31 July, 2008
I absolutely have no idea where I am headed with this post, nor where it will end. But after 21 entries to The Wright Slant in roughly 30 days, can we talk (sorry, cannot use a question mark-- more about that later -- no time to fool around) .
To date, reaction to my ramblings has been minimal although the number of hits on this site have increased in the past couple of weeks. My experience was similar when writing six editorials a week in the newspaper business. It was like taking a handful of puff balls and throwing them to the wind each day...The only time that I knew one of them had landed was when I heard from a reader who did not agree with something I had written. So I go into this project with humble expectations and a special appreciation for those few who have provided welcomed encouragement.
The upside to all of this is the fact that I am doing something I enjoy. I honestly feel that The Wright Slant has given back at least 10 years of my life. Regardless of frequent warts and wrinkles, I derive great satisfaction from each piece that I produce and I am now able to approach my daily routine with renewed mental and physical energy. My general outlook on life has improved immensely. I am seeing and thinking with refreshing clarity. There is definite truth to the saying: If you do not use it, you loose it!
One great regret coming from my newspaper career was the fact that I never broke publisher ranks. Well, I am technically a publisher now, even if it is in twilight years and only a web site. My astute granddaughter, Alyssa, hit the nail on the head when she said that this site is a perfect release for me.
It is absolutely true that I now have an outlet for my thoughts and experiences and there is great satisfaction in sharing them. As I have said before, this is a labor of love. While I have communication limitations, it is somewhat comforting to know that I am at least able to express myself more effectively, freely and creatively though the written word. I did not always have this feeling after delivering one of my lay sermons. When speaking I am halting and slow, even deliberate, almost as though I am editing in my mind what I am going to say before I say it. At times of spontaneity, I am quite proud of myself and wish I could be that way more often.
When writing these days, however, I have to be very careful and go over each sentence after I have written it. I have never officially been diagnosed as dyslectic but I am sure that I am and for this reason my work has to be checked and double-checked. Still, I can review something a dozen times and overlook an obvious transposition of letters or word repetition each time. I am also notorious for letting my mind get ahead of my typing fingers. This is where my wife, Rosanne, can be of great assistance in the role of proof reader. She has a sharp eye for errors and I find myself calling on her services more frequently as time passes. With experience, I just do not trust myself all that much any more. So when errors appear in my text you can depend that it is because I have slipped something past Rosanne and I apologize.
Today I am facing a new problem that has me really scratching my head in wonder. My computer is not accepting question marks, exclamation marks, quotation marks, apostrophes or brackets and I have to admit to a degree of frustration. I am getting weird typographical characters instead that make no sense at all.
There is always something to overcome in my world.
29 July, 2008
Rosanne and I appreciate music of all kinds. Symmetry seems to engulf us when we are listening to music. It brings out feelings and emotions in both of us and thankfully we have similar tastes. We are also totally hooked on all the music reality shows -- American Idol, Canadian Idol, Nashville Star and the most recent How to Solve a Problem Like Maria. In short, there is rarely a time when music of some kind is not playing in our home.
I introduced Rosanne to gospel music shortly after we were married and she is now as big a fan as I am. In fact it can be said that gospel has become one of our most favorite forms of music. Of course Rosanne still does flip-flops over Elvis Presley and many of Elvis' hits came from the gospel venue. Personally I lean toward Shania Twain, but I digress. We are particularly fond of what is popularly known as "Gaither music". We have tapes and CDs and regularly listen to The Gaither Hour and Gaither Homecoming on television every Friday evening. One of our all-time favorite Gaither personalities was the late Anthony Burger, a gifted award-winning pianist. His exuberance and superior talent at the keyboard was unequalled and he continues to be celebrated in gospel music circles the world over. If anyone could make a piano "talk", it was Anthony. He was all about the lyrics and he explained his ability by saying that he had been trained to "play the words", not the music. And it was true that as he played you could actually hear the words as if the piano keys were singing them.
As an infant, Anthony suffered extensive burns to both his hands, legs and face when he fell on a red hot furnace grate and was not strong enough to lift himself free. Doctors told his devastated parents that he would never have the use of his hands but as he healed and grew, God-given talent was not to be denied. By the time he was 16, he was the pianist for one of gospel music's foremost quartets, the Kingsmen, and very much in demand. "The Lord healed my hands because He had a job for me to do," Anthony said in a biography on his web site.
Sadly, at only 44 years of age, Anthony suffered a massive heart attack several years ago and died on stage following a performance as part of a Gaither cruise out of Miami. Some time later when we learned of his death, Rosanne and I were in agreement that Gaither music would never be the same again. "How could God let this happen? Why would He give the world Anthony's wonderful talent and then take it away so prematurely at the peak of his career. Perhaps Anthony had fulfilled and exceeded his Maker's "job" description for him and it was time to collect his Heavenly reward.
We have to be thankful that we could enjoy Anthony for as long as we did. Like millions of other admirers, we have his tapes and CDs and we can play them and enjoy them over and over again. In essence, Anthony comes back to life through his recorded music and he will continue to bless the lives of countless millions for years to come.
To a lesser degree, perhaps, every one of us has potential for enduring life. It may not be in the form of recorded music but, in the end, we leave a legacy nonetheless. Maybe we all should give more serious consideration to what we will be leaving behind someday, apart from a Last Will and Testament.
28 July, 2008
Several reports and names from the past recently came to my attention, bringing back memories of my early exposure to the work of "women of the church". Regardless of denomination, the faithfulness and commitment of women's organizations have, without question, been the life blood of all churches.
At a very early age I came to realize what "women of the church" really stood for, be they auxiliaries, societies, ladies aid, missionary groups -- whatever. I remember very clearly being relegated to my upstairs bedroom on the evenings when my mother hosted church group meetings. I would curl up on the floor with my ear cupped to the grate that allowed air from downstairs to circulate to the upper floor level. I would listen to what was transpiring in the parlour and living room below -- the prayers, the hymns, the committee reports, the updates on care packages and those coarse khaki wool socks and mitts lovingly knit by the ladies for the troops, "our boys", overseas. Of course there would always be at least one fund-raising program on the agenda to help bolster church coffers.
