Friday, August 18, 2017

Character Always Trumps Personality. ALWAYS.


“Human greatness does not lie in wealth or power, but in character…..”     --Anne Frank

It’s been many years but I still remember the anxiety and excitement of my late teens and early twenties, times when a well meaning relative or friend would buttonhole me at a party, sidle up to me at the family reunion, and then interrogate me. 

So John—what are you going to study in college? What do you want to do for work when you graduate?  What about grad school? What part of the country do you want to live in?  What about marriage and kids? What are you going to do with your life? 

Young adulthood is a gift because the world is laid out before us, as never before or ever again in this life. It’s a blank slate. An open road. And so the adventure begins! Young adulthood is a challenge because now a young man or woman is in ultimate charge of their one life. Responsible for their decisions and choices and then dealing with the consequences. Trying to discern the path, the right path, to follow.

So what are you going to do now?!

A natural inquiry, and yet, maybe it’s not the best question to ask the young people in our lives, as they set out for the future.  This is the time of year for such conversations: in these late summer weeks as young people in our lives and world leave us for college or graduate school, or face graduation next spring, or start a new job or contemplate getting married.  As we help them pack up their suitcases and leave the life they’ve known, perhaps we’d do better to help them think about the person they want to become.  Their inner lives and not merely the outward trappings of a “successful” life.   

I wish someone had asked me then, not an insistent “what?” but instead a curious “who?”—as in, “Just who do you want to become in life?” I wish someone had checked in with me about the state of my spirit and not just my career path or the size of my starting salary.  I wish I had taken more time then to work on shaping my values and ideals and worried much less about things like my major or my roommate or the dorm I’d call home.  I wish that I had worked harder to be more intentional about becoming the person I wanted to be, not just on the outside but on the inside too. 

But no one ever asked me about such things.

Most of the time our higher educational system does a good job of teaching professional skills, giving us the tools we need to make a living.  Our nation produces millions of graduates and craftspeople, folks empowered to do something.  But we also we need help, at all points in life, to learn as well how to make a life too.  How to become a good person. How to be the kind of dependable friend peers trust, look up to.  How to find a calling in life that feeds the soul and not merely fills the bank account. How to become a good citizen, to live a life not just for one’s self alone, but for others too. How to have faith in something beyond yourself. How to be worry less about how we look or are perceived on the social scene or in social media and more focused on who we really are, in real life.

How to have true character.    

For we’re living in weird times, days when outward personality can so often trump inward human character.  Our sons and daughters may know just how to pose for a quick Snapchat, or send out a pithy tweet or carefully curate a picture perfect image on Facebook, all external things. We help them learn how to prepare for that first interview or find a perfect internship but are we helping them as well, to cultivate their character? Create lives of integrity and goodness. Have faith in a power greater than themselves, and know they can depend upon God for strength and comfort and guidance. 

So my hope and prayer for all the young adults now trying to make their way in this world, this generation who very soon will be running the show, is simple.  May we as a world encourage them always to be people of character. To seek not just a job but a calling, some work or passion or interest that brings them joy and makes the world a better place.  To live a life worth living in the deepest sense.

Because the “whats” of life: these come and go and change.  But the “who”—who we want to become: this is what makes and shapes the best life of all.








   













Monday, August 7, 2017

To Really See the Gift of Life, Try the Bleachers


Bleachers (noun) 1. A cheap bench seat at a sports arena, typically in an outdoor uncovered stand.                        --Google.com

Time was that a seat in the bleachers, the viewing stands farthest from the action at a baseball game—well, the bleachers were always for the masses, folks who couldn’t afford the more expensive seats. College students out for an afternoon in the sun and some cold, cheap beer.  Little league teams ready to cheer on their heroes up close. Last minute fans hoping for any ticket to see the game.  Bleacher seats were often wooden benches. Move too fast and you’d get a splinter in the backside.  Folks in these seats even have a nickname: “bleacher bums”, connoting their once downscale status. 

Now? Bleacher seats at Fenway Park, home of Boston Red Sox, are no longer that cheap. But at $30 a pop for a seat way, way up in the nose-bleed section, 500 feet from home plate: it’s still the best deal in the place.  And as I discovered on a recent balmy and blue sky August evening, when the Sox took on Chicago’s White Sox, the bleachers are also still about as democratic and diverse a place as you can find anywhere.

Sitting directly behind me were four young women, visiting the United States for the very first time, from France. It was their first ever baseball game too. Next to me: three Hoosiers from Gary, Indiana who’d never ventured to either coast. They were stopping by friendly Fenway before going on to Maine for a wedding. With me were four “Minnesota Nice” old friends, Twins fans making a pilgrimage to the oldest major league ball park, circa 1912, still in use in the United States.   

It was a magical night, one I could not plan, one I’ll not soon forget. 

