Saturday, December 28, 2013

Seeing Past Our Own Handicaps

My first impression of my friend Mark was a negative one.

I watched him slowly make his way along a wharf one evening. He was walking slowing with canes in both hands. His family was guiding him along and someone with a wheelchair was right behind him.

My first thought was "What are these people thinking?"

I was standing on the three-masted schooner Victory Chimes a few years ago. Mark and his father were about to board. I couldn't imagine how this young man was going to make it up and down the ladder-like companionways on the 100-plus year old vessel. We were preparing for a week-long sail.

What I didn't know was that Mark and his father had been on the Chimes before. I also didn't know what Mark was capable of doing. All I saw was what he couldn't do. It was a snap judgment based on my own negative impressions and assumptions.

It turns out that I sailed with Mark twice. It was a wonderful experience getting to know him. He has some form of ALS. He couldn't speak. He struggled to walk. He moved slowly.  But it was amazing to relate and communicate and form a great friendship with him, even though he never spoke a word to me.

I reached that same conclusion last week as I talked to a few coaches. All three are in wheelchairs for various reasons. I was doing an extensive feature on how coaches in wheelchairs cope and still do what they love to do. That story runs Sunday. You can check it out here

As I talked to one of them, it suddenly came together for me. He said that people would look at him and say "Poor me". He told me he didn't want "Poor me".

I realized in that moment that people, including myself, often look at people with handicaps and see what they can't do. We pay no mind to the potential and abilities they have that we may not even know about.

One of the people featured in the story is a friend of mine. I've known Matt for many years and don't see him as a guy in a wheelchair. I know the quality person that he is and the kind of coach that he is.

Still, it is easy to look at others and see their inabilities before seeing their abilities. I did that with the other coach mentioned in the story. He's shown in the wonderful photo above (taken by Sun Journal photographer Daryn Slover).

I barely knew him or his story but when I heard he was going to be the varsity coach last year, I wondered how he'd be able to managed that. As a result of him coaching at the varsity level, I got to meet him and have gotten to know more about him. He's a great guy with a tremendous sense of humor and love of basketball. I don't see his chair or his handicap any longer.

I learned a variety of things from writing this feature. A significant part of it was understanding that I don't simply like and admire these coaches because of what they've accomplished from their wheelchairs. They're not handicapped. They're handicapable.  I admire them for who they are despite their handicaps. I know them as good people who are dedicated to coaching and teaching kids. They're not role models because of their wheelchairs. I admire them because they work so hard at what they do and are so committed to doing what they love that they'll overcome anything.

As I was thinking about all this, I also concluded that these conclusions are not just made about handicap people. We make such judgments all the time - about everybody. We're told we're not enough this and too much of that. We define each other, and even ourselves, by our inabilities and even our faults. Those become what we are known for as opposed to what our abilities offer. So-called unconditional love can often come with expectations and conditions.

This story about handicap coaches inspired me to keep plugging away when things get hard to do.  There are people I know that work so much harder to do what they love in comparison. This story also showed me how harmful judgment can be. They wanted to be seen as coaches, not viewed as handicapped coaches. Taking the time to truly know somebody and understand them opens up unimaginable opportunities.

I'm grateful to know people like these coaches. I'm thankful for meeting somebody and getting to know them like I did Mark.

Life shouldn't be about limiting what enriches us. It should revolve around seeking things and people that inspire, teach and just provide us love and joy.

Making judgments is easy and we're too quick to do it. It is a handicap we all must overcome. Understanding takes a little extra time, but it is ultimately worth it.

Monday, November 11, 2013

In honor of their service

I inherited a number of books from my Dad.

I have various book he read, various Bibles he owned and a collection of books and commentaries he used in his pastorate.

Out of all the books he passed on to me, there is only one that he personally presented to me and wanted me to have. It is a book called "Abundant Living". I've never read it and have barely looked at it.  It was given to my Dad by his Army buddy Bob Gough.

My Dad was a radio operator during World War II. Because of his skills as a radio man, he actually stayed behind longer then the rest of his company, much to his displeasure. By the time he reached Europe, the worst of the fighting was over. So Gough shipped out before my Dad and he never came back.

That book sits on a shelf with a number of other things of immense value to me. There's a ship model my grandfather never finished. There's various birds that my Uncle Doug made. There's "the box" that my grandfather left behind for Dad after going to the hospital with a heart attack. It had all my grandfather's pertinent papers.There's my Hitler Youth Knife, one of my Dad's war souvenirs. There's pendant that belonged to my great grandmother Douglass.

The book is an important keepsake not only because it was given to me by my Dad but because I know it was important to him. I know little about Bob Gough but I know he was a valuable friend to my Dad and at very young age. I can't image the feeling of loss he felt when he learned that his friend had been killed in action.

One thing I regret about my Dad is that I didn't talk to him a lot about his war experiences. Maybe he wouldn't have wanted talk about them anyway. But I know one viewing of Saving Private Ryan had him talking about WWII for days, especially if he came across a fellow veteran.

I've always been interested in the Revolutionary War and the Civil War but hadn't developed an interest or appreciation of the history of WWI or WW2.
Since my Dad died, I've learned a little more about that era. I've watched various movies and documentaries, including the Band of Brothers box set, which my Dad would have loved had he ever watched it. I have the Jeff Shaara books on WW2 that I bought for my Dad and now own. I may read those soon.

Learning what I have has given me a greater appreciation of the sacrifices of so many soldiers, including my Dad and his brothers Doug and Albert Mills. And my grandfather sacrificed so much, being a widower that watched his three boys go off to war. (That's my Dad and his brother Al to the right).
When I see how many good men died or were scarred for life from their experiences there, it amazes me that my Dad and his brothers all were able to make it home relatively unscathed.

