Sunday, November 25, 2012

Today not Tomorrow

- Pope John Paul II

I am the kind of person who has the unfortunate habit of living for tomorrow instead of today.  Occasionally, I enjoy rare bursts of inspiration when tomorrow and today merge, and instead of continuing to put off today’s work until tomorrow, I live for today and take care of my business.  I have to admit, I would much rather live a life full of today’s than tomorrows.

The even more unfortunate truth is that I am certain I am not alone.  Neither am I in a small minority, or even a large substrate of the population.  The people who live for tomorrow instead of today permeate our existence, leaving those who choose today to enjoy the many fruits of this world.  Those of us who sometimes overcome our silent pledge to procrastination occasionally taste the joy the world offers when we power through the resilient bonds we have placed around ourselves.  
- Latin for "seize the day"

We begin to develop the terrible habit when we are young, fostering our addiction like a newfound pet.  I will put my toys away later.  I will brush my teeth in the morning.  I will do my chores after this TV show is finished.  Eventually, minor delays become major obstacles to moving forward in our lives.  School work succumbs to the inevitable; we choose to sacrifice the quality of our work for some simple pleasure that ultimately, if examined further, will turn out to be trivial at best.
- Robert Kiyosaki
Our youth fails to fend off the infection and by the time we are adults our fault has real consequences.  How many have put off paying bills until you get the late notice accompanied by a significant late fee?  How many of us have put off an auto repair until the car dies?  What is a credit card but a way of paying for something later that we want now.

How many people do you know, including yourself, who put off discussing something important with a loved one until too late.  The results can vary from broken relationships or unwanted pregnancies to death.  Most of the time biting the bullet and getting it over with is the better decision.

Ironically, I began this blog last Sunday but ran out of time before lunch.  Did I return to in and finish that afternoon?  No.  Did I have time and choose to do something else of lesser consequence?  Yes.  Have I had time since then?  Yep.
Now, I am not suggesting we avoid taking times to do what we want instead of what we should.  Making decisions about our life is part of free will.  I am asking you to reflect upon your decisions and actions and decide how they are made.  Do you actually live by free will, or are your decisions determined by a series of earlier actions that lead to an addiction to procrastination.  I can understand any reluctance you might feel.  

Turning the magnifying lens on ourselves is often quite hard because we have to admit our faults.  But, I think it is an important step towards leading a happier existence.  So, take some time today and look back at yourself.  Or, maybe you can do that tomorrow?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Earn This

One of the strongest emotional tugs a good story delivers to my heartstrings centers on the idea of personal sacrifice.  Frequently, at the end of a movie or during the climax of a novel, I find myself a blubbering mess as the hero gives up everything they are in order to save others.  Even now, reflecting on some of the most powerful scenes, my eyes glisten slightly.  Of course, nothing Hollywood or the publishing industry can do will ever be as powerful as real life sacrifice.  Giving of yourself to save and protect others is one of the most honorable actions a person can take.  There is no better example of an organization that exemplifies this idea as the United States Military.  Thank you Veterans for the sacrifices you have made to keep us and our way of life safe.

The word sacrifice too often implies the giving up of ones life in order to protect others; this definition is much too limited.  There are many ways a person can give up their life to serve without having to die.  These sacrifices must be honored as well.  

Veterans and current service men and women give up choice for much of their life.  They live where they are assigned, relocating many times during their service.  If on assignment or deployment, they spend months at a time away from their loved ones.  If in a combat arena, they go about their duties with the knowledge that they may never see their families again.  Yet still they serve, putting our lives ahead of theirs.  

Many Veterans have sacrificed their health for this country and its people.  From those who have returned from deployment with bodily injury to those who come back uninjured physically yet suffering mentally, our Veterans put themselves at risk for us.  Their constant vigilance despite the risk to themselves deserves our recognition and thanks.  It takes a powerful person to knowingly step into a career in which their entire life will be driven by the level of sacrifice their country asks of them.

There are also the few who do give the total sacrifice, giving their life for ours.  While too many of the men and women have have died in service of our country are faceless unknowns to the rest of us, their sacrifice is no less, their honor heightened rather than diminished due to their anonymity.  They do not serve to achieve acclimation and fame.  There is no promise of TV time or a book highlighting their life.  They go about their service for that purpose alone - to serve.

Veterans are special people and they should be recognized as such.  Whether they are serving now or last wore their uniform decades ago, their choice to enter the armed forces was a choice to sacrifice for you and for me.  They don’t know us just as we might not know them, yet with every breath during their service, they lived and died to make sure our lives could be lived free.  Though all of their names may not be inscribed on a memorial, the memory of how they live should be written on our hearts.

While I said before Hollywood comes nowhere near close enough to the idea of real life sacrifice, at least they can offer the rest of us a guide on how to live our lives to honor that sacrifice.  In the final scenes of the 1998 film Saving Private Ryan, Tom Hanks' character Captain Miller leaves Private Ryan with words the rest of us should live by - "Earn this."

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Splash of Color

Autumn 2011 was one of the most memorable Autumns since the Houston area became my home.  Everywhere the eye gazed, trees exploded with a cornucopia of color.  Reds, oranges, yellows, and innumerable shades unfamiliar to our mediocre falls flashed among the evergreens.  Every time I stepped from my home, my eyes immediately flew to the trees, eager to drink in the color.  Why did we have such a splendid display?  Because the trees almost died.

When I first heard the reason, I found it odd.  Why should we experience a glorious Autumn simply because Texas had sustained one of the worst droughts in its recorded history?  Apparently, the stress of limited rainfall over an extended time period induced the trees to show off their abilities.  I like the idea they were celebrating their continued life, the flame hued foliage playing the same role as our fireworks.

What I wish mine would look like.
Those of you who have visited my home have probably noticed the monstrosity of a bougainvillea nestled along the front walkway.  For most of the growing season it looms along the entryway, long tendrils reaching lush foliage along the house.  Unfortunately, it only blooms in the fall and I am constantly battling it to bloom sooner.  The way to generate early blooms?  Chop the roots and deprive it of water.  After enough time, the poor plant thinks it is going to die and it shoots out blooms as a last ditch effort to propagate.  Of course, the responsible gardener will never take it too far, preferring the colorful blooms to an over-stressed pile of dying vines.

How many of us have experienced similar circumstances?  Deprived of that which sustains us, the universe will frequently present seemingly insurmountable challenges.  Regardless of who you are, being dumped into the crucible happens from time to time.  Look to the trees for answers.  

I recently watched the 1997 Michael Douglas thriller The Game.  Douglas plays the perfectly uptight, super rich, power driven, A-hole he seems to have mastered in many film roles.  His character is given a “game” as a birthday present which throws him into a series of scenarios challenging the very core of his personality.  Through the drama, he is stripped bare; everything he holds dear is taken from him until he has nothing.  It is only then that the game ends, returning everything to a man who has an amazing new perspective on life and a fresh appreciation for the people who share his experience.

While I have never experienced anything as extreme as the character in The Game, my front door bougainvillea, or the Texas trees, I know the universe has thrown me into some tough situations before.  While in the free fall to the bottom, I surely had a difficult time keeping my eyes on the positives.  Hopefully there isn’t a next time, but if there is, I will be sure to recall the lessons learned from the 2011 drought.

Stressful situations will appear in our lives.  We will experience challenges.  We will fail.  We have to know that we will always rise again.  Shake off the shackles of negativity and embrace life.  Follow the example of the trees and celebrate your resurgence with a splash of color.