Sean’s Journal: My Birthday Letter to Dad

Dear Dad,

Major Carmon Logan Keyser, USAF  April 13, 1962
Major Carmon Logan Keyser, USAF, circa 1962

I sit here on the eve of the anniversary of your passing. You left us the day before my birthday. April 13 was destined to forever be a day of sad memory and less one of celebration. Then, two years later, your grandson, Logan, was born on the 14th of the same month. As providence would have it, the quieting of your time here and the grief that came with it was redeemed with the joy of his arrival, and Chelsea’s only weeks before.

I am only seven years shy of the age you were when you left us and jetted to the ultimate TDY. Not one of these years has passed without a thought of you; who you were, what you stood for, what you wanted to be, and what you hoped for me—or at least what I imagined you hoped for me.

I think you would have been been proud of me. You would have been disappointed and a bit judgmental. You would have raised your patented eye brow at my choices and offered your Cheshire Cat grin at others. You would have questioned my reasoning and celebrated my curiosity and adventure.

You saw too many things we shouldn’t see. The emotional flak that seemed to burst relentlessly all around you for so many years took its toll and fed the cynic that was sure to mount after seeing all that you saw in defense of us.

As a patriotic teen, seated tightly in a turret, you shot guns that put men down from the sky. Later, as a pilot, you airlifted boys and dropped them over badlands. Many would never again see their mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers and girls whose letters inspired them to live. You flew secretly in places we didn’t acknowledge. You served—even when the motive wasn’t clear, but the mission was never questioned. You attended ceremonies and wrote letters than no one should have to write and heard the macabre sound of twenty-one gun salutes too many times.

An army of dying cells would declare war on your decorated being. You and and your own squadron of medicine men and gadgets and chemicals fought and then surrendered. In those last days you became a child again. Curious and wondrous. Grateful and regretful. Kind and spiritual.

You greeted your beautiful granddaughter on the day of her birth, in my own hospital, and held her and spoke to her in your broken, but quietly clear voice with the words, “You be a good girl. I love you.” You kissed her forehead and let the next days be your last. Reconciled. Finding fragments of peace in this world of wars.

Logan has grown and has followed you. He graduated college a healer. He bypassed the prestige of OCS and enlisted with plans and a vision of the highest honor to be among the ranks of the most prestigious of fighting men. He has become that man. His legacy of defending this beautiful land is in the best hands.

Chelsea, the little girl held in your arms only days before you left us, fights for those who can’t fight. She listens empathically to stories that wage war in the minds of precious kids and young adults. She combines her learning and her intuition and offers hope through diagnosis, treatment, a kind touch, and words, and prayer.

I woke at the earliest hour. I remembered our time. Tonight I will sit on my deck and quietly meditate on the last days that were good, and too few. I will hold the letter in my hands that you wrote for my first birthday. You wrote it to me from one of those secret places in southeast Asia that would later become an awful killing ground. It never left you. I will think of how Chelsea and Logan inherited some of your spirit when your body resigned. And I will be forever grateful that the years and years of not knowing youDadsLetter - Version 2, of misunderstanding you, of unrequited pride would evaporate in a matter of those last months. Replaced by a round of golf, talks about a good book, revisiting and conquering regrets, and, finally, a gentle goodbye.

I will celebrate my own birth and stand grateful that you and mom chose to bring me in later in your lives (or at least that is the story you stuck to). I will celebrate Logan’s day the day after mine. We will salute you in our own traditional and civilian and loving way.

I miss you, Dad.

“The birds will keep us in touch”


Sean’s Journal: Personal Best(s)–More Lessons from the Trails

Personal best? The weekend’s rides were a series of little ones—not one overall. Getting to the best part of me as a son, a father, a partner, a businessman, a citizen, a musician, a writer, a paddler, a friend, or a rider, takes training and practice and a little gutsy resolve.

The trails are Nature’s mentor in many ways. Learning where the lines are cleanest and where the roots and jumps can be most treacherous. Constant attention and familiarity reduces risk and offers up a predictably better finish. But taking the familiar and continuously improving on the same path lures one into staying on that path because we know it. Living life, I mean living it, has much to do with trying, and failing, at the proverbial “less traveled.” I am drawn to the unknown. I love it best when the woods are quiet and deep and absent of other humanity, but full of an audience of wildlife whose bleachers are the trees and the creeks and under the logs and around the fallen things.

