OUR GUARDIAN ANGELS AND THE LAST FULL MEASURE OF DEVOTION - A
Memorial Day Tribute
"We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died
in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and
that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish
from the earth." Abraham Lincoln
is the call sign for a USAF C-130, carrying a fallen hero on board. Their
"salute" with flares looks like an angel with wings.
I never served in the
armed forces. I came of age toward the end of the Vietnam War. I supported the
war, I registered for the draft, and I would have served if drafted. By the
time it was my turn to face the draft, the Selective Service System had
initiated a lottery to establish a priority for those to be called up for
military service. I received a very high lottery number, which meant I wasn't
drafted. I went on with my education and my missionary service.
As a result, I never experienced the horrors of combat and the
prospect of an early death in a faraway war. I am deeply grateful for those who
did serve, and especially for those who gave "the last full measure of
devotion" for our freedom. I fear, however, that anything I might say
besides "Thank you from the bottom of my heart" might seem shallow
and almost inappropriate compared to those who went "over there" and
especially those who did not return home to their loved ones.
I see them as guardian angels who stood stalwart in the face of tyranny and
protected our American way of life with their own blood. Like Lincoln, I
"highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this
nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of
the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the
This nation is the last
great hope of freedom on the earth. It is a beacon, a city on a hill that calls
out to and gives hope to freedom-loving, law-abiding, and God-fearing people
everywhere. It must be preserved to fulfill that role.
I pledge to do my part to keep alive the memory of those who gave
their all to keep me and my children and my children's children free. Thank
you, guardian angels, for your service. Thank you for your sacrifice for the
cause of freedom. Thank you for your devotion, your "last full measure of
devotion," to our beloved country. On this Memorial Day I salute you.
THE SELFIE STICK VS. THE ROMAN COLISEUM,
"I know that the purpose of life is to understand and be in the present moment with the people you love. It's just that simple." Jane Seymour
Last week I wrote about having our views of the Roman Coliseum obstructed by tourists wielding selfie sticks and cameras. I lamented that the hoopla in recording an event can eclipse the event itself and disrupt the deeper meaning of the moment.
Unfortunately, this phenomenon isn't limited to famous locations in faraway places; it has a bloated, oversized cousin right here in America.
If you've attended any end-of-school-year function lately, like a play, concert, sporting event, awards ceremony, recital, or "graduation," you know what I'm talking about: the mobs of parents and grandparents armed with video cameras, iPads, and smartphones capturing their precious darling's "magic moment" for social media.
Apparently it no longer "counts" for a child to perform in a concert, receive an award, play in a game, or "graduate" unless the event is recorded and posted on the internet for all the world to see. The result of this urgent need for video and photographs is swarms of pushy adults hell-bent on staking out the best vantage spot for their cameras, with little concern for obstructing the view or interrupting the enjoyment of the rest of the audience.
[I use the term "graduation" in quotes because I find it bizarre that every step of little Johnny's or Tiffany's educational progression, from preschool to kindergarten to elementary school to middle school, must now include a "graduation" ceremony complete with obligatory cap and gown, diploma, and the whole "Pomp-and-Circumstance" nine yards that used to be reserved for high school and college. Spare me! A four-year-old doesn't need to be feted because he or she made it through preschool and now gets to go to kindergarten. But I digress.]
A thoughtful and well-intentioned mother recently confided in me that, somewhere in the middle of filming her middle-school-age son's THIRD end-of-year band concert, she asked herself why she couldn't just sit down, stop recording, and actually listen to the performance. Why couldn't she allow herself to turn off the camera and relish this remarkable occasion of her son and his friends making beautiful music together? Why, indeed?
This modern malady manifests itself in other settings as well. Another example is the current generation of marriage proposals, judging from what I see online.
To me, a proposal should be a sweet and affectionate (and genuine) conversation between two people in love to determine whether to spend their lives together. Done right, it could be one of the couple's most cherished personal memories. But sadly, in front of cameras, it becomes instead a façade of the real event, a staged and extravagant charade, another salvo in the social media arms race.
