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Sunday, January 31, 2016

A Thousand Words

You know that old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words”. Well, it’s a true apothegm, but the interesting part of that expression is to realize that those thousand words are going to be different for every person that views the picture. Perhaps we need to remember that saying when it comes to using modern communication techniques like texting and email… because a thousand different viewpoints can occur every time we send out a written message, especially a short one.

Recently I sent a text message to a relative thanking them for a Christmas present they sent me. The response I got back was, “You’re welcome”, but it also included a short sentence that could easily have been either a cordial suggestion, or more likely a biting criticism. As it is with all text messages and emails, you can’t look into the person’s eyes, nor can you get a feel for their body language or tone of voice, and you certainly can’t have that natural give and take that occurs when you’re having a conversation in person. So what did that short sentence really mean?

I stared at that text message for quite a while and thought about our relationship over the years and what might really be the “message within the message”. Unfortunately, I do not have a close relationship with this particular person and we probably never will be close because we’re two very different people with different values and different priorities. I guess what bothers me the most is that this person doesn’t like me and has made that clear to me for as long as I can remember. I wish things were different, but I realize after trying many times to make things better, things are not going to change.

Anyway, I have this rule that if I get a message that upsets me, I sit on it… and don’t respond for at least 24 hours. I think it’s a good rule because if I respond when I’m upset, I usually make things worse. So I sat on that message for a while and then decided to take the high road and believe it was meant to be positive. I chose to respond back in a very positive manner laying out a lot of detail and hoping they would truly feel the sincerity in my words. Maybe I was being na├»ve, but it felt good to send a positive response instead of a negative one. In fact, recently I read several bible stories involving Jesus forgiving people who wronged him and how He washed the feet of the disciples instead of the other way around. I think the genius of those examples are that they show us that the burden of “bridge-building” falls on the strong one, not on the weak one.  

And you know what happens? More often than not, if the strong one volunteers to wash the feet of the weaker one, both parties end up getting down on their knees!

Here’s a picture that’ s worth a thousand words.
It’s a self-portrait by a skilled Chinese Artist, painted
only weeks ago at the tender age of 92. Look into those eyes.
They reveal decades of life, love, wisdom and courage!
The weak can never forgive, for forgiveness is an attribute only of the strong.
~ Mahatma Ghandi

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Tears for Fears

I’m pretty sure I’ve told my wife “I’m not afraid of nothin” plenty of times. But I also have to admit it isn’t true. There are plenty of times when I’ve been afraid because being scared is natural and normal. But is being scared ever a good thing?

When I was young I was fairly small for my age. In fact, in Junior High I was one of the smallest kids and one day during PE class we were just finishing calisthenics when one of the older, tougher kids in the class punched me in the stomach, dropping me like a rock. I will never forget the kid’s name, Curtis McGuffy. He was always getting in fights at school so I made it a point to do my best to stay away from him. However, I guess he found me that day decided to introduce himself in his own unique way.

It took me several minutes to catch my breath, wipe away the tears, and pick myself up off the ground. Surprisingly our teacher never noticed what happened and when he broke us up into groups, unfortunately I ended up in Curtis’s group. There were 5 boys standing there as I approached and immediately Curtis challenged me to a fight… right in front of them. I was scared silly, my legs were shaking, and I was positive if I accepted his challenge he would beat me to a pulp. So I backed down and walked away. When I got home that night I couldn’t stop thinking about how bad it felt to be humiliated in front of my friends. For weeks I felt ashamed and hated going to school. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore so I sought out my Dad for advice. He told me being afraid is normal and walking away from a fight you can’t win is smart. That didn’t seem to help very much. But then he asked me to think about this question. “What if instead of someone threatening you, they were threatening one of your friends?” I answered back immediately, “Well I’m pretty sure I would jump right in there and help him.” My Dad just smiled and said, “I think you’re gonna be just fine!”

I thought about what my Dad said and understood what he meant about protecting others. His advice was always the best. So from that day on I made two decisions that would help me enormously the rest of my life. I decided no matter what I will always protect my friends and also that I would never ever again allow fear to cause me to walk away from a challenge. Sure enough, two weeks later a friend of mine was getting pushed around by a bigger kid and I jumped right in the middle. I got pummeled and beat up pretty good for about 5 minutes until the coach broke it up, but I got up off the ground with a big smile on my face and a round of high fives from my buddies. I didn’t win the fight but I did succeed in protecting my friend…and I noticed there was nothing humiliating at all about that!

Obviously getting into fights at any age is a bad thing, so I would never encourage anyone to hurt another human being. But fear does have a purpose and a message that we can learn from it. Being afraid is a normal and probably a good thing, allowing it to control our lives is not!