I was able to put a face to every voice that came up through the grate and I was fascinated by what was being said and who was saying it:
A school teacher,
the banker's wife,
a public health nurse,
my Aunt Hattie,
my best friend's mother,
a farm lady who delivered eggs to us every Thursday,
our choir leader with her unmistakable laugh,
the minister's wife with her quiet voice of reason,
occasionally, my mother;
the collective face and voice of mission and outreach in churches, small and large, around the globe to this day.
Looking back now, maybe I was hard pressed for entertainment. Maybe I was just curious. Remember that there were no televisions, computers or cell phones in kids' bedrooms in those days. Certainly, it was a different era and I am glad that I was exposed to it. At that impressionable age I came to understand how the efforts of a small group of women could reach around the world.
I would generally drift off to sleep just as tea cups began to tinkle amidst the hum of female conversation at the conclusion of the business portion of the meetings. All was right with my world. I could depend that there would be leftover peanut butter cookies and at least one date square put aside for me next day...Mrs. McFadden would see to it. I was warm, I was secure, God was in Heaven and "The Church Ladies" had everything under control.
Fond memories all, and an appreciation for the work that church women have continued over the decades with much dedication and little fanfare. I dare say that there are no inquisitive little boys eavesdropping on meetings these days, but it goes without saying that God has an ear to His Heavenly "grate" and He blesses all church women for what He hears.
27 July, 2008
There was interesting reaction to my "Sylvia story" (see Blog Archives: Easy to kiss, easy to forget) posted a dozen items ago. Well, in terms of meeting a girl at church, lightening can strike twice. Unlike the first strike however, there is not an immediately obvious moral to the second bolt, or is there? You be the judge.
It was like deja vu all over again. A month removed from baseball in Florida and Georgia and still recovering from a love lost, there I was again sensing an angelic-like presence beside me as I walked out of a Sunday morning service at Knox Presbyterian Church in St. Thomas. "Hi! My name is Mallory (not her real name). I've seen you play baseball. My father is a real fan too and he has talked a lot about you." Conversation after that out-of-the-blue introduction seemed to flow easily and naturally. I could hardly believe this was happening again, so soon after an almost identical encounter a mere four months earlier outside a church in Cocao, Florida.
An hour and two miles of walking later I was saying goodbye to Mallory at her front door across town. We arranged to meet again the next evening for a movie and the beginning of a "going steady" relationship that would be the first for both of us. We got along well, had mutual interests and enjoyed each others' company. Like me, Mallory was a "spoiled" only child and very close to her family. She too was just nicely getting started in her first full time job as a secretary.
The year that followed was a period of emotional adjustment for us, experiencing many things for the first time and developing as individuals. As fate would have it, developing for me included a certain amount of wild oats sewing. I bought my first car, as did Mallory. I was meeting new people and even developed a short-term infatuation for a certain other young lady.
This was also a period of swallowing a bitter pill as I gradually realized that I was not destined to become the professional baseball player that I had hoped and, furthermore, I was not all that prepared for the working world. So much to deal with...So personally overwhelming. Eventually, at my suggestion, Mallory reluctantly agreed that we should split up and just be "friends". In retrospect, I know she was hurt, but maybe in the long run I did her a favor. I'm not quite sure.
Some time later, the clothing company that I was working for transferred me to head office in Toronto. I was in touch with Mallory on and off over the course of the next year and was even invited to attend her family's reunion at one point. As Mallory appeared to be growing increasingly distant, for good reason no doubt, I failed to recognize the writing on the wall. In the back of my mind I always felt that we would eventually get back together after I had "things sorted out" and there was a semblance of stability in my life. In fact, I confidently sort of took it for granted that she would always be there. In reality, I underestimated Mallory, allowed distance to grow between us, and lost a friend in the process.
The possibility of an anticipated picking up where we left off loomed large, however, when it was learned that I was being moved back to the St. Thomas store as assistant manager after a 20-month grooming period in Toronto. The first telephone call that I made upon arrival in St. Thomas was to Mallory. "Hi. I'm back!" I announceded excitedly. "Any chance we could get together tonight?"
"No" was Mallory's almost spontaneous reply.
"How about tomorrow night then?"
"Well, maybe sometime next week?"
A one word brush off, to be sure. Maybe it looked good on me!
I'm a slow learner, but I can (eventually) take a hint. I fought the impulse to add one more "...next month or perhaps next year, if you're available?" Instead, I just said "goodbye" and hung up the phone, shocked and confused.
As it turned out I would be busy the next year anyway. I'd be busy marrying a girl from across the street by the name of Anne!
The rest, as they say, is history.
Ah, the resiliancy of youth...and destiny.
25 July, 2008
22 July, 2008
Thoughts for this item were formed a while ago and tucked away in the back of my mind during a protracted death bed vigil for a loved one. I really do not know why the thoughts are surfacing now, but I have a gut feeling that they might be relevant to someone, somewhere, at this time.
I read somewhere that we are all infected with a sexually transmitted disease which is 100 per cent fatal. It is called "life". You can twist it, or deny it, but there is no escape. I thought at first that this was a rather unusual analogy, but after I considered the words a little more carefully I fully understood.
The question remains however, is there an end when death occurs?...Or, is it the beginning of a new stage of our evolution? This is a subject about which countless writers have written, poets have sung, philosophers have speculated, and law makers have legislated. We come without knowing why, we go without knowing why, and in the words of Arthur Brisbane, "we travel our journey balanced on a thread stretched between the finger and thumb of destiny."
Dr. Carl Jung, the famous Viennese psychoanalyst, seemed to support Biblical references to a "life hereafter" when he wrote: "What happens after death is so unspeakably glorious that our imagination and our feelings do not suffice to form even an approximate conception of it." I tend to accept what he was saying. Just think of an amazing, limitless future where sorrow, imperfection, pain and mental and physical limitations will be no more. It's exciting, but difficult to comprehend, isn't it? This is where we call on faith and trust for comfort and hope.
