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Friday, February 28, 2014

Lessons Learned From Elephants



For as long as I can remember, my mom has collected elephants.  It was her favorite animal by far, yet other than a trip to the zoo, I don’t believe my mom ever came close to one.  When I asked her about why she liked them so much, she’d shrug and smile and never really gave an answer.  So my brothers and sisters and I accepted it as “just one of those things.”

When we moved mom from her small two-bedroom condo to the nursing home where she now lives, we had to pack up her “stuff” and my sisters separated items each of us had given her from those things she took along with her.  Because her room at the nursing home was so small, you can imagine that over the years, there were fairly large piles for each of my brothers and sisters.

And then there was her collection of knick knacks.  And among those knick knacks was a large collection of elephants.  Different shapes and sizes and colors.  Each elephant made out of different material.  She could tell you stories about them, who had given her this one or that one and on what occasion it was given.  In my office at school, I have a small set that my family had given her.  A nice reminder and they cause me to smile when I look at them.  A nice and fond memory.

One of my writer/author friends on Facebook posted an interesting story on elephants.

Laurence Anthony, a legend in South Africa and the author of 3 books including one titled, The Elephant Whisperer, passed away on March 7, 2012.  Two days after his passing, wild elephants showed up at his home led by two large matriarchs.  Separate wild herds arrived in droves to say goodbye to their beloved man-friend.  A total of 31 elephants had walked over 12 miles to get to his South African House, and they traveled in a solemn one-by-one, single file procession.

All I can say is, “Wow!”  Yet, that doesn’t quite cut it.  I had, and have, many questions.  How did they know he had died?  How did they know where to go?  What did they do when they arrived?  What did his family and friends do when 31 elephants showed up at his house?  How long did they stay?

I think we’ve all heard the saying that elephants don’t forget.  I don’t know if that is the case or not, but I think there must be something to it.  After all, how would these 31 elephants behave this way if they didn’t?  Just how smart are they?

Another of my writer/author friends posted a picture on Facebook of a momma and baby elephant with the caption, “Do you know that baby elephants throw themselves into the mud when they get upset?”

Hmmm . . .

A whole lot comes to mind . . .

Not quite sure what the appeal is.  Not quite sure what the attraction is.  I know there are mud baths and mud facials, but I can’t help but feel that sounds sort of gross.  Okay, maybe a whole lot of gross.  A lot of disgusting, actually. 

Well, I’m not an elephant and like my mom, other than a trip to the zoo, I’ve never been around them and I’ve never studied them, so I have no great knowledge of elephants.  None. 

But I think if a baby elephant sticks his or her head in mud, there must be some sort of comfort, some sort of appeal.  The elephant must seek some sort of comfort in mud that the baby can’t get from anything else. 

I know that it seems that mud is a kind of magnet for little children.  Seems they can’t go around a puddle, but will instead, stomp and slog right through it with an earnest, if not mischievous grin.

I know water soothes.  I know there is comfort in water.  Seems to me that water is a lot more appealing than mud.  But, hey, that’s just me.

I do know we seek comfort when there is distress.  I know it is human nature to give comfort when someone is in distress.  Whether we seek mud, or water, or a hug, or a shoulder to cry on and an ear for listening, or perhaps a silent and solemn presence like the herd of elephants, to give and to seek comfort is natural and necessary.  For each of us.  To each of us.  Evidently, for elephants too.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Benefit Of Two Wings



There is a story about a well-meaning mother who saw a butterfly struggling to get out of a cocoon.  The mother, as I said was well-meaning, so she decided to help the butterfly by opening up the cocoon so that the struggle would be less.  When the butterfly broke free, it ended up not being able to fly and in a short time, died.  What this mother didn’t know, unfortunately, was that through the struggle to get out of the cocoon, the butterfly’s wings would become strong enough to fly on its own.  The mother was just trying to help.

Every now and then, we hear of birds with broken wings.  They are unable to lift off the ground.  They have to be picked up and cared for until the wing is healed enough so that the bird can fly on its own.  One wing won’t do it by itself.  Birds need two wings.

The Benefit Of Two Wings.

As a former counselor, I’ve worked with parents of teenagers who would best be described as helicopter parents.  One parent comes to mind who intervened at any opportunity she could.  Her son did no wrong . . . never . . . none . . . ever.  It was always someone else’s fault.  Late work?  Miscommunication and a lack of clarity on the teacher’s part.  Late to school?  She drove, so she should be held accountable, not her son. 

Eventually, it grew.  Smoking?  On school grounds?  No way.  He wouldn’t do that.  A fight with another student?  The other student’s fault.  My son was provoked.

It seems that much like the well-meaning mother with the cocoon and butterfly, this well-meaning is hindering the strength of her son’s wings, inhibiting his ability to fly on his own.  I sometimes wonder if that young man ever learned to fly, or if like the butterfly, soon ‘died’ because of that inability.

