Monday, April 28, 2014

Getting Into College: What Are the Odds?

“Success is not measured by what you accomplish but by the opposition you have encountered, and the courage with which you have maintained the struggle against overwhelming odds.”                    
 --Orison Swett Marden

What are the odds? What are the chances? 

Of say…getting hit by lightning this year in the United States? One in 700,000.  But over the course of one human lifetime? One in 3,000.  How about the odds of winning a Powerball lottery jackpot?  Astronomical: one in 175,000,000.  Let’s try something more personal like the odds of me celebrating a 100th birthday. Better. One in 10, the same odds for being born left-handed.   

Odds are kind of, well, odd.  They are just numbers: statistics, possible outcomes, mathematical constructs which tell us what might happen but finally can’t predict with absolute certainty any given result for you or me or any one person. I might make it to 100 or I might succumb to that most clich├ęd of deaths today, step out into the street and get hit by a bus.  (Why is it always a bus?  I’d much rather get taken out by a shiny new Mini-Cooper or a sexy Lamborghini. )

The real truth? Odds are just that, odds.  Most, even much of the time in life, we determine the outcome of our lives, not statistics or numbers.  We captain the ship.  By the choices we make.  By the drive, passion, will and attitude we bring to living, or don’t bring.  By our resilience when life knocks us down or disappoints or says “No!” 

Which brings me to a sobering set of odds just reported by Stanford University in California, now the most selective college in the country. Odds of getting in? Slim to none. This year 42,167 high school seniors knocked on the front door of Stanford. Only 2,138 made it through the entrance, an acceptance rate of just 5.07 percent, the lowest in the U.S.  “GO CARDINALS!”, right?

Because it would seem that if you are one of those rare kids who got in, you have it made, the odds are in your favor. For lifelong success, financial wealth, uber achievements, maybe even the keys to that sexy Lamborghini.  Or maybe not.  Some of that Class of 2018 will stumble through or flunk out or get that first job because of the Stanford name and then just peak at 22 years of age. 

What are the odds? Who finally knows? No one.  

For to embrace the goodness of life, find success in life, be happy with the story of your one amazing life: those odds finally are up to you.  Those odds tilt either for or against us, not from some roll of the dice, but because of how well or not so well, we use our God-given gifts. 

I wish I could tell that to all the high school seniors in the U.S. this month who are making their final college choices.  Many of them are totally psyched or totally depressed about the application process. In the hothouse of youth, lots of these young people are absolutely convinced that because they were beaten by the odds and didn’t get in, they “lost”.  That this one outcome will determine everything going forward. 

It’s not just the young who hit this wall, wondering if the odds are stacked. Imagine being unemployed, one of thousands vying for a job.  Or being born in poverty, told by the world that odds are you won’t escape.  Try being an artist or writer, striving to share your talent with others.  All the numbers, all the stats, all the probabilities would seem to have the final word. 

But me? I don’t think so.  I believe instead that life is what we choose to make of it.  Life is great, not because we get into Stanford or beat the odds.  Life is beautiful because through strength and faith and tenacity we make the odds ourselves.  We take the risks and sometimes fail and then get right back up and try again.  We are always so much more than the mere the sum of probability or chance or fate.  We can trust that God put us on this earth for a purpose and then work to figure out just what that is and what it means.  

Oh, and that whole college thing? Try and not to worry too much. If you got a rejection letter, you are in very good company with many other folks.  I had to go to a public university (GO UMASS!) and was later rejected for grad school by a certain college on the banks of the Charles River.  But my one life, all these years later? I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

So what are the odds?  That’s up to you.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Moving Days Will Soon Be Here: The Ritual of Hello and Goodbye

Move (verb) 1. to go from one place of residence to another; to advance or progress
--Random House Dictionary

Thirty six million Americans, 11.7 percent of the United States population—that’s how many of us will move this year. Move: pick up, pack up, gather up all of our belongings, pile it all up into some type of vehicle and then hit the road for a new place to call home.

Very soon it will be moving season again around here, balmy spring and summer days when we pull into our neighborhood and see the moving vans. Oversized brightly colored trucks sitting in suburban driveways or double parked on cramped city streets. Strong young women and men balancing boxes, carrying photo albums and house plants and family heirlooms into a new place or out of the old place.  I always feel bittersweet, wistful, even sad, when I see someone moving in or someone moving out. In the past few weeks four close friends have let me know that they are moving soon. 

I envy them. Who doesn’t imagine the excitement of packing it all up and embarking upon a brand new life chapter?  But I mourn their loss too.  Moving means things have to change.  Moving means that folks who were close, connected, right next door, are now going away and so that relationship will be different. 

Life moves. Life moves on.

