Love is worth it

A friend’s grandson recently broke up with his girlfriend. My friend shared this with me and, because it seemed so relevant to those whose treasured relationships come to an end, I thought I’d pass it on-with his permission. Here’s the advice he offered.

Hey Pal,

I hope this note finds you in good spirits. I understand that you and Kayla may have hit a big bump in the road. These things are never easy. Of course, you remember the last time this happened and how it hurt. As I say, it’s not easy.

istock_000002244066xsmallYou might want to share some of what you’re feeling with your Dad. The men in our family are a little short when it comes to sharing feelings-maybe you need to break the mold a little!

Every man I know has been through similar experiences, and very few of them fail to come out on the other side as better men. The only fact I can share is that this will likely not be the last time this happens. It’s sad, but true.

One danger is that some guys let this have a negative impact that could mess up future relationships, closing themselves off to future intimate relationships for fear that they might be hurt again. If you let that happen you will not be able to experience the warmth and thrill of a loving relationship because you were not open to it.

A wise man once said, “It is better to have love and lost than never to have loved at all.” This was a wise man: Stay open to loving relationships, give of yourself, trust in others and do not fear being hurt.

There are some truisms to be taken from this even if you can’t see it now:

You will get through this

You will love again

You will grow emotionally from this

You will smile about this in the future

You will help a friend in the future who goes through this with sound advice

You are a really warm and caring person

You will rely on your moral and intellectual foundation to get beyond this

You family loves you unconditionally and for all eternity.

Let me know if you want to chat. Hang in there.

Much love,

POP POP

Strikes me that my friend’s advice goes beyond allowing a bad relationship experience to harden us to the next one that may be entirely different. What advice might you give? Feel free to leave a comment…

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Creating art from words

Thanks to a friend, I was introduced to this really cool website that literally turns words into an art form. Wordle.net creates “word clouds” in which the most used words take a more prominent place than lesser used ones. Commonly used words like “a,” and “the,” are left out, leaving only the major ones to find their place in a Wordle.

The program is the brainchild of Jonathan Feinberg who, on IBM’s nickel, produced this amazing piece of code that’s entirely free to all of us. Feinberg, who claims the site gets about ten hits a second, collaborated with a couple dozen people-among them artists, software developers, Java experts-to visually depict the power of language.

Although uses for Wordle seem more whimsical than practical, a word cloud, if studied, can say much about the meaning of a speech, phrase or letter, etc. Here, for example, is a word cloud of Barack Obama’s inaugural speech using the program’s standard setting which automatically filters out commonly used words.picture-14In this rendition, “new,” “nation” and “America” seem to be the most frequently used by the new President.

However, a different pattern emerges when automatic filtering is turned off.

picture-15In this version, “our” (used 68 times in the address) and “we” (62 times) are most prominent.

And, it would seem that Obama is saying…?

“Praise song for the day”

Much will be written about yesterday’s history-making inaugural of Barack Obama. Two-plus million people crammed the National Mall to celebrate what many believe will be a future brightened by new leadership and a call for political integrity.

picture-12

Elizabeth Alexander's poem as a "Wordle" or word cloud.

One note, perhaps missed in the chilly 20-degree temperatures, was poet Elizabeth Alexander’s echo of the new President’s challenge for daily labor, responsibility and sacrifice in her poem titled “Praise Song for the Day.” She joins the tiniest number of peers-three others, Robert Frost, Maya Angelou and Miller Williams-as an inaugural poet. Her offering consisted of  unrhymed three-line stanzas, and a one-line coda: “praise song for walking forward in that light.”

Such ceremonial poems rarely become the stuff of historic literature. But that’s not to say her poetic tapestry of small details and infinite themes should be overlooked. After all, who would not pause, if only for a moment, to reflect on her question: “What if the mightiest word is love? Love beyond marital, filial, national, love that casts a widening pool of light, love with no need to pre-empt grievance.”

A video is available here; the text follows…

 

Praise Song for the Day

by Elizabeth Alexander

 

Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching each others’ eyes or not, about to speak or speaking. All about us is noise. All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din, each one of our ancestors on our tongues. Someone is stitching up a hem, darning a hole in a uniform, patching a tire, repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.

