9 Million Degrees of Separation…8 degrees of Promise

Sunday morning.

There is a touch of fall in the morning. Not an enthusiastic arrival, but a little more subtle. Noticeable, like thinking you hear a familiar voice and turning to see.  The morning breeze that flows through the patio at my favorite bistro this early morning is just cool enough to look up at the clouds and ask them when they might break long enough for the sun to offer her warm balance.

A few degrees are significant.

My old dog and best friend, Tybee, is in his twilight time. He has a host of things that ail him. His back legs fail daily and his dog version of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) makes it a bit more of a chore to get a good breath. Cataracts lead to a navigation flaw now and then. But he is full of life. He has the spirit of puppy days.

As the sun rose this morning we stepped outside for our morning walk. They take longer than they used to. For most of his sweet life I was literally pulled the entire walk. Today it was a slow and quiet stroll. He stops to rest his legs and occasionally just lies down and lets me know he needs a moment. But this morning, as we stepped out onto the porch and prepared to negotiate the three brick steps to the sidewalk and the waiting common area, his snout tilted upward and he took a deep breath. He had a look of pleasant surprise. He sort of slid down the steps and almost bounced to the walkway. For the first time in months he trotted down the way, stopping to investigate now and then, trotting again. We crossed the avenue to the grassy hill. He collapsed (intentionally) and rolled and rolled and rolled on the dew dropped lawn. He smiled big (yes, dogs smile!). He rose and he attempted a bit of a jog. Then, his legs and lungs reminded him not to push it too much and he slowed to a happy lope.

A few degrees were the variable in play here today.

I thought of the last two weeks. A political smorgasbord. I watched and read and listened to the candidates and their cronies and the pundits and the critics and the passersby. I realize it was a platform fair of sorts. The convention always is. That’s okay with me.

What struck me was the sheer venom. Much more from one side. I don’t expect Kubaya and a group hug. The fact check sites were having a field day cutting through the spin of the angry right and the exaggerated claims of the idealist left. All in all, I heard what I expected to hear. As an American without a party that truly represents my complete set of values and and aspirations, I listened for solutions and vision. Getting there was not easy. The platform noise gets in the way of progress. I have my strong opinions on who can most capably lead this nation at this time. That is for another post. I have stronger opinions at the abysmal failure of Congress – the true barriers to any progress of any kind.

What gets me the most is chasm that separates our proxy members. Is it not possible to simply acknowledge that no party will adequately represent the people in their beautiful and rich diversity? Knowing that we vary in color, values, faith (or lack of it), cultural traditions, preferences and all manner of difference, it seems to me that some sense of community and respect might just be in order. God help us if one of these pissed of tea baggers talked about how we can support those with burdens without being labeled a socialist. I have a dream (humbly borrowing this section of the greatest speech ever delivered) of the hard left understanding that prosperity isn’t the enemy. Our problems are complicated and require something more that a gun, a poster, a tax, a reduction of tax, a policy, or a Super PAC.

The greatest tool and most underemployed tool we have is dialogue. Not talking points or platform rhetoric. A conversation. A conversation, lots of conversations about the challenges and the common solutions that are begging to be considered. They are out there.

Washington needs a touch of Fall to cool the emotions that don’t add value. It needs a breeze to fuel those that do.

A few degrees.

Off to pursue happiness. Another walk with the pup. He is surely saying, “God bless America…and Fall.”

Sittin’ On The Black of the Bay (published May 30, 2010)

An earthquake shakes countries and we respond en masse. Tsunamis come ashore and are followed by waves of dollars and volunteers and government aide. Our planet’s capacity to reach out is sometimes overwhelming. At other times it is strikingly absent.

I have spent the last few days on the water with sea life and river life and people whose lives move with the tides. We slowed the boat on our way to Daufuskie Island to let a pod of Bottlenose dolphin play. They jumped and danced and wrestled and glided all at the same time. They put on quite a show before smiling and moving down river. The pelicans moved stealthily in for the evening catch under a rising full moon. They perched on the buoys and the abandoned pilings and watched the boats and birds and waited the next course. The rhythm of the coastal breezes moved the marsh grass in wave after graceful wave.

