Casual Friday – I Had A Dream

The Real Canadian Superstore adjacent to South...Have you ever tried to phone the Real Canadian Superstore? Let me save you some time. They are not in the phone book under the white pages, neither are they under any of the ordinary denominations in the yellow pages. That’s power. They don’t even need to let you get in touch with them. They know you’ll still come shop there. That arrogance is amazing. So after I finally found a number under pharmacy, I asked when they are open. The nameless automaton on the other end of the phone only said, “the regular hours”. Regular hours. The guy just knows I already know when they are open. And the sick part was, I did. That’s power. That’s arrogance.

They could care less if you like them. They have you and they know it. I despise that attitude. I hate the idea that someone has control over me. I want to believe I am in charge of my own destiny – that my decisions, not some power monger, determine my life. Of course on the same hand I like to play the victim so I have someone to blame when those decisions don’t turn out. I want to control my life – but I don’t want to be blamed for it. I also need to believe that I matter. With their cattle lines and impersonal service Superstore reminds me every week that I do not.

At the time of this writing I have been living with a decision I made some time ago to step out of the limelight. Since adolescence I have been a showman, craving the spotlight, performing for the crowds. Obviously I would have never admitted such a thing so overtly before, I spoke in altruistic platitudes about using a certain temperament or gifting or opportunity. Looking back it amounts to virtually the same thing.I have, from youngest years, believed I would be significant. There was always this carrot of notoriety just outside my grasp. I spoke yesterday of desperately trying to fit it. So much of what motivated me stemmed from this insane need to be ‘someone’. So much of my personality was wrapped up in this subtle egoism. That is not to say that I do not struggle anymore with obscurity. Every time I sit down at this computer to write I question my motivations. I can feel that snake coiling just beneath the surface, even now. Stepping away from full-time public speaking has been the best and most frustrating journey I have ever been on. I would contend that I have learned more about myself and my world in this time than in any other period of my life.I have found obscurity.Perhaps it is more accurate to say that I have finally admitted to myself that I am ordinary and unimportant by almost every societal barometer that matters in prevalent society. It’s ok, you don’t have to encourage me, I’m fine.

This has been good for me. It reminds me of those lines from one of my favorite ‘B’ movies, The Replacements, when Keanu Reeves, a replacement quarterback is confronted by the spoiled and arrogant star quarterback of the pro team who he has just replaced:
Eddie Martel: This doesn’t change anything Falco! I’m still an All-Pro quarterback with two Superbowl rings. You’ll never be anything more than a replacement player.
Shane Falco: Yeah. Yeah, I can live with that.

We all need to come to grips with who we are, not who we pretend to be. It’s tempting to spend your life chasing after something only to find out that when you get it, it really wasn’t what you needed after all.

Close to his death Martin Luther King preached his famous sermon, “The Drum Major Instinct”. As usual, he said it better than I ever could…

Martin-Luther-King-Jr-9365086-2-402“Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize. That isn’t important.Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards. That’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school. I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr. tried to give his life serving others. I’d like for somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr. tried to love somebody. I want you to say the day that I tried to be right on the war question. I want you to be able to say that I did try to feed the hungry. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity. Yes, if you want to say that I was a ‘drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. That I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. And that’s all I want to say.”

We Believe In You

It took me fifteen years to get my black belt in Sun Hang Do Martial Arts. Some people do it in four but apparently I am a slow learner. That and the fact that I took a ‘break’ for ten years. I had been only a few months from my black belt exam when my life fell apart. Soon after I rebroke my knee, and because of the state of mind I was in, didn’t think I could come back. For ten years I avoided people I knew at Sun Hang Do and lived with regret. Getting a black belt was something I had dreamed of since I was nine or ten years of age.

A dream that had died.

A few years ago, however, I ran into an old friend and martial arts master, Dave Kinney, who encouraged me to try again. Coming back was difficult, humiliating, and more physically demanding than I would have believed.

But I am a stubborn person.

Last May, fighting off two weeks of Mononucleosis, I showed up for the infamous black belt test. As the eight-hour test was about to start, Dave’s brother, and another amazing guy, Brian Kinney, came up to me and said he wanted to help me have a good day. He opened his wallet and produced a business card with a dime taped to it – a memento of a talk I had given during another black belt test twelve years earlier.

A memento that he has kept in his wallet all these years. Another brilliant martial artist and friend, Kumar Bandyo, still has his as well.

Sometimes it is easy to wonder if you make a difference in this world. The martial art I take part in is dedicated to changing the world. That morning Brian reminded me that anyone, even me, can make a difference.
Brian is the third member of Sun Hang Do that has told me he still had his dime, and the only one to produce it. Thanks Brian, that really touched me.

Here is the story I used, not my own, so many years ago. After telling it I handed out a business card with the dime taped to it, the Sun Hang Do Logo on the front, and the words, “we believe in you.”

In 1965 the quarterback for the Green Bay Packers was a guy named Bart Starr. He was a great football player but more importantly, he was a great dad.

