Friday, February 23, 2018

Caught In the Crossfire - The Time for Change is Now

“Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened." (Billy Graham)

How can we be in this same dark place once again? 

It was 19 years ago that I can remember feeling the chilling mix of fear, anger, and frustration as I and other fellow teachers at South Medford High watched the horrifying scenes playing out on our televisions from Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. 13 murdered, 21 wounded on that April morning.  "Oh my God.  A once in a lifetime tragedy", I whispered to myself back then. Something must change.

I was wrong. 13 years later, on a cold December morning, 26 innocents were killed, 2 wounded at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. Three years after that, 9 lives brutally taken, 9 wounded at a community college just an hour's drive from where I live here in southern Oregon.

Then last week's numbing news. On a sunny Valentine's Day, 20 minutes from the end of the school day - and in just 7 searing minutes - 17 more students and teachers murdered, 14 wounded at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida. 

25 times since 1999 American teachers and students have gone to their schools - thinking it would be just another day - in a place they always thought was safe - and have had that belief and their lives cruelly shattered by a hateful person with a gun - "an active shooter" - entering a campus and killing the innocent people whose paths they crossed.

How can we be in this same dark place again? How can it be that nothing has changed? How can it be that all that seems ever offered by those who have the power to make change - our leaders, our politicians, the journalists and commentators, and "experts" who say they "stand with us" - is "thoughts and prayers" and unending arguments and self-righteous defenses of their positions? 

"The Left says this...and they're all wrong!  The Right says that...and they're all wrong!" And we stay frozen in an ugly symphony of anger in which those sounding the notes seem to show no real concern for the sadly growing list of victims: Our nation's teachers (of which I am still one, part-time) and the students they now must not only educate, but protect with their lives. 

I know the thoughts in my heart and mind these last few days are shared by many of my fellow educators and by our students. I've heard them voiced loudly and repeatedly recently and this gives me a small measure of hope that something might now change.

I am not the Left. I am not the Right.

I'm stuck in the Middle. Caught in the Cross Fire.

I'm tired of the pointless arguing. I'm tired of the inaction. I'm tired of the preaching and the political posing. I'm tired of the failure to budge one single inch - on either side - to make this kind of tragedy more preventable. I'm tired of the finger-pointing, the rhetoric, the willingness to portray those who don't agree as being "evil" or "un-American" or "naive" - all while the death toll continues to creep up, and the fact of regular "lockdown" drills and "active shooter" trainings has become a numbing reality for U.S. schools.

I'm saddened that 17 more innocent names and one more American city and school have been added to a tragic roll call: Columbine, Littleton, Thurston, Springfield, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Sandy Hook, Newtown, Umpqua Community, Roseburg, Stoneman Douglas, Parkland, and many more.

I'm angry that the rights of a few to own any guns that they want seems more important than the lives of innocents who will be victims of those same guns. I'm angry at those who cry that "Government must act. There must be stricter laws", yet at the same time vote to slash government and school budgets, thus crippling their abilities to protect our children and identify and deal with those who might harm them.

I'm stunned that some now think that the solution to this tragedy is to ask teachers, whose unwritten job description already requires them to act as educators, therapists, babysitters, nurses, judges, mediators, confidants, counselors, role models, mentors, and coaches - to now be armed and expected to act as the first line of defense at our schools.

I'm frustrated that if nothing changes - now - that all that's guaranteed is that there will be more dead students and teachers being honored as "heroes" and "saints" - when all they really wanted was to teach and to learn.

I don't know what the answer is. I know that it isn't simple. Those who say otherwise, aren't really interested in resolving this American crisis. They have dominated this discussion for 19 years and the results are clear. But there are other things becoming equally clearer to me as well.

We must learn to listen to each other. That may be the most challenging thing for us all to do right now, but nothing changes if we don't. We must agree on one simple thing. We can't accept this threat to our children and schools anymore.

We must stop separating ourselves into warring tribes on this issue.

We must all be willing to try SOMETHING new, and to be willing to GIVE UP something we've held on to. It's the only way that shared Trust can be rebuilt again.

Someone new must lead the discussion. Something new must be done.

A new kind of courage is required.

"Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear." (Ambrose Redmoon)

It appears for the moment that those who've been most directly affected - the children - are willing to lead this discussion. That's both awe-inspiring, but also sobering. Many that I've seen speaking in the last few days seem to have the courage that Mr. Redmoon spoke of. 

My prayer today is that the adults - those in power, both in our government and in our communities, will show the same kind of courage.

We are not Left. We are not Right. We must be United if we are to bring an end to this kind of sad, ugly stain on our nation's schools and soul.

Our children will not wait for us to act any longer. They cannot wait. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Friends and Lovers Still - A Valentine's Message

"Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone — we find it with another." (Thomas Merton)

We've been together now for a baker's dozen worth of Valentine's Days. And after all of those celebrations of our shared love for each other...after all the presents, and cards, and poems and poesies...after all the dinners, and dates, and heartfelt declarations of love...after all the favorite songs played...the favorite memories recounted...You'd think we would start to run out of ways to say "I love you"..."I appreciate you". 

But we don't, and that's a miracle...a true blessing...worth remembering and one I'm truly grateful for. So I open my heart and my thoughts and let them once more try to express what magically seems to never stop growing: all the things I appreciate about you and why I love you as I do. 

"Lovers don't finally meet somewhere. They're in each other all along." (Rumi) 

A memorable sunset at Carmel State Beach - 2017
I love still discovering all that we have in common that we love. I would've never thought a quiet, stoic German/Finn and a spunky, spicy, outgoing blonde Italian would share so much in common but we do. Over the last few years I've grown to love:
  • Our shared interest in things greater than ourselves: Politics, World affairs, the deepening spiritual work that we do; the silent sense of awe we feel when seeing a beautiful sunset or sitting quietly by a lake; the willingness we each have shown to forgive and to sacrifice for each other. Rumi was right. It's been in our shared love for what is Higher that each of us has found the love of our lives.
"Love is friendship that has caught fire." (Ann Landers)

Riding horses at Bandon Beach 
I love how you are my best friend: the person who can talk me into any new adventure; the one who makes me laugh the longest and loudest; the one makes me feel brave, and strong, and special...and most importantly, makes me want to be the best "Me" that I can be. You have done that for me ever since I met you, and continue to do so.

"All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt." (Charles Schulz)

A quiet Sunday evening at Irvine & Roberts winery
Yes...a little chocolate is nice. Especially when paired with a little wine, a firepit...and you. I love how we have a good time together, no matter where we go. I can't wait for our next getaway. I'm so grateful that we both enjoy reconnecting, talking to each other, and just being together. May that never change as the years go by.

"If you find someone you love in your life, then hang on to that love." (Princess Diana of Wales)

Another beautiful sunset at Carmel - our favorite getaway
There is more that I could say. I know in my heart that the blessings I've enjoyed from my relationship with you are as endless and new as the ocean we love to visit. But I want to stop here and just smile. Deborah: You are always in my heart, even when we're apart like now, as I sit in front of a computer and tap away at this. 

I love the smiles on both of our faces - A bike ride along the Deschutes River
I intend to hang on to you for a long time. Happy Valentine's Day, Sweetie. I love you dearly. Your Love...our Life my most precious Pearl.

"For it was not into my ear you whispered, but into my heart. It was not my lips you kissed, but my soul." (Judy Garland)

Monday, February 5, 2018

Precious Pearls - Quotes That Have Inspired Me

"I know in my heart that man is good. That what is right will always eventually triumph. And there's purpose and worth to each and every life." ~ Ronald Reagan

There are some things you read...or hear...or see for the first time, and the beauty and Truth expressed through them just stops you in your tracks. It's as if every fiber in your being just got strummed and you don't want that feeling to go away. It can happen when you see a soothing sunset;  or hear a beautiful song; or read something inspiring.

I have never forgotten the first time I read this quote from President Reagan. It was when Deborah and I first visited the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, CA twelve years ago. Mr. Reagan has always been a hero of Deborah's, and over time my admiration for him has steadily grown. The quotation is etched on his gravesite on the grounds there.

I pray that I can remember each day the three things the President said with such conviction and optimism here. But I know that it's so easy to be convinced that none of these are true, especially in the divisive times that we currently live. There is a constant drumbeat - especially in the media today - that wants us to believe that
  • Only 1/2 of mankind is "good" - The 1/2 that agree with me.
  • Darkness is destined to carry the day
  • And that few of us will ever have the chance to make a difference
But none of those are true. Life always gives us the choice: to rise or fall; To decide what it is that we really love and will give ourselves to freely. Darkness can never overcome Light.

