved in every aspect of putting on a play—building sets, painting scenery, moving scenery, rehearsing lines, playing musical instruments, or acting as “extras”.  This was all in addition to the Director and his or her actors who were the public face of the production.  Almost everyone had some connection to the play, or knew someone who did. 

Music was a big part of our community as well.  In the Summer, the local park would host the town “orchestra”.  It was comprised of people who knew how and wanted to play an instrument.  The well-regarded high school band director at the time was the Conductor, and people would gather to picnic and listen to their neighbors play.

When I was in third grade, the Oklahoma City Symphony came to town.  Our largest auditorium at the time was in the Junior High School.  That was the venue.  During the day, grade school kids from town were bussed to the Junior High to listen to an abbreviated performance.  That evening the adults would attend the entire concert.  For some reason I was unable to attend with my classmates that day, and I was extremely upset about it.  I lobbied hard to attend the adult show that evening.  My parents did not want to go, but in a compromise which I find amazing to this day, my father drove me to the Junior High, and let me out.  After the concert he returned to pick me up.  I remember sitting there, listening to this wondrous music.  I had never in my life heard an actual orchestra “up close and personal” like that.  It was a deeply satisfying experience, and I’m grateful to my folks to this day for making it happen. 

High school was a feast, with Band, Orchestra, Chorale, Glee Club, Speech Activities, Drama, and Art.  I followed the Speech Activities path and competed in Poetry and Dramatic Interpretations.  I was the Audio Manager for our school TV show, and the Program Manager for the school radio program.  I played the lead in the Junior play, and was a Photographer and Photography Editor for the Yearbook.  It was all fun, and great times.

Art can show us proper principles; it can make us search our souls.  Good art inspires us.  It schools us in creativity, and, dare I say it, in “thinking outside the box”.  That’s why I cringe when I see school systems today cutting Music and Art in response to funding shortfalls.  I’m not saying that Art is more important than Science, or Math, but it is at least AS important. 

In my work as a Human Resources professional, I have seen the difference that Art makes.  Those employees who come from schools without Music and Art programs tend to be less creative problem-solvers.  They seek the one right answer without understanding that the goal is to solve the problem.  They keep requesting a template instead of creating one of their own.  They don’t grasp that maybe there are multiple answers, or a variety of ways to do something. 

These are not bad people by any means, and they’re no less hard working, but they’ve missed out on an important part of being a human.  I look for ways to share, but it can be difficult.  Once we reach adulthood we become a tougher audience.  Not long ago, we had a corporate retreat and I suggested going to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in nearby Bentonville, AR.  The first response was pretty much, “You gotta be kidding me, right?”.  But I prevailed, and we did go there.  Among our activities was creating a group piece of art, and we allowed ample time to visit the Museum itself.  After it was all over, the responses we gratifying: “I’m so glad we did that”, was common, followed by, “I plan to take my family soon”.   I said a silent “Yes!”, while doing an invisible fist-pump.   And I celebrate a little victory every time I pass the group painting which now hangs in a prominent spot in our corporate office.


Art, in all its forms, is a path with heart.  Follow it and be rewarded.  As Pablo Picasso said, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life”.

Values and Cultures

“Those who say that all cultures are equal
never explain why the results of those cultures
are so grossly unequal.” –Thomas Sowell


Last time I wrote that my company had started a new Employee Recognition Program.  I mentioned that it was tied to our Values, and that I had written some micro-stories and essays for the program.  What I find interesting today is that no one asked why.  Why would you tie your recognition program to your Values?

The answer is that we want to create a culture that reflects who we are, who we want to be, and that rewards people when they demonstrate their commitment to our values.  In short, we believe that culture really does matter—because results matter.  They really do.   

In the business world this has been accepted as fact for quite some time.  Numerous studies have shown that companies that deliberately work to create a specific culture are much more successful than those who leave it to chance. 

“How can that be”, you ask.  “Aren’t all cultures equal?  Isn’t the best culture ‘multi-culture’?”

No, not exactly.  Cultures are based on shared values.  When shared values are missing, so is the commitment to the group.  Each individual strives to get ahead, and without the mitigating influence of shared values, the group is left to flounder helplessly as each individual tries to pull everyone in his or her direction.  Without values agreement there can be no right, no wrong. 