As much as I'm thankful for their safe return, I'm grateful for their sacrifice and their service. My Dad was just a high school kid when he went off to war.  I can't imagine going off to a World War when I was that age. His brothers were not much older.

I'm glad that the cemetery where my Dad is buried does a nice job recognizing veterans and putting a flag by his stone. My Dad was proud of his service. And I'm proud of my Dad's service as well as that of my uncles. I wish I was able to go visit his grave today but will have to wait for the next time I'm at the coast.
I saw a story on the news the other day about the Gettysburg Address. Lincoln's speech talks about not letting the loss of life at Gettysburg to be in vain.

It made me think about the sacrifice and service of so many veterans, including my Dad and his brothers. (That's my Dad and his brother Doug in Kentucky to the left.)

 How do we truly honor what they have done for our country and our way of life? Do we serve and sacrifice for our country in similar ways?

Look at our country today. I don't even have to expand on the answer. It is shameful that this country has become what it has. Is this the kind of freedom people fought and died for? The bickering, the bipartisanship, the lack of care for doing what is best for our country and people, we're not uniting for the greater good. We spend too much time and energy trying to blame and hate the other side. Our energy is invested in making political points and gaining power instead of making us a better country and a better people.

 In many instances, but not all, we went to war to right a wrong. Our veterans served and died for something that was right. Are we striving to do what is right? Or are we more focused on what serves us best or feeds our wallets instead of our people.

People will tell you they "Support the troops" and they'll wave their flags and vow to never forget. But do they truly honor what our veterans did. Token propaganda and Facebook posts don't do it properly.

I will never serve in the military. I will never be able to sacrifice like my Dad and his brothers did. But I can honor them and their willingness by serving in my own way. I can feed off their bravery, their courage and their willingness to sacrifice for good.

I never talked with my Dad about it but I can imagine him saying to himself that he wanted to honor the memory of Bob Gough and his friend's sacrifice by living a life that would do that. My Dad ultimately did live a life of service, as a pastor, as a teacher and as a man of great strength and courage. I'm sure Bob Gough played a role in my Dad being the person that he became, and my Dad honored his memory as a result.

We can all serve. We can all sacrifice. We can all strive to do what is right in this world. We can all hope and work toward bettering our country. Those are my marching orders. I don't know all the ways I will and can make it happen, but I want my life and existence in this country to honor and reflect the bravery of the people that paved the way for me.

And someday, I hope people can be proud of my service.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Measuring Life

Somewhere in a notebook, tucked away amidst many other notebooks, is a particular song I wrote.

I think when the day comes that somebody inherits my so-called estate, their biggest haul will be pens and notebooks.

And in a lot of those notebooks, some of them dating back to high school and college, have tidbits of stories and songs written in them - as well as drawings of hockey players.

One of those songs I wrote years ago has a line in it that says "Now life is measured by what I haven't got", A pretty happy sentiment.

 When I think about the songs I used to write, I think of something Mike Ness of Social Distortion said during a Live at the Roxy show. He said "You all want to hear a happy song? Sorry, homey, we don't do no happy songs."

Of course, many of my favorite artists don't write happy songs. They write the dark, painful, introspective types. And that's what I used to do - even when I tried not to.

Anyway, I've been thinking about that line about life being measured but what I haven't got. I kind of recall thinking that was a pretty brilliant line back in the day. And maybe that was a good reflection of my mindset then.

But it isn't now. In fact, I try to think and see the opposite. I try not to dwell on what I don't have. I'd much rather embrace and enjoy what I do have.

I think it is easy for people to immediately worry about what is missing instead of recognizing what they possess. We're a society that bitches and moans first instead of being thankful and appreciative. We blame before we look for solutions. We look down at people instead of lifting up. We are fearful before we are brave. We worry before we are confident. We're angry instead of being joyful. We're programed to see the downside of things instead of looking at the great things in life.

I know people who see life in such a negative way that they're just consumed by that outlook. All they do is worry, be angry, complain and blame others for their misery.

I saw a study once on a news magazine show about how people could look through the headlines of the newspapers. Some would see the good things but most would consume the negative and build their outlook and world view from that.

That's not to say I don't have my disappointments and frustrations. I have them all the time. People that I expect better from let me down. People I don't expect to hurt me, do just that. People I hoped would support me as an author, by buying books or writing reviews that I needed, didn't do that for me. There are things in my life that I don't have and wish that I did.

It can be easy to look at other people's lives and wish I had this or that. But I try not to do that any longer. I don't measure life by what is missing. I measure it by what I've been blessed with.

 In all facets of life, I don't want a life like everybody else. I never do what everybody else does. I tend to bounce to the beat of my own drum and do so gleefully.  I want my own extraordinary life. I've realized that I have just that and it can be what I make it.

I was sitting on the deck at my cottage in Owls Head this summer. It was one of those glorious summer days that make me cherish the place more than I ever do. I thought of how fortunate I am to own and have such a place. I even contemplated the idea of if I could trade it for something else that I feel is lacking in my life, would I do it? Not a chance. I wouldn't trade the cottage for anything. It is truly a wonderful blessing in my life and I can't imagine what my life would be without it.

Another example has to do with my job. I'll sometimes hear about someone that I know getting a new job or succeeding in this or that career. I'll feel a twinge of jealousy and wish maybe I'd made that much money or had that kind of life and career. Then I stop myself. I've had the career I always wanted. How many people can say that? It has been a wonderful gift and opportunity to share my skills as a writer and journalist.  I've had some great experiences and memories in my career. I've met some wonderful people. I've done outstanding work and established myself as one of the best in the business and I've done it on my terms - with honesty and integrity and earning the respect and appreciation of the people that have read my work or dealt with me. How lucky am I to have all that?

I heard about a guy yesterday that called in to WEEI to talk about the Red Sox. He was complaining about Manager John Farrell - the day after the Red Sox won the World Series for the third time in 10 years and after being in last place a year ago.

