Thursday, February 9, 2017

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.)


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. 


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.   


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. 


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!”


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?”

Monday, January 11, 2016

"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.  

Thursday, September 25, 2014

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.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

There are moments in history that you know are moments in history.  Yesterday was one of those days.  Robin Williams died.  Most likely by his own hand.

The Germans have a better word for it than we do—“Selbstmord”—self murder.  And that is how I feel right now.  This brilliant, electrifying comedian, actor and genius has been murdered and I’m aghast at the enormity of it all.

I have been reading article after article all morning in the vain hope that someone will tell me something that will make this event make some kind of sense.  It’s not happening.  Probably it never will.

Naturally everyone is posting on Facebook and I did too.  I wasn't going to be that maudlin, but the fact is that I was crying, and it’s hard to be more maudlin than that. 

Robin Williams was part of a first ritual with my new bride.  I was stationed at Fort Benning, GA, a student in the Infantry Officer’s Basic Course.  She was pregnant with our first child.  But every Thursday evening we’d sit together on the couch in a crappy old trailer house just off post, and watch “Mork and Mindy”.  For the next thirty minutes everything was OK.   Life is just not as tough when you’re laughing.

To my kids, Robin Williams was the voice of the Genie in “Aladdin”.  My middle child wanted to grow up to be him, and he would quote long passages from the movie.  That was all well and good, until one night he was quoting Williams one minute, and in the very next was off on his own riff about a Superhero named “Beer Man” and his sidekick “Hangover Boy”, and they were fighting the evil villain “Mr. Coffee”, and his little dog “Sober”.  “Quick, Hangover Boy, hit him with an ICE DRAFT!”  My wife and I laughed until we had tears in our eyes.  Unfortunately we were driving down the road at the time and it got a little dangerous until I got myself under control.  We didn't grasp the irony then. 

It was the Laughter.  How pleasant.  How memorable.  How fleeting.  That unusual juxtaposition of two thoughts that catch you totally by surprise when you first hear them. 

So now I go where I always go when death catches me unexpectedly.  John Donne.  Poet, Theologian, Comforter.  He said this:  “All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated.”

It seems to me that old Mr. Donne got it right, and this idea has become my place of refuge in times like these.  I find that I am thankful that Williams left so much media behind.  It makes it a lot easier to re-read his chapter.  And as for his new translation?  I guess I’ll have to wait until I've been “so translated” to find out. 

I am just beginning to grasp that I now live in a world without Robin Williams.  I ponder that thought with some trepidation.  I've never lived in that world before.  I’m not sure what it will be like.

So I’ll close this post like probably a million others will close their posts today and say with simple frustration and sadness, “Well Shazbat!” 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Yes. You can.

I don’t much like excuses.  Explanations I can deal with.  Excuses pretty much turn me off.  I bring this up because lately it seems like excuses are coming out of the woodwork.  There’s two excuses in particular that move right to the top of my “peeve list”.  The first one is, “I just don’t have the time”.  What?  How can you not have the time?  Unless you’re dead you have exactly the same amount of time everyone else in the world has.  You have 60 minutes in an hour, 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, 52 weeks in a year. If you can’t bring me some evidence that you were born with a congenital time deficiency which causes you to only have 50 minutes in an hour, I’m afraid I’m going to have to call you what you are.  A liar.  Yeah, it’s a little “white lie”, but what you’re really saying is, “This just isn’t that important to me to spend time on it”.  And that’s OK.  We all have to make choices.  There’s a ton of things I choose not to spend time on.  So admit it.  Don’t tell me you don’t have the time.  It’s insulting.  I know better.

The second excuse I’ve heard goes something along the lines of “Well I just don’t have the education”.  That may be true.  I won’t call you a liar on this one.  But where my peeve comes in is that an education is available.  All you have to do is reach out and take it.  Now I’m not talking about going back to school.  Sure, that’s great if you can, and if you have the time and resources you should definitely do it.  What I’m talking about is the same thing that Thomas Jefferson was talking about when he wrote to his college-age nephew, Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr., “…you can proceed by yourself in a regular series of historical reading.  It would be a waste of time to attend a professor of this.  It is to be acquired from books…”

Yep, books.  Reading.  You don’t have to be a graduate from high school, or college to do it.  Louis L’Amour, the prolific writer (over 100 novels), and historian, was entirely self-educated.  He left high school during the Depression to provide some income for his family, and never went back to school.  Yet he became recognized as one of the most educated men of our time, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, an honor reserved for those who make extraordinary contributions to our nation.  How did he do it?  Simple.  He read.  And thought about what he had read.  (Read his story for yourself.  You’ll find it in his book The Education of a Wandering Man.)