High performing groups, on the other hand, consistently demonstrate two characteristics:  Everyone understands the mission, and everyone shares the same values.  So, in the absence of further guidance, individual members consistently make better decisions for the advantage of the entire group. 

One culture, striving to reach an agreed upon goal.  It works. 

“But isn’t that discrimination?” you ask.  In a manner of speaking, yes.  We are looking for people who show Respect for one another; who live their lives with Integrity; who have Spirit: who demonstrate Excellence; and who care about Stewardship.  If you don’t want to be like that, then, yeah, you don’t fit. 

Here is the key:  We don’t want “multi-cultural”, but we do want “multi-ethnic”.  We want “multi-gender”.  We want “multi-generational”.  We want “multi-faith”. 

And, in my company, you will see that.  We are Indian, Black, White, Hispanic, and Asian.  We are men and women; heterosexual and homosexual.  We are Christian, Jew, Moslem, Nativist, Pantheist, Deist, Taoist, Buddhist, Hindu, Rastafarian, agnostic, and atheist.  We are old, young, and middle-aged. 


And you are welcome to be any of that, or something else altogether.  We don’t care.  What we do care is that you have Respect, Integrity, Spirit, Excellence, and Stewardship.  They are the non-negotiables. They form the basis for our culture.  This is how we wish to live.  They tell us what is bad and what is good, what is desirable, and what is undesirable.  If these values represent who you are, and who you wish to be, you are welcome here.  If these values don’t resonate with you, then yes, it is better for you to go.  No hard feelings.  No ill wishes.  But you just won’t fit. “You don’t have to go home” as the old saying goes, “but you can’t stay here.”

Values--Micro stories and essays

We are rolling out a new Employee Recognition program where I work.  It is based on our company's values.  The Training Manager asked me to write up something about the meaning of each value for her to use in her training program.

It struck me that this might be a good time to try an experiment that I've wanted to do ever since I read Katy Bourne's book, Weirdo Simpatico:  Little Stories for Short Attention Spans.

It's a good read, and she really is on to something.  So I adapted the idea for work, and took a shot at it.  I added the idea of a micro-essay as well.  The Manager liked it.   I thought I might share it with you. (The colored fonts reflect the company's graphic for each value.)

Respect

She acknowledged his value.  That didn’t mean she agreed with him.  In fact, often she did not.  However, as she stood silently, skillet held high, she recognized that he had as much right to be there as she did, and in the end, that is what saved him. 
“At least he’s honest”, she said to herself.  “I’ll give him that”. 
Still, his words had stung, even if they had gone straight to the heart of the matter.  She lowered the skillet and turned back to the dishes.  “He is good for taking out the trash”, she thought. 


Integrity

All of a thing. One. Undivided. Without flaw.  So sat the Space Shuttle Columbia on its launch pad.  It was seamless. It was One. It had integrity.  Several minutes later it reached orbit, but without its integrity.  Frozen chunks of foam had flown off the rocket during launch and damaged the heat shield on the bottom of the shuttle.  It was no longer of one piece.  It was no longer without flaw.  Only the astronauts did not know it.  They were not aware that they had been sentenced to death.  They continued on with life as they always had.  They had no idea that they were simply waiting for the right moment.  It came, of course.  It always does.  Stress is hard.  It requires integrity to survive.  Under stress, the flaws are exaggerated and cause destruction.  Over California the stress increased.  Over Nevada, the flaw gave way.  Over Texas, the whole machine disintegrated, taking the lives of the astronauts with it.  Integrity may not make you rich.  It probably won’t.  But a lack of it, can get you killed.   


Spirit

The bale floated hazily on the waves caused by the brutal heat.  The boy stumbled just as he reached for it, causing him to miss, and lose his momentum.  Salty sweat dripped into his eyes and blinded him.  “Put some ‘oomph’ into it”, cried the old man on the truck.  “I ain’t got all day!”  The boy glared at the old man, then back at the bale.  “I’ll show you ‘oomph’”, he thought.  A deep anger possessed him now.  He’d knock the old man off his high horse.  “This one is coming for you”, he thought.   “I hope it knocks your ass sideways”.  With all the strength he could muster, the boy grabbed the bale and swung it hard, aiming it squarely at the old man.  The bale rose into the sky and hung there in the shimmering heat just long enough for the old man to easily snatch it, and stack it on the truck.  He smiled down at the boy.  “That’s the spirit”, he said. 