Sure there are things we can gripe about. I see people complain all the time on Facebook. Their life is one prolonged misery it seems. But it is only that way if you look at it that way. That's what I've learned. Your perspective is what you see in it. If you don't like your perspective, change it.

I'm enjoying finding the little blessings of life. So many things I take for granted. I was driving back from a game recently and came across a beautiful sunset as I headed home along Route 4. It is part of nature that happens every day but it is always different and often awesome. So much of life is that way.

Life lets me down sometimes. People let me down often. It still bothers me sometimes. There are things in life I'd still like to have. There are voids I'd like to fill.

But I know God has given me what I need and has blessed me with so much else. When I measure life by the blessings and gifts I have, I'm not only lucky but also joyful and happy. I've realized that life measures up pretty good.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Reaching for it

In an attempt to find rest and relaxation, I found inspiration and motivation.
That wasn't quite what I was looking for during last week's vacation. I had a week off to enjoy time on the coast and get away from the world. I had some reading and writing to do and a beautiful place to do it - accompanied by a flock of honking geese that would fill most evenings.
I think any time I have a week off, I hope to be revitalized afterward but this renewal came from things I didn't expect. Some of my favorite artists spoke to me through their example as did a legendary hockey coach. It all makes me excited to be me and live the life I'm living.
It started with a DVD I just got in the mail, a documentary about Canadian singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn. I've seen Cockburn at least eight times. I've recently realized this commonality between some of my favorite artists like Cockburn, Mark Heard, Buddy Miller or Richard Shindell. They're all poets and prophets. They're music and their words are rooted in the power of their convictions. They can write with a brutal honesty or a subtle feeling from the heart. They're not preaching but offering a perspective for the world to see and learn from.
In Cockburn's song If I Had A Rocket Launcher, he writes "If I had a rocket launcher, some son of a bitch would die," and in Call It Democracy he says "you don't give a flying f$%k about people in misery." Yet, he writes the absolutely gorgeous words in Look How Far.
"So many miles, so many doors. Some need patience, some need force. All fall open in their own due course.  To allow us this time.
And you're limned. In light, golden and thin. Looks to me. Like you're lit up from within. And look how far the light came. Look how far the light came. Look how far the light came. To paint you. This way.
And I picture us in this light. Friendship a fine silver web. Stretched across golden smoky haze. And this is simple. And this is grace.
And this light. Is a guest from far away. Passing through. The last whisper of day."
Cockburn is a Christian but exists outside the mainstream. He unabashedly writes what he thinks and feels as he informs and inspires that follow his work.
Reflecting on him and his music, it make me want to write deeper and with power and conviction. I realize that I tend to already to do that but it gave me a clearer picture as to why. Whether I'm writing a significant feature for the newspaper or writing a new novel or throwing thoughts into this blog, my goal isn't simply to provide entertainment and something to read. I don't want my words to be disposable. I want them to reach you and reverberate and last. I want to make you think. I want to make you feel. I want to touch you and inspire you. Simply put, I want to make a difference. I want to be my own kind of prophet, speaking my truth to all who have ears to hear it.
Later in the week, I tossed in my Peter Gabriel concert DVD. I couldn't stand the song Sledgehammer when I first heard it. His music challenged me a little at first and it took me some time to accept it. I've seen him three times and am yearning to see him again. By opening my mind to his craft, I've learned so much and made tremendous discoveries in music and in myself.
It just so happened that the following night, I watched a documentary on George Harrison, my favorite Beatle. First, I realized that it was Harrison that was my first introduction to world music, which ultimately blossomed when I started listening more and more to Peter Gabriel. Secondly, I'm always inspired when I hear about Harrison's desire to be more than just a Beatle or a famous musician. He wanted to live a deeper and more meaningful life. In the documentary, his wife, Olivia, says that he lived by the idea that to prove worthy of God's love, you must display a love of yourself and the world around you. Those are like marching orders to my soul every time I hear them.
Then at the end of the week, for the fun of it, I tossed in the movie Miracle. The story of the 1980 Olympic hockey team always moves me. I had the great pleasure of interviewing coach Herb Brooks when he was coaching in the American Hockey League. I'm just glad the movie didn't exist then because I'd have been terrified to go on the team bus to talk to him.
 I often live his words  "you prepare for the unknown" in life, trying to make myself better and ready for the journey on which God is calling me.
In the movie, Brooks tells his players that they are ordinary men but that they can do extra ordinary things. It was their time to do just that. Watching that made me want to beat the Russians myself.
 I want to be beyond ordinary, at least in the things that I do and the work that I produce. It isn't out of ego or a desire to make tons of money but from a want to make an impact. I can feel all the potential and great things God has in mind for me. Sometimes, I have no idea what that is, but it is there and within my grasp. And I'm reaching for it.
I'm proud to say that I feel like I've been doing all that already. I heard a comment yesterday about how somebody's greatness can be determined by reflecting on what life or things would be like without them. I started doing the George Bailey thing and looking at what life around me would be like without my fingerprints.  I was pleased to realize a pretty good impact that I've had on the world around me.
But I'm not done yet. I'm still finding inspiration. I'm still finding motivation. I'm still learning. I'm still growing. And it all speaks to bigger and better things. I was meant to be here. And this is my time.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Triumph In Tragedy