Once again, the event itself is overshadowed and distorted by the documentation of the event. The deeper meaning of the moment is lost. Forever.
Folks, turn off the cameras and step away. We are robbing ourselves of the ability to celebrate the present, to enjoy the here and now. We are forgetting what it feels like to feel. We are missing the wonder and magic and happiness of simply being there with the people we love the most. That's a high price to pay for 15 minutes of internet fame.
THE SELFIE STICK VS. THE ROMAN COLISEUM,
"The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you
are attentive, you will see it." Thich Nhat Hanh
The first historical site
we visited when we landed in Italy was the Roman Coliseum. We expected to be
overwhelmed with the scale of this 2,000 year old masterpiece and the many
centuries of our collective history that we'd feel in those stones. What we
didn't expect was to fly 5,113 miles and then be swarmed, literally swarmed, by
crowds of pushy vendors hawking - not souvenirs - but SELFIE STICKS! Nor were
we prepared, once inside, for every view to be obstructed by dozens of
sightseers wielding their cameras atop those ubiquitous shafts.
All of Italy wasn't like
that, but it does seem that the essence of modern tourism is no longer about
being there, marveling at the amazing sights and sounds and tastes of faraway
places. No, modern tourism now requires BEING SEEN in those faraway places.
That requires photographs of oneself with those famous sites in the background,
which, in turn, creates the compelling need for selfie sticks.
Pity the poor tourist who
arrives in one of those famous places without selfie stick in hand. Once they
realize the gravity of their plight, they have no choice but to buy some
cheaply-made selfie stick at extortionate prices from one of those hordes of
vendors buzzing around the entrances to every attraction in the world. To do
otherwise would totally ruin the whole trip!
Somewhere along the way we
have lost the sheer joy of simply being there.
I remember, not many years
ago, sitting with my children in the early morning light on the top steps of
the Grand Pyramid of Kukulkan in Chichen-Itza, Mexico, and being awestruck with
the magnificent setting.
I remember, not many years
ago, going up in the elevator in the Eiffel Tower - the EIFFEL TOWER, for
heaven's sake - and pinching myself that I was actually in Paris.
I remember, not many years ago, seeing Iguazu Falls on the border of Brazil,
Argentina, and Paraguay and having a hard time catching my breath at the
grandeur of the jungle and the rainbows and so much water cascading down from
This stunningly gorgeous
world is so full of so many amazing places that deserve to be savored and
relished for themselves, not merely used as a backdrop for yet another selfie.
To be continued.
I fear that our selfie culture is quickly robbing us of the ability to
appreciate beauty, creativity, and historical context. In just a few short
years, we have begun to lose the ability to be in the moment. I worry that our
capacity to celebrate the present, to enjoy the here and now, is slipping away
In our quest for "likes" and "views" and
"followers" and other measures of social media fame, we are
forgetting what it feels like to feel. We are missing the wonder and magic and
happiness of simply being there.
WHAT DO YOU MEAN, I
HAVE TO SHARE
MY BIG DAY?
"You know you're
getting old when the candles cost more than the cake." Bob Hope
Whenever a certain
occasion like a wedding or a milestone birthday is designated as "your
day," there is a human tendency to get possessive and develop a very
self-centered set of expectations. An example is the whole
"Bridezilla" phenomenon, in which a lovely, caring, and unselfish
young woman turns into a screaming witch because "this is MY DAY and
it's ALL ABOUT ME!!!!!!!"
On May 14 I celebrate THE
BIG 6-5. That means I qualify for Medicare and have official
"senior" status. But this year, May 14 is also Mother's Day. Go
figure. The one and only time in my whole entire life when I turn 65, it's no
longer just MY DAY. No, this
year, I have to share MY
DAY with every mother on the planet.
When I realized this, for a brief moment the egocentric part of me
started imagining being relegated to second fiddle on my day of days. I
pictured my children and grandchildren calling and my wife answering the phone.