I rode various trails over the tGoatHillPosterPersBestwo days. For whatever reason, with each approach to the places that offered the safer (bypass) or Expert options, I chose only
the more challenging path. There are times I want to glide and enjoy the maturing of a faster outcome for the whole. But these two days were more about getting a little better at the edges, the hazards, the precarious. It was an attitude. I wanted to explore both new terrain and new potential.

So I pushed. I never clocked my overall time. I did find that my turns were sharper, some of my landings more solid, my acceleration out of the turns faster, and a little more air was under the frame.

Ramp2PersonalBestHippieAt the top of Whitewater’s Goat Hill, I smiled. The burn in my thighs was matched by a rapid pulse and mild gasps for the Spring air. I tried, and succeeded at single-gearing it all the way.

The next day, on the ramp at Beatty I did what I thought I would never do. I jumped off the down ramp instead of carefully leaning back and sliding through the descent. I landed hard but never lost stride. There is this adrenaline that is rooted in fear at the pull of the bars heading into the jump, then, an equal amount that turns to a rush of “Holy Shit, I just did that.” This chemistry of opposing highs mixed with the familiar racing through clean lines and the known paths made for a day to remember.

A blueprint for life.


Sean’s Journal: Practice, practice, practice…clear my head of that damned little bridge

What can a 20″ wide bridge over a small creek teach me about leadership and life. Riders ride and train on these trails all the time. There is

BeattyCreekBridge1this one bend that leads down to a short bridge over a tiny creek that, for whatever reason, is the nemesis for so many. I have watched for years and even succombed myself to flying around the bend only to throw on the brakes just prior to the bridge. There are MANY more technical elements on this nice set of trails. But THIS ONE gets in a rider’s head. The fear of not hitting it just center and possibly sliding off to a two-foot drop (not much even if it happened, but would require dumping the bike) is enough to almost give it a nickname.

On those days when I’m not thinking about it–or about the 3 or 4 other challenging ramps or drops–I fly right over it. Then on other other days when feeling less confident and thinking too much, the anxiety builds 1/4 mile away and often results in a redo.

I recently parked my jeep at the trails near the ballfields at the park. I stopped to watch the kids in practice and was taken back to the best times in the best places. The diamonds of my early and late youth. Those proverbial fields of dreams that so shaped me and caused me to love the sport … and all sports. As I watched the infielders taking grounders and the batters taking pitches I was reminded that skill may come naturally to some, but much of the game is about practice. As a second baseman and shortstop most of my baseball career I have taken thousands and thousands of grounders. It built a sense of timing and led to an almost intuitive response to the dance between the ball and the grass and the dirt and the velocity off of the bat. Kids in T-ball or the pros whose season began only days ago have the same routine. Grounder after grounder. Pitch after pitch. Swing after swing. Throw after throw. The result is confidence and continuous skill improvement.

I jumped on my bike and took the shortcut to the bridge. Not a rider in the woods this early evening. A cool breeze swirled around the trees just getting fitted in Spring’s green. The trail’s dirt just moist enough after the weekend’s rain to offer a little extra grip.

I got some speed, looked ahead at the descent and the bridge, took the high route and flew right over it. I had no sooner taken the bridge and the subsequent 90 degree turn uphill that I grabbed a shortcut and headed back to run it again. Two, three, ten, twelve times. With each turn and brake adjustment and gear change this tentative annoying 8 foot stretch over moss covered rock became insignificant.

There are these things in our lives that get in our head. We avoid them or go around them or excuse them away. The rear their ugly self and try and rob confidence. They wake me from time to time and attempt to distract me from the good.

I choose more these days to lean into them. To practice. To take the speedy grounders that hit me in the chest or brush my arm and leave a leather burn and, more often, land in the sweet spot of my life’s glove.

Practice, practice, practice. I will.

Trumpinol: revealing the hidden evidence of crimes against humanity (or at least Constitutional intent)

This will hopefully be one of the last, if not the last politically cynical posts I pen. After spending four days in a mindfulness/awareness retreat recently, I re-realized that my core isn’t negative in the least. I knew this. I operate from a place of idealism and hope. But this campaign season has chipped away at that core. I have no illusions that these GOP men aren’t human or don’t have flaws.