I stood there talking to a four-year old - about running.
She had just finished the kids' Fun Run at the Stephen Ward 911 Memorial 5K. I told her I was an official high fiver at the event and that she could be my first high five of the day. She obliged me.
She told me she was four, holding up her four fingers.  I told how impressed I was at her running at such a young age. I joked that I didn't start running until I was 20 - and I quit soon thereafter.
Later in the day when I got home, I thought about that little girl again. She didn't even know my friend Steve, who was in the World Trade Center that day 12 years ago. She wasn't even old enough to be alive on that day. It is hard for me to imagine someone not witnessing or understanding what we all went through that day.
Yet, this little girl was running, so were so many other young kids, whether it be in the Fun Run or in the 5K. Many of them likely were just doing it for fun and had little understanding of the role they played Sunday. But someday, they will.
The race was organized by Steve's sisters and family. The money raised goes to a scholarship. Their intent was to do something positive in the devastating wake of tragedy.
Students of the future will benefit from these efforts and hopefully, they'll have the chance at the full rewarding life of which Steve was robbed.
The event went beyond the scholarship money though. It was a wonderful opportunity for a family, friends and community to not only support Steve but also each other. It wasn't a solemn occasion. It was a celebration - of Steve's life as well as our own. It was a unification of our loss and sadness. It was also a marshaling of forces for good and right.
We've all suffered loss. Grief isn't a solitary endeavor, at least it shouldn't be. Life is full of hardship and tragedy.
As I've said many times,  our lives can't be defined by our falls, failures and trials. We should be defined by how we rise above those struggles, no matter how tragic and heartbreaking.
I see so many people that have faced some sort of adversity. They've condemned themselves to living in that horrible moment or be forever controlled by that particular struggle.They never get past what happened. They never move on from it. Their lives become defined and dictated by something negative - primarily because they allow it to.
I've also seen people that have risen above. They moved past their adversity. They've used it to motivate them. They've used it to be stronger. They've vowed to learn from the challenges of life and live in the light instead of stuck in the their darkness. From the ashes, a new fire burns and rebuilding begins.

Steve's family was devastated by his loss. I can't imagine what that has been like. Grief is hard enough but when it is as public as something like this, I can't even fathom it. They've endured and persevered with great love, grace and strength.
There can be triumph in tragedy.  And the running of this race every year, allows us to not only continue to grieve but also move forward in a positive way. We honor Steve's memory and his place in all our lives. We join together to support each other and heal as a community. There's a great power in numbers, especially unified for something good.
The acts of 911 were born from hatred and closed minds. And the world is still full of the same kind of evil and divisiveness.  Sunday's race came from love and open hearts. It was a community rallying together.  That is what must carry us all forward amidst the darkness.
My four-year friend doesn't understand all that now. She will someday. Eventually, she'll recall running and she'll realize why and what it was truly all about.
 Life is a long race. We'll all stumble. We'll all fall. We can all get back up again. We can run this race together. We can finish. And we can high five at the end.
"From the pain come the dream. From the dream come the vision. From the vision come the people. From the people come the power. From this power come the change." ... Fourteen Black Paintings, Peter Gabriel

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Making Something Out Of Nothing

We call them Freaks on the Street.
I suppose that is the official newspaper term. It is when the paper collects photos of some poor unsuspecting people and have them comment on whatever mindless question of the day the reporters are forced to ask.
The only time I had to do such a thing was when I was dispatched with a photographer to the Auburn Mall years ago to get a "Freaks on the Street" spread on the hiring of a new UMaine hockey coach.
I searched out anybody that looked like they knew something about hockey or UMaine and asked the question and hoped to get some sort of an intelligent answer. I don't even recall whether I did or not.
The Freaks on the Street spread I saw recently was about school budgets. The question posed was whether these people had voted. The answers were a bit discouraging.
One guy said he had not voted because "they're all full of bull". I don't know who the "they" were and I don't know what that had to do whether he voted or not.
Another person said they had intended to vote but had not gotten around to it. Well, at least they intended to do their civic duty. That counts right?
Another person, and there were only five or six, said something disparaging as well as to why they had not bothered to vote.
Now I know school budgets and the items that have been up for vote in recent weeks aren't the presidential election and don't have high-profile status of some major election, but don't these votes have an even greater impact on these people's lives at the local level?
I know a lot of people who are effected by these budgets. I know school administrators, teachers, students and coaches. All of them have a stake in the outcome. Parents and taxpayers are effected as well.
Yet people can't be civic minded enough to vote for something that impacts their own community and likely people they know.
It's kind of like the old saying "People complain about the weather, but nobody does anything about it."
We've become a world of bitching and moaning. It's easier to lay blame than take responsibility. Why try and change things when standing idly by and griping about it does so well - not.
I see it in our politics. I see it in the workplace. I see it regardless of where I go each day. People can always talk about what is wrong about something and who is to blame. Yet they offer few solutions or suggestions as to who might make such change. And they're certainly not stepping up to volunteer.
We've let the zealots take over society. We have the right wing, Bible thumpers and left leaning tree huggers. That's how they're stereotyped and everything falls into one camp or the other. We've become polarized by these two ends of the spectrum, where the other is to blame and nobody takes responsibility. It has trickled down from the politics of our highest office to our everyday conversations,  where if you don't agree with me, you're wrong and also an idiot.
We're dividing ourselves because of our disagreements. We stand upon our soapboxes and tout our respective ideology while demonizing anyone that disagrees. Meanwhile, what is truly important and what is right gets lost in all the white noise and posturing.
Where is our common ground? Where is our commitment to do what is right? Where is our determination to make a stand? Why do we let our laziness dictate instead of allowing our knowledge to empower?
It is easy to wash our hands of the frustrating discourse. It is tempting to toss up our hands in despair and assume there's little we can do about it. I'm a political junkie of sorts and even I'm tired of it all.
 Public service isn't serving the public. As a result, our commitment to civic duties suffer. It is easiest to just ignore and do nothing and hope it goes away. Or we assume nothing can be done. We're let to just bitch and moan and blame.  We've become too tolerant of our intolerance.
There is always something that can be done. Maybe it starts with something as simple as utilizing your right to vote. Maybe it is change an attitude from powerless to powerful.
We the people have a power. With that power can come the change. But nothing changes when all we do is complain and blame.Surrendering your power only leaves one weak.  Inaction doesn't lead to action. People need to realize that to make change around us, we must make change within us. When that is realized, maybe they do something instead of doing nothing.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Kneedful Things

