What Can I Do? I’m One Person

It was a gorgeous fall early October day. Dr. Joe had some free time, no meetings, no classes to teach. He decided he’d walk over to the football practice field and watch the team practice. They were 4-0. His feet kick at the chestnuts that fell from the trees, The leaves were starting to turn. He felt good. Good about life. Good about his work. Good about his family. He saw the players in the practice jerseys a hundred yards ahead. The sounds of hitting, and grunting, and coaches shouting instructions added to his good feeling for the day.

Makeshift bleachers were set up for anyone who wanted to watch practice. Girlfriends, students, townies, and a few other faculty made up a sparse showing. He looked to the top row. He spotted a student he knew. He climbed the ten rows, smiled at the students and said, “Mind if I sit here? You hurt?”

Mike Nestor nodded and gave Dr. Joe a half smile.

How come you’re not out on the practice field?” Dr. Joe said.

“It’s a long story.”

“I got time,” said Dr. Joe.

“Last Monday I was in my Contemporary U. S. History class. Dr. Blaine begins class by asking each of us to name the country our ancestors came from. I’m in the first row, five seats back. I hear Poland, Germany, Switzerland, and Ireland. Then it’s my turn. Before I can speak, he says, “Never mind Mike, your ancestors were probably slaves and you have no idea what country your ancestors came from. I got up, flipped him off and walked out. He reported me – The coach told me he had to talk the administration out of tossing me out for the semester and taking away my scholarship.”

“You’re kidding?”
“Honest. Every word is true. You know there are 16,000 students here and only three percent are of color. Most of us are from the city.”

“You going to appeal or do anything? said Dr. Joe.”

“What can I do? I’m one person?”

Dr. Joe looked at Mike, “I’ll do something.”

“What?”

“I don’t know, but I will do something.”

Dr. Joe met with the provost and asked if he could meet with a focus group of African-American students to learn more about their experience on campus. The provost reluctantly agreed, but added, “You’re okay being the only white person in the room?”

Dr. Joe looked at the provost, chose not to say what he wanted to say, and offered,  “It’s the way I want it.”

A week later Dr. Joe sat at the head of a long table with 15 African-American students, he asked, “Can you share your experience as an African-American student on campus?” The room was silent. He sat in the silence. The students fidgeted. He started to think no one would speak, when a woman raised her hand and said, “My name is Veronica, I’ll tell you what it’s like. I’m a junior. I was in communication lab class last week and the instructor came to me and said, ‘You have so much potential. You have a chance to make it big.’ I was elated until he said, ‘You only have to learn to do one thing, talk white.’ He walked away.”

Her comments opened the floodgates of similar stories. Dr. Joe took his data to the university president. Two months later leaders from the African-American students and leaders from the student body met with him and an external consultant to create a dialogue to make the university culture more inclusive. Mike was one of the student leaders. In two days, the students joined together and collaborated on a plan. Dr. Joe and the external consultant stood at the edge of the room and watched change take place.

This is a true story. I changed some names and didn’t mention the name of the university. When you’re on the moral high ground, you are a majority, no matter how many are against you. Today, I choose to stand up and make a difference.

bleachers

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The Third-Grade Boy

The third-grade boy walked nearly a mile to school each day. He barely lived outside the school bus boundary. Each day he walked across the railroad tracks almost adjacent to the tenement building where he lived in a four-room flat with his brother and parents. He wore the only pair of pants and shoes he had. His mother washed his pants each night and hung them by the stove to dry.

He had no idea what he’d become. His mom and dad worked in nearby shoe factories. His favorite uncle was a career soldier in the army. Another uncle a mechanic. And, another a truck driver. His thoughts didn’t travel far beyond the limitations of his immediate experience. Until …

It all changed for him when he went to third grade. The school he attended had two third grade teachers. All second graders knew the best teacher was Miss Pope. She was young and pretty. The other teacher was Miss Thompson. She old, really old, maybe as old as the school as one boy put it. Worse, she was mean. Mean to the core. She didn’t know how to smile another of the third-grade boy’s buddies added.