But good Lord–Really?

And to think, at one time I was actually a leader in the Young Republicans in my old stomping grounds. This year, since Jeb Bush walked away (say what you like, I was actually ready to support him and consider moving more to the moderately conservative place of yesteryear), the character, the tone, the substance and the players scare the hell out of me. One in particular has me greatly confused. I actually reached a point where I was convinced I just wasn’t smart enough, or in touch enough, or patriotic enough to realize he might just be right. Not.

Each day–up until even the last few with the War-of-Wives shit, I am convinced that this animal has created and deployed Twitter Fairy Dust and has created an almost zombie following that rationalizes his absurdity in the name of being “great again.” In the most ironic of twists, seven (7) of my friends/colleagues in the last 3 days have written me to express first hand that they are walking away from this guy. He has more interest in picking on Ted Cruz’s wife (careful…she would kick has ass on all fronts and is a class act) than speaking about the world’s challenges with terror from any other point than declaring all muslims as probable terrorists. Just another in the latest of uninformed and myopic lunacy. My journal entry of a few weeks ago was therapeutic. Please try and not be offended if you support this guy. This was just my expression and opinion. I am not on a track to change minds. Again, the fairy dust is already in the neurologic system and likely can’t be reversed on logic or moral conscience alone 🙂


Trumpinol: revealing the hidden evidence of crimes against humanity (or at least Constitutional intent).

It was Super Tuesday (the first one). Kind of reminds me of “Super-Sizing.” Adding more bad to an already bad thing that eventually clogs the blood flow and the wellness of an otherwise health-seeking miracle of a thing. And it happens from a point of will…of choice…a seemingly robotic and mindless auto-response fashioned by sound bites and media crack doses of empty and provocative rhetoric. But, it works!

As I sit and attempt to dialogue with healthcare strategy consultants over dinner, I can’t help but check my phone that is pegged to With each moment, my heart sinks further and my mind clouds as if in a nightmare I keep thinking I might wake from. Then again, why? Maybe its time.

But there is evidence. Let’s explore, class. Circumstantial evidence can be a good thing to come along, especially if a crime isn’t solved in the first 48 hours. It can reveal the source of vile acts and bad judgement.

I have this love of—no, perhaps an obsession with—true crime channels. Investigation Discovery and Crime & Investigation Network are my favorites. Great detective and forensic work often reveals what criminals attempt to cover.

One of the many tools in forensics work is this spray. Curiously simple, but entirely revealing. Luminol. According to Wikipedia, mixed with a little garnish of my own, the following definition is offered to the common folks, like me:

Luminol: Forensic investigators use Luminol to detect trace amounts of blood at crime scenes, as it reacts with the iron in hemoglobin. Biologists use it in cellular assays to detect copper, iron, and cyanides, [xenophobia, character forgery, Constitutional contempt, and, and bad manners].

Being a lifelong idealist and amateur silver-lining chaser, I try and find SOMETHING in most bad situations. In perhaps the strangest and most ironic political twist, the current histrionics and calculated oration of the leading republican candidate for the great office of President is likely to have at least one unexpected “value.” Like Luminol, the positions and “plain talk” have ignited largely dormant, albeit restless sentiment. Lurid as it is.

The pseudo-nationalism commanding so much attention would fit more in a Game of Thrones episode than in today’s world. I am shocked and almost numb at the flood of ignorance that suggests that if we build and fortify “The Wall” and keep out the undesirables (anyone lacking a Judeo-Christian position or isn’t white enough or doesn’t always win or hasn’t been captured in war, or is a woman, or has a mental or physical challenge, or…fill in he blank) that all will be fine and we will return to being “great again.” I’m at a loss over this man who seemed to wake up from some cryogenic state from the first Ice Age to grunt and bully club his way to 36% of one party’s constituency that finally has found its long lost quasi-arian voice. He is proxy for tucked away emotions of fear and anger over encroachment of the life they believe was intended by the Constitutional founders.

