Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A ROMANTICIZED SILENCE


GOLAN HEIGHTS SNOW, ISRAEL

There is a great sense of peace when you find yourself safely within the warmth of home while snow is gently falling outside the frosted windows. As the snowflakes gently settle on every inert and living form, they morph into one of nature’s best sound absorbers. The winter moonlight sparkles over the ice crystals and even the persistent falling of these crystalline visitors is muffled by the white landscape.

The lyrics to the classic song, Silent Night, were composed by a young priest prior to his arrival at the St. Nicolas parish church in the Austrian village of Obemdorf. A blizzard had stranded the tiny village the same day the church discovered that their organ was broken. He took the lyrics to the schoolmaster and organist in a nearby village to compose a melody for guitar accompaniment. They performed the song for the first time on Christmas Eve in 1818 in the quiet aftermath of the blizzard.

The first stanza perfectly sets the mood for the lullaby we all know and sing on Christmas Eve today:

Silent night, holy night!
All is calm, all is bright.
Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child.
Holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Our February trip into the Holy Land included a drive up into the legendary Golan Heights. The mountains were covered in fresh snow, somewhat camouflaging the defensive radar installations and the United Nations camp in the valley below. The scene from the warm comfort of our tour bus belied the tensions and conflict just across the Syrian border and not all that far from the place of this holy birth.

I recently learned that this song was sung simultaneously by the German and English troops during the World War I Christmas truce of 1914. The soldiers on both sides of the trenches knew the song and undoubtedly had sung it on many Christmas Eve services in a more peaceful past. And here we are one hundred years later in the midst of another war still romanticizing a night that was not so peaceful for those young soldiers and was quite probably not so peaceful for the young family on that night two thousand years ago.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

THAT’S LIFE



Arnie's Army, Blue Hills CC, MO

That’s Life was a big hit for Frank Sinatra in the sixties. Its brash lyrics suited his style well:

“I said that’s life and as funny as it may seem,
Some people get their kicks
Stompin’ on a dream.
But I don’t let it , let it get me down,
‘Cause this fine old world it keeps spinnin’ around.

I’ve been up and down and over and out,
And I know one thing.
Each time I find myself layin’ flat on my face,
I just pick myself up and get back in the race.”

This could have been the theme song for Arnold Palmer’s life as well. Life isn’t so much about how many times you’ve been knocked down as about how many times you get back up! In his last book, A Life Well Played, Arnold writes that “I suppose the honest truth is that my playing style probably caused me to lose as many majors as I won. But putting the control of a tournament into someone else’s hands and not taking the action of being in control of the situation is much more of a gamble to me. I would rather risk losing any day than lay up and hope for the best. You either go for the cup or you crawl to it…Even when the game gets frustrating, there is absolutely no reason not to remain positive. Because the things we get to do, the opportunities that we have, are tremendous. They are the stuff of our dreams.”

These thoughts took me back to a moment in time thirty years after Sinatra recorded That’s Life. I had taken a Friday vacation day to drive outside Winston-Salem to the Vantage Seniors Tournament where my sole intent was to join Arnie’s Army one last time. Arnie was nearing the twilight of his competitive golfing years and I wanted to just walk the course with him outside the ropes and take in the experience. After walking the front nine it was apparent that one of the young ladies in the small army was Arnie’s daughter who he took time to talk with between holes.

The small army dwindled to just a few of us as we neared the end of the round. But Arnie’s presence spoke volumes about his passion for the game and his desire to promote it. I know he was aware that I was one of the few along with his daughter that continued to follow him in spite of the fact that he was well out of contention. Arnie had lined up a right to left breaking putt of considerable length and he gave it a charge. The putt had just a little too much speed and passed over the cup on the “pro side”. There was still a spark of competitiveness in his reaction to the miss as he looked up into my view. I instinctively reacted by shrugging my shoulders and pursing my lips in a “That’s Life” gesture. Surprisingly, Arnie made eye contact and returned the same response. He gave that putt his best shot and there was no looking back. His legacy was already secure. And that’s an uncompromised life well lived.

(And I was in a much better position to relate to a missed putt than if Arnie had made it!)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

WELL PLAYED


The King, RIP, Blue Hills CC, MO.