He’s not the only one.  ABC News reporter and anchorman, Peter Jennings did the same thing.  Or how about Dave Thomas, founder of Wendy’s restaurants?  OK, Bill Gates did graduate from high school, but not from college.  I think you get my point.  So…

READ.  Several years ago this simple word was used on posters and billboards by a literacy activist group to encourage people to…READ.  I think this advice may now be more important than ever.  Even though the “futurists” among us are convinced that reading will be replaced by television, DVDs, iPODs, and technologies we haven’t heard of yet, I still believe that reading, and more importantly, the ability to read, will remain a significant factor between those who achieve success in this world, and those who don’t.

READ.  So why are so many people so reluctant to do it?  In times past, what we would call “classical” schoolmasters divided learning into three stages called “the trivium”.  The first stage was called the “grammar” stage.  (Hence our grammar or elementary schools).  This stage focused on memorization.  The idea was to gather information---C A T spells Cat, or 2 X 4 = 8.  The goal being to acquire a certain amount of knowledge.  The second stage was called the “logic” stage.  It required that the student start thinking at this point.  Evaluate.  Is this information correct or not correct?  Is this a cause or an effect?  The final stage was called the“rhetoric” stage.  Remember the first time you were asked to write an essay?  This is rhetoric; learning to construct your own opinions based on the facts you have accumulated.  The classical educators knew that this pattern—learn facts, analyze those facts, and develop opinions about those facts—is the basis for life-long learning.

Unfortunately, educators started to skip the first two steps and started asking first graders how they feel about what they’re learning before they’ve even had a chance to learn it yet.  This “short cut” is now ingrained for many.  They go right to the opinion making, before they’ve even learned the facts.  (Don’t believe me?  Just listen to talk radio for about 5 minutes, or review those Facebook posts from your friends.)  As Susan Wise Bauer points out in her book, The Well-Educated Mind, “Like badly taught six-year-olds, we are too quick to go straight to opinion making without the intermediate steps of understanding and evaluation.”  And a formal education does not make you immune.  I’ve known Harvard grads to jump right to stage three without ever pausing to gather a fact, while the old Oklahoma farmers I grew up with wouldn’t make a move without “studyin’ up” on a subject first.

So what’s the hardest thing about reading?  Making the time.  As Susan Wise Bauer notes:  “The first task of self-education is not the reading of Plato, but the finding of twenty minutes in which you can devote yourself to thought, rather than to activity.”  Taking care of the kids, getting ready for work, fixing supper, paying bills, checking email, answering the cell phone, all these things push at us.  And we bosses don’t help.  “You don’t have anything to do, well come see me, I’ll give you something to do.”  And I’m willing to bet you’ve never heard, “Why don’t you just go back to your desk and spend the rest of the afternoon reading and thinking.”   We both know that ain’t gonna happen, but I sometimes wonder what great things we might accomplish if it did.

And no, I don’t think you only have to read “The Great Books”—you know, Plato, Shakespeare, Homer.  You can learn a lot from reading well-written novels.  Nora Roberts’ books can take you traveling around the world; Louis L’Amour will take you back to the frontier and steep you in the values of that era.  Tom Clancy will take you into the depths of military technology and current politics.  Reading can be fun.  If you haven’t been reading for a while this is how you should start.  The brain is an organ and it has to be exercised to stay in shape.  Just as you wouldn’t think about running a marathon without training for it, neither should you just jump into a schedule that calls for two hours a day of difficult study.  You won’t stick with it.  So start easy, and build up to it.

Having said that, if it’s a broader education you want, at some point you will have to take the plunge and begin to delve deeper.  History, biography, philosophy, economics, politics, theology.  And even here, you don’t have to devour everything you run across.  As the sixteenth century philosopher, Francis Bacon, has pointed out:  “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.”  Find a menu that appeals to you, and systematically, and methodically, go through it.

In the meantime, it doesn’t matter where you are in your life right now.  If you want an education it’s there for the taking.  And you can do it in thirty minutes a day.  Get up thirty minutes earlier.  Watch thirty less minutes TV.  Surely there’s thirty minutes that aren’t absolutely “must see”.  (Personally I can give up the thirty minutes for “Two Broke Girls”, just don’t ask me to give up “Big Bang Theory”).  Especially if you haven’t read for a while, thirty minutes is plenty to start.  Much longer than that and you likely won’t stick with it.  As your brain expands you may find your time spent reading expands too.  That’s fine.  Let it happen naturally.

Don’t get caught up in the excuses.  You do have the time.  It’s your choice how to use it.  You can get an education if you really want one.  It’s not up to a school.  It’s up to you.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

This was my first post about the World Cup.  It was eight years ago.