Oh, the irony again. Our founders would have loved the diversity of thought and look and dress and language and collective patriotism. The current stage of commentary energizes the ethnocentric base and and appeals to the equally anxious base that feel valuing diversity is synonymous with “politically correct.” This actually speaks more to their ignorance and intolerance than to their humanitarian or constitutional wisdom.

I have friends, dear friends, who do not hold nationalistic ideals and who do not have a prejudiced bone in their body that are supporting the reality star and real estate tycoon. They are good people. And, they genuinely believe that his derisive “plain talk” is good for us. They feel his “anti-establishment” (the most trendy, and entirely inaccurate term applied this election, self proclaimed by virtually every candidate) speech represents them, like a preacher who seems to be speaking directly to you as you sit passively and then nervously in the pew.

I have moved through the stages of political grief.

(1)Denial began when I first saw evidence of folks taking this man seriously. Followed by the (2)anger over his shocking and divisive words and attacks. I then entered the next stage of (3)bargaining with the political gods, those deceased and those remaining, hoping their influence could somehow create a an exposé of his entire self not matching a word of his newfound conservatism. They acquiesced, mesmerized by the unprecedented gamesmanship that is the RNC. Then, as support grew and the hate spewed and the children fought in the political sandbox, (4)depression sat in. It remains. It carries through and is handing off to the final stage of (5)acceptance that this might actually happen. Perhaps it is time.

Wait. I almost gave in to the fairy dust. I will vote. I won’t use the pitiful “I’m not even going to vote” cop out. I will dialogue. It is my right. It is my privilege.

I need a glass of wine and a hammock.

Sean’s Journal: Brainstorms Against Humanity…Touchstones to a Better Day

So many good things happened this week in my little world of healthcare delivery for patients and families and our guests. I spent time with new and seasoned providers in dialogue about compassion; I spent time with fellow administrators planning for a year or two or three to come in design of capital and operational needs for a system in transition; I learned from thought leaders and from my pals in the experience playground.

But, the lessons and the motivation and the inspiration and the growth could only go so far. My mind and my heart was pulled on to the world stage as well. The sadness and the grief in Paris and in other pockets of the planet wouldn’t leave me. My head was fogged by the responses from the right and left and all over the directional and ideological map.

I cannot entirely begrudge the emotional, and often ignorant responses to the terror that has taken place. My hope is that reason, accompanied by compassion, and mercy, and open hearts will prevail. My hope is that we find a balance of caution and servitude; empathy and protection; hope for the hopeless and care for those in our lines.

For those who continue to deny the truth and hold fast to their ultra anti-muslim rhetoric, I hope for enlightenment over sick prejudice. By now, we should know that ISIL or ISIS or whatever acronym given to these petty thugs has NOTHING to do with Islam. They use it as a cheap cardboard sign to gain a proverbial radical dollar at a traffic light of world order. “Will inflict terror for attention.”

A short course in history will reveal that terrorism has its roots in ideology, be it political, economic, religious, or other causes or themes. In this case, political motive is wrapped in a perverted and fictitious connotation of Islam. But, understanding that would actually require learning beyond what a Fox News anchor offers in seven seconds or a Ted Cruz or Donald Trump grandstand for cheap votes and a wall. It’s a little more complicated than throwing down a nationalist moat.

Terror, as we know it today has been around as long as humanity. The Nazis inflicted terror through an Aryan claim to justify “scientific” racism and anti-semitism. Fascists terrorized in the name of nationalism. Leaders and regimes have engaged in terror through ethnic cleansing in order to achieve ethnic homogeneity. And yes, less than a couple of hundred years ago our own thugs engaged in the terror (yes, “terror”) of slavery and justified it as an economic and evolutionary right.

Today these displaced and misplaced freaks are brilliantly hijacking a religion to mask their apocalyptic and narcissistic agenda. And we are buying it. And so are some of the potential leaders of the “free” world. Ironically, our freedom comes with risk. One of those risks is that we might go into a “Judeo-Christian” foxhole and display the antithesis of freedom in order to shelter from the possibility of radicalism. The ultra-Christian who blows up a women’s clinic is no less a terrorist. The white-supremacist who stones and hangs and shoots and burns is no less a terrorist. The anarchist who blows a building in Oklahoma is no less terrorist.