The teachings of all faiths on what lies ahead of our present life span, and in the case of Christians, the solidity of a belief in a "bodily" resurrection (a spiritual body, not a physical one) makes all the difference between being able to keep going on with renewed energy, hopefulness and purpose, and being completely overcome by depression and despair.
We feel sad and we naturally mourn the death of a loved one, but in the end we can celebrate their passing into a better realm, or stage -- the same one that we ourselves will experience some day, providing we have lived a decent kind of life. This is all a sound basis for ultimate hope for ourselves, our loved ones and the rest of humanity. It is what, in essence, keeps us on a relatively straight and narrow path during our earthly journey.
Death then, is not to be feared. It is to be welcomed and prepared for. What lies beyond death should be considered a reward for doing our best in the time allotted us on this earth -- doing good more times than we did bad, receiving and extending forgiveness, loving unconditionally. Death, as I have witnessed it, is a quiet, peaceful release. We, the living, are left behind for the time being to complete our journey, advisedly maximizing every minute, every mile. Our dear departed loved ones would have it no other way.
21 July, 2008
Don't be a stubborn a mule, study your make-up
I have made a study of the work of Arthur Brisbane, a clever writer and commentator on life, who was in his prime at least 10 years before I was born. What impresses me most about Brisbane is his clever, thought-provoking style, often with a touch of subtle humor and an unusual turn of phrase. His take on man's link with animals is a classic case in point. "Our good and bad qualities are mapped out in our humble animal relations," was his particular thesis. "Of all animals upon earth man came last...All earth's animal creations are bound up in man."
The Bible and Darwin do agree that man and woman were created last of all animals. Very superficial observation suggests also that humans contain in their mental make-up many "inferior" animals. In Brisbane's words, "If you could be divided into your component animal parts there would be a menagerie in your house...That thing we call 'soul' would be floating around, impalpable, looking for home."
It was his observation that we see the animal make-up in our neighbors more readily than we recognize it in ourselves. For example:
He is as sly as a fox.
He eats like a pig.
He has dog-like faithfulness.
He is as brave as a lion.
He is as slippery as a snake.
He was as hungry as a wolf.
He runs like a deer.
He is as meek as a lamb.
He is as stubborn as a mule.
You get the point. Good and bad qualities are linked to our humble animal relations. With tongue firmly in cheek, Brisbane suggested that "no doubt each of the 12 passions that enter into *Fourier's complex analysis of man each has its prototype in some one animal." He contended further that to rebel at the animal combination which make up a human would be folly. "The Maker of us all, from ants to anti-imperialists, naturally gathered together the various parts in lower animal form before finishing the work in man. A harmoniously balanced mixture of all the animals is calculated undoubtedly to produce the perfect man."
True to form, Brisbane did not leave the subject without offering some sage advice. He urged us to analyze honestly and intelligently the so-called "lower" creatures from whom we derive our mental characteristics. Then do our best to control the menagerie that is at work in our mind. "Discourage Mr. Pig, if he is too prominent. Circumvent Mr. Fox, if he tries to rule you and make of you a mere cunning machine. Do not let **Old Dog Tray qualities of friendship lead to your being made a fool. In short, study carefully the animal qualities that make up your temperament and prove in your own person the falseness of Napoleon's irritating statement that a man's temperament can never be changed by himself."
What good are tombstones and cemetery fences?
Here's another Brisbane gem.
"A tombstone is a queer thing, something like a fence around a cemetery. If you amount to anything, you don't need a tombstone. If you don't amount to anything, a tombstone won't do you any good. The fence around a cemetery is foolish because those inside can't get out, and those outside don't want to get in."
Apollo 11 astronauts departed from the moon 40 years ago today after making history with man's first visit to the lunar surface. As the world watched in awe the previous day, astronaut Neil Armstrong took the very first step on the moon declaring, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." The journey back to earth ended a space odyssey in which the astronauts etched their names beside those of history's great explorers, Columbus, Balboa, Magellan, de Gama and Byrd. Through the magic of television, an estimated 500 million people around the world, including daughters Debbie and Cindy, wife Anne and myself, had a ringside seat to history's greatest adventure.
The Apollo 11 mission fulfilled President John F. Kennedy's goal of safely bringing a man to the moon and back by the end of the 1960s. As Armstrong and fellow flight member Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin stood by the American flag on the moon, President Richard Nixon commented on their success. "Because of what you have done, the heavens have become part of man's world. It inspsires us to double our efforts to bring peace and tranquility to earth," he said. Uh hu!!
Had poor Nixon not been embroiled in the infamous Watergate scandal, we may have been well on our way to world peace by now. Not!
I was interested to read in the newspaper this morning that Pope Benedict XVI told young pilgrims at an open-air mass in Sydney, Australia, "a spiritual desert" is spreading in the world and challenged them to shed the greed and cynicism of their time to create a new age of hope. He urged young Christians the world over to be agents of change because "the world needs renewal". It is encouraging for someone of my age to learn that the world's foremost spiritual leader has issued this mass appeal because, in my view, the world as we know it is rapidly going to Hell in a hand basket -- thanks in no small measure to my narcissistic, permissive, politically correct generation.
The Pope emphasized that in so many of our societies, side by side with material prosperity, a spiritual desert is spreading -- "an interior emptiness, an unnamed fear, a quiet sense of despair." He said that a new generation of Christians can build "a new age in which hope liberates us from the shallowness, apathy and self-absorption which deadens our souls and poisons our relationships."
I do not feel very proud of my pre-baby boom generation for contributing to the society that now finds itself facing these issues. We did not do a very good job in addressing the spiritual needs of our off springs. True, we led by example but, more often than not, our example was not conducive to passing on the best of our heritage. We were too busy making a living, happy with just getting by, content with providing the material necessities of life for our children and placing emphasis on having a good time wherever possible. No one will take it upon themselves, but we should admit that generally we have failed the current generation and apologize for our grave shortcoming.
Oh sure, peer generationists have paid lip service to "right living" and there is goodness and faith of some kind in every human being today, in the agnostic, even in the atheist. But don't look to those who have faith only in themselves to make any great contribution to society, now or in the future...Never have, never will!