He had a son, his namesake, Bart Jr. Every time Bart Jr. brought home a paper from school with good marks, or did well in life his dad would write him a note that said something like, “Son, I really believe in you. I’m proud of what you’re doing. Keep going, I love you, Dad.” And then he’d take the dime and scotch tape it on a piece of paper. That dime to his son began to be a symbol to him of his dad really believing in him.

One weekend the Packers went to St. Louis to play the Cardinals, and Bart Starr played the worst game of his entire career. He was intercepted three times, literally lost the game for his team. He flew back to Green Bay, got off the plane and went home, totally deflated and feeling down.

He walked into his bedroom that night and on the dresser was a note from his son. It said, “Dad I really believe in you. I’m proud of what you’re doing. Keep going, I love you….. Bart. And taped to the note ….. was a dime.

When you feel like you are losing and no one cares, when you wonder if you can make it; it’s good to know someone is cheering you on.

Here’s your dime.

Dime Bar

Ordinary People

I was in Kananaskis Park one year around the time of the big G8 Summit and there were huge preparations to welcome the superstars. I was in Denver when the pope visited – 5 helicopters for the religious superstar.

They didn’t have to clear customs like ordinary people, they were special.

I don’t exactly get that kind of treatment. In fact I’m not sure the border patrol holds me in high regard. It all started that day when I was coming back from the states… and what I thought I said was, “I was a speaker at a youth camp helping to bring teenagers to higher levels of social and emotional responsibility”.

That’s what I said, I was sure I said… but apparently they heard me say –“there is a body in the trunk”. I did not get to fly home in five helicopters, nor did I warrant a free pass through customs. I did warrant, however, an uncomfortable hour with a border guard who had his way with me but didn’t buy me dinner first. I am not a superstar. By most accounts I am not even a major player in any arena.

We are told everyday that we are just ordinary folk. You feel that way when you stand like cattle in the line at the coffee shop, or wait in line at Cosco behind that woman who insists on exact change and takes forever to get it. Even the ugly people on television are better looking than I am. They are hardly ordinary.

You probably never met Duke Harris. When I met him he was a teenager already dying, I just didn’t know that at the time. He was quiet, almost reclusive, around me. What I did not know was that he was a mighty warrior, a life bringer. In his own quiet way he continually went out of his comfort zone with his friends. He was more concerned about their welfare then his own. He was the one with cancer but you would never know it.

I remember the day I met his parents. Duke just stood behind them and beamed. He was proud of the love he knew, and he gave it away constantly in the face of insurmountable odds. Courage, right to the end. And then some.

I remember timidly strolling outside to tell Duke’s friends that he was dying. I will never forget the commitment those friends had, the raw love and compassion they felt.

The incredible thing about Duke was that he was painfully shy. He was not beautiful, with his balding head burned by radiation. Nor was he a gifted communicator. All Duke had was his quiet passion, commitment, and sacrificial love. People were drawn to him, though he never spoke to a crowd or published a line.

He was just a kid who passed way before his time. There were no crowds to cheer when he came by, no press to cover his sickness. No one read about his exploits in Variety.

When Duke died all he left was an enduring legacy, eventually a foundation in his honor, and dozens, even hundreds of people whose lives were indelibly changed by that one ordinary life. 

I’m ok with being ordinary, I guess.

living honourably…

Living honorably is something that I have had to learn throughout my life. I am very outgoing, energetic and often intense and these character traits often clash with my desire to live my life in such a way that I and others would consider worthy of honor. There is a real temptation to try to “shortcut” when facing challenges – for example doing whatever is expedient at the expense of that which is honest, honorable, imbibed with integrity. Often those with extroverted personality are given to exaggeration or embellishment in order to represent themselves in the best light possible. There is a tendency to cover ones insecurities and negative self-image with boastful claims, thereby living a life with less honor, less honesty, than one should.

For many years I have sought to practice the honorable lifestyle. As a counselor I am keenly aware of my own faults but also aware of my propensity to be overly hard on myself and therefore compensate. I also am blessed/cursed with a keen sense of introspection and often spend hours every week analyzing how I am doing, how I am coping, whether I am living my life with integrity and honor. When I was young my mantra was, “I am going to change the world.” The older I get the more I realize that changing the world begins with changing myself from the inside out. Being honorable is not about looking good but rather about being good. As I have often said, “It’s one thing to talk the talk, it’s another thing altogether to walk the walk.”

Eleven years ago I believed my life was on track. I was only a few months from testing for my black belt, was doing fine in my career, had an amazing wife and kids. But a series of misadventures occurred that changed my life forever.

Over the next few years the pain of this loss barely receded and I was forced to look inside myself and question my values, my perceived strengths and weaknesses, and my integrity in general. I realized that I had not been as self-aware as I had imagined and began the difficult task of rebuilding my life. Thus began a decade and more of self-examination and introspection with regard to who I am, how I live, and how I relate to others. I have come to realize that I must strive to live honorable every day, every moment, and not just when others are watching. Honorable living is about who I am when no one is looking, when I am alone with my thoughts, in every aspect of my life.

I have not yet become the man I hope to be someday but am attempting to live in such a way that I can be proud of who I am becoming. It is my desire that someday, on my headstone at the graveyard, someone will be able to etch in – “at least he tried”.