Friday, May 30, 2014

Take The Time

I saw something a few years back that you don’t see very often. I watched a well dressed man stop abruptly, as if held by some invisible force. He was in a hurry, given his stride and determined pace, yet when he passed a public garden of blossoming roses the man suddenly stopped, put down his briefcase, and turned to face the beauty that bloomed there.

There were probably sixty rose bushes each with eight to ten blossoms festooning the prickly stems. It was a magnificent site. The plethora of color, in the softness of the morning light, stopped this busy man in his hurried quest. He stood there surveying the garden patch, spending a moment at each bush. His gaze stopped at a particularly full bush of bright golden yellow blossoms. He reached down, not to pick, but gently touched or better yet caressed this gift of nature. He kept his hand there for a long moment as he once again glanced at the entire patch of extraordinary color.

I thought how fortunate I was to be reminded, in such a tender private way, that no matter the urgency of an appointment, or how focused we are in our thoughts, when nature chooses to embrace us with her beauty and we choose to see it, that moment transforms our thoughts into a passion and we respond with awe. Thank you Sir for the reminder to take time and smell the roses.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

A hike in mind

I had some memories recently of a hike a few years ago up a steep mountain trail. It wasn't just hard walking, it was climbing and clinging and grabbing as I ascended a difficult nearly vertical path.

It was an intermittent misty and rainy day with a cool ambiance that more refreshed than chilled. Fog drifted up the climbing ledges in gossamer wafts of white and gray as the rain coated and washed the ascending trail into a slippery challenge. Granite boulders, some the size of houses, festooned the path as I crawled, slid and climbed through rocky cuts, tiny cave like openings and up and down in crude rocky cuts and chimney climbs.

I loved the purity of the climb. The rain kept all other hikers, but one, from the slippery rocks and pine needle puddles and so it was just nature and me. Pristine and primal with occasional surprising vistas of the cliffs and lake below bursting through framed granite and conifer sculptures.

It was renewing and inspiring and an experience filled with fragrant ceremony for the eastern mountain laurel was in full bloom. Each pink and white blossom celebrated, not only with the mist of the day, but also with seeming appreciation of just being the beauty it was.

I met a weasel who acknowledged my encroachment upon his home and path and a tiny wild finch who stayed much longer than expected singing on a branch not more than two feet away from my still and silent watch.

It was a glorious day.

When I got home and read the newspaper headlines I wondered, what are we doing to ourselves?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

West Point Graduation

I won't be there today when West Point graduates toss their hats in the air, but I was there several years ago to see the pomp and celebration of four years of accomplishment for the young men and women of West Point. I have also lectured at the Air Force Academy and was impressed with the collective as well as the individual dedication of the cadets and instructors.

All of the service academies graduations engender a spectacular ceremony that wells with emotion and precipitates deep patriotic pride and a foreboding bellicose prognostication.

Pride because these new spirits of the American dream have spent hard physical and mental hours over the last four years to honor their dream of an education and of service and commitment to the everlasting ideals of America. The bellicose possibilities exist because many of these men and women West Point graduates will be heading into harms way. It is their destiny determined by the times.

When we send our men and women into battle we think of them as warriors, as skilled fighters, as cohesive units trained to win. They are that and so much more for no matter where they are the dichotomy of trained soldier and the tenderness of human nature abounds.

I have seen pictures from the AP and from Reuters that shows American soldiers at their best. I’ve seen a soldier on patrol, weapon at the ready, kneeling for a moment to pet a kitten. I’ve seen a soldier teaching a little Arab boy to slap a five. A smile on all their faces is a lasting victory. I’ve seen a soldier, maybe a father himself, sitting on the ground cradling a wounded child in his arms.

You can have the best technology to fight a war, but you also must have the best of heart to win one. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


Listening is difficult for most people. We have somehow erroneously learned that the one who asserts, spouts or comments first is more likely to make a point, win an argument, or impress someone with alleged wit or wisdom.

Accurate and truthful communication requires clarity and simplicity and it requires listening. It means stopping to hear with a receptive mind and then processing what you heard. It’s an unfortunate condition that most people only hear what they want to hear because they don’t listen. How many of us, while looking like we are listening, are inwardly thinking of what we are going to say?

Competition in our culture puts a premium on self-expression. What we lack in knowledge, we sometimes make up for by talking fast, shouting or arguing.

Good listening is a virtue and a courtesy. It helps us to connect to the inner truth of a person. When that happens, serious conversations can go deeper. Arguments over meaningless accusations end and issues are more clearly understood and verbal conflict is reduced.

Maybe if we do it, it would spread to the television talk and interview shows. What a concept --- LISTENING instead of interrupting!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Decoration Day

We used to call today decoration day, for it was a time of placing flowers and flags on the graves of America's war dead. Later it became know as Memorial Day to honor all those who died in service to the country.

And again this year we have new names and places to put the flowers and flags. The greatness of democracy is that we acknowledge the value of dissent, discussion and demonstration, but Memorial Day is not the time for that exercise. It is the time for honoring the choice of service of so many, so young that have crossed the eternal threshold to the light of another place.

In many places today along with small town parades and family barbecues and flags waving in the holiday breeze you will hear the somber, but clarion call of taps.

Daniel Butterfield an upstate New York businessman, with no musical training, who became a General during the civil war, wrote taps.

Following the Peninsular Campaign, the General's brigade was camped overlooking the James River in Tidewater, Virginia. His troops were tired and as they settled in for the night the bugler played "extinguish lights".

It's a stuffy, un-inspiring, call with no emotion.

Hearing the bugle that night, General Butterfield thought the final call of the day should bring comfort and peace to his men. Scribbling on the back of an envelope, the General wrote late into the night and the next morning he called for his bugler. He listened to his notes being played and made a few minor changes. He then ordered it to be played each night as the last call for his brigade.

Even though the term "taps" goes back to the 16th century, it soon became connected to General Butterfield's final call.

Taps was first sounded at a funeral in the civil war, when a Union captain was concerned the usual rifle volley might spark an attack from a nearby Confederate army encampment. He ordered "taps" played instead.

There is no greater honor than remembering in public appreciation the final act of service of others. Taps has become the prayer of sound for warriors past and present.

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