Wednesday, May 27, 2020

WEDNESDAY WISDOM: A Dollar a Day and Your Dinner


"The deepest craving of human nature is the need to be appreciated."  William James  


Alfalfa hay was one of the principle crops in the area where I grew up in Fruitland, New Mexico. Harvesting it was very labor intensive. After it was cut, dried, and windrowed, it was baled into 70- to 80-pound bales. Those bales had to be picked up by hand from the field and loaded onto a trailer, then stacked in a barn or near the corrals for feeding. "Hauling hay" or "bucking bales" was hot and dusty, and required lots of back-breaking lifting.

On our farm, after we finished hauling our own hay, the older teenager boys were permitted to hire out to buck bales for neighboring farmers, something our father had done in his day. When he was a young man, he related, the going wage for this work was "a dollar a day and your dinner." "Dinner" meant the noon-day meal. Dad observed that, since every farmer paid the same dollar per day, the one whose wife cared enough to cook the best meal for "the help" got the best hired hands.

By the time I was old enough to haul hay for pay, inflation had boosted the rate to "a dollar an hour and your dinner." But the age-old tenant was still true: because everyone paid the same, the best workers gravitated to the farmer whose wife treated those hired hands the best. For me, that meant if "Hop" Wheeler, the dairy farmer down the road a mile or so, needed a day laborer, I wanted to work for him because no one took better care of the hay hauling crew than Bessie Wheeler. Bessie's table told us loud and clear that the Wheeler family appreciated the work we were doing for them.

* * * * *

I encountered a modern application of this principle a few days ago.

I received a delightful birthday phone call from Sharon Greenway, a lovely lady who worked for me a few years ago. After birthday greetings and catching up on the news for both our families, she said she called to thank me for creating a work environment where she received something she seldom experienced in other jobs, but which was actually more precious than the paycheck: when she worked for me at SunBridge, she felt appreciated.

In our little company we were very purposeful about noticing each other's strengths and expressing our gratitude for what each team member brought to the group. Sharon said she thinks about that often and compares the positive atmosphere at SunBridge to that of other places where she has worked. It is something she dearly misses.

I reminded her that the concept didn't originate with me; it was a lesson I learned from my friend Nancy Kline, a fellow New Mexican who now lives in Oxfordshire, England. Nancy has identified Appreciation, the act of expressing admiration or gratitude to the people around us, as one of the Ten Components of a Thinking Environment. 

I'm grateful to Nancy, author of Time to Think and More Time to Think, for teaching me a simple yet powerful pattern for telling friends, family members, colleagues, or employees what I admire or appreciate about them. She calls it "The Three S's."

Be Succinct: Don't go on and on, just say in a sentence or two a quality or character trait of theirs you like.

Be Sincere: Speak from the heart; be honest and real and don't try to overdo it.

Be Specific: Vague generalities like "you're such a nice person" don't carry any weight. Say precisely what you admire about them.

Pro football coach Bill Walsh said it this way: "Nothing is more effective than sincere, accurate praise, and nothing is more lame than a cookie-cutter compliment."

Giving gratitude by expressing sincere appreciation is one of the sweetest ways I know to lift with the same motion two lives - mine and the person I appreciate. What an efficient way to make the world a better place. What a brilliant way to create a rising tide that lifts all boats.

And what a couple of smart and caring New Mexico women you are, Bessie Wheeler and Nancy Kline!

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

WEDNESDAY WISDOM: Sixty-Seven is Gone - Another Soundtrack-of-My-Life Milestone

SIXTY-SEVEN IS GONE:  Another Soundtrack-of-My-Life Milestone    

"When you only got a hundred years to live
Half time goes by
Suddenly you're wise
Another blink of an eye
Sixty-seven is gone
The sun is getting high
We're moving on." 
Five for Fighting


Four years ago, I achieved a major musical milestone. Given that the Beatles sang and composed much of the musical soundtrack of my younger life, it was a BIG DEAL when I reached the age of 64, and lo and behold, I was flat-out living their song, "When I'm Sixty-Four."

Here's what I wrote in a Wednesday Wisdom back in 2016 when I turned 64:

At my age, life is like a set of playing cards. I still have a full deck; I just shuffle slower now. Nearly 50 years ago, I sang along with the Beatles (and chuckled smugly to myself, certain that those days were eons away):

"When I get older losing my hair,
Many years from now
Will you still be sending me a Valentine
Birthday greetings, bottle of wine?
If I'd been out till quarter to three
Would you lock the door?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I'm sixty-four?"

This week - on Saturday to be precise - I actually arrive at the age 64 milestone. My, how time flies! Here I am, living the words of the song and still asking those questions:

"Doing the garden, digging the weeds,
Who could ask for more?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I'm sixty-four?"

