A Note to Graduates 

May 13, 2017


Dear Graduates,

The month of May is possibly my favorite. I love the weather — summer is trying to shove its way in with welcomed warm breezes, yet spring is holding its own, providing crisp mornings and pleasant evenings. Birds chirp outside my open window at dawn, and a late-inning baseball game glows on my television screen at dusk. There is a freshness in the air that makes me feel renewed. Life is grand.

Perhaps the best part of May, however, is school letting out for the summer. I think back to my own school days and can vividly remember the feeling of sheer excitement and joy as that final bell rang each year. Having kids of my own and working in a school now, I must admit I still feel it — maybe for different reasons — but there is still that sense of adventure that lurks at the start of each summer.

For you, this year truly is the final bell. It’s the endless summer. Social media is filled with photos of you in your caps and gowns. Smiles are plastered across your faces and invincibility twinkles in your eyes. Many of you are heading off to college, while some will opt to go find jobs. You will become our next generation of doctors, teachers, farmers, politicians, steelworkers, lawyers, carpenters, and accountants. The world needs all of these and one is no better than another — remember that. You “kids” will be taking care of the rest of us just a few years down the road. And believe me, kids, the years will go fast. So fast.

I don’t know much, but I’ve managed to figure out a few things along the way. I’d like to offer you some simple advice. I’ll keep it short, as I know you have better things to do:

1. Advance your education beyond high school. Whether it’s a certificate from a trade school or an advanced degree from a university, education gives you power and promotes the freedom to change jobs and careers. Do it now, because going back to school when you have a wife, kids, a job, and other responsibilities is really hard (trust me). Take your education seriously.

2. Happiness isn’t expensive. Yes, you need to make some money to reach a certain level of happiness and to give you and your family some opportunities. But be very aware there is much more to life than striving to “be rich” and possessing material things.

3. Despite everyone telling you who and what to be, please do what makes you happy. You may not even have a clue yet what you want to do with your life. That’s okay. You may think you’ve figured it out, then change your mind. That’s okay, too. Whatever you end up being, be a great one. Trying to be your best self will make your life better in many ways.

Look, kids, I know you’re not really paying attention. I’m trying to give advice to 18 year olds who already know everything. I used to be as smart as you all are… If nothing else, remember that regardless of our age, we are all writing our own stories. My generation has already written many chapters, and you may be searching for the right words to get started, but none of our stories are complete. No matter how much or how little we have written, no matter how many failures, hardships, and disappointments we face along the way — and there will be many — as long as we are alive, we get to keep writing. So make your stories long, fill them with love and kindness, include many crazy and wonderful adventures, and — most of all — make sure you keep writing until you are happy with the ending. It’s never too late for any of us to change our tale.

Now get out there and make a difference. Each one of you can alter the world in at least some tiny yet amazing way. We are counting on you. 

Sincerely,

A Friend

Today is International Day of Peace. This year’s theme is “The Sustainable Development Goals: Building Blocks for Peace,” and emphasizes ending poverty, protecting the planet, and creating prosperity for all. These are nice, lofty goals, and I hope significant progress is made in each area.

However, today — and every day — I think it’s important to focus on what peace really means. What begins the process of ending poverty, protecting the planet, and creating prosperity? What makes people want to be better as a whole? What can you and I do on a daily basis to make a difference?

One of my favorite quotes comes from Mother Teresa: “What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.” In other words, teach those close to you the importance of loving our families, our neighbors, and ourselves. Show kindness and respect to everyone. Take responsibility for our neighborhoods. If we all did this on a local, personal level, it would naturally start to take hold globally. Perhaps this sounds naive and over-simplified, but to me it makes perfect sense. Some are doing it already, and seeing results. But not enough.