The Benefit Of Two Wings.

I think there is also a benefit in having two wings that work, that are strong.  I think there is also a benefit in teaching one to use both wings.

I think that as parents, and as caring adults, there is a tendency to want to help children.  I think as caring adults, there is a tendency to want to help others, young or old.  I think that because of our own lives, our own mistakes, our own questionable and sometimes poor choices and the consequences we found ourselves in because of those mistakes and choices, we naturally want to protect our children, and the kids we work with from making those same mistakes, from making those same choices and falling into the same consequences we found ourselves in.

It’s only natural.  We’re human and we care . . . or at least we’re supposed to care, should care.

The problem . . . perhaps the balance . . . is in how much we can do, say, act and in what our children and other adults need to do on their own.

Brandon is a teacher and family friend.  We were discussing college and what we did or didn’t do while we were at college.  I remember worrying out loud over our daughter, Hannah, and what she might be faced with, what choices she would have to make, what decisions she might have to live with.  His response was, “You raised her.  You taught her.  Trust the job you did, the beliefs you instilled in her, and then trust her.”  I have to admit that I needed to hear that.  Had to hear that.

The Benefit Of Two Wings.

Kids need to learn to fly on their own.  Kids, and others, need to learn from their own mistakes, their own choices.  And then, learn from the consequences of those mistakes and choices.  It isn’t easy.  It’s hard to watch one of your . . . one of my . . . children struggle and suffer, even a little.  But without that struggle, their own wings, much like the butterfly’s wings, without the struggle with the cocoon, won’t grow or develop. 

If we can remember that, our kids will do well.  If we instill in them the belief and faith we have in them, give them support, encouragement, they will learn to fly on their own and their wings will take them in great and wonderful places, above and below the horizon.  Just as each of us did . . . and do . . . once upon a time.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!  

Friday, February 21, 2014

Out Of Duty Or Love



There are a whole lot of things that we do simply because we have to.  Some things we don’t like to do, while other things are a pleasure to do.  Of those things that are distasteful and for those things we don’t like to do, if we’re lucky, we get to blame someone else.  “It’s her fault!”  “It’s just part of my job!”  “I have no choice!”

I went to a boarding high school and those of us who had financial difficulties had a sort of work study program.  Two or three times a week, I had to work in one of the classrooms.  I’d empty trash, sweep the floor, clean and wash the chalkboards (yes, we had them back then), straighten desks.  A little less often, I had to wash windows.

It never took a great amount of time, but it did take time.  It took me away from my friends.  It took me away from things I enjoyed doing such as reading, listening to music, watching TV, messing around outside in a pick-up football or basketball game or a game of Capture The Flag.  I realized that I had to do it because my parents couldn’t afford the whole tuition, but I resented it some.  Maybe a lot.  I looked at it as a duty.  A chore.  Something I had to do.

Brother Fabian was my supervisor.  An older guy.  Had a limp and snowy white hair.  Stooped a bit.  Quiet.  Usually had a smile, maybe a tune he’d whistle.

After I thought I was done with my work, I’d find Brother Fabian and he’d inspect my room, and usually, there was something I had missed.  I don’t think I ever passed inspection the first go-round.  Usually it took two or three times to get it right in his mind.

One evening after I had passed his inspection he asked me to take a seat, so I did.  Immediately I ran through a list of possibilities, of things I might get reprimanded for, but there wasn’t anything that jumped out.  But in a teenager’s mind, anything was a possibility.

He asked me, “Why do you clean this classroom?”  I told him because I had to.  He smiled and nodded and said, “Why do you think I clean the building?”  I shrugged, not willing to say he got assigned the job because he must have done something to deserve it.  He told me that he loved the building.  He liked making sure kids like me had a clean room to go to, a clean hallway to walk down.  He said he wanted to make sure that when someone like me sat in a desk, it wouldn’t fall apart.  He talked about pride.  He talked about duty.  He talked about service and he talked of love.

Back then, I think I sat there like Charlie Brown and the “Waa, Waa, Waa” noise must have played in my ears and through my head.  But I think something stuck because I remember Brother Fabian and I remember the conversation like it was yesterday.  So I guess, not so much of Charlie Brown and the “Waa, Waa, Waa” after all.

Out Of Duty Or Love?

One state and at least six years ago at my previous building, we had a bully.  He picked on everyone smaller, skinnier, and shorter than he.  One day, a tiny freshman carrying an armful of books walked in front of him towards class, and this bully shoved the kid so hard that the tiny kid went flying along with everything he carried.  Books, papers, pens, paper and a calculator all over the hallway.  Most kids laughed.  Almost all kept moving on to their classrooms and their next class.  Almost all, but one.