I tried to imagine a dark death, like a plague, moving slowly in to suffocate all of this precious life. I visualized our  Pelican and Seagull friends diving and unable to return to flight from the thick coating on their wings. I saw the deep greens and browns of the marshland turning black and dying and taking with it the lives of the birds and the fish who live and thrive there.  I saw the banks of the river at low tide coated in this mess. The crab no longer able to run and burrow along the mud and the rocks.

Months ago the headlines were full of the response of humanity to other disasters. Where is that same humanity when the disaster is one of corporate doing? Does this make it any less a candidate for attention and response from those beyond the boardroom? Did other oil companies rush in with their best minds and resources? Where has been the humanitarian response from corporate and government organizations alike? Is it because many of the victims are not…human? Reality is that the livelihood of so many is threatened by this catastrophe. What is getting much less attention is that LIFE is at stake here too. An entire ecosystem is threatened and dying.

So, I grudgingly turn on the news. Instead of finding headlines filled with national and international response, I see a BP executive spending most of his air time answering to prosecutors from every possible group, agency, district, and agenda. The podium has no lineup of those who have come to a rescue. He stands alone. This isn’t about feeling sorry for a corporate exec. It is absolute sadness over the lack of collective good to save lives. To save livelihoods. To fix a terrible and accidental wrong that not only claimed eleven brave men, but is claiming more life with each creeping inch.

I’ve never boarded a Greenpeace boat. I don’t have a Save The Spotted Owl bumper sticker on my Jeep. I’ve never stood defiantly between a bulldozer and a Redwood. At one point I think I was even critical of these types as if they were all lunatics. But in these middle years I find myself drawn away from concrete and into the woods; from the airports and to the river; from the office and to the forest. So, here I was at dawn this morning, rowing my kayak down Richardson Creek along the marsh and feeling an even stronger conviction to preserve and protect this glorious life around me.

I am a lover of life. All kinds. Tonight I become what I once judged. I don’t want my legacy for the planet to be left to my reusable Harris Teeter shopping bag or a weekly recycling run. That is pissing in the proverbial wind. I am going for “cause” level. Too much at stake.


P.S. Save The Spotted Owl

Winter of our discontent – or our finest moment? (published Jan 30, 2010)

Steinbeck’s’ character, Ethan Allen Hawley, was a good man gone wrong. The pressure to become something more caused him to compromise his values and his very nature. Later, he would rationalize as if somehow he actually had helped those he harmed. Too close.

Now is not the first time a people have struggled in this Land of the Free. These days don’t offer a lot of hope for a lot of folk. You have to seek it, invent it, borrow it, build it. I personally believe that our leaders – left, right, middle, independent – go into their work to help build things, not tear them down. Do they get sucked into the bureaucratic machine that is perpetually running in D.C.? Sure they can. But I am not ready to write them all off. The mood of the country, and  that of most within my social circles, is dark, cynical, critical, and mean-spirited at times. I choose to believe in people. I choose to believe that our leaders feel it a privilege to work on the tough problems on behalf of me and of those who can’t speak so easily for themselves (not that I speak so easily myself).

I listened to our President last week. Just a speech? Nah. Vision. Vision changes. It should. Was “Yes, we can” just campaign rhetoric? I don’t think so. I choose to follow a belief in the human spirit, regardless of Red or Blue or Orange (what is the color for Independents anyway?).

Ethan Allen Hawley sold out under pressure. He came to understand what he did and had to live with it. He returned to his conscience and his heart. It may feel like a Winter of Discontent, but I choose to look for the moon on the water and the beauty and the possibilities just around the bend.

Back to the Future…This Wall…This Damned Wall (published Jan 23, 2010)

The comment was, “It’s time to get our country back.” Just another angry line from a cynical citizen whose version of the American Promise is threatened by the actions or the pending legislation or the questions being asked by anyone who doesn’t represent the good old days. The latest vengeful rhetoric was spawned by a Massachusetts election. It was quite the victory for a nervous lot. The guy seems like a capable thinker. He might have single-handedly slowed a decision that might require cooler heads and more thinking. That might just be a good thing.

My worry has more to do with the place this is emotion is coming from. The behavior of so many seemed less like a people who felt like a sense of balance was underway, but more like vultures waiting for the last breath of an injured animal. Then the words appeared across the social and mainstream media: “…time to get our country BACK.”