When I was younger I was a serial mover, didn’t stay in any one place for very long.  From my early twenties to mid-forties I moved eleven times between four states, for grad school and seven job changes. That’s a lot of miles, a lot of sticky packing tape and bulky cardboard boxes, a lot of teary goodbyes and anxious hellos, seeing what was once my home fade in the rear view mirror, flying by highway signs which proclaimed “Now Entering!”  Wondering what adventures lay ahead. 

Americans move for lots of reasons, in the dance of exiting and entering, departing and disembarking.  Job changes. Family changes like aging parents or retirement or marriage or divorce.  We move to get a fresh start or to finally settle down, move because the place we’ve lived finally has nothing more to offer us. Move because some shining city calls out with a siren song of hoped for prosperity or the chance to reset life and being again. 

The U.S. census reports that folks from the northeastern U.S. move the least and folks from the wide open west are the vagabonds of our land. The top five states for moving to are Alaska, Vermont, Oregon, Kentucky and Texas.  The top five states for moving from are Michigan, New Jersey, Illinois, New York and Ohio.  Who stays put the longest? Those from the bayous and from Bourbon Street in Louisiana, which boats a native born population of almost 80 percent. We Bay Staters are homebodies too: 63 percent of us have never left. Nevadans can’t seem to stay put. Only 24 percent of “Silver State” citizens started out there.

It’s harder for me than it once was to accept this truth of human movement, of friends and family one day just letting me know that they are leaving.  Maybe it is because I am older and change doesn’t seem as good a friend as it once was to me.  Maybe settling in rather than moving on is my natural state now. Maybe a restless spirit is the province of the young and a desire to put down deep roots is the comfort of the old.  Who knows?

Yet I do know this. God did not create human beings in stasis, just resting in place, still.  From the moment homo sapiens stood up and walked on two legs we have been moving. Moving on up.  Moving away from. Moving towards. So as the person who this time is staying in place and watching as the moving van pulls away, I offer a simple prayer and blessing for all my “in motion” friends, the ones soon to depart.

Via Con Dios! Go with God! I’ll miss you, lots. But sometimes? It is time to move.




Thursday, April 17, 2014

Holy Week and Easter at Pilgrim Church in Sherborn

Maundy Thursday Service
Thursday, April 17, 7:30 pm

Good Friday Service
Friday, April 18, 7:30 pm

Prayer Vigil
In sanctuary, 6 pm to midnight on 
Holy Saturday, April 19

Easter Sunday, April 20
6:00 am Easter Sunrise Service
at Farm Pond led by the Senior High Youth Group
9 am Easter Service
Featuring the Pilgrim Band

11 am Easter Service
Featuring voice choirs.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Marathon One Year Later: To Endure is To Win

Marathon (noun) 1. a foot race over a course measuring 26 miles 385 yards  2. any contest, event, or the like, of great, or greater than normal, length or duration or requiring exceptional endurance                     
 --Random House Dictionary

Just keep going.

No matter what happens. No matter what obstacles appear in your path blocking the way.  No matter how much your legs ache or your lungs burn or your spirits flag and all you want to do is stop and rest. 

No. Just keep going.

One foot in front of the other, step by step and stride by stride, mile after mile after mile after mile.  Do whatever you have to do to keep running.  Imagine the finish line in your mind and crossing over it.  Say a prayer to God to give you the strength to endure the pain. Don’t think about the distance which lies ahead.  Focus on the next landmark, the next corner to turn, the next mile marker to pass. 

Just keep going.

Distract yourself if it helps.  See the crowds cheering you along. Read the brightly colored handheld signs of encouragement. Listen to the shouts of support and love.  “You can do it!”  “Just five more miles!” “Almost there!”  Or focus on your breathing.   One breath in. One breath out. 

Yes, just keep going. For you. For every one. Especially this year.

I tried to write about the one year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings and this year’s race so many times in the past month.  I kept coming up empty, wordless, mute. What more can be said about that awful and awe-filled April day?  Bright blue skies and terror filled streets. Victims lying across Boylston Street in a nightmarish urban war zone. Brave first responders and bystanders scrambling to save someone, anyone.  Sketchy and confusing news reports--what happened?!

And I wasn’t even there, nowhere close to the finish line.  I can’t, most of us, can’t ever imagine what it was all really like…for the families of the three spectators who died, or the sixteen people who lost a limb, the 264 hurt, the runners frozen in fear at exactly 2:49  pm, the cop gunned down in the manhunt. No words or sentiment could ever capture it all.  All I can offer is one prayer and plea and hope as 36,000 runners and millions of marathon fans walk back into the memories.

