Sunday, May 27, 2012


In the midst of this late Spring weekend, commonly regarded as the gateway to Summer, while grilling burgers and hot dogs, watching the Indy 500, and cherishing the three day weekend many of us have, keep in mind the real reason this weekend is important - Memorial Day.
Since the Civil War, people have reserved a weekend in May for the remembrance of those men and women who gave their lives in war.  The holiday grew from local and regional celebrations with varying names into a federal holiday.  By 1967, after the passage of the Uniform Holidays Bill, the day and name of the holiday solidified into what we celebrate today.
Memorial Day, for much of America, is no more than a convenient three day weekend.  Monday has become a great day for outdoor BBQs and picnics instead of a day of reflection.  We flock to movie theaters in droves instead of to cemeteries, choosing to honor living entertainment instead of dead heroes.
Many would argue that our Memorial Day behavior is further evidence of the moral bankruptcy so many pundits claim America suffers.  Sure, we lower our flags to half-staff (if we have one), we might watch a war movie on TV, but the extent of our honoring the fallen ends there.  Maybe we are bankrupt?
No.  I don’t think we are.  I think America is suffering through a different problem.  A humongous portion of the population has grown up experiencing the same problem, one which is hard to avoid in today’s geopolitical environment.
Recently, CNN published a modified version of Fareed Zakaria’s commencement speech to Harvard, which brought this issue to my attention.  Zakaria offered some interesting statistics, which profoundly illuminates today’s peace problem.
First, we currently live in a world which experiences half as much death from war, civil war, and terrorism than in the 1990s.  Sure, news broadcasts seem to inundate the airwaves with reports of prolific death, but compared to the 1990s, the number of people dying as the result of war has dropped drastically.  From a specifically American angle, though, in the last decade we have lost slightly more than 6,000 soldiers during war actions, which is significantly more than lost during the 1990s.  But on a whole, the world has had 50% less death caused by war.
Second, if we look back further, through the past half century.  The number of related deaths drops further - 75%.  The world has definitely come a long way from the Cold War related military actions of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.  Additionally, the population of the US born since the end of the Vietnam War accounts for almost 65% of our population.  The vast majority of us - including myself - have never experienced a conflict anywhere close to the realm of the war years.  Personally, I can not think of any person I have ever known who was a war casualty.  I wonder how many of us can anymore.
Third, if taken back to the 1930s and 1940s, the number of people killed in war drops by an astounding 99%.  The population of the US who experienced the total war of WWII is less than 10%.
Since Memorial Day is a holiday designed to honor those who gave their lives for their country, it makes sense that its roots are planted deep in the history of the Civil War.  Approximately 625,000 American soldiers lost their lives as we fought each other.  That number is more than all other other military deaths combined since.  During the 1960s, when the Uniform Holidays Bill was passed, the American population remembered well the feeling of war.
While we are currently wrapping up the last decade of limited war, the general American public has lived most of their lives insulated from the realities of war.  We don’t know how to honor the fallen because many of us have never had to.  Our lack of Memorial Day fervor stems from this reality.
Despite the circumstances, those of us with no one specific to memorialize should still pay our respects somehow.  Whether we pay our respects through the display of a flag, by visiting a cemetery, participating in a Memorial Day ceremony, or simply exercising our right to a free life, we should keep in mind the origin of the peace we enjoy and how it was paid for by the blood of so many heroes over the years.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Pounding the Rock

For those of you who don’t know, I am a San Antonio Spurs fan.  I grew up in San Antonio cheering on the hometown heroes first in HemisFair Arena, then in the Alamodome, and now in the AT&T Center.  I worship the names David Robinson, Sean Elliot, Bruce Bowen, Avery Johnson, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli, and Tim Duncan and somewhere I even have a George Gervin autograph.  I have an affinity in my heart for every player to ever wear the Spur logo.  I have bled silver and black since I was little and even now, though I live in the midst of Rocket fan, I  proudly sport my Spurs gear.  More than just a sports team, the Spurs have long taught me about life, leading through their uncommon example in today’s sports world.