I learned a good lesson long ago from one of our previous pastors upon his return from dealing with a heart attack. He mentioned that prior to this game-changing event he would frequently get agitated and emotional when things didn’t go his way. That applied in spades when it happened to be something that was out of his Type-A character control. I can concur from personal experience. But, of course, there is always one thing we can control and that’s how we react to the situation. He used the example of a recent airline trip that was delayed due to severe weather in the Kansas City area which can be expected during the violent tornado season. He now simply pulled out a good book that he had brought along for just such an occasion, found a secluded seat in an inactive gate area and waited for the storm to pass.

Ever since I heard those wise words I’ve made it a point to bring a good book along for the ride, especially airline flights where a stranger in the cockpit is in complete control of my life as we soar through the skies in an aluminum tube. I had saved Arnold Palmer’s last book, A Life Well Played, for my recent Thanksgiving trip to Chicago and finished it on the return flight back to North Carolina. Thankfully, all my connections were on time and the book was a good traveling companion. Sadly, it was the last ride into the unfriendly skies for my long-traveled Road Warrior sidekick. The trusty ballistic nylon luggage bag had danced its last with one too many disgruntled baggage handlers. It emerged from the bowels of the airport conveyor belt with a ripped leather handle, a missing ID tag and the tongue of a lonely sock protruding from the wry smile of a broken zipper.

In the chapter on temper Arnold relays the story of throwing his putter in disgust over the gallery and some small trees when he missed a short putt at a junior golf tournament. He won the title but the ride home with his parents was total silence. Then his father told him, “If you ever throw a club like that again, you’ll never play in another golf tournament.” To Arnold’s Pap it was all about sportsmanship, “there was nothing worse than a poor loser—except being an ungracious winner.” Tiger’s dad Earl always told him to walk ten steps before doing anything after a poor golf shot.

That reprimand was life changing and reminded me of my high school tennis “career” where I lettered all three years in a new sport. As the first season progressed I had talked my parents into purchasing a rather expensive glossy black racquet for me. That was the kind of luxury that they seldom treated themselves to in those days. Later, I had observed the older players in practice tossing their racquets out of the court when they were disgusted with a poor shot. So, on one fateful afternoon as I hit a shot just outside the line, I wheeled around and tossed my racquet over the tall fence behind me. And then I watched in horror as it flipped and the frame caught the horizontal support pole which shattered the wooden racquet into a million pieces.

I anxiously returned home like the sad prodigal son. I was repentant and knew that saying all the older boys did the same thing was no good excuse. My parents weren’t happy with the loss of the shiny black racquet and most importantly my behavior. Later, I was informed the racquet would be replaced since I was doing a good job on the courts, but that would be the last one. Arnold finished his account by stating that “I never threw another club again.” Me neither. But I may have dropped a few golf clubs later in life before learning about the ten-step rule. I need to share that tip with a certain baggage handler!

Monday, November 14, 2016

ROLE MODELS


Watching, You Tube Screen Capture

I believe that I’m among millions of Americans who endured this painfully too long and too contentious presidential campaign of 2016 featuring the least of two evils that were ever delivered to us by both political parties. Many folks I’ve talked to had to force their fingers to activate one or the other candidates in the voting station to comply with their conscious duty to exercise their right to vote this year.

And the political debates, rallies and television ads were the most repulsive in my entire lifetime. The vetting process for any candidate and their families can only be compared to the old Salem witch hunts with the obligatory burning at the stake even before any reliable fact checking could be attempted. For those of us in a battle ground state, the penance included additional visits to all corners of the state and a barrage of television ads that were relentless.

One of the most contentious attack ads included some of Trump’s most deplorable moments and sound bites. The ad was ironically titled “Role Models” and on July 16 The New York Times covered it as the Ad of the Week stating “The Clinton campaign is continuing to focus its negative advertising efforts on provocative remarks made by Donald J. Trump, this time in a commercial that invites adults to imagine what a child might be learning from his campaign.” One of the unfortunate sound bites related that “I could stand in the middle of fifth avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any votes, OK” and another comment that “when Mexico sends its people, they’re bringing in drugs, they’re bringing in crime, etc.”