When we tune into any news source, we are bombarded with stories of violence and hate. It’s true that the good news — and there is good news — doesn’t get the airtime it deserves, but there are a lot of bad things going on out there on this planet we must share. If everyone had been brought up being taught the need for kindness and generosity, would we have different newscasts today? If criminals had a parent or someone else tucking them in at night, saying “I love you,” would the world be a better place? If you and I made an effort to simply genuinely smile and say “hello” to the many different people we encounter each day, would it make a tiny impact? The answer is definitely yes.

If you find that these things are difficult for you to do, I have to think that you may need to make peace with yourself. It took me many years to figure it out, but I can promise you that being kind will not only make a difference to those around you, it will also change your own life in ways you can’t imagine. Forgiveness is a breath of fresh air. Positivity trumps negativity every time. And, most importantly, loving feels so much better than hating. To any naysayers rolling your eyes and assuming I’m some kind of tree-hugger, I assure you that peace has nothing to do with being a hippie. Peace is about being happy, and happiness is damn nice.

So on International Day of Peace, please go home and love your family. Make it a priority to teach — and show — those around you the importance of love, kindness, respect, and generosity. These are truly sustainable goals. Spreading love in our own home is the first and best building block to peace. Pass it on.

Hating Isn’t Helping

March 22, 2016


More sickening, heartbreaking news. This time it’s a terrorist attack in Nice, France. Tomorrow it could be in Rome, London, the Middle East, or even the middle of America. Mother Teresa said, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” She of course was referring to ripples of kindness, love, and compassion, but right now it seems the only ripples most of us see and feel are those of hate, fear, and chaos. These ripples are becoming waves, dividing both our nation and the world.

Let me remind some of you — I worry a growing number of you — that the creation of hate, fear, chaos, and division is exactly what terrorists lust after. I’m in no way suggesting that we turn a blind eye, but we must not allow hate to breed upon itself. We can’t allow ourselves to wrongly assume that all Muslims hate Christians, and we must let it be known that the majority of Christians (and the rest of our diverse population) do not hate Muslims. Remember who the enemy is. It is a relatively small group of extremists, cast out by friends and family who once loved them. These people who have turned their backs to terrorists are now being judged as inherently evil by too many Americans. Let us not get caught up in the hatred. If we decide all Muslims — or any other group of people as a whole — are bad, we are only playing into the hands of terrorism. We are literally making new enemies out of innocent people, many of whom are living peaceful, productive lives in the United States.

The division of our country is as dangerous to us as terrorism; possibly even more so. Obviously there is media sensationalism, but the rift between our political parties, races, religions, and nationalities is truly a widening fissure. It is a gap that will soon become difficult to bridge. Anyone reading this has heard the phrase Make America Great Again. If we sincerely want America to be great again, we must stand together. We can (and will) disagree, but we cannot disrespect. We must believe that most people — at home and abroad — are inherently good, then fight against evil, terrorism, and oppression as a united front. Only then will we be great again. Only then will we have a chance to succeed.

Some will say I’m naive and dreaming of some unrealistic utopia, but that is not the case at all. In fact, I’m a realist. Hate is a strong force that will never completely cease to exist, but adding more hate — even under good intentions — only strengthens its power. Please join me in casting stones of kindness and compassion. I alone can only make small ripples, but together we can make a mighty tide. Hating just simply isn’t helping.

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.

Every Voice Matters

January 18, 2016


“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This is one of my favorite inspirational quotes. It is fitting in so many different circumstances, not only in the context that Dr. King used it. I believe the crux of the quote is that we are all responsible for the well-being of others, and when we strive for this, we improve our own lives in the process.

Dr. King could have remained silent. He could have quietly gone about his life and still made an impact as a pastor, father of four, and husband. He could have died an old man. But he had to do more. During his short life, Dr. King made a lasting impression that continues to impact our nation and world today. He was a proponent of peace, love, and equality — something that, unfortunately, we are still searching for nearly fifty years after his death. Many people (especially men, it seems) will roll their eyes when the words peace, love, and equality are mentioned. Perhaps there is some correlation with flowery hippies that comes across as unmanly to some. But, honestly, what could be more important in life? To me, as a father and husband myself, there is nothing I want more. Not just for my family, but for everyone.