A farmer considers the changing sky. A teacher says,“Take out your pencils. Begin.”

We encounter each other in words, Words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed; Words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark the will of someone and then others who said, “I need to see what’s on the other side; I know there’s something better down the road.”

We need to find a place where we are safe. We walk into that which we cannot yet see. Say it plain, that many have died for this day. Sing the names of the dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce, built brick by brick the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle; praise song for the day. Praise song for every hand-lettered sign; The figuring it out at kitchen tables.

Some live by “Love thy neighbor as thy self.”

Others by first do no harm, or take no more than you need.

What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial, national. Love that casts a widening pool of light. Love with no need to preempt grievance. In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp — praise song for walking forward in that light.

Delivery as promised

istock_000000171707xsmall2Several years ago, while moving into a new-to-me condo, I literally gutted the 25 year old kitchen and replaced cabinets, lighting and appliances with all things new. I did some serious shopping for appliances and settled on a particular brand known for its reliability-at least that’s what the television and print ads said.

So reliable, in fact, that the company (supposedly) laid off some of its repair staff, because they weren’t needed. Though not true, it at certainly made for good ad copy.

Turns out that there have been two recalls on my appliances (both handled very professionally, by the way) and several other obvious defects. The simple truth is what the company said about it’s products was quite different from my actual experience.

I’m not mad or angry about this. In fact, I find it sort of funny that I was taken in by what I heard. Next time, I’ll do some research on repair histories and, hopefully, make a better choice.

I was reminded of this when I heard from a coworker that an important package wouldn’t be delivered today, a national holiday. The person made some very convincing arguments about this. But at some level, that just didn’t seem right. Here’s why…

On Friday, when I placed the online order for 25 books-something I’ve done dozens of times in the past-I was told they’d be delivered on Monday, January 19. I’d grown accustomed to very dependable service from this company, so I never doubted the delivery promise–holiday or not. 

Fast forward…the books were delivered, as promised.

What’s the learning here? For me, it’s about how we experience things. On one hand, the appliance company promised reliability but my experience ran counter to that. What they said didn’t really matter. On the other hand, the internet company just asked a simple question, “Want it delivered tomorrow, click here” and did what they said. I never doubted it.

There’s an important lesson about personal branding here, I thought. Do I follow through? Consistently? Ouch. Can always do better, that’s for sure.

The way it’s supposed to be

The water landing of US Airways Flight 1549 and the rescue of all 155 aboard is truly a tremendous feat, if not-as some say-a miracle. The quick thinking of the pilot and co-pilot, the decisive actions of flight attendants, the passengers’ relative calm in the midst of chaos, and the flawless, timely rescues by passing boats and helicopters made for a tragedy that could have been, but wasn’t.

_45384654_-18Who among us didn’t feel a sense of awe as we took in television or radio accounts of The Miracle on the Hudson, as it’s been dubbed?

But, what we should also recognize is that all that surrounded The Miracle was “the way it’s meant to happen.” Well, except for the birds in the engines, that is.

Training.

Teamwork.

Quick thinking.

Decisiveness.

Bravery.

The system worked! Think about that. That’s the way it is supposed to be.

Who did not go home that day thinking, “I’m honored to have done my part. I was in the right place at the right time.”

It’s reasonable to conclude that passengers would heap mounds of praise on the crew and that both passengers and crew would heap mounds of praise on the rescuers. Each would probably say, “I was just doing my job.”

In fact, one of the rescuers, a scuba diver, described the training that equipped him to work in freezing Hudson River water that is totally black just inches beneath the surface. When submerged, they couldn’t see anything, so they worked by feel.

When a reporter asked if he felt fear when he jumped from the hovering helicopter, he paused, then said, “No, there wasn’t time for that. There were just people to be rescued from the freezing water.”

There are many lessons from this, but one stood out to me today while at the drive through window of a local fast food restaurant, the one with yellow arches outside. Oftentimes, such places don’t attract the most enthusiastic workers. For many, it’s just a job and a way to pay the bills which often gets played out as disinterest and rudeness.

