Friday, January 8, 2010

Some assembly required.

Snowmen fall from heaven... unassembled. - Anonymous

I thought this quote fitting given the state of my sidewalks and the streets I had to drive through this morning to get home.

When I was a kid, we lived in North Dakota for a couple of years. While the frigid temperatures might drive some mad, it was a magical time for me. We learned the value of being able to spend time outside. We learned that it's okay to go ice skating when it's ten below and the wind chill is dropping rapidly. We learned that some of the best moments are the quiet ones, watching the snow fall together, wrapped in blankets near the heat spewing from the register. We learned to appreciate the snow days... and the days that we actually made it to school.

Something that I didn't realize back then was that the tools for a good life, for success, for happiness, were already at hand. No, that's a recent development.

You see, we are all capable of making the decisions necessary to move forward with our lives. We have the tools to learn what needs to be learned to enjoy success. We all are capable accepting the past and the outcomes of the future. We all are worthy of happiness. It's a choice.

The gifts of heaven are showered upon us when we enter this world. All we need to do is use them. Yes, we are like the snowmen. And like the snowmen, some assembly is required. Thankfully, we have all the gizmos, devices, means, and implements to do the job.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Education as a worthy pursuit.

Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance. - Will Durant

I have lately been reading a book that admonishes the American dictate that the "gut" is superior to the intellect. As a result, we listen to an unreasoned group who endeavor to speak loud enough, to get enough people to believe what they are saying, to create a fact where there is only opinion. We run into a huge risk of a self-imploding society when intelligence and the pursuit of truth through educating ourselves is overridden by an impulse to believe someone just because they are on the television. We don't realize what it is that we don't really know, but claim to through opinion over fact. There are those that call the educated elitist, out of touch with the rest of the population. But it is the educated who can discern what is fact from fallacy. It is the educated who are not so easily fooled.

Albert Einstein once said, "The more I learn, the more I realize I don't know."

Truth be told, I will never know everything. Nor will you. But that pursuit of knowledge through investigation is as exhilarating as any action film you'll find at your local theater. You will never get this education from watching a documentary or listening to a political pundit on cable news. It's my hope that education will have the prestige it has for the poor children of many third-world nations and that it once held here in the United States. It's my hope that the book will once again be favored over the television screen. That is where education is.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Give it a try.

Don't bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself. - William Faulkner

Too often we become discontented with our lives, stuck in a mundane, day-in-day-out existence. While I have been determined not to plague myself with resolutions, I am finding that I have become determined to challenge myself, to become greater, more fulfilled. Recently, something occurred to me: what if the great thinkers, dreamers, athletes, poets, had never bothered to challenge themselves, never bothered to bring their visions for the world around them into reality? What would the world be like without the thoughts of Abraham Lincoln or Maya Angelou, the songs of Bob Dylan and Michael Jackson? Where would we be without the ambition of Henry Ford or Mary Pickford? They started by offering themselves the challenge of personal transcendence.

We have an opportunity everyday to be challenged, not by any outside means, but solely by ourselves. And with that opportunity comes not only the chance to become the person you imagine yourself being, but greater than you ever imagined. That's a challenge worth taking.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Every breath, renewal.

So much to do; so little done. - Cecil Rhodes, Last Words

I'm always amazed when another year has so speedily passed me by, wishing I'd done so much more of some things and a lot less of others. Still, this is the time when resolutions are made, and hope revives that, yes, this may be the year that changes everything. Will I fall victim to the vices that prevented my accomplishing the previous year's goals? Only time can tell.

While some make out huge to-do lists of things that will change during the coming year and found themselves overwhelmed with the actions required for the habits meant to be created, I, on the other hand, find myself either bored by a single resolution or have chosen the one thing that I was really incapable of doing (or unwilling to do the things that would fulfill said resolution).

So what of this year?

I've decided to take each day as it comes with its own set of goals, and finally free myself from the burdens that have plagued me in past resolutions. New Year's Day is marking a renewal, yes. As does every morning. As does every minute. As does every breath.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Edward M. Kennedy (1932-2009)

We know the future will outlast all of us, but I believe that all of us will live on in the future we make. - Ted Kennedy, accepting an honorary degree from Harvard University, December 2008

Last week, we lost a member of the Senate whose ideals and vision were the driving force of his politics and legislation. Ted Kennedy's ferocity was both inspiring and intimidating to those of us who didn't know him personally, but felt they had an insider's view into the closely held private world of one of the most recognized and well-known families on the planet. I can only imagine what he was like for those who worked with him, played with him, loved him, and was close to him.