The scar is really the only negative reminder of that day.
Yet, hardly anybody ever notices it. I'm careful about my knee. I'm a little slow going down hills but otherwise, it is just a minor hindrance at times.
It was July 5. That was the day I blew out my right knee and good. The doctor said it was one of the worst he'd seen. Yeah me !!!
I remember sitting in the hospital room that day. I'd come out of surgery. The drugs were wearing off and the reality was setting in. I had a long road to recovery. I was out of work and my summer was pretty shot. It was not my best of times.
Yet, I made it so.
While the scar still lingers and reminds me of the harsh reality of that day. There are many things that remind me of the wonderful things that came from it.
I'm an author of three books. None would have happened the way they did had it not been for the knee injury. I sailed on the Victory Chimes for 10 straight years each summer and had some fantastic experiences and met some wonderful people. I found a resolve inside me I didn't know I had. I learned my strength and determination was far greater than any setback I could have. I'm still living that today, facing new challenges and still living large and in charge as much as I can.
I'll be celebrating the anniversary of my knee injury this Friday in the most appropriate of ways. I'll be in Owls Head, where the injury happened. I'll be walking the Rockland Breakwater and watching the Great Schooner Race. I'll do so with a sense of victory and a feeling of invincibility.
 Knock me down. I get back up.
What felt like one of the worst moments of my life that Friday afternoon turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me.
I ruptured my patella tendon that morning. I was dragging a rowboat up my beach when I slipped on wet seaweed and fell backward. My knee got caught underneath me and ... snap, crackle and pop.
At first I hoped it was only as bad as the dislocated knee cap I had in college. It would be a hassle to go through that kind of recovery again, but it was one I knew I could do. Come to find out, this injury was far worse. It required surgery and I wouldn't be able to drive for three months (I did it in two). I was out of work and who knew if the knee would ever be the same again. The doctor continually shook his headed, telling me how bad an injury this was.
I sat in that hospital room feeling depressed and sorry for myself. Then I thought about my niece, Caitlynne. She'd been diagnosed with bone cancer earlier that year. Just a month before, she had undergone radical surgery to save her life. She had part of her leg removed and another part reattached so that her ankle now served as her knee joint. I had seen her after her surgery and witnessed an amazing and gutsy kid rising from the depths of life's curveball.
I vowed at that moment I wasn't going to let an eight-year old girl show more guts than me. I was on a mission from then on. She just graduated from high school, by the way, and is headed to Boston University in the fall.
I rehabbed my knee with a vengeance. I got into the best shape I'd been in in years. I was back to work in two months and was climbing the 24 flights of stairs to the Cumberland County Civic Center press box by October.
As much as my renewed attitude and determination proved to be tremendous results from the injury. There was more.
I had lost some vacation time because of the injury. I held it over for the following year. With some extra cash from some award I had won, I decided to do something different with the extra money and vacation time. I chose to sail on the Victory Chimes.
Not only did that lead to a decade of trips aboard the Chimes with some great memories and friends that followed, it was the impetus in my decision to write a trilogy based on family history. My first novel Sons and Daughters of the Ocean was a direct result. Many chapters in that book were written aboard the Chimes.  In fact, the other books that have followed, including the yet to be released Sea of Liberty still have some direct ties to the Chimes and my trips aboard her.
I can't image life without those trips. I can't image life without the books I've published. I can't image life without the proof and knowledge of how strong I am and what a determined mind and unrelenting heart can achieve.
It was supposed to be a boat trip to Port Clyde that day. I didn't get there. I ended up in the hospital instead. But sometimes we don't get where we intend to go. We go where we need to go.
Knock me down. I get back up.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Where There Is Will