 Excellence

When I hear the word “excellence” I always think of the movie, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.  I especially like it when one or both of them will exclaim, “Excellent!” and play a wicked air-guitar.  It has always seemed to me that this is where excellence begins—with a piece of “music” that only you can hear.  If you practice that piece long enough, outside observers may notice that what you are doing is indeed “excellent”.  But it always begins on the inside.  Excellence cannot be imposed upon someone or something.  It can only be encouraged.  That task you’re working on may be forced upon you, but the way you do it depends on how you hear the music.  Only you can bring excellence to it.  It’s a choice.  Bill and Ted get that.  The society they founded gets that.  That is why they encourage one another the way they do— “Be excellent to each other.  And party on dudes!”


Stewardship

Loretta was at her wit’s end.  The puppy she had agreed to watch over the weekend had just finished its second roll of toilet paper and was starting on her new shoes—expensive black pumps she’d found on sale just last week.  “Stop it dammit”, she screamed as she threw her flip-flop at the dog.  The puppy cringed, but quickly returned to gnawing away.   Good leather is hard to resist.  Loretta collapsed onto the sofa and cried softly.  She deeply regretted telling Tim she’d watch his puppy.  She had no pets of her own, and liked it that way.  If pushed, she’d say she was more of a cat person.  Still, Tim was such a good guy.  How could she say no?  “Oh well, what’s done is done”, she told herself.  “Come on pup.  Let’s get you some real food.  Can’t let your Daddy think we didn’t take good care of you now can we?”


"It's his farm..."


I grew up in north central Oklahoma in an area called “The Cherokee Strip”.  In 1893 it hosted the last land rush in the United States.  If you could stake a claim, and improve upon it by building a home, and ranching or farming the land, that 160 acres would become yours.

My great-grandparents did not participate in “the Run”, but came along about a year later and bought out a guy who had had his fill.  They built a sod house and with their six children began “provin’ up” on the homestead.  Many years later, they would receive their Homestead Deed signed by President Theodore Roosevelt. 

By the time I came along, they had endured everything the world had to throw at them—heat, cold, wind, drought, sickness, hunger, and two World Wars.  The “Dust Bowl” era was probably the toughest, yet they stayed while many around them loaded up all their belongings and headed west. 

The upshot of this was that I was raised in an extended family of people who were still farming, or who were only one generation removed from farming.  They set the tone for my life.  Their values were my values.  My Dad was one of those still farming.  That meant as long as I was growing up at home, I was farming too. 

I became a very good tractor driver.  By the time I was in college I earned my school money driving tractor in the summer.  When Dad didn’t need me, he’d let me work “custom” for whoever wanted to hire me.  I did good work, so I stayed busy.
 
Normally, the farm owners would hire me and simply tell me what field needed cultivating and I’d take it from there.  They knew that I knew what I was doing.  Grandpa and Dad had been very careful to teach me the best techniques over the years—how to plow a hill so that the water wouldn’t wash it away in a downpour, or how best to set the furrows into the contour of the land so the wind wouldn’t carry all the topsoil away.  They were never haphazard, nor was I allowed to be.  Cutting corners had serious consequences, and we just didn’t go there. 

One day, a guy I was working for, loaned me out to a friend of his to work a field.  I didn’t know the gentleman and he didn’t know me.  I set about doing my usual assessment and began to work the field my way.  Dad’s way.  Grandpa’s way. 

It wasn’t his way though and he let me know it.  I tried reasoning with him but to no avail.  He didn’t want it done “right” as much as he wanted it done “fast”.  I guess he figured that since he was paying me by the hour that was the best deal for him.  But I knew it wasn’t really.  The field was going to erode badly.  But I could not convince him.  By the time, I went up to Grandpa’s house for dinner I was fuming. 