So  I will do my best today to remember the President's words and look for a little Light in any moment when a little darkness wants to tell me, "There's nothing good here".

What a precious thing to be reminded of....Thank you, Mr. President. Inspiring words like these are few and far between from today's leaders. I guess it's up to others to share something brighter. 

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

A Wondrous Journey (Ch. 4): Super Bowl Sunday and "Moving Rocks"

"As big a deal as the Super Bowl is, it's not the most important thing going on in the planet." (Tony Dungy, 2-time Super Bowl Champion, as a NFL player and as a Head Coach)

This coming Sunday is the Super Bowl - an event that has practically become a national holiday in the U.S. Ironically, the two teams playing in it this year are the same two that were playing back in 2005 when I first began courting Deborah! Anyway, it all reminded me of a short, but memorable story on that day 13 years ago.

For all of my adult (single) life, I had spent Super Bowl Sunday like every other red-blooded American male. I got together with my fantasy football buddies (known as "The Z-Boys" of the Zonker Football League) and watched the 6 hours of pre-game hype, football highlights, half-time commercials, and post-game analysis ad nauseum, all while consuming large quantities of nachos, grilled meats and beer (with nary a vegetable in sight!). It was all quite "manly" fun. But that all changed when I met Deborah.

It changed because I fell in love! (Yes - Love conquers even the NFL!). On this Super Bowl Sunday (believe it or not), I WILLINGLY spent the whole Sunday shopping for new furniture for my apartment (see Chapter 3 of this story!). Deborah and I spent 3-4 hours looking at sofas, chairs and ottomans while the rest of America was glued to their TVs. 

Deborah didn't mind because she doesn't follow sports at all (especially football!), but she did feel guilty for "making me" miss most of it. I tried to tell her that I was perfectly happy not watching the game at all. But when we got home in time for the 2nd 1/2, she ordered me to sit in my recliner; gave me a bowl of popcorn; and told me to just relax and watch the game while she fixed dinner. I was living "every man's fantasy"! How could I not love this woman!?

But I couldn't just sit and watch (typical of me). I kept jumping up to try to help in the kitchen (but what did I know about making real Italian lasagna!) or to putter around somewhere else in the apartment. I know a part of me felt "guilty" and worried about being a "good host' to my girlfriend. 

The biggest reason, though, that I had no interest in the biggest sporting event of the year, was that I was in love. I preferred spending time, being with, talking to, and sharing the day with my "Sweetie" (the nickname I've called her ever since we started dating). I had spent my whole life watching sports on TV. I was ready to do something else - especially when it was with a beautiful, intelligent, enticing woman like Deborah. That attitude grew in me that day - and ever since.

Something else happened that evening that is a special memory as well. After the game ended, all I looked forward to was relaxing on the couch, watching a movie, and maybe "smooching" with my Sweetie. But Deborah had different plans. (A pattern that still occurs today in our lives!).

She found an old rock water fountain packed away in one of my closets and wanted to put it back together to decorate my hallway. When I softly grumbled as I peeled myself off the couch to do this new "chore", she cheerfully said, "I can do this. You just sit and rest". But "duty-driven" Jonathan didn't hear. I got up and begin fussing around with the fountain: spilling water, piling up rocks that then clattered all over the floor, and making a general mess.

As I fussed, I got grumpier and grumpier, and completely forgot Deborah was even in the room, until I heard her laughing behind me on the couch. As I sheepishly turned around, she said, "You're so funny - so silly! I wanted to put the fountain together. But you just bulled ahead and started doing it, even though you KNEW you didn't want to. So silly! So I just decided to sit here and watch you grump around "moving rocks", if that's what you want to do!" It wasn't - and I apologized. But I learned a valuable lesson.

I learned that Deborah was very intuitive - and also very honest. She could see and sense things about me that no one else I knew ever had before, and she wasn't afraid to tell me what she saw. I have valued her honesty because it encouraged the same in me, and always helped me grow.

