This Isn’t Goodbye

February 29, 2016

“This isn’t goodbye,” she said with a reassuring laugh while packing up her few belongings in an old milk crate I stored albums in as a kid. Oddly, I found myself trying to remember the records.

“This isn’t goodbye, but I can’t talk today,” she said when I called her again. She just needed some space, no doubt. I reminded myself to text next time.

“This isn’t goodbye, it’s just not a good night,” she said when I stopped by her place with some flowers and wine. Wine was never her thing, but it always seems cool in movies.

“We should consider seeing other people. I’m not saying this is goodbye — just a break that will be good for us both,” she said when I invited her to a mutual friend’s party. Of course, she’s right. She’s always right.

It was very late and I was about to leave the bar when I saw her sitting in a dark corner booth holding hands with the guy. Unsure what to do, I stumbled up to the table in a daze.

“This is goodbye,” I said very coherently. “But I’m sure you already knew.”

I opened the door and turned my back to the smoke-drenched air, feeling suddenly alive as the black cold engulfed me. My heart beat faster.

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Amelia’s Wish 

February 28, 2016

 

Litter is a big problem. Amelia Meyer is part of the solution.

I just spent the morning picking up trash. I’ve actually done this twice in the last year, because I felt like I should — it was never something I looked forward to. This morning I did it because I wanted to. I was truly inspired.

I hope by now you have heard of Amelia Meyer. If you haven’t, you need to. Amelia is an eight-year-old girl who happens to go to my daughter’s school in Kansas City, Missouri. She is battling brain cancer, and was given a chance to make her dreams come true by Make-A-Wish Missouri, the local chapter of the wonderful foundation that helps children with life-threatening illnesses.

Most children might wish to travel to Disney World, meet a famous person, or do something similar that sounds fun and exciting. Obviously there is nothing wrong with this — it is what I would expect any kid to want, including my own. After all, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so any typical kid would be licking their chops. Amelia’s wish was quite different, however. She decided to “take care of the world” by picking up trash at local parks. Saying this is not your average child’s idea of fun is a huge understatement.

Amelia was originally inspired to pick up trash during walks she took with her grandmother. Now her selfless wish has inspired countless numbers of others — not just in Kansas City, but reaching far beyond. I have read about people cleaning up litter in Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Illinois, Tennessee, Texas, New Mexico, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida, Louisiana, California, Oregon and Washington, as well as in Germany and Dubai. It’s simply amazing, and new reports continue to come in.

Something else that’s amazing is how Amelia — someone who might have wished to meet a celebrity — has become quite the celebrity, herself. Although I’m sure she isn’t very interested, the amount of news and social media coverage that this event received yesterday (I had to work, which is why I partook today), and continues to receive, is remarkable. In fact, actual local celebrities joined in and are talking about her. Sly James, our mayor, declared February 27 as “Amelia Meyer Take Care of the World Day.” I applaud the declaration, but would rather see people continue to be inspired to do their part for the world every day — which I believe is all Amelia really wants.

The cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” I have no doubt that we will hear from Amelia Meyer again in the future. Like her wish, she will live on and will someday change the world. Indeed, she already has.

  
Not so long ago, a little girl named Rose was growing up in an old, run-down, dirty neighborhood. It seemed like it was always cloudy. Her neighbors were grumpy and rarely came outside.

As Rose walked to and from school each day, she passed a vacant lot near her home. Her parents had told her about the lot many times. There used to be a beautiful house here, with big trees and a colorful flower garden. But now it was just a patch of hard, cracked dirt with only some weeds growing.

Walking home one day, however, Rose noticed something different in the lot. Something other than weeds was coming from the ground. As Rose got closer, she realized it was a small bush with one tiny flower. It was a rose.

“Look, a rose, just like me!” she said aloud.

The rose was wilted and in terrible need of help. Rose ran home and returned with a large cup of water, which she slowly poured around the bush. The water flowed through the cracks in the dirt.

The next morning Rose woke up early and hurried to the lot. She couldn’t believe what she saw. The little rose had grown — and there was a second flower, a daisy, growing next to the rosebush!

Every day when she got home from school, Rose filled a watering can and headed to the lot to water her flowers. Every morning there were more flowers to see. Red ones, purple ones, yellow, green, pink, orange — so many beautiful colors that were nowhere to be found in the neighborhood. There were roses, daisies, daffodils, tulips, and some strange types of flowers that Rose had never even seen before.

After just two weeks, there were far too many flowers for a watering can. Rose’s dad gave her a long garden hose that she would lug to the lot each day. And with more water came even more flowers!

People started to stop and stare at the new flower garden. Rose’s mom found an old bench in her basement, and painted it bright yellow. She put the bench on the sidewalk in front of the garden so people could relax and enjoy the scenery.

