Friday, April 16, 2010


I like words. Big ones, small ones, common ones and unusual ones. When I was a kid I liked reading the dictionary. And the thesaurus. And yes, it was a really weird thing for a kid to enjoy doing. Even today, I will occasionally go to the dictionary and just read a page or two. Still weird but still enjoyable.

I recently used the word “deleterious” in something I was writing. I didn’t think about what word to use nor did I make a conscious decision to use that particular word, it just flowed naturally out of me.

I was questioned about my word usage and was tempted to replace it with something simpler and more readily understood. I decided it was a perfectly good word to use that accurately described what I wanted to say.

When my daughters were growing up and first learning to talk, my wife and I decided that we were going to speak “normally” to them. Regular adult conversation, not “baby talk.” If they didn’t understand a certain word we used, they asked what it meant and we told them. Instead of dumbing-down, we smartened-up.

Today, they are excellent communicators.

As you go through the days and months ahead, don’t be afraid to use a word or two that might require you to explain what it means. Your brain will thank you and the world will be a “brighter” place.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


It was my first month as Manager of the roadside diner, and the owner had stressed the importance of not giving free food or scraps to the transients and homeless that liked to come in. We typically got up to a dozen who would stop in at various times, asking for food. He told me that he had to learn the hard way. Once you give in, the word goes out to the streets and the diner gets inundated with people expecting, and sometimes demanding, their free handout. I took his advice to heart.

“Sarge” was a regular. He always came in around mid-morning and sat in the booth closest to the kitchen. He quietly drank his coffee, ate his plain donut and read a well-worn Bible. He always paid for his breakfast in coins, and he always left a 35-cent tip.

One day, during a slow time in the diner, I asked him how he came to live on the streets.

“Just one of those things,” he said. “Just one of those things.”

I then asked him why, since he didn’t have a lot of money, he always left a tip for the waitress.

He tapped his Bible, and said, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.”

There was something different about Sarge, something that told me he wasn’t like the usual transients and homeless that came in looking for handouts. There was a respectful quietness about him, and yet at the same time, a subtle strength. He was sort of like Mahatma Gandhi and the Incredible Hulk rolled into one. He never bothered anyone and no one bothered him.

One morning, about halfway through his coffee and donut, he began crying. I sat down across from him and asked what was wrong. He told me that about four years ago, he had befriended an old dog and they had been together ever since. But overnight, his dog died.

“I’m really alone now,” he said.

I asked him if there was anything I could do for him. He said, “No. Thanks, but no. Nothing.” And he lowered his head.

I offered him a breakfast special, but he said he couldn’t afford it. I told him it would be on the house.

“No. Thanks,” he said. Then he tapped his Bible and said, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.”

I told him that I could use a little help organizing a storage closet and I would really appreciate it if he could help me out, in exchange for a breakfast or two.

He looked up at me, studied me for about ten seconds, and said, “Okay. I can do that.”

He spent about a half hour and did a rather good job of organizing and cleaning the storage closet.

I don’t know how long it had been since he had eaten a full meal, but he seemed truly grateful for his breakfast. I gave him my business card and told him that if he needed anything, to give me a call and I would see what I could do.

He looked at me, and again studied me for about ten seconds. Then he said, “Okay. I can take your card,” and he nodded his head.

I got distracted by a delivery guy in the back of the diner, so I didn’t notice when he left. But I did notice he left 68 cents for a tip.

Later that day, I found his old Bible sitting on one of the shelves in the storage closet. I put it by the cash register so that I could give it to him the next morning.

The next morning came and went, but for the first time, Sarge did not.

A few days later, a police detective stopped in the diner to ask me a few questions about Sarge. He had died after being hit by a drunk driver.

The detective said they found my business card in his shirt pocket.

Written on the back of it, in pencil, were two words: “Not alone.”

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


She was so tiny. And she had the kind of cute that could melt the coldest steel in seconds. My heart doubled in size to take her in and keep her safe and protected. She was my little girl and I was her daddy.

And then she was in high school. (Yeah, I know, right?)

I liked to tell myself that she still needed my protection, but we had raised her to be strong and independent and she practiced what we preached. She had brains and beauty and was equally able to run with the best of crowds as well as the worst of crowds, and still remain true to herself.

And then the Vice Principal called. I needed to go down to the school because “my little girl” had been in a fight with some guy in the school cafeteria and she was facing expulsion for violating the zero tolerance rule about violence.

When I walked into the Vice Principal’s office, he looked as stern and no-nonsense as she did firm and no-bullsh*t. He explained that she had picked a fight with some kid in the lunch room. She half-whispered that that was not what happened.

She explained that one of the school’s bullies was picking on some defenseless kid. She stepped in the middle of it and told him to stop. He made the mistake of trying to shove her out of the way. She shoved back. Apparently with enough force that he went head over heels over the table.

We looked at each other, eye-to-eye and heart-to-heart.