Just keep going.  KEEP GOING! Keep running. Keep striving.  Keep on keeping on until the very last runner finally crosses the finish line next Monday afternoon. 

In response to trauma, sometimes that’s all we humans can do and that’s a good thing and that’s a miracle and a victory. To face death and grieve deeply and then carry on in life somehow. To be knocked down by circumstances beyond our control and then find the grace and the grit to pick ourselves up and start running again.  To live through tragedy and terror and then refuse to let it break us and instead go on with life, even, especially, when it is so incredibly difficult.   To run and not grow weary.  To stumble but not fall.

To just keep going.

So bring on the 118th running of the Boston Marathon next Monday. It is time. It will be a bittersweet day of memory and memorials, an anxious day as we remember where we were and what we were doing. But I believe the marathon has already been won before it begins, before anyone departs Hopkinton for that 26.2 mile journey. 

For you see, we can and we must and we will, just keep going.  GO BOSTON!




Monday, April 7, 2014

An April 15th Truth: Taxes Make Life Better

“The expenses of government, having for their object the interest of all, should be borne by everyone, and the more a man enjoys the advantages of society, the more he ought to hold himself honored in contributing to those expenses.” 
 --Anne-Robert Jacques Turgot

It is tax time again.

Less than a week to go before most of us will carry out that most civic and most slandered of civic acts: paying taxes. Come April 15th 136,000,000 or so Americans will meet their legal obligation to pay some $1,042,000,000,000 in federal income taxes (more than 1 trillion dollars!); 3,171,000 Massachusetts taxpayers will pay approximately $11,933,400,000 in state income taxes.
That’s a lot of money. A lot of taxes.

These numbers don’t include the other taxes we pay too: “sin” taxes (alcohol, cigarettes, etc.), corporate taxes, property taxes and the sales tax.  There are more exotic taxes too: on the cars we rent, the plane tickets we buy, and the hotel rooms we sleep in.  Is there anything not taxed?  As the Beatles 1966 song “Taxman” proclaimed, “If you drive a car, I'll tax the street; If you try to sit, I'll tax your seat; If you get too cold, I'll tax the heat; If you take a walk, I'll tax your feet; ‘cuz I’m the taxman.”
Taxes—we’ll pay and we’ll complain.  Loudly. Rant, rave, and protest. Some will call themselves “patriots” as they kvetch about how awful all these taxes are. How unfair, and odious, burdensome and “un-American”.
If there’s one civic punching bag Americans love to pummel even more than the government, it is that same government’s authority to tax. Yet…I just can’t hate taxes. I can’t do it, even as I mail in my tax returns, even as I see a big chunk of all my hard earned money going away to Washington and Beacon Hill.  For you see I always come back to the people I know who are directly helped by and through the payment of my taxes, our taxes.  On April 15th I remember how taxes actually benefit me and my loved ones and my community and nation so much.
There’s my grandfather and mother who are well cared for by Medicare. My neighbor who was transported to the hospital by the local fire department when an emergency struck.  My friends whose house caught fire. A 911 cal and the police and firefighters were there in minutes.  The University of Massachusetts, the school I proudly call my alma mater: if not for the taxes which support that school and underwrote my loans, I never could have attended.  I think of my friend the army chaplain who cares for his soldiers in such an amazing way. Or the relative saved from life on the streets by extended unemployment benefits and Mass Health Care.  My Dad who was the first in his family to get a Masters degree because of Uncle Sam and the GI bill.  The prisoners I work with at the Norfolk County Jail receiving treatment for their drug addictions.  Taxes underwrite the hope that when they are released they’ll stay out of trouble and be clean and sober. 

All programs funded by taxes. All people directly served by taxation.  No taxes? No government services.  No national defense. No first responders.  No Head Start or food stamps or senior housing or health care for the poor and the elderly.
Every American could easily write a very, very, very long list of all the ways the paying of taxes makes life better, safer, gentler, and healthier.  It’s just that when we get all self-righteous about taxes, especially around the 15th, we tend to forget. We suffer from civic amnesia. 
Like taxes. Hate taxes. The choice is ours’.  But there is no ignoring one absolute truth: taxes directly benefit millions of us every single day. 
So I will pay my taxes. Try to pay my fair share.  Pay because as a citizen and a “patriot” that is my duty.  My obligation. My responsibility.  It is my “rent” in a way, for being blessed by God, lucky enough, to call this great country and this great state my home. I pay taxes because I am grateful for all the ways my government serves my family, friends, neighbors and strangers, especially the ones who are in need.
Let the choruses of tax griping begin.  Sing right along but remember… taxes are an integral part of what it means to live in community, and to be responsible for, and with and to each other. 

See you at the post office on the 15th.