Yes, pause and consider what danger is among us. Blend defense with humanity. It is where we began. In our short history—and I do mean, “short”—our experiment in democracy and a better exercise in equality has such promise. I still believe in most politicians, believe it or not. I still hope that the men and women in congress and in other office will reach deeper than a sound bite or the fear of an idea so much that we abandon our own origin.

touchstonesAt the end of Friday’s retreat, we reached into a bag to retrieve touchstones as a token from the event. I couldn’t help but offer a smile and prayer for hope at the gifting irony.

Peace. Dream. Charity.


Sean’s Journal: No Strings (cables) Attached and What I Don’t Expect

Part one: This was an experiment. I had a T.V. go out a little over a month ago. My auto response was to run to Best Buy and get a bigger, higher definition, smarter one. I didn’t. Instead, I cut off cable for a bit. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not on some cause to leave a less electronic footprint. Just curious about where my attention lands when there aren’t 500 plus channels, like dogs and cats in the pet store vying for my gaze and adoption.

Part two: I packed up one stack of books last year and donated them to Goodwill. The second stack is waiting on the bottom floor of my townhouse waiting for the same transfer. There are over 100 of them. Today might have been the day. Returning from Florida after a trying and joyous and scary time. Feeling a need to continue to purge and return to simpler.

Part three: Listened to an interview with theoretical physicist, Lisa Randall. Among many things she spoke to, one quote grabbed me. “We often fail to notice things we are not expecting.” This comment, from an author I truly enjoy and think has a beautiful balance of matter and what matters struck me about where I am right now.

Dénouement: Returning from a time in which mortality and meaning hit me in the face, I want even more to be distracted less. I want to slow and notice and not be so programmed into what is expected and miss the things I will ultimately love the most. I read a lot late at night following hospital visits and family time. I wrote. I walked and listened to singer-songwriters who capture these very things.

I returned home to conversation I missed so much, proximity of love, a shared glass, time with friends in celebration of life and birth, to no plans and letting the day carry us where it will.

And on the way out the door this morning for a crisp November ride in the woods, I saw my stack of books. There are passages and titles asking me for a little more attention before they are off to their new home. I wasn’t expecting that.

“To want what I have and to take what I’m given with grace.” ∼ don henley



Sean’s Journal: Remembered things

There’s not much good that can be said about dementia. In fact, there is nothing, unless it could be called on selectively to remove those things not worth storing or that hurt.

This journey with Patti (that would be Mom) has taught many lessons on the wonders of the body and the mind.

She has said as far back as I can recall, “Always have something to look forward to.” In this curious case of visiting her while an ICU and telemetry patient, dementia has a bit of twisted benefit.

It’s the short term effected the most. Questions asked and answered over and over—some with less patience than others. Names and even faces that leave almost as soon as they arrived.

If there is silver lining to the loss of fragments of memory in this case, it is that each visit becomes new. An unexpected and positive surprise. A big smile breaks through the tubes and the vapor of the breathing treatments and past the blinding lights of a room occupied by precious life and inanimate machines keeping the precious life precious for a little longer.

Memory has its blend for evil and for good. There is a neurological yin and yang about it. The recall can allow grudges to never die; for pain or sorrow or anger or all manner of negative emotion to be reignited. Whole wars have happened because of a collective or individual memory. It can haunt and stay, even if begged to leave. It can also remind us of the best parts of life. The births and the dates and the songs and the quiet moments and the celebrations and more. It can fill the mind’s canvas like a colorful and beautiful montage.

Mom’s memories are vivid. They are offered in headlines repeated over and over and with the same enthusiasm as if delivered for the first time. They are mixed with pride and melancholy. They are the best of what she wants to remember, and that is good enough. Some have become a little exaggerated over the lifetime. So what? What’s the harm in refreshing or adding a hue here and there to a life recalled?

We walked into the semi-private room tonight. Her eyes moved from the window the to the door as she could sense our approach. “Ohhhhhhhhh, it’s youuuu,” she exclaims with a smile. It had been only an hour or so, but it was new now…and so appreciated.

Using this time to reflect (as I always seem to do when trials present) leads me to consider changes or reinforce the best of my current path –which is so strong and hopeful. I am more determined to design and create and fulfill those moments that will become the memories of good. Equally determined to fight harder against those memories that intermittently plot a coup to create the dark moods and times quiet neglect.