Back to what? Back to when? With the years and the moves and the tragedies I have become much less aligned to a position or a party and more to a set of values and what I think was the intent of a group of men and women who hoped for a better life. Not unlike anyone around today. Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness. Pretty good things, eh? “Back” to a time when people used emergency rooms for their primary healthcare because they lost their plan with their job? Back to when a nation’s financial health was measured by Dow Jones and dismisses a national debt? Back to when Bernie Madoff got more air time than boys and girls in uniform dying courageously, risking more than any stockholder could dream? Back to a time when we could hide our ignorance and judgement as long as we gathered around like-minded folks who made us feel legitimate in our prejudice?  Back to a time when we wrote off the perils of a globe in jeopardy because it might mean less horsepower or less square footage to go along with or suburban egos?

Cynical? No way! Idealist? Absolutely! Just amazed at the very idea that a pack ideologues can dismiss that a lot of folks don’t want to go “back.” What if we talked about the FUTURE? What if we acknowledged that the problems we have to solve for are not going to be solved by party lines or worn out colors and position papers and platforms. The planet and the people on it are evolving. Our thinking and our compassion and our intelligence needs to go with it. My beliefs haven’t changed as much as my appreciation for the fact that they aren’t everyone else’s. That is a good thing. I have grown to love and appreciate diversity beyond a corporate program. I, for one, don’t want to go “back” again. I hope we find that our strength will come from common purpose. I wonder what Conan thinks about it all?

‘Till The End of September (published sept 24 2009)

The Sons of the Desert have a song that speaks to when a loss is felt the most.

I’m just fine ’til the end of September

Then I remember losing you October ’89

If I live in the past, there’s no future

I’m looking forward to leaving October behind

We didn’t have much of a relationship. I don’t remember any words of wisdom. We didn’t play ball or hang out. Although he did coach my team one year in what I now look back as an attempt to bond with me. Thanks, Dad. Still, he was around and I was able to watch and glean what I could. He had a soldier’s set of values. Respect for elders and our President. Manners. Duty to country. It is in the fall, when seasons change and slow a bit that I remember him the most.

To my friends who loved and lost, I wish you peace. To my kids – I hope my time here leaves you better. You have made my life rich and full of blessing. Dad loves what has become of you. He sees what he hoped he would be through you.

He is with his comrades in Fort Barancus. They hang out and tell war time tales and bask in the glory of the fight. I hold on to the belief that his soul remains. The possibility that he watches and enjoys the goodness and hurts for the times when life is hard. I think he is learning although he is no longer here and is passing it on to me in ways I don’t know and surely can’t understand.

Stop and Smell and Grow Some Damned Roses (June 14, 2012)

It was an awkward moment. A glass of wonderful Cabernet in one hand and shaking the hands of other execs joining an evening dinner party with the other. Suits and greetings and small talk. Wine and appetizers and debate and long-overdue reunions for some of us who work only floors away in some cases; states away in others.

“The funeral was beautiful,” my friend said. A couple of other pals went on to describe the scene at yesterday’s funeral. I looked to my left and one of my colleagues had the same questioning look. He said, “Whose funeral are we talking about?”

A colleague, dare I say, a friend had passed away after a long battle with cancer. Beloved by so many. We had had a number of delightful encounters over the years. She made a point of commenting on my columns and my work on healthcare strategy. She was always so appreciative. We exchanged cards of thanks and congratulations for things here and there.

She died. I missed it. The message was probably buried in an email that I skipped in “preview” mode, or in a voice mail I didn’t recognize. Who knows?!

The bottom line is that someone I care for…care about…her life ended and I missed her passing and the celebration of her life. Things “got in the way.” BULLSHIT.

I woke up this morning and I was 5/8 through my life expectancy. She made it to half way. It could end tomorrow. It does for so many. Trying to change the world is a burdensome and beautiful privilege. Being PRESENT in it is required and so often dismissed.

To my friend, if there is an afterlife blog RSS or facebook for the next phase (Zuckerberg is probably working on it), then keep me posted. I’ll miss you.


I’ve Moved my Blog

Apple made some changes with MobileMe. I needed some new real estate for my thoughts…and for yours. So here I am. I’ll spend some time retrieving from the archives and re-posting some of the previous stuff. Looking forward to the conversations.