What we need do now is to pray very hard that there are enough young people today, leaders of tomorrow, who are kind, giving and forgiving; who will espouse principled living; who will reach out to feed the hungry, to provide shelter for the homeless, to rescue the fallen. In short, positive role models are what we need now for future generations to emulate. Really, its called "the Christian way", a way that has been sadly eroded in my time.
The least I can say to my grand kids (Alyssa, Ryan, Becky, Joshua and Madison) is: "As you follow your life's destiny, please look for truth in all things and commit your heart, abilities and enthusiasm to making the world a better place, fostering hope and filling human needs where ever you see them. You can succeed where I have not. Give your old Poppa reason to be proud once again."
A thought for today...
Enthusiasm is the power and the health of the mind. Enthusiasm is the force that drives us. It is youth, ambition and will. Humans live and are worthwhile as long as enthusiasm lives. When enthusiasm dies, the person dies too, although they might not know it.
19 July, 2008
17 July, 2008
I have been holding a little story close to my heart for some time now and I think that the time is right to give it wings on this site.
On the eve of the funeral of my first wife Anne, grandson Joshua (then five years of age, see photo to the right) asked his mother Cindy if there was any way he could "talk" to his grandmother in Heaven. Thinking quickly, his mother confirmed that communicating with his grandmother would be possible. All he had to do was talk to her just as he had when she was alive. "In this way you can send messages back and forth to Gramma in Heaven," she explained.
There was a brief pause and then: "Oh, wait," exclaimed Joshie, "I'm getting a message now."
"From Gramma?" Cindy asked.
"Yes!" Joshie replied.
"What is she saying," was the natural next question from Cindy.
With eyes glancing upward, the five-year-old responded without hesitation: "She says, 'I love you too' !"
Taken by surprise, Cindy discreetly chose not to push further. She would later divulge that at the time she was attempting to comfort her son during a very confusing and sad period in their lives but, instead, it was Joshie's words that gave her comfort. Out of the mouths of babes...!
There is nothing I can add to this story. It is what it is. I resist rationalization and speculation. But just think for a moment: "...I love you too!"
Gramma's "message" was the thing.
16 July, 2008
Trust: to have faith; place reliance; have confidence. -- Webster's dictionary
For some reason I have been thinking a lot about "trust" these past few days. Really, where would we be without it? Sadly, there are those who would take advantage of trust, or break trust, but we cannot let unscrupulous and insensitive forces destroy something that is so important to our very existence.
Trust must prevail in a society in order for it to overcome massive obstacles and unexpected challenges that threaten to rob us of hope and joy in our lives. We are born into a world where trust permeates at every level. Trust, and a belief that we are safe, forms the basis for all relationship; the basis of love. We do not come into this world immune to the changes of human life, but we are given the grace and ability to trust that enables us to find comfort and courage necessary to endure.
There is some serious insight to be gleaned from the rather controversial and violent story of David and Goliath that can help us when we encounter problems of gigantic proportions. My rather simplistic view is that first we need to identify the "Goliaths" in our lives. Frequently, we have difficulty identifying the real issue and when we become frustrated for any reason, there is fallout all around us. Our personalities change. We alienate and victimize others. If we are sick, it is very easy for us to become depressed and we withdraw.
Certain health issues sap our ability to fight back and there is a tendency to simply surrender. Prognosis can overwhelm us and we choose to be deflated and defeated. Like the nine-foot giant, our big problems stand out and are not all that difficult to single out and recognize. By asking ourselves how we can uncover our limiting beliefs, identify our Goliaths, clean them out and replace them with empowering ideas from a perspective of trust, we more often than not get the satisfying results we are looking for.
Again, it all comes down to trust, no matter what others may consider to be the best way out of the difficulty. When the adolescent shepherd boy David went out to fight Goliath, it was not the standard resources that he trusted in -- it was not armor or the strength of the entire Israelite army -- but it was his God. If David had bought into the standard thinking, he would have most assuredly been killed. He thought outside the box, however. He trusted that God would be his strength and he slew the towering and intimidating Goliath with a well-placed stone from his slingshot.
When we allow ourselves to enter the world of trust we can open up to possibilities that we never knew existed. Trust helps shift attention to eliciting solutions and allows us to get into the "victorious" mindset, what ever that means to us individually. In surrendering our resources and trust to a Divine power, we make the wonderful discovery that our particular Goliath is really quite small after all.
Distrust needlessly cost him his life
Not many people enjoy going to a doctor, but according to the Reuters News Agency some time ago, one London accountant took it to the extreme. The 63 year old man knew he needed bladder surgery but he could not overcome his fear of doctors and hospitals. He lacked the necessary trust, so he self-reliantly did what he thought he had to do. He tried to perform the surgery on himself.
Tragically he developed an infection from his attempt at self-surgery and later died. The coroner was quoted as saying: "Unfortunately, his drastic remedy went terribly wrong. A simple procedure by any qualified surgeon would have corrected the problem." Distrust cost the man his life...Sadly and foolishly, at his own hand.
15 July, 2008
Some time ago an admired writer acquaintance told of a friend of hers who took her young family to the circus -- in those days "the biggest show on earth". She was a perceptive mother and made sure the seats for the family were on the aisle and near an exit. If the youngest member of her brood, a four-year-old boy, became frightened, their departure could be quick and inconspicuous.
Watching the youngster surreptitiously as the circus began with great fanfare, she saw no evidence of alarm. Suddenly though, wide-eyed, he sat forward; chubby hands like star-fish clasped between his knees. At the moment when all three rings of the circus were fully active, ringmasters' whips cracking, animals roaring, the band playing so loud that even Gabriel's trumpet could not have been heard, the little boy unclasped his hands and frantically turned to his mother. With his mouth pressed to her ear he asked urgently: "Mommy, sing Three Blind Mice."
Caught up in the kaleidoscope of color, movement, sound, all strange and wonderful, the little fellow had suddenly needed something familiar. He wanted to "touch base", as the saying goes. When his mother obliged him by putting her face to his ear and singing a few phrases, she saw him sigh and felt him relax as he contentedly turned his face back to centre stage, sliding again to the edge of his seat and clasping his hands between his knees.
This little circus boy story and the Three Blind Mice have stayed with me because it seems to be a perfect evaluation of relativity and our need to establish it.