Always have something to look forward to (and back on)!

Love you, Mom.

Sean’s Journal: A Good Pour and Cheers to Mom

I walked the balmy walk just down the road from my hotel in Panama City to grab a late salad and a glass of wine before settling down for a needed night’s sleep. After making it to San Francisco to deliver a presentation and learn from giants, I got a call from sis and mom’s doctor’s saying, “You need to make some decisions.” She had been admitted to ICU with respiratory arrest and pneumonia. It wasn’t a good scene. High Co2, lousy performance from a host of other physiological measures, and just plain bad.

My E.A., Jan, got me on the first flight that afternoon right back out of The City for Charlotte. Landed a little after 9 Wednesday night, packed, got in my fastest car and drove to Florida. Stopped once for a power nap somewhere outside of Columbus, GA. Arrived and spent the day with this amazing mom of mine and equally amazing sister who knows her so well.

By the time I arrived her Co2 levels were better; CT’s negative; airways clearing, a bit; meds doing their wonders; and clinicians searching for a root cause. Once it was known that it might not be so dire, my self creeped in and made a weak, albeit real attempt to resent the hijacking of my “important” presentation that had been in the works for months. Then, the better part of myself, my conscience, arrived like a tornado carrying a bizarre mix of The Hulk and Mahatma Gandhi and said to me…

“Are you kidding me? Get over yourself, and love, and be present, and kick that ego to the curb and be the man you actually are!”


After this long day was over and mom was comfortably (an entirely relative term and one only she could actually speak to) resting and breathing much better, my sister Denise and I headed out. I hopped on Travelocity and grabbed a hotel for a night or two. Showered, changed, needed a bite and a nice glass of something red before sleep.

When I got to the establishment after a little walk in the humid night, I was greeted pleasantly by Nicole, one of the servers. I asked if they had a wine list. Her reply, “Oh, we have every kind of wine you want.” I perked up and asked if I could see the list. I even went so far as to ask if they had a reserve list. In the mood for something that would offer a special “goodnight.” Nicole said, “We don’t have a list, but we have Chardonnay, Pinot, Merlot, Cabernet, and Muscat.” I paused and surely looked a little perplexed. “Do you mean you have those wines but not different labels?” She nodded and affirmed my leading question.

I smiled and said, “How about a Pinot Noir?” She said, “You bet,” and spun around toward the bar.

Moments later Nicole returned with a glass about the size of a flight glass, filled to the brim with something a little more white. I asked if this was Pinot Noir or Pinot Gris. “What’s the difference?” she asked. I offered a simple and hopefully unpretentious explanation that one is a red and another is white. She seemed to appreciate the lesson and asked if I would like a Merlot instead.

“Nope, this is going to be just right. And thank you.”

I took a sip. Really tasty. It almost seemed fitting. Something a little more chilled while sitting on an empty patio while the humidity fogged the screen of my laptop. I closed the computer and sipped on my pinot gris and reflected on the day.

This was surely nature’s way of shooting a message across the bow? Simplify, Sean! Appreciate the littlest things. Who cares if it is good vintage or poured out of a box? This day was about life. About love. About appreciating the wonders of medicine and the people who practice it. It was just as much about offering it out there for the inevitable and non-earthly realm of next real estate and the Ultimate Healer’s plan.

I sipped that little glass of pinot gris as if it were a glass of Trefethen 2005 Reserve Cabernet. And I totally dug every drop (pardon the lack of wine-snob vernacular).

Sleep was welcome. Tomorrow will bring what it brings. Maybe the merlot?

Sean’s Journal: A Weathered Rider and Turbulent Skies

Nation’s capital irony at its best. Turbulence in the skies all around the District. And on the night of the Republican debate.

It was to be a routine flight from Charlotte to Dulles International Airport. Upon our descent to Washington, D.C., the air was suddenly, but not entirely unexpectedly, unstable. Storms were forecasted.

The feeling was like that of an old wooden roller coaster. Creaks and moans from the CRJ900 fuselage, designed to move with the pressure. Speed, mixed with sudden climbs and drops.