During his final week in second-grade, he prayed he’d get Miss Pope. He prayed as hard as he prayed for anything. When he was handed his second-grade report card, his heart sunk. His final second-grade report card gave him the good news and bad news. The good news, he was promoted to third grade. The bad news, his third-grade teacher was Miss Thompson. The mean, unsmiling, old, really old Miss Thompson.

Miss Thompson stood by the doorway each morning and in her no-nonsense way, welcomed each child by name. The boy tried hard in her class, after all, she was the meanest teacher in school. No sense making an enemy right away. It was near October when Miss Thompson stopped the boy on his way into class. She grabbed hold of him by his shoulders. He looked at her wide-eyed. His mind racing to a small fight on the playground after school. He hoped no one ratted him out.  Miss Thompson bent over and looked into his eyes and said, “From today on, I’m going to say to you, ‘Good morning governor, because I believe one day, you’ll become governor of our state. Now, work hard and you’ll do it.”

The boy went to his desk and he worked hard for Miss Thompson. He was determined to become governor. Well, Miss Thompson retired ten years later and died a few years after she retired. But, the third-grade boy remembered her lesson. He didn’t become governor, but he worked hard, and he believed. He discovered hard work, determination, and a belief he was capable of doing something special made it all come true.

You never know when you touch a person. Encouraging a young person to dream the impossible, often turns the impossible into the possible. I know. I was the third-grade boy.

crossing the tracks

Ray’s Recipe – Fixing a Food Disaster

I go on Pinterest and find recipe’s I like. I save them under healthy recipes, slow cooker recipes, fun foods. It’s all good. When I click on on a food photo it takes me to the author’s page and I read about another great, easy to cook meal. What I never read is someone saying, this recipe is a disaster. Toss it, start over, I punked yah. No, it’s all good, all the time. No mistakes. In baseball lingo, a perfect game, no runs, no hits, no errors, no one reaches first base.

The way I see it, A disaster meal has side benefits. Maybe you have someone coming for dinner and you never want them to come again – today’s recipe’s for you. Maybe you want to break up, don’t have the courage to say it, let your food do the talking with today’s recipe. Maybe you’re a masochist. If you are, making a meal like the one I am about the describe is going to make you feel terrible – that’s good, right?

My meal plan started out with a great idea. I’ll make an easy, healthy, low cleanup time meal. I’ll brag about it on my blog. Guy’s Grocery Games will invite me to compete. My great chef dreams went downhill faster than the Olympic bobsledding team.

“What did you do, Ray?” you ask.

Okay, I’ll make a clean breast of it. No, I didn’t cook chicken breasts. I wish I did. On a scale of ten, how easy is it to cook a chicken breast? I’d give it a 10 (this is the typical guy response for cooking any food – maybe I should have grilled this meal – I’m talking real guy talk now).

“What did you attempt to cook, Ray. You’re stalling. Spill the beans. Turn state’s evidence. Go into the witness protection program.”

I glad you didn’t mention waterboarding, an IRS audit, or being asked to eat raw eggs (how Silvester Stallone did it, I’ll never know).

Here’s what happened. I decided to make quinoa burgers (they were in a box in the freezer, precooked) Easy, right? Not. I cut up onion, a poblano and red pepper. I added mushrooms. I put my veggies in a pan coated with EVOO. What can go wrong? It’s all going along fine. The veggies are eighty percent done, I add the quinoa burgers.

The only thing that can go wrong is guy think. That’s right, guy think. I think I have enough time to wheel the trash container out to the curb, come back for the recycle containers and put them next to the trash container. Do I leave well enough alone? Oh no, two boys who live a street over walk by tossing a football. I hold up my arm. They flip it to me. I need to prove to them and myself I am Tom Brady’s backup. Five minutes later the light bulb goes off. No, not a light bulb, the smoke alarm. I run a fly pattern into the kitchen. I take the skillet out the back door. I hope no one called 911. Even the birds fly away. Any reader like charred veggies and two hard globs of quinoa?