“Did you start the fight?” I asked.

“No, dad,” she said, “I just ended it.”

“Okay. I believe you.”

I looked at the Vice Principal and flatly told him that I would not allow her to be expelled from school for defending some kid who was being bullied and shoving back at the bully who had tried to shove her. She had been raised to protect herself and others, when necessary, and that she had done the right thing.

He feebly attempted to argue the point, as if he too believed she was telling the truth, but the zero tolerance rule had to be enforced, blah, blah, blah.

He lost the argument.

She stayed in school.

And I drove back home, secretly admiring her strength and conviction to doing the right thing.

That’s my girl.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


“This is Private FrooFroo,” the drill sergeant said, and he held up the cutest little white bunny with adorable pink eyes I had ever seen. “Pay careful attention because Private FrooFroo may one day save your life.”

In the next blink of an eye, Private FrooFroo was dead, his neck broken by a quick snap of the drill sergeant’s wrist. The training instructor then proceeded to show us how to skin the rabbit to effectively make a fur-lined glove, and how to prepare the rabbit for eating.

For my less-steeled readers, I understand that this post may seem inappropriate if not cruel in some ways. For those who have been through military or survival training, it was just another lesson we needed to learn.

I will admit that I was particularly bothered by this training exercise. I questioned why it was necessary to use a cute, white bunny and to name it “FrooFroo.”

I never asked the question, of course, because Special Forces trainees do not use language like “cutest little white bunny ever.”

That training was many years ago, and yet, I remember it with the clarity as if it had happened yesterday. And while I’ve never had reason to use that lesson in real life, I wonder if I would still remember it as well if it had been done with some nondescript brown rabbit. Somehow, I don’t think so.

Sometimes life’s lessons are ugly and sometimes they’re cute and cuddly. What ultimately matters is that we learn from them.

Monday, April 12, 2010


It was supposed to be our regular Friday lunch together. We’d been doing it for years. Because we each had strengths and weaknesses that the other did not, we sort of considered each other mentors, able to advise the other whenever we hit an unfamiliar hurdle. Nothing ever earth-shattering or life-changing, but we served as good sounding boards for each other and it helped as we worked upward in our corporate struggles.

The past months, however, had been mostly fun lunches. Neither of us had experienced any real problems we needed counsel for and so the lighter side of our friendship had the opportunity to grow. We truly looked forward to our end of the week updates as an oasis from the hustle and bustle of high-stakes business.

But last Friday, I was taken aback by my visibly shaken friend as he sat down at our table. Gone was his usual smile and confidence and in its place was confusion and fear.

“Are you okay, Steve?” I asked, genuinely concerned for him.

“No, I’m not,” he said. “I’ve just been downsized out of my job and I don’t know what to do. What do I do? I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Our usual lunch hour became three hours. And while I did offer the usual reassurances, I tried mostly to be a great listener. Nonetheless, he left still shaken and afraid, although slightly less so. We agreed to meet Monday morning for coffee.

I thought a lot about what I could say when again we meet. The internet is laden with thousands of tips and websites full of advice, and I’m sure Steve will do more than his share of searching for “what to do.”

So for all the “Steves” out there who find themselves without bearing, lost in the sandstorm of a life turned upside down by circumstances beyond their control, I respectfully offer the following:

First. Be Still and Breathe. Too many times, when people face a crisis they become frantic and when that happens, the ability to think clearly and powerfully becomes dulled. They focus too much on the problem and the possible solutions become lost in muddled worries. Stop. Do nothing. Breathe deeply. Allow clarity to re-assert itself in your life.

Second. Be Grateful. Yes, I know. It’s hard to feel grateful when life has just kicked you hard in the gut and laid you on your back, but do it anyway. Your circumstances notwithstanding, you have much to be grateful for. Figure out what it is, big or small, and acknowledge it. There is something powerful that happens when we practice appreciation for the people, places and things in our life.

Third. Write Out A Plan. Assess and evaluate what you have and what you need. Do this as un-emotionally as possible. Gather your information, count the cost and put together the best written plan you can for going forward.

Fourth. Listen Wisely. Seek the counsel of individuals you respect and whose wisdom has shown their advice to be fruitful. You can find such individuals in real life, in books or tapes/CDs/MP3s/DVDs/etc.

Fifth. Laugh. Tha-a-at’s right. Laugh. It’s good for the soul. It’s good for the body. It’s good for the mind. It’s good for your family and friends to hear you laugh. Laughter truly is good medicine and can lighten a burden more than you may initially think.

Sixth. Move. The last thing you want to do is become immobile. Move your body. Move your mind. Move your plan. Inactivity breeds stagnation, worry and depression. Activity leads to strength, confidence and success.

Seventh. Rest. At the end of the day, as at the beginning, you want to be still and breathe. Allow what went right to restore you and be grateful for it. Allow what went wrong to pass from you. The day is done, so be done with the day.