At the first noticeable drop—probably only a few feet in reality, but always feels like a bungee free fall—a moderately intoxicated New York Mets fan in seat 19F acted like he was in a Red Bull commercial and offered a loud, “Gnarly!” The mother with the crying toddler, doing what mothers do so instinctively in an exercise in patience and comfort, offered soothing words with long vowels and rhythmic “Shhhhhhhhh’s”.

In all those years of flying this was familiar to me, but still unsettling for those moments navigating nature’s tension. I did what seems to come more naturally with age. I experience gratefulness over fear. Compromise over anxiety. It is at these times, even when they aren’t as threatening, that my book is closed and replaced with personal reflection. It is when God gets his moments missed because the distractions on the ground and the self that creeps in robs our conversations.

Coincidentally, it was another American Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Nashville years ago that felt similar. The Red Eye. At around 2:00 A.M., I was awakened by the oxygen mask falling from the compartment above and brushing my face. This was followed by the captain announcing that the bags had deployed only as a precaution and to await instructions from our flight attendants. The cabin had an eerie quiet. Moments later, the attendants asked that we place them on as a “precautionary measure only.” Then began the nervous conversations. Seconds later the captain announced that we were going to make an emergency landing in San Antonio, Texas, and that we please follow the attendants’ instructions. We were asked, in a calm, but serious tone, to “assume emergency landing position.” Then, the cabin changed. It was a blend of soft crying; prayers for safety and prayers for deliverance; wide-eyed silence mixed with shaking knees and hands. The two ladies next to me, first time fliers, asked me over and over, “Are we going to be okay?” My response was that we were in good hands and the pilot is just keeping us safe by landing the plane so we could take care of any problem. One held my hand—rather crushed it—the rest of the way down.

Following a very rapid descent, we landed without incident . There were hugs and clapping hands and “Sweeet Jesus’s.” After deplaning, almost every passenger waited in the dimly lit and empty terminal to greet the pilots and the attendants with a welcome rivaling that of a confetti filled city street parade for the winning team. We learned later that a hydraulic problem could have led to other more serious problems and the landing was, in fact, a “precaution.”

I had said my goodbye’s to the kids. I wondered about those things left undone. I inventoried and was exaggeratedly saddened over my regrets. I had remained calm, but I do recall watering eyes and an escaped tear or two. I clutched my journal. I scribbled a few words.

This time, over D.C., was less extreme. The danger less eminent, but still haunting for the moments. My response was that of a more seasoned rider. One who is familiar with and respectful of the danger, but also has an idea of where the story might go. Kind of like a rodeo cowboy, I guess. The older, and perhaps wiser rider knows the bull’s fury, but also has some idea of his moves and the probable outcome.

Instead of being afraid, there was a bit of mild pleading mixed with, “Wouldn’t it suck if’s”

Wouldn’t it suck if…
…I didn’t finish recording Mom’s song?
…Lisa and I never got to spread her father’s ashes on a NASCAR track?
…I never got to hear the little victories and major breakthroughs in Chelsea’s career of helping others through their grief and loss? Or to be taught by her, inspired by her, and challenged by her?
…I missed more time sharing the littlest things with Logan that were missed for so long and now consume me with gratitude because they were there in those months stationed nearby? Or to watch the young love with his Jenny become what it is sure to become.
…We didn’t dive and experience the wonders of the sea I write about and that has eluded me all these years.
…I didn’t finish my book(s), or those songs, or those poems?
…I didn’t hear the voices or see the smiles and wipe the tears of a next generation?
…I didn’t ride that mountain pass that has been taunting me these last four years?
…I didn’t ask the questions, or acknowledge the fears, or make the statements, or live as well as I planned to?
…I didn’t shake my pain and fear and embrace the love and affection that, like a rising and magical tide, is all around me.

It’s funny how the bumps and rocking in the sky jar memories that were gathered quietly in my mind and heart, as if data portioned on a drive waiting to be recalled. The smallest things that mean so much flood immediately like a time lapse trailer. Laughs; lots of laughs. Quiet affection. Friends who love so deeply that whether known for months or years are always there, and when you least expect it. Forgiveness. Healing. Riding. Talk of the unimportant and the so very important. Fearfully and then courageously and respectfully facing my own mortality Rowing. Missing my family so much. Grateful for the family I have found. The books and the wine and the dreams. Grasping the vulnerable and staring down the ego that so plagues joy. The predictable moments in the same seats with the same servers and the same dishes and the same or the new conversations that seal and then open the the goodness of these days of mid-life.