I recently experienced one of those days when you feel that you are totally out of step with the rest of the world. From the time my feet hit the floor in the morning I felt the lack of synchronization. Bad news lashed out at me as I picked up the newspaper. As I set out in my car, honey-do list for the day in hand, traffic whizzed past me and at me. Once in parking lots I was met with nothing but blank stares as people engaged in 100-yard dashes to where, I don't know. The bulk of the day was spent misplacing things and struggling with unfamiliar computer applications and the mind-boggling mystery of The Information Highway. At the end of the day my mind was still spinning and my body was numb.
It was only on my way to bed that night that I realized I had been carrying in my mind, and sometimes humming, Three Blind Mice. When the world is too much for us, too fast and overwhelming, it is good to have a familiar stabilizer tucked in the back of our minds. It helps keep one's feet on the ground and balance in the centre.
14 July, 2008
Baseball is the real sport
A nice white ball, green grass
The click of the bat hitting the ball
Good curves over the plate
Waist high and just above the knee
Inside corner or outside corner
Warm sunshine beating down
Wife home waiting supper. -- Ken Wright (1899-1952)
Can you believe it? We're already at the halfway point in the Major League baseball season and they're playing the annual All-Star game tonight. It seems like only last week that we could finally see light at the end of the long, cold tunnel we call winter and neighborhood kids began replacing hockey sticks with baseball gloves.
I'm a summer kind of guy and baseball is my favorite game -- always has been and always will be. Even my wife Rosanne has caught the horsehide bug and passionately watches every telecast of Blue Jays games, even going so far as to tape the games if she is otherwise occupied. When a game is on we have to make sure that all doors and windows are closed because of her shrill screems with every close play and home run.
My passion for baseball was fuelled when my dad (his word picture above) spent a week's grocery money on my first glove (much to my mother's chagrin) when I was knee-high to a grasshopper. From that point I literally lived on the ball diamond for the next dozen summers, dreaming of some day playing in the Majors alongside boyhood idols Joltin' Joe DiMaggio, Rapid Robert Feller and The Splendid Splinter, Ted Williams. The Detroit Tigers were "my team" and I can still hear the throaty voice of radio announcer Harry Hylman calling games behind his WJR Detroit microphone.
As the years progressed, I continued playing organized baseball until my body (and my wife) began giving me subtle messages and it was time to turn to coaching and umpiring. I was even a baseball writer at one time. There's just something unique about the game that let's you live your dreams. While I'm many years removed from active participation, I still get baseball fever and love to follow the game. There is no way that I can pass a sandlot if there is a game in progress and, regardless of the calibre, I'll stop to watch an inning or two.
The great thing about baseball is that you don't have to be a super athlete to play the game and it doesn't have to cost a fortune -- all you need is some open space anywhere. You can play catch with any kind of ball and if you're lucky enough to have a bat (even a stick will do) you can play a game of pepper in almost any yard or side street.
A game of scrub, anyone?
There are cynics among us who maintain that "love is blind". I am convinced, however, that love is the only thing that truly sees. Where would we be today if it weren't for the fact that someone who loved us saw in us something that no one else saw? When you first detected the light of day, who but your mother ever dreamed that you were "the finest baby ever born"? And why do you suppose she subsequently gnarled her hands and wrinkled her brow for you...Because love "saw".
When the best guy or girl in the world accepted you -- as friends scratched their heads in wonder -- what was the attracting influence? Simply, because love saw something that others had not. And when the going got tough, when even you had a feeling of contempt for yourself, who ultimately reached out to you? Chances are it was someone close who reacted in your time of greatest need, because love saw.
There is something fine and wonderful in every one of us, no matter our shortcomings or how we may have failed in life. But only those who love can see it.
There are times I'm sure when everyone of us falls into the trap of picking up first on the things that we see in a person that we do not like, instead of taking time to look a little deeper for the things we do like. We should try very hard to concentrate on reversing this unhealthy tendency. It would make life a lot easier and more pleasant for all of us if we could only understand and apply the "love" principle in all our human interactions.
It is next to impossible to define love and to do so would be to delimit it because it is so infinite. I think loving is much like the "smile mirror" I talked about a couple of items ago. When you love another, that person becomes your mirror and you become there's. Reflecting in each other's love you see infinity.
Great are those who love -- and therefore see -- and understand.
13 July, 2008
A lot of what I write is for the benefit of my grandchildren, four being teenagers. Of course, as unbelievable as it may seem, we all were teens at one time, struggling to find identity and a niche in life, living each new experience with unbridled intensity and emotion.
The setting for this story is Cocoa, Florida, where I attended a baseball rookie training camp in the early months of 1956. Talk about "wet behind the ears", I was all of that and more. It was difficult enough trying to make the grade in professional baseball at 18 years of age but I also had to hopelessly fall in love for the first time, just to complicate matters.
"The face of an angel," I gasped as my eyes fell on a breathtaking countenance engulfed by a sea of church choir members. The worship service on that Sunday morning at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Cocoa was a blur. That face in the choir was my sole focus. I was feeling something strange in the pit of my stomach.
As I left the sanctuary following the service I was startled by a tap on the shoulder. My heart jumped into my throat as I turned to see that face on a tall and statuesque body, standing in front of me. "Hi, my name is Sylvia. I saw you in the congregation and I just wanted to welcome you. Are you a ball player?" We chatted at length, exchanging information about ourselves on the church steps that unforgettable Sunday morning in the warm Florida sun. For a kid from small town Dresden, Ontario, this was the stuff of which dreams are made.
I learned that Sylvia was also 18 years of age and soon to graduate from high school. She played clarinet in the school band. Her mother was director of the church choir and her father was Chief of the nearby Cape Canaveral Police Force (later to become Cape Kennedy). I don't remember what I told Sylvia about myself, but I must have divulged the name of the lady who owned the home where I had been billeted. "I'd better get going. My mother has been waiting," exclaimed "that face" as we parted company. The four block walk that followed was as if I was floating on a cloud. My feet must have hit the sidewalk at some point, but it didn't feel like it.