I didn't see Greg Campbell get hurt.
I was already caught up in the excitement of the Boston Bruins overtime win over Pittsburgh when the highlights of Campbell's injury were part of the postgame coverage at 1 a.m. Thursday morning.
Campbell had slid forward at the point to block a shot. He took it off the leg and fell in a heap. In the video of the injury, you can hear him scream in agony.
But then Campbell got back up. He couldn't count on a stoppage in play. That wasn't going to happen. In a game in which every mistake or opportunity could lead to the decisive goal, Campbell knew he had no choice but to gut it out. He got back up, tried to play his position, on what was later diagnosed as a broken leg. He even blocked another shot.
As he finished his shift and helped the Bruins kill off the Penguins power play, the Boston fans chanted his name and a wounded Campbell skated off the ice. His season is done.
As amazing as what Campbell did, it doesn't surprise me. Hockey players do that. I know many who would have done the exact same thing.
I recently read a story about my friend Kevin Kaminski. One of the many injuries in his rough and tumble hockey career was taking a slapshot to the side of his face. Two inches higher, it likely would have killed him. Instead, it just demolished that side of his face. When asked about it later, Killer recalled it and said "That one stung a little."
Hockey players can be warriors. They know the price that it takes to succeed in the playoffs. They'll do so willingly. They're playing, competing and sacrificing for something far greater than themselves. It seems very different than any other sports. Current Red Sox players are getting ridiculed because they've missed games because they slept wrong or because their hammy hurts. Campbell broke his leg and kept playing. Now, all of a sudden, Jacoby Ellsbury is well enough to play again, after missing a half dozen games or so to a sore hamstring.
Campbell showed me the true depth of guts and heart and desire. You get hurt. You get back up and fight on.
As I thought about Campbell, I realized the anniversary of Normandy. Talk about having guts and heart.
My Dad wasn't part of the invasion. By a twist of fate, and lack of radio operators at home,  he was held back in the states longer than he preferred. By the time he was sent to Europe, the invasion was over and the war was on its last legs. By the grace of God went he.
Most of what I know of Normandy is through movies and historical documentaries. The mention of it puts me on the beach in Saving Private Ryan and figuring the real thing was hundreds of times more horrifying than that.
I'm not a huge flag waver or a "Support the Troops" kind of person. It isn't that I don't support the troops or believe in the freedom our country offers. All those slogans and flag waving gets a little tiresome amidst their use as propaganda and tools for political causes.
But being awed by Campbell's sacrifice and his display of heart and courage only illuminates such selflessness in the context of Normandy.
I know an injured hockey player and the sacrifices made by brave troops in a time of war can't truly be compared. But the fortitude displayed in both instances is amazing and awe inspiring. And that's my point.It doesn't matter the challenge or the adversity, where there is tremendous will, there's a way to show such heart.
I can't imagine what it was like for Campbell Wednesday night and I can't even fathom what it was like on the beaches of Normandy. I'm not sure I can even fully comprehend how terrifying it was to be there.
But I can appreciate such displays of courage, sacrifice, strength and heart. I can only strive to possess some resemblance of those examples.
I never expect to face such trying examples as that. But I know if I get knocked down or put in a challenging situation, I have proof of how amazing and how strong the heart and will of a human can be.
We should recognize and honor such acts of courage and bravery, whether it is the sacrifices of our soldiers or a hockey player competing and playing as selflessly as Campbell did. It took tremendous heart and guts and a will we all should yearn for.
We should remember these examples and hope to live such heart and selflessness as they did. We learn from the past so as to not repeat the mistakes. We can also learn from the past when heroes live, die and hurt because of their fortitude and determination amidst fear and the unknown.
I know I'm talking hockey and hell here. They're truly separate. But I'm simply looking at both events and marvelling at the true heroic nature involved, where weakness and fear were overpowered by an amazing will, a determination, a heart and a strength.
The daily challenges I face are meager in comparison but can be made to feel so large and overwhelming. But I can be a warrior in my own small way. I can strive to live for something greater than my own gain. Others have shown the amazing power of selflessness, sacrifice and strength. And it simply comes from a determined and undeterred heart and a desire to persevere. With that kind of will, there's always a way.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Growing Up

As my foot left the solid security of one rock, it set foot on another. The other foot followed, landing me squarely on top of a large rectangular boulder. Then the rock moved.
The rock always moves. It seems as though every time I walk around the point in my cove in Owls Head, when I come upon this series of rocks strewn about the beach, I always seem to find this particular rock. I step on it. It moves. I suddenly remember that it moves. Then I forget, at least until next time.
As I continued my walk around the point, I noticed similar occurrences. This rock and that rock were familiar. It didn’t take me long to realize that many of these granite rocks large and small are the same ones I step upon whenever I take this walk around the point.
Sometimes, it is the easiest way to navigate my way around the rock bound shoreline. But sometimes I wander  aimlessly, with another blog, a chapter of my book or solving life’s challenges stirring in my mind, yet I always seem to go the same way and step upon many of the same rocks, most of which don’t move.
This made me think about what a creature of habit I truly am. I certainly could have admitted to that before my recent jaunt along the Maine coast. I’m very much a creature of habit. I do things the same way all the time, either because they’re the right way  (at least in my mind) or it is the way I’m comfortable. The former is certainly acceptable but the latter is not. I want to do things the right way but I don’t want to do things just because I’m comfortable. People can do the same thing over and over again for years and never really gain anything.
That’s not how I want to be. Of course, that’s exactly what I have been at times in my life. It reminds me of a sports psychology class I sat in once. The prof used a clock to demonstrate how one either progresses or sticks themselves in a rut.
You set your goal (whatever that thing is that makes you happy) for straight up 12. Then the clock ticks. You hit an obstacle at 3. Maybe you’re stuck there because you can’t get past that hurdle. The clock reverts back and you begin again but never get past that stumbling block at 3.  I know many people like that. They’ve faced that challenge and never overcome it. They’ve been stuck at 3 ever since. Some get past that hurdle but hit another barrier at 6. Then maybe they get snagged at 9. I’d say I might be somewhere between 6 and 9 right now. Hopefully, if I get over the next hurdle, I’m home free.
Life is a constant progression, a moving forward. But it is often too easy to get stuck in one place. We get accustomed to doing the same thing and never learning, never growing and never making progress. Some of my greatest moments in life have come after the hardest of times. I wouldn’t want to live those moments over again, but I’m better for that challenge and learning from them.
My knee injury gave me a determination and  mission that made me stronger as well as healthier. My father’s death and speaking at his memorial service gave me confidence and a fearlessness about  myself.
But I don’t want life’s hardships to make me better. A doctor’s bill and physical therapy shouldn’t be what moves me out of my rut. As I was told recently, pain shouldn’t be the pathway to my heart – but it often is. I want to learn and grow no matter what. It is what I think we all should aspire toward.
My father was like that. It was my brother’s own speech at his service that helped me see that. My father always strove to learn more and educate himself and build his knowledge, whether it was through reading or studying or watching the history channel. He never stopped feeding his mind and subsequently fueling his heart and soul.
My grandfather was somewhat similar. I realized recently that I’m about the same age now as he was when his second wife (my grandmother) died from tuberculosis. My Dad was just 10 at the time. My grandfather dealt with that loss and was always an example of devotion to his boys and a faithful servant to his God, despite the losses of his life.
Another person I admire and have learned from is George Harrison. He’s my favorite Beatle, because he’s the soul of that band. He was a balance of Paul’s sappy love songs and John’s edgy rebellion. The person it seemed that both Paul and John stroved to be was somebody like George. And it didn’t take him long to realize that life was far more than just the fame, success and money that came with being a Beatle. George devoted  his life to seek a higher calling and live a deeper meaning.
That’s what I want in my life. I want to keep that search going and continue learning and growing into the person I am meant to be.
I met a man who was a professor of the Gaelic language last fall. When I introduced myself, he raved about my name and how Kevin in Gaelic means something blessed and special. I can’t remember his exact words but the name itself spoke to a higher calling. When he left, the last thing he said to me was to "live up" to my name. Those words have stuck with me ever since.
My goals in life haven’t changed much. I want a job that makes me happy and makes a difference. I want to find a love of my life to share everything with, unconditional and devoted. I want to make a difference. I want to be happy.  I want to live righteously with honesty and integrity. I want to think deeper and love stronger and live larger.
I know how hard all that can be. I’ve failed at it at times in my life. I’ve given up on some of it at times in my life. But I’ve kept striving and kept learning and kept trying to understand what it takes to get where I want to go. Sometimes I’ve needed a push.
I recently read a sermon by Harvard’s Peter Gomes. He talked about farmers preparing for the unknown and living their faith. They work diligently on the things that they need to do around their farm, doing so amidst the faith and trust that their due diligence will be rewarded in their harvest.
It’s kind of like basketball games being won in practice beforehand. It is the hard work and lessons learned in those moments of preparation that bring out the best in the results.
Now I don’t know exactly what life has in store for me. Frankly, that drives me crazy. I’m a bit of a plotter and planner. I hate not knowing.  It feeds my fear and tries my patience. But I also know that God isn’t done with me yet.  If I do the work, God has a plan and a reward for me. That’s the agreement we have. I’m just trying to live up to my end.
So I move forward. I cultivate like the farmer. I try to seek new paths. I hope to learn new lessons. I hope to grow and find the purpose fitting of my name. And someday, I just might land on a rock that doesn’t move.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Moment To Savor