The tension just continues to build, and by this weekend it’ll explode.  No, I’m not talking about work.  I’m talking about FOOTBALL!  “Yeah right”, you say.  “Nobody plays football in July.”  Well, actually they do, it’s just that we in the US tend to ignore them.  “Soccer” is just not “our” sport. 

That’s true, so far as it goes.  But this is true too:  There is not other sporting event in the world like the World Cup.  Nothing compares to it.  More than a billion (with a “B”) fans worldwide will watch France play Italy for the World Championship.  And, yes, I will be one of them.  I hope some of you will be watching also.  (ABC Sports 1:30pm Eastern).

Admittedly, I haven’t got to see as many of the matches as I would like.  Most of the matches have been shown on ESPN or ESPN2, and living in the sticks as we do, we don’t get cable.  We can’t get satellite Direct TV either.

Dear Mr. Horner,

There are a few places in the world, of which “the sticks” of Wyandotte, Oklahoma is not one of them, which do not get satellite TV.  However, you are correct when you say that you can’t get Direct TV.  The solution to this is quite simple:  Pay your bill!  

The Collections Department, Direct TV 

OK.  They may have a point, but they’re leaving out the “rest of the story”.  However, I digress.  Bottom line is that I have to go to my daughter’s house to watch the big matches with her and her husband.  Fortunately for me, I have a great son-in-law, who either doesn’t mind the intrusion, or is at least polite enough to remain quiet about it.  Besides, their TV is bigger than mine. 

Really it’s only fair.  I blame my kids anyway.  When they were growing up, I made the same mistake young parents often make—I agreed to coach my son’s soccer team.  He’d been playing for a couple of years, but was right at the age when they are supposed to cease chasing after the ball like a flock of young geese, and start learning to play “positions”.  Coaching in this environment is not easy.  You could get the girls to stay put, usually by ignoring the fact that they stayed in place so they could look for four-leaf clovers, but getting the boys to wait for the ball to be passed to them instead of just going and kicking it was an uphill battle.  You might as well wait for hell to freeze over.  It wasn’t happening.  So I spent most of my time running along the touch line hollering uselessly.  Of course, this was back in the days of “non-competitive” soccer.  We didn’t keep score so we could encourage the kids just to go play and have fun.  This didn’t work either.  At the end of the game my son would walk off the pitch and say, “We beat them 12 to 9”.  “How do you know”, I’d ask, “we don’t keep score”.  To which he’d reply:  “Maybe you grown-ups don’t, but we do.  We know who wins”.  And so they did.   

Anyway, part of the reason the World Cup is so big is that it only occurs once every four years.  Sure we have our Super Bowl, but it’s every year.  It’s a pretty big show as it is.  Imagine if we only played the Playoffs and Super Bowl every four years.  It’d be over the top.  And so it is with the World Cup.  From 1958 until 2002, it has been played every other time in Europe or the Americas.  In 2002, it was held in Asia (South Korea and Japan shared the venues) for the first time. 

I’ve noticed that most of those in the US who don’t like soccer complain that the game is too slow.  What they mean is that it is by nature a low scoring game, and doesn’t have touchdowns, homeruns, or slam dunks.  Yet, the same people who tell you that soccer is boring will sit in front of the TV watching the US Open and tell you to “Shhhh.  Mickelson’s putting for a birdie”.  Give me a break!  How can you compare the athletes who run, jostle, trip and tackle without ceasing for two 45 minute halves, plus another two 15 minute overtime periods if required, with a bunch of guys who walk around whaling on a little white ball with a bunch of sticks?  And these guys don’t even carry their own sticks!  Tell you what.  I don’t think I’m the one who doesn’t get it.

Naturally, I’m disappointed that Germany didn’t make it to the final, but I’m delighted that they played as well as they did.  Having lived in Germany for three years, and hosted two German exchange students while my kids were in high school, I have a soft spot for the Black, Red, and Yellow.  Even though Germany is the host country, the “Deutsche Fussballnationalmannschaft”, wasn’t supposed to even make it to the quarter-finals.  They made it all the way to the semi-finals only to lose an overtime heartbreaker to Italy in the last two minutes.  They play great attacking football and hopefully will prevail over Portugal to take third place.  (Saturday on ESPN if you’re interested.  Yes, I’ll be at my daughter’s.  Don’t call.)