Several hours later I was in the process of composing a letter to my mother when I heard the downstairs telephone ring. "Just one moment. I'll get him for you...Dick, it's a call for you!" came my landlady's voice from the foot of the stairs. "It's a girl," she said with a wide grin and a wink as she passed the receiver over to me.
To my disbelief it was Sylvia on the other end of the line, asking me if I had been to the ocean yet. I hadn't and she invited me to take a trip to the beach after baseball the next day -- "if I liked to". Needless to say, I liked to and we did. She picked me up in her parents' black 1955 Mercury and if this was a dream I didn't want to wake up. We had a glorious few hours ocean side, capped by an invitation to be her escort for the Cocoa District High School's annual Valentine's Ball. Adding to the honor of it all was the fact that Sylvia just happened to be a prime candidate for Queen of the Ball. I was also flabbergasted to learn that her up-to-then boy friend, a school basketball and football star named Bob, was also a shoe in for King of the Ball. Needless to say, news that the potential Queen of the Ball would be escorted by an out of town baseball player and not the King-in-waiting, caused quite a stir in the school community.
Sylvia arranged for us to accompany two other couples, one of which would provide a car. Good thing too because I not only did not have access to a vehicle, I did not yet even have a driver's licence. Sylvia met me at her front door on the evening of the grand occasion and introduced me to her parents as I presented her with a break-the-bank orchid corsage. Another more uncomfortable introduction awaited me an hour later in the school auditorium.
"Bob, I want you to meet Dick Wright," Sylvia enthused to the hulking six foot plus, 200 pound figure looming large in front of me. As we shook hands, I got the distinct impression that Bob was not all that impressed. I was certainly not one of his favorite people at that particular juncture in time and undoubtedly there was potential for someone else to be "crowned" that evening. I would have liked to know Bob better but something seemed to tell me that it would be advisable for me to stay clear of him for the duration of my stay in Cocoa.
The evening was an unqualified success. As expected, Sylvia and Bob were crowned Queen and King and I was overcome with apprehension as the Ball drew to a close. That apprehension was altered somewhat when Sylvia gently rested her head on my shoulder on our way home and softly whispered: "I don't want us to kiss tonight. My mother kept saying over and over today 'easy to kiss, easy to forget' and I don't want you to ever forget me." On one hand I understood but on the other I was let down just a bit. I don't remember anything about the brief balance of the evening. The words "easy to kiss, easy to forget" resonated in my ears -- still do to this day. When I got back to my rooming house that night I noticed a slight smudge of lipstick on the lapel of my suit coat, left there by Sylvia when he snuggled close to utter those six mood altering words. I wore the suit for several years after that but could never quite bring myself to have the coat dry cleaned.
Shortly thereafter I signed a contract and shipped out to join my new team in Georgia. My heart was broken and I cried a lot for a few days. I was happy to have the opportunity to continue playing baseball in the states but I was reluctant to leave Sylvia and all that she had come to mean to me. I never told her, but I was truly in love for the first time. I never knew that love could hurt so much. "I'll come back some day," I tried to assure myself. As it turned out I never again saw Sylvia. We exchanged letters for several months but eventually we stopped corresponding. I don't know why. Long distance relationships are sometimes like that, especially when you are young with so much more to experience.
Sylvia's mother was probably right about that damn "easy to kiss, easy to forget" expression. I'm sure she would be pleased to know that I never did get to kiss her daughter. Likewise, I never forgot the face that so captured my fancy all those years ago. I wonder if her daughter remembers the kid from Canada that she never got to kiss!?
12 July, 2008
Now, let's see. Where did I leave off before encountering major technical problems with this site a week ago? (All of which have been resolved, hopefully, with the purchase of my own domain for publishing The Wright Slant). Oh yes, a couple of other things I wanted to touch on before closing off on the subject of "letting go of the past", as referenced several items ago.
I am the first to concede that it is very easy to get wrapped up in memories. Good or bad, we tend to cling to thoughts of the past despite the danger of being left behind in the march toward tomorrow. As a nostalgia buff and sentimentalist I have developed a rule of thumb whereby I consciously try to balance periodic reflective moods by allotting equal time to forward thinking.
Perhaps the earliest recorded lesson on the folly of looking back is the very brief and sad biblical story of Lot's wife, found in the first Book of Moses called Genesis (19). "Flee!" the angel had cried. "For this place called Sodom has become abominable in the eyes of God. Shortly He will destroy it. But because you have been righteous, you will be spared if you escape while there is yet time. Go...Go quickly...And do not look back!" So they fled leaving behind them the roaring thunder, the heaving earth and the lightning that rained fire. With each blast Sodom crumbled -- a city wiped out as though by an angry hand.
Those who fled the devastation had no eyes for the terrible sight. Safety and escape were their sole concerns. Lot's wife was the exception. She alone, went slowly, reluctantly. Safety ahead? A new start in a better place? These facts her mind admitted, but her heart yearned desperately for the home she left behind, the old happiness. She heard the angel's warning: "Do not look back!" But what did even an angel know of a woman's heart? And how could she go on when all that made living worthwhile lay behind her in that crashing hell? If only she could see it once more. Just once.
Frantically Lot's wife turned. Husband and children were forgotten. Likewise that promised home ahead, the chance of new peace and happiness and pride. Through scalding tears her heart went yearning back. Then all went black and that which was a living woman had become a pillar of salt. The message in that grave illustration is quite clear: The future, a new chance, is open to everyone; but to seize the opportunity one must forget the past and commit fully to that new beginning, or direction.
Tragedy, death and upheaval affect all of our lives. At various stages we find ourselves looking back on the "good old days" as wistfully as Lot's wife looked on her ruined Sodom. But we cannot bring back the past, so we might as well embrace the future. We can take control of our lives by putting dead delights and regrets behind us. We can wipe our tear-blinded eyes, move grief-numbed feet, lift a paralyzed heart -- forget personal failures. Zest for life can be restored if only we have faith to give ourselves a chance...And, philosophically speaking, never look back!