Watching that ad multiple times only lessened my opinion of both candidates—one for saying these things in public and the other for spending millions of dollars to repeatedly air them. After watching this ad multiple times, I began to wonder what effect it frankly had on children, not adults, that couldn’t miss seeing it. And today after I had just entered the elementary school where I volunteer I sadly found out. As I stood there making casual conversation over a snack, one little boy matter-of-factly looked up wide-eyed and said “Trump is going to be president. He kills people.” This prompted a little girl sitting next to him to look up and say “and he’s going to come get us.”

These kids’ impromptu statements caught me cold. I didn’t have an immediate response other than “No that’s not going to happen.” My heart sank for these innocents that had been exposed to bad behavior unbecoming of children their age by both presidential candidates. Clinton ended the commercial of crass Trump comments by stating that “our children and grandchildren will look back on this time at…the principles we will live by and we need to make sure they will be proud of us.” I won’t be proud to discuss this election with my grandchildren.

The timing of Christmas season couldn't be more relevant this year. Embedded in the final stanza are much needed words as we experience the carol of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen; "And with true love and brotherhood, each other now embrace; this holy tide of Christmas, all other doth deface." It’s comforting to know that God is still in overall control and things of this world such as politics are a distant second place.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

FLAWED POLITICAL POLLING


Dewey Defeats Truman, Internet Domain

Once again we have validated Human Behavior 101 revealing that those who don’t study history and learn from it are doomed to repeat it. Many of the political pollsters today have been apologizing to the American people about how badly their polling exercises left them with the flawed statistical opinion that Hillary Clinton was a shoo-in for our next POTUS! One of them this morning stated that they would have to go back and try to understand how this could have happened. I’m not at all familiar with all their polling methods and computer models but I have a theory and it starts back with the election of Harry Truman.

I’ve always liked the image of a good ol’ Missouri boy, Harry Truman, holding up a copy of The Chicago Tribune showing the headline “Dewey Defeats Truman!” It probably didn’t help that the newspaper had earlier referred to Truman as a nincompoop! What I remember from a college statistics class was that the headline was partly derived from a quick telephone poll of households. The serious flaw, however, was that it was a quick sampling of a biased demographic that could afford the new communications technology at the time and they were mainly Republicans. The common people of the time weren’t flocking to Dewey and that poll couldn’t reach them.

I’ve recently read that one third of our households including many young Millennials no longer have land lines because of the rapid expansion of the new technology cell phones. I’m one of the older demographics that still has both so that I have quick access to 911. I don’t yet receive harassing calls on my cell phone, but they sure come across my land line including those obnoxious robo calls. Fortunately, the new technology on my land line hand-held includes the standard “Caller ID” feature which lets me see either the caller name or number. If I don’t recognize it, I don’t answer the phone because it’s generally a harassment call like a political poll or message. If the call is important and the caller knows me, they’ll leave a message which I will promptly return. If not, the caller will drop the line or leave a message which I will quickly delete. My home is my castle and I resent the intrusions. I can make up my mind independent of a nuisance robo call.

If some of these latest political polls were taken via telephone land lines, here’s a problem. These pollsters missed a whole demographic of folks that no longer have a land line or use “Caller ID” on their land lines to their advantage and don’t answer the calls! And perhaps many of them didn't vote or didn't vote for Clinton.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

ELVIS ROAD TRIP





Brightwood Inn, Whitsett, NC
Wurlitzer Jukebox, Whitsett, NC
Elvis Shrine, Whitsett, NC
Sitting on the Throne, Whitsett, NC


I’ve always had a love affair with automobiles since the boyhood day my Uncle Ed pulled into the driveway with a new dark navy Olds’ Rocket 88 with a V-8 engine. It was the first time I had ever noticed an automobile that was packaged in a beautiful assembly of sculpted sheet metal. The second I turned 16, I had earned enough money mowing lawns and stocking grocery shelves to split the cost of my first car with my parents, as we had agreed to years earlier. I recently paid more for a lawnmower than that 1951 Ford Victoria hardtop that I had pinstriped as La Bamba! I’ve never considered an automobile as basic transportation and that passion was highlighted a few years ago when I scratched off a convertible sports car from my bucket list.

Today’s 70 degree November weather could only be described as a career opportunity for a Road Trip! On days like this I simply enjoy driving to some destination strictly for the joy of the journey. So, when I awoke this morning with “nowhere to go and no place to be”, I immediately declared a “Road Trip!” At this stage of life, I still enjoy a Road Trip, but I just don’t necessarily venture as far from home as in days past. I set my GPS on I-40 to The Streets of Southpoint outside Raleigh-Durham where I did a little shopping and then enjoyed a casual late lunch at California Pizza Kitchen.