Various sources report that FBI files contained hundreds of death threats towards Dr. King. Despite these threats, he repeatedly stood in front of thousands, delivering his message. That’s manliness in my book — standing up to the fear of death in order to help make change a reality. I know that I have never had to be so brave. As we all know, Dr. King was ultimately assassinated. A peaceful, loving, Nobel Prize winning pastor, father and husband’s life was ended by the bullet of a racist coward. I won’t mention his name, although I imagine that Dr. King would want him to be forgiven.

Whether you are enjoying a day off work or school, complaining about the bank being closed, or just going about your day as usual, please take a moment to think about what Dr. King did to help not only the civil rights movement, but the progression of our nation as a whole. Despite his early death, Dr. King had an extraordinary life. He lived like few others until his final breath, refusing to remain silent about things that matter. May we all do the same.

  
I rarely use my blog as a podium, but today I found myself inspired.

I have been following the recent news about Quentin Tarantino, who is very upset because he feels that numerous police forces are sending the wrong message about him by threatening to boycott his new film, “The Hateful Eight.” In case you missed this story, the potential boycott is due to Tarantino participating in an October 24 protest at New York City’s Washington Square Park, where he encouraged people to “rise up” against police brutality and the killing of suspects. “I am a human being with a conscience…I have to call a murder a murder, and I have to call the murderers (police) the murderers,” he said.

Despite receiving a lot of flak, Tarantino has not backed down, other than conceding that not all police are bad. He has been in the news often, giving peace signs and talking about the fact that police are getting away with murder because of the “blue wall” that provides unjust protection. I have no problem with anyone speaking their mind. No one can question that there are good and bad cops, and standing up against injustice or corruption of any kind is not only admirable, but is something that is sorely lacking in the world today. However, I’m curious about Tarantino’s outspoken issue with murder.

“Reservoir Dogs,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Jackie Brown,” “Kill Bill (both volumes),” “Grindhouse,” “Inglorious Bastards,” and “Django Unchained” have one consistent characteristic that stands out more than any other. Extreme violence. More specifically, grisly murders of (sometimes) innocent people. After this recent protest, I thought Tarantino might be changing his ways — then I saw the trailer for “The Hateful Eight,” and quickly realized he isn’t slowing down in the death department. (By the way, “The Hateful Eight” premiers on Christmas Day. What better time to serve the world a giant slice of hate and violence?)

I can’t help but wonder why someone who would publicly denounce killing and declare, “I have to call a murder a murder,” would make movies that glorify what he is apparently so against. Fans might make the argument that in many films the “good guy” is killing the “bad guy,” but remember that Tarantino said a murder is a murder. Oh, and let’s be honest, his protagonists aren’t exactly good people.

A 1994 Newsday piece had the following Tarantino quote:  “If you ask me how I feel about violence in real life, well, I have a lot of feelings about it. It’s one of the worst aspects of America. In movies, violence is cool. I like it.” Unfortunately, his opinion hasn’t changed.

I understand that he is an artist, and he isn’t expecting or wanting people to recreate the fantasy world he puts on the screen. I also believe people are responsible for their own actions, and that art can’t (and shouldn’t) be to blame for things that happen in reality. But perhaps — if he is sincere about wanting to decrease violence in the real world — Tarantino could use his art to inspire people to be better. Over a century ago, Oscar Wilde wrote in his essay The Decay of Lying that, “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” That may be more true now than it was then. The more our society is exposed to violent death, the more we are all desensitized to it — even our supposed real life “good guys,” such as policemen.

Tarantino has a booming voice in this world. He is protesting violence, but doesn’t seem to walk the talk. He could make movies glorifying peace, love and understanding, which could be seen by millions. He could be a real agent for positive change in America and the world. I hope someday he will be.

In the meantime, remember that we all have a voice — a podium — even if it’s in the form of a blog read by a very few. Change starts with each of us. Please, go out and let your voice be heard.