05 July, 2008
We used to have a mirror in our bathroom that constantly reminded us to "Smile...It increases your face value!" Every time I looked at/in the mirror I had to smile, not just because I enjoy corny puns, but because it simply made me smile. Come on now, you can't even think of the word "smile" without smiling, can you? What are you doing at this very moment, even just a little?
You see, a smile not only increases our own "face value", but it generally increases the face value of the person to whom it is directed. It is truly infectious. Next to a smile, a friendly word or greeting can have a positive impact on another person. I think the two go hand-in-hand. Greet someone with a smile and watch their face light up.
The real significance of the words sprawled across the mirror came into focus one day when I was engaging in a little mind game that I often play called "The trouble with the world is..." The silly thought crossed my mind that the world would be a much better place if, somehow, we could provide every home with one of these mirrors. Then I thought "smile pins" or buttons for everyone would be a more practical approach; but even that idea was unrealistic.
Finally, it dawned on me. We don't need staggering sums of money and clever public awareness programs to help make the world smile when every single one of us is capable of tapping into our own love-based thought system. It costs nothing to wear a smile. All we have to do is project ourselves by stepping out of our insular comfort zones more often and to realize that what we see in others is a reflection of our own state of mind. In order for us to change our experience we must first change our thoughts.
Life experience teaches us that only love is real and that to give is to receive. We share love through a smile. We are responsible for the world we see and we choose the feelings that we experience. We alone can decide on the goal we want to achieve. What more, then, do we need to help make the world smile?
Is Christian faith losing ground in today's complex, diverse and politically correct society? Sadly, the answer is "yes". Every time The Lord's Prayer is eliminated from from a government assembly or taken out of an education system, we lose. Every time a school is forced to remove Christmas carols making reference to "Christ" or "Jesus" from its Christmas celebration program, we lose. With each disturbing allegation of fraud or abuse within the Christian community, we lose by association regardless of the circumstances.
Certainly on the good news, bad news scale we are losing ground big-time; and, on the surface, we appear powerless to do anything about this devastating trend. We are reduced to writing the occasional letter of protest to elected officials and offering token rebuttals to newspaper editors and open line radio talk show hosts, but this confrontational approach gains nothing. With frustration we concede that we may never be able to recoup many of our losses.
As forces relentlessly chip away at the religious foundations and traditions of our forefathers, there is a tendency for us to become increasingly insular as Christians and that is perhaps our biggest mistake. We simply have to be more public relations conscious and in so doing let our actions speak louder than our words. We must reach out more aggressively and let our good works speak for themselves -- let our Christianity shine through. We can reverse the anti-Christian flow by doing what Christians do best, steadfastly applying The Golden Rule and faithfully filling the spiritual void in society. The only way to suppress detractors is to overwhelm them with goodness.
Turf lost is just that. Pray that we can hold on to what is left.
03 July, 2008
Secretly we all harbor thoughts of failure, some stretching as far back as childhood. Ideally, we learn from the times when we have fallen short. There are cases, however, when we sustain wounds that tend to open when we are most vulnerable. A recent informal survey of friends and family revealed a general distaste for the word "failure", some going so far as to suggest that it be dropped completely from our vocabularies. Certainly failure represents our worst fears and is about as negative as you can get in terms of perception.
We do not have to like the word failure and all that it entails but care should be taken in closing the mind to it. One respondent put it this way: "I used to spend a lot of time avoiding failure. The good news was that I was able to achieve success at the end of the day. The bad news was that it was having a definite negative impact on my life. All effort to avoid failure caused me to be overly cautious and hesitant, even to the point of avoiding taking risks. Eventually I came to see failure as a form of education and the only real failure is if I stop trying."
A common first reaction to failure is to blame anyone and anything but ourselves. But if we perceive others are to blame then there is nothing we can do to correct the problem. We cannot change people's personalities, neither can they change ours. In assuming responsibility for the situation, however, we can analyze what went wrong and take corrective action. This approach is nothing more than the art of rebounding from failure. A single mother of two teenage daughters had this to say on the subject:
"The most important thing I have learned about failure is to take responsibility for it. I didn't for a long time -- blaming others was easier. In discussing this whole issue with my daughters the other day they said that they know I feel regret over failures in my life, but they don't see it that way. In fact they revealed admiration for how I have handled things. I'm so impressed with their ability to understand and this is the single factor that now helps me get up in the morning."
Her experience was not unlike that of several others who agree that failure can simply be a matter of how one looks at a particular situation. A person who is only interested in the final outcome of an undertaking might well consider it to be a failure if the core issue was not resolved or a specific need not met.
"I can be very hard on myself, expecting perfection in most everything I do," said another young mother who has successfully combined professional life with responsibilities of homemaking for a family of five. "I look forward to a great end result, often rushing through a task just trying to get there. The fact that perfection, or desired outcome, is not always what I get does not necessarily discourage me because I see it as a learning experience. If you think about what it takes to achieve a successful end result -- opportunity, knowledge, skill, a little luck -- it is really amazing that any of us ever accomplish anything. I believe that if you gain something in any of these areas while working toward a goal, even if it's knowing your limits, the experience was not a failure."
She does not view "roads not traveled or doors not open" as failures because she does not believe she would be any happier in life had things gone differently. "It's both our successes and failures that make us who we are, but it's also in those not so great experiences that we learn the most about ourselves and grow stronger because of them," she adds philosophically.
From a very early age we are conditioned to scorn failure, the grading procedure in many of our school systems being the main culprit.-- E for excellent, S for satisfactory, F for failure. The stigma of failure never completely leaves the mind of an impressionable young person and often leads to a deeply rooted complex in adulthood.
A 19-year-old university student refers to the "literal failure" of a test or class. "I think that there are two types of failure situations -- one involving a learning experience and the other a failure in the true sense of the word," she explained. "Sadly, I am experiencing a lot of the latter where I have not studied for a test and did not learn a lesson from the experience, repeating the same mistake over and over again. That is true failure, in my mind. Admittedly, my understanding of this concept is only a superficial one but at least I know what it is that I have to try to swing against in the near future."
Unrealized career remains an issue for her
A successful corporate banker, now retired, is one who truly dislikes the F-word, preferring instead "disappointment" because it seems a little less harsh. She alludes to the flip side being "for those who possess an abundance of self-confidence where the inner voice refuses to accept that they could, or might, fail." Here's her story.