Just one look at that photo, brings it all back.
It might very well be the only picture I've seen of the Portland Pirates locker room after their Calder Cup championship win. The image of Kevin Kaminski tipping the Calder Cup has become an iconic one for that night.
If you stumble across the photo that hasn't been cropped. That's me to the right of Killer, wearing a white shirt and black vest. I bet that vest still smells of champagne and Gatorade.
That celebration was May 30, 1994 - almost 20 years ago.
I still remember much of that night like it was yesterday. There's Byron Dafoe streaking through the hallway. A grinning Olie Kolzig standing on the base of the lockers, dancing and extending his hand to me for a high-five. There was Sergei Gonchar hovering around the keg. There was the river of Gatorade being dumped upon me. There was champagne squirted in my eyes. There was a story to get, actually a couple since I was doing a second day follow-up as well. There was my sip out of the Calder Cup. There was my interview with Brian Curran, of which I could take no notes because my notebook was soaked.  And there was my drive home, smelling of champagne and Gatorade and the thought that if a cop stopped me and wondered why I smelled boozy, he'd never believe my story.
Much of the experience that night is chronicled in my book Sidelined.
"I still don't know who did it, but some player saw the opportunity to get coach and media with the Gatorade bucket all in one shot. We were all soaked, and there was much rejoicing."
It is one of those events that I'm sure the players still talk about fondly and an experience that truly matches nothing else in my professional career.
One of my goals when I entered sports journalism was to cover pro hockey at some level. Being a somewhat regular beat writer for the Portland Pirates was the kind of thing I had hoped for. Afterall, they replaced the Maine Mariners in Portland.
I grew up following the Mariners as a kid. All those Mariner games I attended helped nurture my love of hockey. I took shots at goalie Pete Peeters at the Mariners annual charity carnival. I got Drew Callander to speak to my junior high school English class.  I met Mel Hewitt at the Hannaford in Gorham when I worked there and he lived in town. It was a thrill to meet and interview Dave Brown years later for an award-winning story I did on hockey tough guys. I still remember the Mike Emrick call of the Mariners winning goal the night they won the Calder Cup in their first year.  "Dunlop, Gorence, Hill, Barnes and Bathe ... Let's the shot go ... Score !!!" I can walk around the Cumberland County Civic and tell people I was at the Bud Stefanski game, and they know exactly what I'm talking about. I was also there when Steve Tsujiura flipped an opponent judo style - not just once but twice, while wearing those infamous Cooperalls.
One of my first stories I did for the Sun Journal was on the Maine Mariners. The first game of theirs I covered was a thrill, especially since I got to me legendary coach Herb Brooks that day - following him to his team's bus and interviewing him there.
 That Pirates Calder Cup championship win came in the team's first season also. I remember thinking that there would likely be more celebrations like it. I had been to a couple of Maine Mariner championship parades as a kid. The Pirates appeared to be a strong organization with a commitment to winning and a roster full or promising talent.
But for the Pirates, that Calder Cup win would be the only one - at least so far. They had other chances. The following year, they were one of the best teams in the league and lost in the first round. I still remember that locker room too. A stark difference as I had a very sullen conversation with the Nelson brothers (in photo above) after that loss.
A few years later, the Pirates reached the Calder Cup finals again but lost in the final game in Rochester. In fact, all of my other playoff seasons with the Pirates ended in defeat. It had me looking for the Andrew Brunette's, or Kent Hulst's or Mike Peluso's, the guys that are willing to talk and say something good despite the hurt of a loss.
It has been a few years since I was on the American Hockey League beat on a regular basis. I don't miss the extra travel or added workload - much of which had to come on my own time. But during the hockey playoffs, I do tend to miss all that goes with the playoff hockey atmosphere.
So all those eerily silent locker rooms reminds me of that joyous night in Portland in which celebration was in order. The champagne was flowing. The Gatorade was being dumped. There was a keg in the locker room. There was a reporter with a champagne bottle stuffed down his pants (thankfully, not me) And a good time was had by all. It was an amazing and wonderful night to experience and be part of it in my own way. It wasn't my celebration. I didn't win anything. But it was a joy to see a bunch of great guys that I had gotten to know enjoy the rewards of their success. I remember and cherish that experience like the guys that actually won the title do. It was just one of those special times for that team, and I had the pleasure and responsibility to follow it and write about it.
And it reminds me to enjoy every wonderful moment because you never know when or if they'll happen again.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Born To Shimmer

We're born to shimmer.
That's what I believe. We were all created with something special about us. A truth, a light, a love and a purpose. We're created as a promise to the future  - the coming of something wonderful and amazing.
Yet, sometimes we don't get there.
One of my favorite songs is Shimmer by Shawn Mullins.
"We're born to shimmer
We're born to shine
We're born to radiate
We're born to live
We're born to love
We're born to never hate..."