Most importantly, she had also taught me something very valuable about Real Love that I didn't know then. Because I'd never been in a relationship before, a part of me thought it needed to "be perfect" in order to be loved. It naively believed that "conflict" of any kind was "bad" and that those in love should never disagree or disappoint each other. But none of that is true. Real Love exists above any conflict and is perfect in itself. When one continues to love in spite of the disappointments, conflicts, the "flaws" that may come, then that love is true and lasting. It is a lucky man and woman who know this kind of love. I'm grateful that we do.

Love is a game that two can play and both win. ~Eva Gabor

I'm still learning new lessons every day about the strength of the love that we share. But I'll never forget these lessons learned on Super Bowl Sunday 2005 about the "game" of Love. They've blessed me ever since.

Deborah giving me a smooch this summer at a winery in Solvang. I'm a happy dude!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Precious Pearls - Quotes That Have Inspired Me (#2)

Yesterday's post was so much fun, I had to come back today with another. This quote is truly one of my most favorite.

Dr. King's message about the times in which one's true character and courage are revealed has always inspired me because it seemed to speak to epic moments; to dark, divisive battles that life challenged someone to face. It always seemed to speak of a moment when a "hero" - someone exceptional - was called to rise. And history is filled with those types of stories: special men and women who've stood for something Higher when it was most difficult to do so.

Life asks us: "In this moment - be it comfortable or challenging - Where do you stand? What is your first Love? What will you stand FOR?

And I certainly know that in the most painful and disappointing moments of my life:
  • When my coaching career ended in a storm of parent complaints and accusations
  • When I knew I needed to quit smoking
  • When I've had to admit I hadn't been honest with Deborah and felt her anger and disappointment
  • When family members or friends have hurt or disappointed me
I have felt Life asking me those questions - and I have suffered, or grown, based on my choices.

But as I've gotten older, I've begun to realize that this choice is something Life is ALWAYS presenting to ALL of us - in each and every moment. And it doesn't take an exceptional person to "answer the call". It just takes a willingness to Be Present and to Consciously Choose. So I'm trying to be more aware of this in even the smallest, most routine moments - even those that seem happiest or most comfortable.

What will I stand FOR in this Moment? What do I love? What will I be an expression of? 
  • Will I give my best, even if I don't feel at my best?
  • Will I be honest, even if being so reveals something I don't want to see?
  • When I feel I have every right to be angry, resentful, impatient, etc. will I not inflict it on another?
  • Will I enjoy this moment - with gratitude - and then be willing to let it go?
As I said earlier, a lot will be learned by the choices I make. Writing this has helped me see this quote in a whole new way. 

One more new precious Pearl in my pocket...

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Precious Pearls - Quotes That Have Inspired Me (#1)

I've been trying to come up with an idea for some new, shorter blog entries so I'll be tempted to write more often. This will be my first attempt. I've always collected quotes throughout my life: posted them on my wall in my classrooms, shared them with friends, etc. So in this ongoing series of posts, I'll share a quote that inspired me and a brief reflection on it. I think it'll be fun to see what I choose.

This quote is one I read from Guy Finley's book "The Seeker, The Search, The Sacred". It's a little long, but it is a simple prayer that has always moved me.

A Creed for Those Who Have Suffered (by an unknown Confederate soldier)

"I asked God for strength that I might achieve...
I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health that I might do greater things...
I was given infirmity that I might do better things.
I asked for riches that I might be happy...
I was given poverty that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men...
I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life...
I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for...
but everything I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am among all men most richly blessed."

This prayer reminds me of so many things that I so easily forget, and my mind wants to launch off into some serious intellectual musings about this prayer. But I want to keep this simple. I want to simply remember what I feel each time I read this, because that's why it inspired me.


And out of all of that, I realize, comes real Strength...and real Peace.

That's a real Pearl worth remembering.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Something New to Work At (and Love): Me and Golf

"If you watch a game, it's fun. If you play it, it's recreation. If you work at it, it's golf." ~ Bob Hope

Five years ago when I retired from full-time teaching, my sweet wife said to me, "You need to get a hobby. If you don't, you're going to drive me crazy being around all the time. I can't be your "hobby". And as Deborah said this to me - in the most loving manner - I knew two things were absolutely true:
  • I did not want to drive my beautiful wife crazy (because I know she really loves me!), so I knew she was right... But...
  • I also had absolutely no idea what I might do as a "hobby".
I was so perplexed, I had to look up the definition of "hobby":"An activity done regularly in one's leisure time for pleasure." Hmmm....well...when I was single, I used to ride my bike a lot and travel in my leisure time. We still travel regularly, so I'm doing that. Grants Pass (where I live) isn't as safe a place to ride bikes around (crazy drivers!), so I've cut back on that. I read a little...but that didn't sound like anything new. I was stumped. What did I do in those hours that I wasn't working or at the Foundation?