I couldn’t see the woman who took my order, but her voice came clearly and professionally through the speaker. After carefully repeating my order and giving me the total, she concluded with a confident, “Thank you for your order, sir. Please pull forward at your convenience.”

I handed her the money when I reached the window. She was a 50s-something African American woman with graying hair pulled tightly away from her face. I inquired if she was the person who took my order. “Yes,” she said, “why do
you ask?”

I looked her in the eyes and said, “Because I have never been treated so professionally here. You have lots to teach others about customer service.”

As I said it, I thought about the people whose actions lead to the safe outcome of Flight 1549. Someone was there to thank them–even though they were just “doing their jobs” just like this woman.

Her eyes sparkled. The smile on her face was real. “You just made my day,” she said.

As I pulled away I couldn’t help but think, “That, too, is the way it’s supposed to be.”

A concert at the train station

On a cold January morning at the L’Enfant Plaza Station in Washington DC, a man, non-descript and dressed in jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt and baseball cap, pulled a worn violin from the case at his feet and began to play six classical pieces. picture-7

It was about three minutes into the performance when a middle aged man briefly slowed his pace and then hurried up to stay on schedule.

Another moment went by before a woman threw money in the open case, his first tip.

A man leaned against a wall to listen, glanced at this watch and moved on.

It was a three-year-old boy who appeared most fascinated. But he was hurried along by his mother who pushed hard as the child turned his head, struggling to hear the music.

The violinist finished playing. There was no applause. No recognition. The metro station was silent—or at least as silent as a metro station can be.

By actual count, 1097 people listened as they hurried past the 43 minute concert, most on their way to work. Just six people stopped. About 20 gave money totalling $32.17.

joshua_bellWhat wasn’t apparent was the identity of the player. It was Joshua Bell, notably one of the world’s best musicians, who performed some of the most intricate and mesmerizing violin music ever written for the focused commuters. He played an instrument made in 1713 by Antonio Stradivari and worth a reported $3.5 million. Only two days earlier, he sold out a Boston performance where tickets averaged $100. Bell, who usually commands $1000 per minute in concert, would have averaged about $40 per hour that day.

The story behind the story is this: It was a social experiment organized by the Washington Post. Bell, performing incognito, was a test about perception, taste and priority. What would happen if you put a classically trained and dressed-down virtuoso in a train station at an early morning hour? Would the preoccupied commuters perceive his talent? Appreciate it? Would people recognize a gift when it presents itself in an unexpected context?

The experiment raises manifold questions. One that comes to mind is this: Would you or I have stopped to listen or would we have moved on quickly and passed up a nearly priceless seat at the concert-cum-social experiment?

Note: Versions of this story (some more accurate than others) have appeared on the Web. The complete account, a Pulitzer Prize winning article from The Post, can be found here. The video is cool, too.

This is just too cool!

Kevin Bacon is an actor, musician and creator of the popular Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon concept that says each of us is connected to any other person in the world through six or fewer relationships—because, as he says, “It’s a small world.”

picture-4And there’s a wonderful new twist that caught the attention of many, many people over the holidays: www.SixDegrees.org. Bacon started the site in January 2007 with the nonprofit Network for Good in which peeps like you and me can donate money to this organization on behalf of a friend. The trick is that your friend receives a “Good Card” via e- or snail-mail that he or she can, in turn, donate to the non-profit organization of choice. Is that cool or what?

picture-5As of the last look, more than $2.5 million in Good Cards have been issued.

Here’s an example of what one person did with a Good Card:

“I always like the part of our classes in which we ask people what they’d do if they could have their perfect job. You know, I always talk about helping orphaned children in Africa whose parents have died from the AIDS epidemic there.

“So when I got my Good Card in my email, I immediately knew who I wanted to receive the $50: my adopted daughter in Zambia! The website let me go to World Vision International, donate the money, and designate it to her! It felt sooooo good to give the extra money to her and her family.

“Together we are making a difference in a young girl’s life, an orphan of the AIDS epidemic. Not only her…we are also helping her grandmother and two siblings.

“Thank you, my friend!

“Praying that your new year is the best yet!”

What a wonderful example of taking our dream job and making it real today. Here’s a post that’s related to this one.