And so much more.

The sky calmed around us. The groans and the soft prayers and the anxious conversations acquiesced to talk of flight connections and business deals. Books reopened. Laptops awakened. Cabin lights dimmed.

We landed.

I offered thanks, but didn’t allow the gratefulness to wane as I made my way to the rental lot and took the rainy drive to my hotel in this great city.

I don’t know how long I will walk and ride and and row and hold hands on this planet. I know I am making my peace and learning about it at the same time. I know love and I offer it back. I find life more mysterious and wonderful and interesting and live-able than in all the years before.

Bring on the storms. We land!

Sean’s Blog: Pompous and Circumstance

I watched my recordings and news recaps of the Pope’s visit to New York City well into the morning hours . I finally dozed off, I had a dream. More of a nightmare really. Vivid though :). In my dream Pope Francis met with Donald Trump just after Trump said to John Boehner, “You’re fired.”

“Yo. Give me a high-five. I mean the highest five. Get it?”

Pope Francis: (obliged and then turning to Vatican Security detail).
“Please get me a handi wipe.”

Security Detail (offering handi-wipe to the Pope):
“Here you are, your Holiness.”

“Thank you. Oh, sorry, I thought you talking to me?”

“Frank, may I call you Frank? I want to welcome you to my City.”

Pope Francis:
“It is a lovely city. The Statue of Liberty is a beautiful reminder of an open heart to needy people around the world.”

“Yeah, I closed Ellis Island years ago. You know what happens to the neighborhood when the immigrants come in. It’s one thing to have to take them, but hell—oops, excuse me—it’s another to have a whole island that actually invites them.

“Did you enjoy offering mass at Trump Tower last night?”

Pope Francis:
“I’m sorry, I offered mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.”

“Of course (winking) I guess it’s P.C. to call it that. I bought it years ago. Got a great foreclosure deal. I wanted to do the right thing though and kept the look and the vibe. The condos above the Baptistery and alongside the sanctuary brought in over 3 million a pop. The Baptistery is a hot tub after visiting hours.”

Pope Francis:
“Oh, I wasn’t aware. Well, thank you for opening it to people gathered for worship.”

“Oh, that was just one of my staff meetings. But they were glad to see you there too. I added you to the agenda.”

Pope Francis:
“I particularly enjoyed speaking to world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly. Mr. Trump, can you just imagine what good we could do by moving the hearts and minds of leaders in one hundred and ninety three member states? We could make a difference in poverty, inequality, world peace, and so much more.”

“Yeah, well, when I become King…I mean President…at this point it’s just a formality, I’m planning on legislation requiring each state leader speak english. I mean, we do host this thing and I just think it is kind of rude not to speak the King’s english—no pun intended—when on our soil, you know? Plus, the cost of all of those translators…

As a matter of fact, your own english isn’t all that great, your Popishness. No offense, but I would have expected more.

Pope Francis:
“I will try and do better.”

“And, another thing, I want to apologize for the little felon that jumped the barrier along your parade. You know, had I been in charge my big wall along the border would have stopped her and her parents from stepping foot here to begin with. Then, I would have had walls along all the streets high enough to prevent these breaches during visits from my guests.”

Pope Francis:
“Do you mean little Sophia, the precious one who ran to see me with gifts and a hug and a message of love?” I asked to have her come to me.”

“Oh, I thought she was trying to smuggle something through your Papamobile, or whatever it’s called. In any case, that little rug rat should have been holding immigration papers, not a letter. What has happened to kids these days?”

Pope Francis:
“This has been an interesting visit, Mr. Trump. Thank you for the latte and the signed picture of you.”

“Oh, of course. And next time you’re in town let’s put our heads together for a book. We could sell millions. I’m thinking we could call it The Art of the Heal. Clever, eh?”

Pope Francis:
“Peace to you. Christ our Lord loves you and so do I.”

“Of course you both do. Everybody loves me.”