One of the most honorable and respected athletes I have ever seen was David Robinson.  Besides sporting the most amazing physical stature ever (Michelangelo would have loved for Mr. Robinson to pose for his statue of David), Mr. Robinson lead the Spurs with a pure heart and dedicated spirit.  He truly was the Admiral, not only for the pre-Duncan Spurs, but for the city, piloting the team to heights unimaginable while instilling San Antonio with a sense of pride and worth.  For as long as I live, David Robinson will always stand as a pinnacle of a value driven life.
Tim Duncan, truly the greatest Spur to ever play the game, has for years educated me on how to handle adversity.  Always known as a mild mannered player, Timmy has quietly handled the pressure of his role as team Atlas, hoisting the Spurs onto his shoulders from the first day he arrived in the city.  Known as the Big Fundamental, Duncan’s dedication to his individual foundation as an athlete has long primed him - and the Spurs - for success.  It is not a coincidence that, since the Spurs’ drafted him first in 1997, the franchise regular season winning percentage has been 70%.
Beyond being an amazing athlete, Duncan has long been the face of calm on the court.  His quiet ways haven’t earned him a national following like some other showy sports superstars, but it has definitely earned a place of respect among his peers, sports pundits, and San Antonio fans.  Every time he steps on the court, Tim teaches a clinic on the value of peace in the face of adversity.
I have long understood the value of Greg Popovich, but until yesterday’s Game Three playoff win against the Clippers, I never truly understood where exactly I should place him in my Spur’s pantheon.  Pop’s argues he is just the luckiest coach in the history of sports, but as most Pop devotees would argue, that is simply not the case.  Game Three was a tribute to the reason Pop has been just as key to the Spurs’ success as his players.  Back in the 1990s, Pop placed a quote in the Spurs’ locker room.  The quote, taken from immigration reformer Jacob Riis, has been the impetus for Spurs’ play sense
When nothing seems to help, I go look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before.

Though the Spurs were down 33-11 at the end of the first quarter against a freshly reinvigorated Clippers team, they never gave up.  Instead, they pounded the rock.  Through Pop’s teaching, they knew their consistent efforts lead to results.  And so, they pounded.  And pounded.  And pounded.  By the end of the third quarter, the rock had split and the Spurs controlled the game the rest of the way, winning their seventeenth straight game.
Popovich’s dedication to his method, his willingness to reinvent their basketball style to fit their needs (and frankly just to keep it exciting), and most importantly, to teach a philosophy of life centered on perseverance through belief in your own efforts, places him high in my pantheon.  His lessons on how to accomplish translate to any effort: individual or team, personal or corporate, small or large.  
While the Spurs organization doesn’t seek to establish itself as a life coach or to hit the road on a tour of motivational speeches, they certainly could.  I am who I am partially due to the Spurs and what they have shown consistently since I was young.  And though I don’t live there anymore, you can bet that I will always hold the San Antonio Spurs organization in the highest regards where ever I live.

Sunday, May 13, 2012


What can any of us say about our Mom’s that probably hasn’t been written on a hallmark card, been acted out in a sappy, tear-jerking film, or sung in a song?  Not much, right?  Odds are, the card, the film, and the lyrics probably do a much better job than most of us could ever do.  Something we should always keep in mind, though, Hallmark, Hollywood, and Nashville can never live up to the one tribute only we have to give - ourselves.
Everyday, as we interact with other people, as we work our jobs, raise our families, and build our lives, we offer tribute to our Mom.  While we will have many teachers in our lives, our Mothers are one of the most influential we will ever have.  From the very moment of conception, our Mom begins to teach us life lessons, behaviors, and the very components that will make up our lives.  Some lessons will be immense, some will be tiny.
Even if you never knew your Mother, or do not have a relationship with your Mom, she still offers lessons, if you are willing to learn.  Some Mom’s might teach how to forgive, if only by being the worse mother imaginable.  Others might teach unconditional love, because the only way to love them would be to abandon all conditions on which love would rest.  Find the lesson your Mom offers and be thankful that she has placed her fingerprint upon your life.
My parents instilled in me an appreciation for the written word when I was very young, and my Mom helped to fan the flames of my young hunger for reading.  I would not be sitting here writing today without my Mom’s influence.  In fact, from the age of eleven on, I could strongly argue the fuel for the projection of my life came from my Mom allowing me to read my first Stephen King novel.  From that point on, the written word filled my life.  I couldn’t get enough books.  Days went by where I only read, ate, and slept.  I would still spend many of my days the same way if Samantha would let me.
While not alone, our Mom helped to design us.  She offered half of the blueprints for our internal circuitry, made as many adjustments as possible to our programming, and then sent us out into the world to be the best product possible.  If it sounds like software engineering, that is because, in many ways, raising a child is like the world’s greatest design product.  Could you imagine attempting to build the world’s most complicated computer from scratch without any experience, limited manuals, and an unlimited supply of contradictory advice and armchair quarterbacks?  
Everyday you live, shine as a tribute to the women who added you to the face of the earth.  Follow her lessons, even if she taught them unwillingly or unknowingly.  Be the best product she could have created.  No card, movie, or song could ever compete with that.