I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. 
Fear, to a great extent, is born from the story we tell ourselves, 
so I chose to tell myself a different story…
~ Cheryl Strayed (from the movie "Wild")

Monday, January 11, 2016

Better Days

I told my wife I was going to cut back dramatically on baseball in 2016. I still love it but I’m getting older and at my age it’s so easy to get injured…but so hard to heal up. More importantly, it would give me more time to spend with my wife on the weekends, which I know she appreciates.

I truly meant what I said to my wife. However, last week while we were having a romantic dinner at Nick’s Restaurant the subject of baseball came up and I casually mentioned that some of my buddies were leaving in a few days to go to the annual Pro Ball Baseball Camp in Phoenix. She was quiet for a moment and then looked me straight in the eye and said, “I want you to go too”. It caught me by surprise because I hadn’t even considered it. But my wife knows me better than I know myself and obviously loves me deeply, so before dinner was over my plans (our plans) now included a four-day trip to Phoenix.

My wife went with me because we can’t stand to be apart. In fact, over the past 22 years we have only been slept apart three nights total. While I practiced baseball with my friends and dozens of pro baseball studs like Alan Trammel, Jeremy Barfield and Lee Tinsley, my wife wandered around the Hotel alone waiting for me to return each evening. Her willingness to make sacrifices so that I can have fun will never cease to amaze me…and inspire me.

Speaking of inspiration, this camp is held at the Padres Spring Training Facility in Phoenix. This is where “real” pro baseball players practice each spring and we actually we get to use their locker room, eat meals cooked by their regular chef, and have access to their amazingly gifted trainers. The locker room itself reeks of baseball tradition and memories and I have to admit, just putting on a uniform in that room gave me goosebumps. The other thing that you can’t help notice throughout the locker room is the proliferation of inspirational messages. It reminded me that this locker room will soon be filled with eager young men, busting their butts to achieve a goal that less than 1% of people ever achieve.

The one sign that caught my eye and stuck in my mind was this one.What are you going to do today, to be better than you were yesterday?” I thought about that message and how it doesn’t just apply to baseball players, it applies to anyone who is striving to achieve a goal. It also occurred to me that if I pondered that question each morning and applied it to my life every single day, I could probably accomplish any goal I set for myself.

On the long drive home I kept thinking about the sacrifices my wife constantly makes for me and decided to set a new goal for myself, to become a better husband. That evening I did all the laundry for her, cooked her dinner for a change, and rubbed her feet for several hours while she watched the Golden Globe Awards on TV. I’m never going to be “Husband of the Year” material, but at least for one day… I found a way to be better than I was the day before!

Monday, January 4, 2016

Righting The Wrongs

A brand new year is starting so it’s a good time to reflect on all that’s happened over the past 12 months. I don’t actually like to dwell on the past because I prefer to be constantly looking forward but it is a good idea to take stock from time to time of what’s happened in my life and what I’ve learned from it.

As I think back on 2015, three bad things stand out. 1) From a world view standpoint, there’s a lot that went wrong including terrorist attacks right here in nearby San Bernardino. 2) At the local level, a close friend of mine was laid off at his company where he worked for over 35 years. It turns out the owner laid off everyone over 50 so that he could improve his bottom line. 3) On a personal level, one of my best friends turned his back on me, and of course the motivation behind it was money.

All three of those events could easily make me lose my faith in humanity…but not if I take the time to reflect on what went right. 1) Recently my wife and I drove through a Del Taco Restaurant and when I handed the man at the window my money, he told me to keep it because the people in the car ahead of us paid our bill. I guess it was a random act of kindness and I don’t know why they did it, but it sure made us smile! 2) Not long ago I was visiting a customer and as I was leaving he handed me a box of expensive ballasts. He said he had accidentally received them by mistake and wanted to return them to us. What a nice surprise! 3) Last week I was at Trader Joe’s and my bill came to exactly $25.00. I handed the cashier a twenty and a five and as I grabbed my bag to leave, she said, “Wait, you gave me an extra $20 bill”, and handed it back to me. Honesty is always surprising…but it shouldn’t be!

You could easily make the argument that the three things above that went wrong were worse than the three things that went right, but that’s not the point. The point is that when we look back on life, we need to realize that a lot of things do go right on a daily basis and that there are a lot more good people in this world than bad. If we make it a point to notice the positive things that happen in life and pay attention to all the good people that surround us, we can’t help but feel good about the world we live in.

So what did I learn from looking back at 2015? I learned that there are always going to be bad people who do wrong no matter what. And while we might not be able to right those particular wrongs, we can go out and do our best to do what’s right by everyone we come in contact with. You know that old saying, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” Well maybe it should be “Two rights can overcome a wrong!”