We all stood in respectful silence for the national anthem, hats or hands over hearts, as an oversized flag flapped and snapped in a gentle August breeze.  The Parisians ate their mustard slathered covered hot dogs with gusto, and I did my best to explain the game to them. They enthusiastically watched and asked lots of questions. What better way to learn about America than at a ball game? The Hoosiers shared their impressions of Boston (so much traffic!) and they asked me about the best place to eat lobster down east. My younger mid-western seat mates, BJ and Nathan, nine and twelve years old, screamed with gusto at the BoSox’ first home run. At games’ end our mini-community parted as new friends, grateful for wonderful folks to catch a game with, share stories, and share life, if only for a little while.

And guess what? None of us, not one, wanted to talk about politics or even bothered to look at breaking headlines on our smart phones.  Red state, blue state, “America First”? Who the heck cared about that!? The action on the field was much more interesting and fun.  Any thoughts of our differences faded away amidst the spectacle of baseball, a seemingly eternal game, played on a field of bright green as the city skyline faded into a pink and purple sunset.  My new friends from France even said that Bostonians were actually friendlier than the folks from their home town! Yes. Seriously.  The Red Sox won in a rout and we even made it to the train before it got too overcrowded.

We live in times when it is easier than ever to immerse ourselves in “the news” and “the latest” all the time. Like crack addicts we stay glued to our screens, awaiting the next thing to freak out about. I know I’m guilty of this obsession. And since such reports are most often slanted to the negative, this media saturation can give us a warped view of life.  A view from 30,000 feet that tempts us to see only the bad in the world. To grow cynical or weary or pessimistic about it all.

But if we are wise, we will go local, get down to earth and on the ground and see that much of the time, most of the time, this life is still good.  We just have to look for it and remember. That most folks are kind and welcoming. Strangers are just friends we’ve yet to meet.  Home towns are the places we cherish so much that we want to share these with visitors from far away.  And what really gives us pleasure day to day is not overly complicated either: spending time with the people we love and being open to all the God given gifts each twenty four hours has to offer. But first we have to get in the game and pay attention. 

So that’s my view from the cheap seats, the bleachers.  Perhaps it’s time for you to take in a game soon. I hear that tickets are still available.






           

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Why I Ride The PMC: To Remember....



“No one is ever really lost as long as their story still exists.”  --R.M. Romero
 
I've gotten into a new habit on many of my training rides this spring and summer, as I prepare for the 2017 Pan Mass Challenge (PMC). Often now, when I arrive at my destination after a long afternoon ride, or stop to rest at a halfway point, I take out my phone, lean my bike against the nearest landmark and snap a photo of my riderless cycle. I think it’s my way of somehow reminding me and the universe, that: “Yes, I am still here. I can still ride. And so I will keep on pedaling.”

I’ve got snapshots of my battered blue road bike on a bright blue July 4th in Franklin center, leaning against a weathered wooden bench, white puffy clouds in the distance. There’s a shot of my two wheeled vehicle in front of the oversized gothic doors of the chapel at Wellesley College; and one image of my ride propped against a huge cherry red “University of Massachusetts” sign at the entrance to my old school, UMass.  

The photo I cherish most is one of my trusty bicycle carefully balanced on the side of a simple granite marker in Medfield, just down the road from my house. That stone stands sentinel like, next to a cemetery, on the grounds of the old Medfield State hospital.  A brass plaque simply declares: “Remember us: for we too have lived, loved and laughed.”

This is my eighth summer doing the PMC, the largest athletic fundraiser in the world. Come this Saturday and Sunday 5,000 of us we will seek to raise $48 million dollars for cancer care and research, at the Dana-Farber in Boston. One hundred percent of every dollar raised goes directly to this world class institution. 

That’s why I ride.

But I also ride to remember: those who lived and loved and laughed, but whom cancer stole away.  A dear mentor, Sue.  A kind cousin, Kathy.  A thoughtful church member, Dottie, and many more too.  And I also ride so that those who battle cancer right now—like Bob, and Angela, and T Michael—that they might continue to live, love and laugh, for many years to come. 

It’s far too easy in this life, as we whiz along doing the “oh so important!” stuff we seemingly must do, to forget those who came before us, those who struggle even now quietly: with ill health or life challenges.  The best life always remembers that in fact we stand on the shoulders of those who are now gone.  The best life lives with mercy and care towards those who still need our help. 

That’s why I ride.

So here’s my request: come Saturday morning please say a prayer for all the riders: for safety and a brisk tail wind and good weather. Say a prayer for the 3,000 volunteers who make it all happen with grace and joy. Say a prayer that one day cancer might be history, that we won't need the PMC anymore. Say a prayer for the bicycles without riders: their memories still inspires us to ride on.  And yes: if you’d like to make a donation, that would be great too.

Remember.  

They lived. They loved. They laughed. May God keep us to the promise to not forget: every step, every mile, and every pedal stroke, in this miracle called life.