I'm happy to report that I'm "doing the garden" and "digging the weeds," in my back yard grow box and producing some beautiful vegetables. No, I haven't "been out to quarter to three" lately; I need my rest. But yes, Marcie, my sweetheart of 41 years, still needs me and still feeds me and still wants to be "mine for evermore." Who could ask for more?

Fast forward to 2020, and this week I find myself turning 68 years old.  Here I am again in the midst of the lyrics of another soundtrack-of-my-life song, "100 Years," by Five for Fighting.

By the time that composition was written in 2003, I was long past many of the milestone ages he identified in the song - 15, 22, 33, and 45 - and I had just made it past "half-time" (50). I'm not so sure that at half-time I was "suddenly wise," but I can certify that in "Another blink of an eye Sixty-Seven is gone" because TOMORROW, Thursday, May 14, 2020, I turn 68 and hence, for me, 67 will indeed be GONE! Who knew it would all flash by so quickly?

Looking ahead from here, Mr. Five for Fighting says, "The sun is getting high, we're moving on" to the inevitable 99 and then 100 years, because "You only got a hundred years to live."

If the next several years race by as rapidly as the last few have, those fateful and terminal ages will get here lickety-split, before I even know it.

To be honest, I've never aspired to be 99 or 100 years old. From what I've seen of senior living, that last decade or two doesn't look like very much fun to me. But since that decision isn't ultimately up to me, I'm planning to do the best I can with whatever time is allotted me here on this azure orb, and then I'm outta here, on my way to bigger and better things!

So, gentle readers, what do you think should be the next soundtrack-of-my-life song when I reach that milestone? How about "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" or maybe "Learning to Fly"? Any other suggestions?

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Wednesday Wisdom: Andrea Bocelli Rescued Me Again


"If God had a singing voice, he would sound a lot like Andrea Bocelli."  Celine Dion      

It was the late spring of 1999 and I was crashing into a depression.

I was trying to recover from my second open-chest lung surgery in as many months, and things were not going well. After my first operation, I had been able to go home in seven days, so that was my mental benchmark. But when Round 2 stretched from Day 8 into Day 9, I began to lose hope.

Thankfully, however, that night two things happened that helped me hang on.  

First, I turned on PBS and serendipitously encountered a documentary about a blind Italian opera singer with the most amazing voice and life story I had ever heard - Andrea Bocelli. The only thing more uplifting than his music was his courage in dealing with a lifetime of setbacks. Enthralled by his songs and his positive perspective, I determined that, if he could get through his trials, with the help of his music, so could I.  

That evening I became a life-long Andrea Bocelli fan. I called from my hospital bed and ordered all his CDs. I would come to use them in the following weeks to aid in my recovery.

Second, shortly after that PBS program, I got a call from one of my brothers. He told me my father was organizing a family fast and prayer circle to plead for my well-being. I knew then that heaven was looking down on me and that my family on both sides of the veil would be exercising their faith on my behalf. I was not alone.

I made it through that night with the help of Andrea's music and my family's prayers. The very next day, the doctors determined that I had made enough progress to be able to leave the hospital.

* * * * *

Fast forward to the spring of 2020. It was the Easter season and I was bummed.  
I was quarantined like millions of other people around the world. Church was closed, so I wouldn't be hearing my favorite Easter hymns. I wouldn't be meeting and greeting our friends in the congregation. I wouldn't be listening to sermons retelling the story of that first Easter morning and the empty tomb. It looked like it might be a disappointing holiday.

Then two wonderful things happened that changed the whole tenor of Easter.

First, Andrea Bocelli announced that he would present a free Easter concert from the empty cathedral in Milan, Italy. He would call his generous gift "Music for Hope." How did he know what a sweet blessing that would be for me? This amazing man would be sharing his extraordinary voice to brighten our day.  


Then shortly after I learned of Andrea's Easter concert, my son decided to orchestrate a Zoom get-together with us and all six of our children, with several of our grandchildren flitting in and out. We would able to see each other and laugh and talk and just hang out together. We would feel their love. Like before, my family was coming through for me.

Andrea Bocelli and my family would rescue me once again, 21 years after the first time.


The music from inside the Duomo was incredible. What a setting! What a voice! And then he stepped outside to the front of the cathedral to end his concert with one of my favorite hymns.

I must say, Amazing Grace never sounded so uplifting and gracious. How sweet the sound! In a world filled with empty cities and empty streets and empty churches, my heart was bursting with gratitude for a beautiful tenor and for a beautiful family filling the Easter afternoon with love and hope.  

Andrea and my family helped me remember how deeply grateful I am for an empty tomb that marked Jesus Christ's victory over death and His eternal gift of everlasting life for me and all mankind.

Thank you, Jesus.

Thank you, Andrea.

Thank you, family, for a sweet and memorable Easter. You rescued me once again.