Nate, a senior who didn’t even know the name of the tiny kid, stopped, set his books down and gathered the little kid’s books and pens and papers and calculator, piled everything onto his own books, helped the tiny kid to his feet, and then escorted the tiny kid to class, carrying the kid’s books and supplies for him.  Did this without a word.  Nate walked into the classroom with the tiny kid.  Went to the tiny kid’s desk and set the kid’s books and supplies down, and said, “I’ll meet you here after class.”  And then Nate left.  And sure enough, Nate met him at the door when the bell rang and walked with him to the next class.  Did that for a couple of days.

I found out about it and asked Nate, “Why?”  He shrugged and didn’t say a word.  I thanked him.  He blushed and shrugged again, and left my office.  From then on, whenever I saw Nate in the hallway, he would give me a nod.  Sometimes I’d see him walking with the tiny kid and on those occasions, Nate didn’t nod or acknowledge me in the least.  That was okay.  Very okay.

Out Of Duty Or Love?

I think we do all kinds of things out of duty.  Some pleasant, some not so much.  I think we do all sorts of things out of love, and again, some pleasant, some not so much.  But I think both can be, and usually are, beneficial . . . to us, to each other, to others.  I think we learn things about ourselves if we examine why we do what we do, and I think others learn things about us in their observations of us doing those things.  I think kids learn a lot about us as we go through life doing this or doing that and the attitude we take when doing this or that.  Duty?  Love?  Maybe one or the other.  Sometimes both, I think.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Answering The Call



Back in March of 1979, I had a team playing in the state championship game.  It was a terrific group of kids.  They were hardworking, never ever quit, hard-nosed- you name it, they were all of that.  They were also young.  That year, I graduated five seniors, three of whom started.  In that particular game, it was close.  As I recall, we were up by three, maybe four points in the third quarter, and then my “star” picked up his fourth foul.  We had one quarter and some quarter to go.  My “star” was my leading scorer, second on the team in rebounds.  He led from the free throw line.  He was second in assists.  He was my acknowledged leader.  Naturally, I made the decision to pull him until we absolutely needed him, sometime in the fourth quarter.  I couldn’t shake the feeling that our season might come to an abrupt end.  But because I was the coach and because the kids looked up to me, I put on my brave face.  Heck, in that particular case, appearance was everything.

I pulled a sophomore from the bench to take the “star’s” place.  Rod would never be considered a “star” by any stretch of anyone’s imagination.  Quiet, unassuming, Rod was the type of guy who was the epitome of the definition of “role player.”

All Rod did during the stretch that the “star” was on the bench was grab two crucial defensive rebounds, snare an offensive rebound and put it back up for a score, block two shots, and collected one steal.  He could have folded.  The team could have folded.  After all, we were a young team.  My point guard, another sophomore and the brother of the “star” kept the team together.  Yet another sophomore picked up the scoring slack.

Answering The Call.

I have a nephew, Rick, a fireman who is also an EMT.  Doesn’t matter about the weather.  Doesn’t matter about the time of day.  When there is a call, Rick and his team are on the run to the rescue.  My wife, Kim, knew from the fifth grade that she wanted to teach Physical Education.  Just knew it.  It was her dream.  Her love.  And, that’s what she does even now, oh so many years later.  I have teachers in my building who spent 40 plus years standing in front of kids teaching their craft.  Many of those same teachers, and other teachers who are nowhere near 40 years in front of a classroom, are teaching way beyond the “curriculum” and teach life, and teach love, and teach service to others, and teach and offer hope.

Answering The Call.

Noah had a decision to make according to the story.  Build a big ol’ boat and collect the animals.  I imagine that his neighbors ridiculed him.  Called him names.  Probably thought he was a tad crazy.  Jonah tried to run and hide, ignoring his call.  Legend says that he was swallowed and spewed up on shore.  Now frankly, getting swallowed is one thing, getting spewed out is quite another.  Eventually, he went and did what he was supposed to do in the first place.

Answering The Call.

I think each of us has a calling.  I think each of us is called.  Some are called to great and glorious things.  Some are called to do routine things that perhaps aren’t noticed without an untrained eye.  Those are the ones who make the world . . . our world . . . go round and round.  They are the ones who help us to function, who play a significant part, yet who sometimes go unnoticed. 

Answering The Call.

Some are called heroes.  Some just go about their business, their work, spend their time.  Some are happy.  Some, well, not so much.  Some happily Answered Their Call, while others chose a different path and answered a different call.  We’ve all answered one call or another.  Each of us.  Each of us don our work clothes, grab our lunch pail, and set about to do the work we signed up for.  Each of us.  We’re all a part of it, you and me, and the others.  One no better, one no less than the other.  Each of us . . . all of us . . . Answered The Call.  The Call of Life.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!