He wasn't merely a spectator to history, as most of us are. The unfortunate circumstances surrounding his family have made him a central figure in it. Despite his personal downfalls and tragedies, he worked tirelessly to change the world for the better. Whether it was school lunch programs, civil rights, Medicare, or the recent health care reform, he sought to put everyone on a level playing ground, knowing full well that he had a leg up in everything that he ever personally accomplished. When it seemed the best of the Kennedys died in those dark days in 1963 and 1968, he continued on course, and one might say, eventually became the best version of himself.

Not everyone always agreed with his policy-making, but most people could admire the passion he had for the job he did, and the compassion he had for others. And behind him is the legacy that will continue on with his influence on the family he became patriarch of, in the speeches he gave in times of horrible sorrow and immense joy, and in the legislation he penned.

The commitment I seek is not to outworn views but to old values that will never wear out. Programs may sometimes become obsolete, but the ideal of fairness always endures. Circumstances may change, but the work of compassion must continue. - Ted Kennedy, at the Democratic National Convention, 1980

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Let's play pretend!

Be careful what you pretend to be because you are what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night

I have some very distinct memories of pretending as a kid. I remember being a princess, being the Wicked Witch of the West (possibly the most fun), being a pilot, being a damsel in distress (hanging off the cliff that was my bunkbed), and being a cashier at McDonald's (I'm not kidding). It's safe to play pretend when you're a child; you know that if you don't like what you're doing you can always become something else. There's no worry about changing careers, going back to school, finding the money to go back to school, worrying about success and failure. When you're a child, these things don't exist - they are merely the figments of adult imaginations.

Which makes me wonder: do we have this thing all wrong?

Maybe the starting of being the thing we really want to be is in the pretending. The confident stance, the image of that success, the feel of that accomplishment, even if not achieved already, can only push us towards that endeavor. If things don't work out exactly as we'd hoped, we can change our minds and do something else or start again. Life isn't a fixed state. So how can we be?

People debate what "time" really is - an illusion, a mental construct, a tangible measurement? Is it relative or constant? I really don't know. You could listen to a dozen different physicists and still have no real answer. But if time is an illusion (and it could be), then the person you might be lies within you already. I think.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A few nuts.

Families are like fudge - mostly sweet with a few nuts. - Author Unknown

I went most of my life without meeting my great-aunt Gracie. A potential relationship between the two of us was victim to circumstance. My dad's side of the family was from Queens, my mom's side from rural Minnesota, and I grew up in a few places in the Midwest, with the very rare trip to Dad's hometown. This didn't lend to closeness with my paternal relatives.

Sadly, it wasn't until I was an adult that I met Gracie, my grandfather's sister. The story goes that she wasn't exactly a US citizen. You see, when she was a kid, the family moved from Nova Scotia to New York City. My grandpa and his brother became naturalized when they served in World War II, but she never did. According to her telling, Gracie wasn't naturalized because of an incident that involved her naturalization papers being on the table and something about spilled grease. Whatever the exact series of events, Gracie never became a citizen. We kind of joked about her being an illegal alien because she had lived most of her long, long life here in the United States. Could you imagine INS coming for this little old woman with a New York accent, carting her off in handcuffs?

Gracie was quite the character. The first time I did finally meet her, she came directly up to me, gave me a big kiss on the mouth (something we Midwesterners aren't all that comfortable with - insert joke here), and promptly said, "You know this side of the family is crazy." No kidding.

This tiny woman smoked like a fiend most of her life, wore too much makeup, drowned in old fur coats, always wore her hair in a loose bun, and burst into song at the drop of a hat. She was absolutely lovely. I only met her a few times before she died. This saddens me because she was delightful, and sweet, and I will miss all the stories that she would gladly relate, now lost to the ether.

It is my sincere hope that everyone has a Gracie in their families, someone who is unique, funny, and maybe a little nuts, an external reminder of our internal craziness. I knew so little of my great-aunt, but I am so glad I did have the chance to connect, no matter how brief, with this wonderful character.