911 for a food disaster. 1) always use a non-stick pan. 2) Open the windows – turn on all the fans. 3) Phone a friend, and tell your friend your buying dinner, in this case, pizza.

 

Girl from Ipanema

 

“In the summer, I went out on the streets and sweat. In the winter, I went out on the streets and shivered.” Those words uttered by Vic to me left an indelible mark.

I met Vic by chance, near the turn of the century, one summer’s afternoon in San Antonio. A friend of mine organized a lunch get together at a Chinese restaurant. By chance, Vic sat next to me. I found myself looking at a thin, almost gaunt man, a bit over six feet. Vic had two arms like everyone at the meal. Only one was functional. Vic was a Maryknoll priest. He told me he loved to play the piano, but a brain operation caused him the functional use of one arm. He could still play his favorite song from memory and his heart, Girl from Ipanema, with his right hand.

I asked Vic about his different assignments. He told me one of his assignments was in Harlem. I said, “What did you do in Harlem?”

Vic said, “Every day I went out on the streets to be the people. In the summer I sweat with them. In the winter, I shivered with them. It worked for me.”

Vic’s words got me to thinking that most people want the loving presence of another more than they want to hear their words. This is

When I learned to sweat in the summer and shiver in the winter with others, I learned how to be fully present to other people in a unique and meaningful way.

Today, I will make an extra effort to sweat with those whom I come in contact.

winter harlem

Shiver and Sweat

Keep on Doing

I wonder how my mom felt when her mom died when she was two. I wonder how my dad felt when his father died when he was fourteen. I wonder how he felt when he had to quit school in 8th grade to help support his family. I wonder how he felt when he was drafted to fight in a war he didn’t start and had to leave a wife and child at home. I never asked them. I never thought to ask them. I didn’t have the wisdom to ask them. I missed important lessons I only learned through lived experiences.

My mom and dad, like so many people who face setbacks, kept on going, not complaining. They keep on doing what they had to do because they had to do it. Other people depended on them. That is how they were built. They didn’t look for a handout or a hand up. They kept on doing. I like that phrase, they kept on doing.

Today, I will keep on doing. I will keep on doing what I have to do because that is how I am built. It is the way you are built to. 

KEEP ON DOING

keep on doing

Joe’s Story – Baseball & Watermelon

Joe’s parents immigrated to the U.S. from the Azores. Joe helped raise his brother after his dad died. He was the man of the family. His mom worked in a shoe factory doing piece work. Her twelve hour days left her exhausted. Joe, barely 17 when the war came, was a gifted athlete. Major league scouts watched him hit a baseball. Some claimed he was the next Dimaggio. Others said he was next Williams. College football scouts drooled watching Joe return punts and kickoffs for touchdowns for the high school team. Everyone told Joe he was going to make it big and become famous. Then, life happened, WWII came and the Army drafted Joe. He was an infantry soldier and landed in Normandy on D-Day. He fought on the front lines until the war ended. When the war ended and Joe was discharged, his mom was waiting at the train station for. A loaf of his favorite Portuguese sweet bread guarded carefully in a basket hanging from her forearm. His mom shouted to him in Portuguese as he stepped off the train. They embraced and cried and his mom made him eat her sweet bread. She died two days later.

Joe took a job as groundskeeper for the community athletic fields. He lined the ball diamond during the spring and summer. He chalked the track for high school track meets in the spring. In the fall, he lined the football field and was an assistant coach for the high school football team. In his spare time, Joe coached little league.

During the long hot summers, Joe stopped mowing the grass to pitch batting practice to the boys who showed up and wanted to play ball. He hit fly balls without tiring. He backed the boys to the backstop and played pepper with them. He was a dad to every boy who showed up. It didn’t matter who the boy was or where the boy came from. If he wanted to play ball, Joe welcomed him.