As we ate I told him about my morning and how wrong the man was.  I told him I’d pretty much ignored the guy eventually, and was cultivating it properly.  He told me I needed to stop.  I couldn’t believe it.

“Why on earth should I stop doing it right”, I asked. “You’d tan my hide if I drove a tractor the way he wants me to do it”. 

“Because it’s his farm”, Grandpa replied.  “He gets to decide how he wants it done.  Not you”.
 
“But he’s an ignorant fool!  He has no idea what he’s doing, and he’s going to ruin that field!” I shouted.

“Did you try to explain that to him?” Grandpa asked.

“Well sure.  But he told me to go on and do it anyway”, I answered.

“Then that’s what you have to do”, Grandpa insisted.

“But why?  Why?  It makes no sense”, I cried.

“It’s his farm”, he said. 

Those words again.  “His farm”.  Not mine.  Not Dad’s.  Not Grandpa’s. 

Grandpa went on, “You have two choices.  You can do it his way because it’s his farm, or you can tell him you can’t do it that way and leave.  Your choice.  But when you take a man’s money to do a job, you do it his way.  If you can’t do that, then you need to go.  At the end of the day, it’s still his farm”. 

I can’t begin to describe how much that burned me.  Inside I was seething.  My whole body felt on fire.  But as I finished eating I began to think about what he was telling me.  “It’s his farm.  It’s his choice.”  Reluctantly I began to accept it. 

Mostly I think it was because at the end of this day anyway, I needed that money.  Sure what he was asking was dumb.  In the end it would hurt him more than help him, but Grandpa had a point.  It was his farm, and at the end of the day, I’d be down the road with some money in my pocket, and it would still be his farm. 

I’d like to say I learned a great lesson that day, but I really didn’t.  It wouldn’t be until many years, and many battles had passed, before I began to understand.  But not understanding had its price.  I lost out on rewards that I had truly earned.  I lost out on opportunities that should have been mine.  I even lost my job over it once.  Slowly I began to understand. 

“It’s his farm”. 

It doesn’t matter if it’s Old McDonald, or Bill Gates, or Steve Jobs.  When they own the farm and you don’t, you’re only left with a couple of choices—Accept it and do the job, or leave and go somewhere you can accept it.  Because the only other position is Agreement.  Trust me.  You’ll never work anywhere that you’re always in agreement.  

Life is full of Choices

“Life”, they say, “is full of choices”.  So I made them—some good, some bad, some really bad.  In looking back though, I realize something.  These choices are the only things I truly own.  Lock, stock, and barrel they are mine, and mine alone.  

That is not to say that everything in my life is a result of my choices.  Obviously that isn't true.  If it were, I would have done a much better job of choosing my parents.  As it is, I am the result of a choice they made.  I had no say in it.  And I had no say in the physical handicap their moment of passion gave me.  Or maybe it wasn't their moment of passion.  Maybe it was my Mother’s alcohol and tobacco use while she was pregnant.  It doesn't matter.  Those were her choices.  My role was limited to choosing how I’d deal with it.  Like I said, “Life is full of choices”.  People who know me tell me I say that a lot.

I’d like to be taller sure, but due to the scoliosis, that sharp curve in the thoracic vertebrae of my upper back, I’m not.  My rib cage is off center so my heart and lungs don’t fit quite right into my chest cavity.  I think sometimes what it might be like to have a straight back, where the bones would hold me up instead of having to rely on my muscles to do the job.  Muscles tire quicker than bones. That’s the down side.   But on the up side, who’s to say I wouldn't have found life too easy that way? Maybe the drive wouldn't be as strong.  Almost certainly I would have made different choices.

My first choice was to focus on what I could do, not what I couldn't do.  Football, wrestling, basketball were not options.  Reading, writing, drama were.  I gravitated towards living life in my mind.   My father, now remarried, bought me a ten volume set of the Bible written for children.  I read every volume, then read them again.  I could be as brave as David when he slew Goliath.  I could be a smart as Joseph when he helped the Pharaoh rule over Egypt.  I wouldn't lose my patience like Moses did, but would cross over into the Promised Land with Joshua. 