I saw myself waiting for her to hand me the phone so I could receive their
joyous birthday wishes, but NOOOOOO! They were calling to wish their
"Mama" or their "YoYo" a Happy Mother's Day. After they
talked to her she would gently remind them that it was also my birthday and
almost as an afterthought, they'd say "Oh, yeah, let me speak to him
Fortunately this self-inflicted pity party lasted about five
seconds. I quickly came to my senses and realized that nothing would be more
appropriate than to celebrate my birthday on Mother's Day. After all, there are
no birthdays without mothers.
In particular I will commemorate three Farnsworth mothers who are
among the most noble women I know.
I wouldn't even have a birthday to celebrate if it weren't for Gracie Mae's sacrifice
in giving birth to me and launching me on my earthly journey, even in the midst
of her long and unsuccessful battle with throat cancer.
I probably wouldn't have made it past my teenage years if Elaine hadn't agreed
to mother me and an entire brood of additional children besides her own when
she married my widowed father when I was 9. She raised 12 of us, and it is not
true that things are cheaper by the dozen, nor is there less work or heartache.
And I would never have experienced the profound joy of parenthood
willingness to bring six beautiful and intelligent Farnsworth babies into the
world and to build together a home where love and kindness are expressed in
word and deed.
The truth is I am delighted to share my 65th birthday with these
three strong, selfless, and sterling women. I have basked in their kindness and
been nurtured by their love during every one of my 23,741 days of life. I am
grateful to have been molded by their tender and patient teaching, and
protected by their wise counsel. Thank
you, Gracie Mae, Elaine, and Marcie.
And I thank every mother
everywhere for your love and sacrifice. You are literally the link between
heaven and earth, bringing spirits from their home above to their new home on
earth. You are the heart and soul of every child who has ever lived.
Since I'll never be a mother myself, I could have no greater honor than to
share my birthday with all the wonderful mothers of the world. Perhaps I'll
pretend that I'm an honorary mother for that one day. Now that would really
make MY DAY.
IT STARTS WITH THE RIGHT QUESTION
"You can tell whether a man
is clever by his answers. You
can tell whether a man is
wise by his questions."
So here's a question to consider: What kinds of occasions trigger for you the need to review and renew your personal or professional strategic thinking?
For me it's a milestone anniversary or birthday or a get-away-from-it-all vacation. Since I just finished a wonderful vacation with my wife and since my 65th birthday is fast approaching ("Hello, Medicare"), I find myself in the middle of my own strategic reassessment, wondering if I should tweak my life plans for the next five years.
The key step for me in this process is finding the right question to repeatedly ask myself. My friend Nancy Kline teaches that "The human mind thinks best in the presence of a question." Tony Robbins says that "Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers." Finding the right question immediately transforms the quality of my thinking.
Until I find a question that really speaks to my heart, I tend to flounder and feel muddled and disjointed during this reevaluation process. It feels like trying to run in waist-deep water. But once I find it, all sorts of wonderful thinking falls into place for me. I can take that question with me on my walks in the woods. I can ponder it as I drive to my next appointment. I can share it with my wife and glean her wise counsel. The question takes on a life of its own as it breathes life into my reflections.
As luck would have it, in the middle of my muddle, I had an opportunity last week for a Time to Think Thinking Session with Nancy Kline. This allowed me to think aloud about my challenges and opportunities for the next five years with the aid of an attentive listener. After a bit of slipping and sliding and what felt like aimless blabbering about my present state of confusion, all of a sudden my mind found solid footing when it landed upon this question:
How do I measure my life at this stage of my life?
This question is perfect for me. It reminds me that I need standards and targets with which to gauge my progress, otherwise I tend to get lazy or lackadaisical. It makes it clear that these benchmarks are personal to me, not for anyone else. It helps me identify what matters most going forward, and allows for the possibility that these guidelines might be slightly different from previous yardsticks.
How do I measure my life at this stage of my life?
Using this question to spur my thinking works like magic for me. It helps me see my future more clearly. It helps me move potential obstacles out of my path. It fills me with the energy of real possibilities.
The process is ongoing at the moment. I don't have all the answers yet, but I do have the question. In a very short time, it will lead me to a strategic vision for the next five years of my life and my work.
So, what is YOUR question, the one that will open YOUR thinking to the right answers for YOU? Good strategic thinking starts with the right question.