Deborah was right. She had become my "hobby". In my leisure time, we were almost always together: at home hanging out or working out; or going out on the town, or shopping, or even doing chores. I knew it would be healthy for me to find something new to spend time doing. But what??

Deborah said, "Why don't you play golf? Isn't that what retired guys do? You can play with some of the men from the Foundation. They play all the time". When she first said that, I balked like a grumpy mule. "I'm not interested in golf. Don't want to", I neighed. She'd ask me why, and I usually replied - being the highly skilled male communicator that I am - with the mature, thoughtful response of "Because I don't want to". So what was behind this resistance?

I had golfed a little - mostly back in my coaching days.Many of my friends were avid golfers and I would usually join them for a round once a year.  One of them even sold me 25 years ago the antiquated clubs I had, hoping it would encourage me to play more often. But I never took a lesson; just kind of tried to teach myself the best I knew how. So subsequently, I wasn't very good (though my buddies often said I had "potential" because of my athleticism). 

I think the biggest reason I didn't like to golf was because it never seemed to me that golfers had any fun! Some of the guys I played with were often loud and obnoxious - and they took the game very "seriously" - cursing and muttering after any shot that displeased them. One "friend" (now more of a "distant acquaintance") - after rattling two long drives off nearby houses on a hole - slung his offending driver into the nearest pond. He then finished the hole in memorable fashion by missing 3 putts, and then snapping his putter over his knee and impaling the two pieces into the green as he stormed off. Yeah. Real fun. But Deborah - and Life - gently persisted.  And I'm glad they did.

Two years ago, my friend Doug approached me and said he'd be willing to give me some free lessons if I wanted to learn how to play. Doug was being kind, but I also knew he had an ulterior motive. He was putting on a small golf tournament as a fundraiser for the Foundation that summer and he wanted me to get involved and help him. So I took him up on his offer. The biggest initial reason I agreed was because I knew it was a good thing for me to CHALLENGE myself. I think the older we get, the less and less we seek out challenges: New things to learn, new activities that push us beyond what we think we can do already. But would golf become something I "enjoyed doing"? That remained to be seen.

Doug gave me lessons for a couple of weeks, and over the course of the next couple of months, began to invite me to come play with him. He was always very encouraging, plus he was an excellent teacher. He had been playing golf for over 50 years so he was talented as a player, but also as an instructor. His ability to give me simple techniques and drills helped my skills begin to grow for the first time. But what really changed my interest in the game was how Doug began teaching me that golf was a perfect "laboratory" for the inner life principles that we learn at the Foundation. 

He described this as "Letting Go Golf": a new approach to the game where instead of playing - filled with stress, fear, and frustration - only worried about our scores and how good or bad we played - we worked to use each swing, each moment as a chance to observe ourselves. A key phrase we used to remind ourselves to do this was "Begin Again": After each shot, take in any useful impressions we might have of it, then take a deep breath and start over. If an "inner judge" was criticizing what had just happened, we worked to catch it and let it go. 

One of the most fascinating things about golf is how it reflects the cycle of life. No matter what you shoot – the next day you have to go back to the first tee and begin all over again and make yourself into something.” -Peter Jacobsen

"Begin Again" helped spark in me a new love for golf. Deborah's dad and a friend gave me some nicer clubs to play with. I now play or practice every week. Deborah bought me all sorts of nice golf clothes and gear so I'm now a real "Joe Golfer"! Deborah has even started to learn to play too, so now we have something new that we share. 

I'm glad I was open to learning something new and accepting a new "challenge". I look forward to writing more about the lessons "Letting Go Golf" has been teaching me. So many new Pearls learned from something that's becoming more than just a "hobby".

“As you walk down the fairway of life you must smell the roses, for you only get to play one round.” -Ben Hogan

And I'm glad I get to share it and walk down a fairway or two, smelling the roses, with a pretty amazing partner!