From there I moved on to history.  I sailed with the Pilgrims and landed at Plymouth Rock.  I rode with Paul Revere to warn the patriots that the British were coming.  I grew up in the hills of middle Virginia with Thomas Jefferson, and went on a vision quest with Crazy Horse in the Black Hills.  In books, I discovered, there was nothing I couldn't do.

By high school I clearly identified with “the writers”.  We took Mrs. Wittmer's “Creative Writing” class, wrote for the school newspaper, and the Yearbook, and read what we wrote to each other at meetings of the creative writing club.  My poetry was published in the school anthology.  I played the lead in the Junior play.   By the time I left for college, the only subject that called to me as a major was English.

On the physical side, my body was going through its own seemingly unrelated life.  Although it would be some years before I made the connection, the “forced labor” my Father demanded on the farm was actually saving my body.  Oh it hurt.  Hauling hay is still one of my most painful memories. Hay is cut in the middle of summer when temperatures are hot.  We would take turns either lifting 60 lb bales and handing them to a fellow worker on the truck, or grabbing the bales from the lifter and stacking them in an orderly fashion so they would not fall off.   In my weaker moments, I thought that being in Hell would be preferable to this.  It might be hot, but at least, as I imagined, I would just have to stand there.  As I was to learn later, the building up of my muscles during that time would make for a much better physical life than I was imagining just then.

During this time, while mind and body were doing their different things, there was a war going on in the background.  I don’t mean an internal war between mind and body.  I mean a real war.  It was in a place called Viet Nam.  I didn't like it.  I didn't want anything to do with it, and I didn't want anybody else to have anything to do with it either.  So I did what thousands of young people like me did—I protested.  Yes, I got kicked out of school once.  I went to jail because of it.  I grew my hair long and talked to anyone who would listen about the evils of “the war”.   These were all choices with which I was comfortable.  Then I made another choice.  I used my scoliosis to convince the local draft board to classify me as “4F”.  Suddenly I was “not acceptable for military service”.  That was fine by me.

Have I mentioned that “Life is full of choices”?  When you choose a path, you own it.  I accepted that idea even then.  But what I had yet to learn was that once you start down a path, you don’t have to stay with it.  So often once we are on “A Path”, we think it is "The Path”, and no matter how bad it gets we just push harder.   We don’t realize that we can choose again, and go in another direction, hopefully a better one.  We own that choice too.   For me this knowledge would come as an epiphany, and not a pleasant one.

April 1975 will always be the month that changed my life forever.  I sat in my dorm room at college and watched the films from Viet Nam.  I saw the North Vietnamese army roll south into Da Nang, Kontum, Pleiku, Ban Me Thuot, and finally, Saigon itself.  I watched people clinging to helicopters trying to get out.  I watched them fall to their deaths.   I watched boat after boat crammed with far too many people floundering in the waves.  I saw desperation and fear in hundreds of eyes.  I saw women give their babies to others in the hope that their child might be saved even if they themselves perished.  I kept thinking that it wasn't supposed to be like this.  

I found myself feeling responsible.  Choices that I had freely made had resulted in pressure on our government to abandon these people.  I had thought that what I was doing was right, but now I could see with my own eyes just how wrong I was.  I couldn't turn away from the images.  I watched.  And I cried.  

I knew then that I had choices to make.  Those choices took me out of my comfort zone and into a whole new world.  I cut my hair.  I joined ROTC.  I met a young female cadet who would become the love of my life, and the Mother of my children.  I became a soldier, and not just any soldier.  I became an Infantry Officer.  I humped a rucksack with my men.  I jumped out of airplanes with them too.  I wrote operations orders instead of poems.  And I ran, and ran, and ran.  For the first time in my life my mind and my body were working together as a team.  

Many years have passed since those days.  But the truth has not changed.  Life is still about the choices you make.  Good ones, bad ones, lucky ones, totally serendipitous ones.  If you’re lucky you’ll understand that these are the only things you ever really own.  And when you own them—when you accept responsibility for them—you’ll discover what it means to be free.  That's all I'm asking these days.  Leave me alone to experience the consequences of my choices.  That's what freedom is about.