Oddly, things began to change in the neighborhood. People started painting their houses, fixing broken windows, cleaning up trash, and planting flowers of their own. Before long the old gray neighborhood had color everywhere. People who used to keep to themselves inside were now outside working on their lawns, playing with their kids, walking their dogs, and saying “hello” to people they passed on the street. The neighbors were getting to know each other and were becoming friends. Someone — no one was exactly sure who — even put another bench, this one painted red, in front of the flower garden. So many people were coming to admire the garden, that one bench just wasn’t enough.

Rose continued her watering every day. More and more flowers grew, until you couldn’t see the ground at all, just flowers everywhere! Kids and grownups alike came from all over the town to see the garden. They also noticed how nice the rest of the neighborhood looked. Soon, other neighborhoods were doing the same thing, until the whole town become something to see. It wasn’t long before people started coming from far and wide to see the flower garden. They then went home and started their own gardens.

Folks from all over the map started adding color and beauty to their own towns. They were working very hard, yet they were happier than ever before. People had something to be proud of.

All because of one little Rose.

Recess

February 17, 2016

Photo Credit: A Photographer

 
If you’re one of the seven people who read my blog regularly, you know that I quit my job — no my career — almost a year ago to pursue happiness. I spent about six incredible months as a stay-at-home dad, and have been working as a substitute teacher since school started. I love being a sub and working with kids. It’s challenging, rewarding, and sometimes I’m lucky enough to work in the same school as my kids, which is pretty cool for all of us.

Back when I worked for “the man,” there was a trendy deli in a quaint neighborhood that I went to often for lunch. Okay, it was actually a Subway, but this particular location truly had some of the freshest ingredients, and it was in a cool part of town. It backed up to a park bordered on the far side by a school. On nice days I would get lunch to go and eat in my car with the windows rolled down. While enjoying some fresh air and a mediocre sandwich, I was always able to hear the school kids playing during recess. I couldn’t see them because a little hill was in the way, but I didn’t need to. What I could hear was pure joy. Jubilant laughing and playful screaming was perfect background noise on a warm, sunny day. The students were obviously elated, without another care in the world at that moment. It was a great — albeit very temporary — escape from the conflict resolution meetings, particularly particular clients, and general negativity and stress of the daily grind.

I’ve been a long-term substitute at the same school for nearly two months, and I now get to experience recess up close on a daily basis. Being able to physically see recess gives me a newfound appreciation — no awe, really — of the early coordination skills of our youth, which I formerly perceived to be somewhere in the range of fairly awkward to dangerously clumsy. Every day I expect to witness broken bones, lacerations requiring urgent medical care, concussions, or worse.

Let me attempt to paint a picture for you: at each recess there are about 125 kids playing on a chunk of rock-hard concrete that’s approximately the size of a football field. Sound scary? Wait. Now imagine these 125 kids playing seven separate games of tag, two games of basketball, a game of four square, and pretending to have a gymnastics meet. All while a soccer match is taking place. Oh, and a handful of the students like to just sit on the ground and talk. When I worked a recess for the first time, I asked one of the seasoned, full-time teachers where the ambulance was kept on standby. I was only sort of kidding. Amazingly, I have never witnessed more than a scraped knee (knock on wood), and even that is rare. It’s similar to what I would expect if several flocks of birds were put in a giant cage. The kids just magically follow their group around at high rates of speed, never running into the ever-present trouble surrounding them. It is truly something to behold.

The school I’ve been at recently happens to be designated as one of the district’s “English Language Learners” elementary schools. This means that students who are new to the country or unfamiliar with English are brought in from outside of the school’s normal boundaries in an effort to help get them up to speed before middle school. This results in a wonderfully diverse student population. I get to not only hear the youthful fun, but I see children from many different races, nationalities, and religions playing together (mostly) in harmony. Sure, there are disagreements and even occasional scuffles, but at this age there are really no cliques or clubs, just kids having fun together. It’s firsthand proof that love — or at least acceptance — is natural, and hatred is learned. This is a great thing to be able to witness.

Remember when we were kids? Most of us didn’t worry, judge others, or overthink our existence. Life was pretty simple, and most of the time was simply great. Despite that, we couldn’t wait to get older. Now many of us make things more difficult than necessary, as our remaining time on this earth races by at an ever-increasing rate of speed. Someone more clever than me said that “these are the good old days.” Trust me, you can do better than briefly escaping over your lunch break, over the weekend, or even over a vacation. Live your life like the kids on the playground — with exuberant energy, with kindness, and by making the most of the moments we have left. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that, regardless of age, everyone says they feel like a kid at heart. After all, we are just kids who grew up. Find time for recess.