"My dream was always to be a nurse. It didn't happen for various reasons. My substitute career was banking which took me further than I ever expected but down deep it was never what I wanted. Consequently I turned down some opportunities to aspire to higher positions. Why? Was I angry with myself? Inwardly annoyed that I wasn't doing what I wanted? Afraid that I didn't really have the know-how to play in the corporate world? Afraid of failure? Ah, finally, confession that the word does exist in my world."
In retirement she is finally in a hospital environment as a one-day-a-week volunteer which is a far lesser role than she originally planned for herself. But with that limited exposure she now sees the potential that existed for her in the health care field. "I could have broadened my dream and been a doctor, a specialist or researcher," she says in retrospection.
"My inner regret/slash failure is that I didn't just suck it up and push myself through. How true it is that with age comes not only wisdom but sometimes the confidence we lacked when younger. So, it is best for me to not reflect on the 'what ifs' but rather accept 'what was (is)' and thank God that I have succeeded just a little..."
Then we have a respondent who refuses altogether to consider the possibility of failure. "Remaining positive is very important in my line of work. I try very hard to eliminate anything negative from my day-to-day functions and that includes any thoughts of failure. Success is the 'buy' word," the career salesman adds with a laugh that fails to mask completely his commitment to the oft recited play on words. Rejection, or failure to close a sale, rolls off a bonifide salesperson like water off a duck's back.
Not too surprisingly, 50 per cent of those contacted for this article chose not to comment. It is not easy to open up about failure. For some it is simply not a comfortable subject. Personally, I confess to being failure conscious and living in the past a little more than may be in my best interest. I have a habit of going to bed at night replaying the "what if" reel of disappointment and failure in my life. Just recently I have taken to repeating to myself a line from the movie Sybil: "The past is the present if you hold on to it." This seeems to help me return to the reality of where I am now in life and being thankful for how I got here.There is a lot to be said for the idea of letting go. Pining over the past is really an exercise in futility, especially when it has so little to offer. If you examine your situation carefully and objectively, you will realize that certain things have to happen, generally for the better. Regardless of how we look at failure, it is a fact of life and the sooner we rationalize it the better it is for us. It is even better when, in turn, we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and get on with reclaiming our life and all that it has to offer.
02 July, 2008
FAILURE is an abstract noun that in general refers to the state, or condition, of not meeting a desirable or intended objective. It is the opposite of success.
It has taken a long time but I have come to realize that the criteria for failure are heavily dependent on context of use and may be relative to a particular observer or belief mind set. A situation considered to be a failure by one individual might well be deemed a success by another.
Failure reared its ugly head for me early and often in my formative years but an ironic twist to one of the more hurtful situations has been amusingly healing for me, 50 years after the fact.
Not long ago I had occasion to be in contact with a Jay-Dell Mah who has created a most remarkable web site reflecting on semi-professional baseball on the Canadian Prairies in the heydays of the 1940s and 50s. As a result of our initial exchange, Jay asked me about my baseball background and how it evolved over the years. In response, among other things, I recalled my brief stint as a professional baseball player in 1956. As a pitching prospect, I attended a baseball tryout in Cocao, Florida and eventually signed a minor league contract with the Washington Senators on my 18th birthday. I was assigned to the independent Donalsonville, Georgia, Seminoles of the Florida-Alabama League. The pitcher of record in an exhibition game victory over the Florida State University team, I was slated to "start" the Seminoles' third game of the regular season league schedule.
"Ontario (me) is starting tonight," manager Neb Wilson seemed to warn my teammates in a pre-game huddle..."So be on your toes!" The opposing shortstop connected with my first pitch and sent it 400 feet over the fence in centre field. "Relax kid. You're as pale as a ghost", was the best that Neb could offer as he met me on the mound. I managed to survive another three innings before being relieved with our team trailing by a 3-1 margin. Happily we rallied in the 7th inning and ended up winning the game.
A hit, but a bigger blow was to follow
Still feeling very full of myself, I could not wait to get to the ball park the next night. Several steps inside the club house door I was stopped dead in my tracks. Someone was sitting at my locker, putting on my uniform. "Better talk to the manager" offered the crew cut stranger, but I didn't have to. The sickening, insensitive message was clear. I was being replaced. Lost and deflated, I left the ball park. Couldn't face staying to watch the game.
"Survival of the fittest," I was told next day as I picked up my pay cheque and outright release papers. It was explained that I and several others were being "cut" from the team to make room on the roster for players from the higher class Provincial League that had suspended operations the previous week.
A dream dashed. I was "washed up" at 18 years of age and there was nothing to do but to return home to Canada -- in my mind, a failure. Although I went on to enjoy quite a few years as a semi-pro and amateur player, that experience and the hurt of it all left me with an unhealthy complex for the next five-plus decades. That is until I received an email from my new electronic friend Jay several weeks ago headed "A note of a 1,000 hitter as a professional".
Jay had taken it upon himself to resource the Minor Baseball Leagues Data Base where he miraculously turned up my statistical record for the all-too-brief season of 1956. I had no idea such records existed. I was dumbfounded. But there it was in black and white, for posterity:
"Richard Wright, FABL, Donalsonville Seminoles, pitching 0-0; hitting 1-1, pct. 1,000."
In his note to me Jay made no mention of my sad record as a pitcher, choosing instead to highlight my perfect record as a hitter in the pros. He did not see me as the failure I had perceived for all those years. He even went so far as do a piece on me in his web site referring to my "oh so short" pro ball experience and the fact that I got a hit in my "only time at bat". I guess Jay thought he was doing me a favor but, personally, my first impulse was to think that he had published just a little too much information.
It's a bit of a stretch but, come to think of it, I can legitimately boast of being a "1,000 hitter as a pro". I never thought of it that way before. Very few other former ball players, if any, can make such a claim and if that is not a positive spin, I do not know what is. It kind of feels good too, in a strange sort of way.
The message: There is a positive in every negative. You just have to look for it! But, like yours truly, don't wait for 50 years to have someone else find it for you.