But sometimes we are taught to hate. We're even too quick to do so.
Just yesterday, when the news broke about the arrest of a suspect in the murder of a 15-year old girl, I learned that people within an hour of the news were already posting hateful words on the suspects' Facebook page.
I certainly don't condone what he's arrested for. I assume the police got the right guy. I hope they did. I hope this kid gets the justice he deserves. I'm disgusted and saddened by what he might have done. But to go so far as to post hatred on his page, I won't do that. I'm better than that. I'm stunned that so many others are so quickly motivated to do so. Isn't stooping to such hateful actions just answering the kid's evil with more?
I know people were saddened to learn the girl wasn't found alive. I'm sure many were emotional and even furious about the waste of such a life and senselessness of the whole thing. We should be angry about the violence and senseless loss of life we see every day.  But is demonstrating our own hate, really the answer?
Wouldn't it have been better to show empathy for the mourning family? Or show appreciation to the efforts of the wardens and police who worked so hard in this case? Or support the searchers that volunteered to help find this girl? Or bond together as a community and rise and grow from such tragedy? There were so many other options, positive steps to take amidst the sadness - rather than resort to more hatred.
One of my favorite books is The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. In that book, Joshua Chamberlain talks about man and equality. He says he believes that every man has a divine spark and that is what makes us human.
I think we all have that divine spark. That is what makes us shimmer. But too often people dim that light inside. We groom the hatred, anger and bitterness inside. Soon that overwhelms the love that is our true center.
I see it everyday. It's in our politics. It's in our work place. It's in the day-to-day happenings of our lives. People are living their anger and bitterness and expressing their hatred. Who knows what circumstances have bred those feelings. It has become easier to show our displeasure and express our anger than it is to show our care and love.
That's not how we were created. That's not the core of who we are as humans. That's not our purpose.
It is too easy to forget that and live in that darkness and not feel the shimmer in us all.
But as we dispatch this anger and hatred and shake demons that haunt us, our hearts become less hard. The shine begins to radiate again.  That's what is in our nature. It's what we were born to do. We can make a difference rather than make a stink about something.
That's what our instinct should be - to shimmer, shine, radiate, love and release the hate.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

My Song

What song am I?
What is the song that is so much a part of me or so associated with me that the second anyone hears it, I’m the one they think of?
I pondered that question recently.
A friend of mine emailed me about how he had been at lunch and had heard the Gordon Lightfoot song “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” The mere mention of that song reminds us all of a friend and his big goofy grin. It immediately prompts a quick toast to our to-soon-to-be deceased and sorely missed brother,  Rob.
I can imagine Rob getting a huge thrill and laugh over the fact that we think of him every time we hear that song. And now it seems we here it often. It must be Rob’s way of reminding us he’s there.
It really was just a joke to begin with. We were in a bar and a friend of ours was singing there. He broke into that Gordon Lightfoot song. We might have even requested it. As he began playing the opening chords, Rob looked at us and declared himself the lone survivor of the Edmund Fitzgerald. He beamed that big goofy grin, and we all laughed riotously. We can all recall that moment and see that grin as if it was yesterday.
He died a few years later but as the song says, his “legend lives on.” When we were recently in Florida, we conned a karaoke regular to sing the song for us. It isn’t an easy song to sing but he gave it a try and we all toasted our friend.
Now Rob is forever linked to “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”
So that made me wonder what song would I be forever linked to?
I’ve got a whole catalog of songs that remind me of others. I once joked that I should write a book about what songs remind me of which girls. I figured I’d make a lot of enemies that way. I just heard a song the other day that reminded me of a girl in college, but I realized that song and the story behind it might not make the book. That’s a story that likely will just stay with me.
But I’m not sure what song defines me.
There are songs I like of a rebellious nature that I like to feel as my own.  There’s Motley Crue’s "Wild Side" but I’m really not THAT wild.  I love the Levellers “One Way” or even better “A Life Less Ordinary.” I think that might define me better than most. U2 has some great anthems that I identify with but I’m not sure they’re my songs.  When I think of some of my other favorite artists,  the Beatles, George Harrison, the Smithereens, the BoDeans, REM, Peter Gabriel, and Richard Shindell , they all have songs I truly love dearly but I can’t really make any of them mine.
I do remember a friend saying once that when he heard a Smithereens song, he thought of me – only because I was the only die-hard Smithereens fan he knew. In fact, there are more Smithereens songs and BoDeans songs that remind me of other people than they do myself.
Maybe I should Facebook message Pat from the Smithereens or Kurt from the BoDeans and get them to write me an anthem. I’ve recently had the urge to write songs again myself. Maybe I’ll write my own.
But really a song that kind of serves as a lasting legacy to me isn’t one I create. It is a song that fits me or reminds people of me. In a way, Rob defined his song in an unintended manner. I might inspire it or help prompt someone linking a song to me but I don’t see me creating that link intentionally.
My song would have to be chosen by others, maybe with a little bit of inpiration from me. They would be the music and the words that make them think of me, hopefully in a good way.
So, it makes me curious. What song am I?