As I was cruising home down I-40, I vaguely remembered that there was still an aging roadside Inn just off the interstate outside Whitsett, NC that I had heard about for years. As the story goes, the future King of Rock ‘n’ Roll had stopped there after a concert in Burlington on February 15, 1956. Elvis had just recently signed a $40,000 contract with RCA records and was on a long Road Trip touring with The Blue Moon Boys with Scotty Moore on guitar, Bill Black on bass and DJ Fontana on drums. They performed some of the 21-year-old’s first hits; “Good Rockin’ Tonight”, “Blue Moon of Kentucky” and “I’m left, You’re Right, She’s Gone”. “Heartbreak Hotel’ had just been recorded.

After the concert, Elvis left with a couple of musicians in his pink 1955 Fleetwood Cadillac which he later gave to his mother. The next tour stop was in Winston-Salem, so they stopped at one of the popular roadside inns of the time called the Brightwood Inn for a late dinner. The waitress that chanced to wait on Elvis and his crew still works there. She mentioned that Elvis ordered a cheeseburger and milk while the other two drank Miller High Life beers. The local paper never mentioned the concert, but later that year it reported that Elvis “shakes and wiggles and jumps and bumps; it’ s like watching a strip-tease and a malted milk machine at the same time.” I remember my sister loaning me one of the first Elvis 45’s, “Blue Moon of Kentucky”, which I liked and played for our “Bring a record to Music Class” in high school. I was laughed out of the room! By the summer of 1956 Elvis was the most popular entertainer in the USA.

As I pulled up to the vacant parking lot, I stepped outside and took a photo of the inn. The proprietor must have spotted a customer and peered out the front door to announce that I could come in even though he was technically closed. I asked if this was the place where Elvis ate and he quickly acknowledged that it was indeed. He graciously announced that he had been here for 69 years and led me to the cluttered back room containing the Elvis shrine. I handed him my new iPhone7 and asked if he would take my photo in the booth. He was reluctant at never handling one of these new contraptions and the pick of the litter includes his fingers framing my face! I wondered why he kept saying he was cutting off my head! But since I came of age in the Rock ‘n’ Roll fifties with Elvis and later with my 1952 Seeburg C100 “Happy Days” jukebox loaded with many of his 45’s, it turned out to be one of those serendipitous Road Trip moments to be cherished forever.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

BEING ALIVE


Flying High, Jamestown, NC

Joseph Campbell dedicated his life’s work to studying and teaching comparative mythology and religion, encompassing many aspects of the human experience. He has written that "People say that what we're all seeking is a meaning for life. I don't think that's what we're seeking. I think what we're seeking is an experience of being alive." He encourages us to “Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls…The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.”

Changing seasons always give pause to contemplate our place in the universe and our destiny, especially the Fall season of shorter days and cooler nights. All surrounding Nature is quietly winding down and withdrawing from the vibrant days of summer growth in anticipation of the fallow season to come. We humans subconsciously understand this as we move about in Nature, synching our heartbeat with the rhythm of life on this planet.

I walked onto a golf course practice range early one morning and casually asked an attendant how it was going. His reply caught me off guard, since I was expecting the standard “OK”. Everybody has something going on in their life and nobody expects to sit down and talk about it, let alone listen to it in the middle of a busy day. But the guy looked me in the eye and said “Well I woke up on the green side again today, so it’s going to be a fantastic day after that great start!” This man practiced the art of seeking the experience of being alive and appreciating it!

I’m consciously working on the concept with a little more intention this Fall as I just completed another trip around the sun totaling over seventy revolutions. I’m not necessarily looking for death defying experiences, although those most certainly have left me with a very acute appreciation for being alive over the years. Our culture is fast paced and rampant with auditory and visual distractions. Even so, when we find the time to stop the music and exit the merry-go-round, we don’t always pause to give thanks for this life and being alive. And many times we must be intentional in seeking those experiences of being alive so that we can be fully appreciative of the limited time we have to follow our bliss. As the old saying goes, today’s the first day of the rest of my life.