But go ahead.  Have a relaxing weekend if you want.  Just chill out by the pool with a daiquiri or two, and catch some rays.  Not me.  My adrenaline is pumping already.  I can barely sit still.  Two days of watching THE BEST football players in the world awaits.  Not for another four years will you have a chance to see this level of skill and talent come together on the same field.  It’s an event not to be missed.  Besides, what will you do Monday when 1.5 Billion of us just want to talk about

Friday, May 24, 2013

“Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweeping down the plain…”

Normally the wind sweeps out here.  Occasionally it wafts, or meanders.  Almost never is it still.  This is especially true along the Indian Meridian which bisects the state into Range East and Range West.  The wind is so pervasive throughout this region that the story goes that people are so used to leaning into the wind that one day when it did not blow everyone fell down. 

But sometimes the wind gets angry.  Last Monday it got very angry.  Perhaps as angry as it has even been.  And it went on an out-of-control, blind mad, raging stampede right through the Sergeant Major’s hometown of Moore.  When it finished, 24 people were dead, thousands of homes were destroyed or damaged, and two elementary schools were wiped out.  The Sergeant Major’s elementary school was one of them.  Seven children died there.

By the next morning the area had been hit again with another tornado.  This one was made up of first responders, law enforcement officials, good Samaritans, politicians, and, of course, the media.  Most came to do good, a few just to watch, and a few more to prey on the raw emotions of the townspeople.  It was the outsiders though, even the ones who had come to do good, who most often asked the question, “You guys know the wind gets very angry out here.  Why do you stay?”

I’ve been thinking about that a lot, and so too have many of my fellow Oklahomans.  We like to tell people it’s because we’re different.  We don’t “put on airs”.  To meet us is to know us.  Our Governor even told one journalist, that “if you’re going to have a tragedy in your life you want it to be in Oklahoma”. We care about our families, our communities, and our state.  And all of that is true I think, but I wonder why.  Other people have families, communities, and states too.  What is it about Oklahoma?

Perhaps it’s because we’re still somewhat new.  We’ve only been a state a little over a hundred years.  The shine hasn’t completely worn off yet.  That’s a part of it, but I suspect there’s something more.  Something we don’t think of very often, if at all. 

Oklahoma started from nothing.  Nobody wanted this particular piece of ground.  It was considered “uninhabitable”.  The Indians didn’t want it.  They were forced out here at gunpoint by soldiers.  Settlers didn’t want it.  They passed right by it on their way West.  It was populated only after there was absolutely nowhere else to go…and mostly by people no one else wanted living next door to them. 

So the people who made it here were tough.  People that the venerable New York Times once called “ragtag”.  A disparate conglomeration of cowboys, Indians, farmers, freed slaves, oil field workers, and other groups of migrants who settled down and told themselves, “This is it.  We make it here or we don’t make it”.  So they got busy trying to make it.  There just wasn’t time to do anything else.  They taught their kids and grandkids that, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”.  And so we do.  Somehow we’ve managed not to lose that. 

Moore is a town chock full of people who simply got busy trying to make it.  I know them.  As I said, the Sergeant Major grew up there.  And if there is anyone I know in the world that pushed all the excuses aside and simply got busy trying to make it, it’s her.  Married at 19.  Living in a foreign country with a new born and an often absent husband at 20.  Three kids at 25.  College graduate at 40.  Horse breeder, trainer, homemaker, artist, gardener, builder, engineer, and all-purpose handyman today.  No, she doesn’t know Toby Keith, but she knows the work ethic.  And she reminds our grandson regularly that, “Grandma’s house is a ‘No Whine Zone’”.

But it’s an outsider turned insider who might have summed it up best.  Sam Presti, General Manager of the Oklahoma City Thunder, was born and raised in Massachusetts.  Since he brought the Thunder here five years ago, he’s seen first-hand what Oklahomans can do when they put their minds to it. He makes every new Thunder player visit the Oklahoma City Memorial Museum before they report to work.  He says he wants them to understand the kind of people who live here, the kind of people they’ll be playing for.  In the aftermath of the tornado, he and several of the Thunder players toured the destruction.  They went to encourage, but returned having been themselves encouraged.  Sam said, “It’s clear that the resolve, the resiliency and the faith of the people that have had to endure this is infinitely stronger than that of what has taken place.”  And then he said of his recently adopted home, “There’s a sense of purpose that exists in Oklahoma that makes all of us proud to call it home”.  He’s even got a name for it.  He calls it,  “the Oklahoma Standard”.

No, we’re not leaving.  Moore will rebuild, albeit with more storm shelters for next time.  And yes, we all know, there will be a next time.  And a next time after that too.  But we’ll still be here, staying busy trying to make it.  After all, we have a Standard to uphold.

"And when we say Yeeow!  Ayipioeeay!
We’re only sayin’ you’re doin’ fine, Oklahoma!
Oklahoma! O.K."