Every once in a while, when the day was hot and no one wanted to play ball, Joe would grab a bat and say to anyone who listened, “If I can hit a ball over the fence  (some 400 feet away) in twenty pitches, I’ll buy watermelons.” The boys all ran on the field to shag the balls. And the pitcher grooved one pitch after another to Joe. You could see it happening. Joe was a kid again, slapping a ball this way and that way. He was toying with the boys. Then, around the 15th pitch, Joe became serious. He’d drive the ball deep toward the fence. He knew, he always knew. He hit the 18th pitch over the fence, the boys cheered and piled into Joe’s pickup to get watermelon.

Why this story? It’s true, I knew Joe.

Joe’s life mirrors your life and mine. He had dreams. He had a gift. Then life changed it all for him. Joe never complained. Joe never held a pity party. He made the most of his life with what life gave him.

Joe is one of the heroes. Everyone who makes the most of life, whatever the circumstances are is a hero like Joe.

Joe Dimaggio

I used a photo of Joe Dimaggio for this post – it felt right. Joe, either one, wouldn’t mind.

Courage To Try

“To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thoughts About Courage

It takes courage to live.

It takes courage to live an honorable life.

It takes courage to rise from defeat and begin anew.

It takes courage to stand up for what is right in the face of many who think you are wrong.

It takes courage to be a good mom.

It takes courage to be a good dad.

It takes courage to study in school and excel.

Doing the right thing. Living the right way. Leaving a legacy for which to feel proud takes living a life of courage.

It can be done

Love Finds A Way

This past weekend, Mother’s Day, I traveled to Illinois to spend time with a daughter and her family. It’s my first Mother’s Day without Babe. No sadness, a time for celebration for what was, what is, and what will be.

Love finds a way to heal.

Love finds a way to renew.

Love finds a way to rekindle the fire of life.

Love always finds a way through even the darkest of nights.

Love is the beginning, the middle and the new beginnings of all things.

Love Finds a way

Always trust love.

Love always finds a way

The Power of Family

“That’s what people do who love you. They put their arms around you and love you when you’re not so lovable.” ― Deb Caletti

“I sustain myself with the love of family.” ― Maya Angelou

A family has always been a big deal for me. When I was growing up, it was a place I called home. I felt wanted, loved, and encouraged. Was it perfect? Not by any measure. We all held our measure of imperfection. It didn’t matter, it was family. Mom and dad always held an open door and waited for me with open arms.

When I married Babe, we decided we would be a family filled with love. We wanted our five girls to know their mom and dad loved each other and modeled their love for them. We loved, we laughed, we celebrated, we cried, and we forgave. Through it all, we remain a family.

All through Babe’s suffering and death, the five girls rallied around me. They sustained me. They did it because that is what loving families do.

All through my grieving period, their love was the foundation from which I gleaned strength, courage, and determination to go on. Why? Because it is what loving families do.

Family is the place we come from and where we feel we can always return.

Family is the place where, in spite of differences, when the chips are down, we count on each other.

Not everyone has the same experience of family as I did. It is never too late to create a sense of family. It takes two people who care deeply about each other. Two people who dare venture into tomorrow. And, two people who will always have each other’s back. I found strength in my large family. I hope you find strength in your family.

Family

 

Are You Ready To Soar?

“Don’t let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” ~John Wooden

“A pessimist is one who makes difficulties of his opportunities and an optimist is one who makes opportunities of his difficulties.” –  Harry Truman

Are you ready for today?

Give me my cup of coffee, a hot shower, a time to give thanks to a loving God I have a new day and a new chance. I am ready. I am so ready for a great day. I ask myself:

Am I ready to go all in and give it my best every moment?

Am I ready to believe good things will come my way today?

Am I tougher than my challenges?

Am I ready to love everyone who comes my way today?

Am I ready to leave a positive imprint on every place I travel and on everyone I meet?

Am I ready to see, perhaps for the first time, all the blessings that surround me and to give thanks for them?

Am I ready? I am. Are you ready? Together we will leave it all on the table. We will give it our best each moment. We will make today better than yesterday. We will positively touch the lives of all whom we meet today.

Words to think about

  • Optimism
  • Fervour
  • Zeal
  • Passion
  • Vitality
  • Strength
  • Persistence
  • Effort
  • Soar