Never quit on yourself

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan,

I read this quote tonight, while browsing a blog post with 20 inspirational quotes and accompanying pictures, in themselves, very moving.  A family member in the service is weighing the possibility that he may be discharged for not maintaining the demanding physical standards of that service. (Even athletes get runners knee and shin splints.)

It is news that I know all too well.   As a younger man than he is now,  I also faced the same exhausting bureaucracy of my service branch,  weighing whether or not I would be medically discharged a couple years into my enlistment.  “Hurry up and wait”,  is the operational tempo of everything non-combat-related in the military.  But a determined mind, sharpened by knowledge of your adversary, bureaucracy, and equipped to respectfully and yet, unyieldingly, play ball is honored whether it leads to a win or loss.

Michael Jordan is a legend in the sports world for work ethic and results.  To win a lot, you risk a lot and lose a lot.  But every failure is a lesson in NEVER QUIT.  An opportunity to learn and improve.    I am glad that my wife and kids never quit  under adversity.  When I was young I was tempted several times.   Bouts of self-pity a few times.  Illegitimi Non Carborundum was my dad’s advice to me.    I finished my race by completing a career and retiring as a Navy Senior Chief.   So my son,  whether you serve 20 years or 6 more months,  I will not be prouder of you for never saying “I quit”.  You will always be ARMY STRONG to me.

a Scout is prepared

letters to my future self

Continuing to go through my mother’s papers, I have a number of letters that stir old memories of my days in the Navy.  You, my readers and someday my adult children will get additional understanding how little things can chart the course of your life in ways you cannot fathom.

Whenever I read or see a reference to the Boy Scouts of America, I recall a chance meeting and conversation that had a bearing on me.  (Forgive my nautical puns.) On a Greyhound bus ride in 1974, an old ( I was 14- everyone over the age of 30 was older) gentleman,  and I started chatting.   With the discovery today of his letter to my mother and me,  I know him as J. Harold Williams.  At the time, I had been in scouting for four years, starting when we lived in the San Francisco Bay Area and continuing when Mom and family moved to Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

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Scouting, Cape Cod, 1974 (me at l.)

In his correspondence he asked how my last advancement to Scout First Class had gone – I had been selected since our bus ride.   From a Google search today,  I realize how interesting that encounter had  been.  “Chief” Williams, at that time, was national Boy Scout Executive Emeritus, and the founder of scouting in Rhode Island during the 1920’s and 1930’s.  (We discussed scouting and stamp collecting among other things).  I might still have an book on Scouting he gave me that day.

Guest speaker will be J. Harold Williams, U.S. Scout executive emeritus, who will “tell the story of the Scouting trail” from 1910 to 1965. Described as an “eye-witness to history” In the Scouting movement. Mr. Williams will relate personal experiences including the movement’s birth, and it” progress over the last 55 years. Started at Age 12 Mr. Williams has been active in Boy Scouting in Rhode, Island where he first began Scouting as a boy at the age of 12, and was the first Scout in the United States to come up through the ranks to become a professional Scout leader. He was Scout executive of the Narragansett council in Providence, R. 1., for 45 years, after which he was elected to the position of Scout Executive Emeritus and now spends his time speaking throughout the country on the Boy Scout movement. He has been honored by universities, newspapers, civic organizations and veteran groups and holds honorary degrees of Doctor of Education from Rhode Island college. Master of Arts from Brown university and the Achievement award from the University of Rhode Island. —  the Bridgeport Post, March 23, 1965 (edited for clarity)

And I recall, he was the one who started me in stamp collecting.  My Aunt June worked at the United Nations, and had been sending postcards to me from all over the globe.  Till Chief Williams, I did little with these stamped postcards except dream of traveling.   Untouched for thirty years,  I still have albums of stamps stuck away.

On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.

Last humanist standing?

Tonight, it was during a television show that I found some time for reflection.   Tim Allen’s comic touch on his TV series, Last Man Standing, is very engaging.  While we generally are spending time after work with our church family, working on chores at home, and writing (my wife and I both have blogs),  this was a moment to enjoy a little quiet time.

Over the last decade, television in the United States has really turned me off, but for a couple of shows that both my wife and I like to watch together. Television exaggerates stereotypes, current events, criminal behavior, and sexuality to capture viewers.  Yet with Last Man Standing, I think it is great that this show can portray the timeless interplay of parents and children – who are not children but grown into fledgling adults. And depicts topics with a touch of humor that also makes a point.  In tonight’s episode,  a scene where black neighbors and Tim’s character and wife meet for a barbecue, the wife constantly is making references to “show how ‘colorblind’ she is”. The husband, Tim’s character, pokes fun at how she sounds, and then makes a comment that the wife says “sounds racist”.

“I’m not racist. I’m a humanist. I hate everyone equally.”

Families are depicted as we actually are – sometimes we do sound ignorant, or a little too blunt towards each other, and at other times say things that are  “politically incorrect”.    In 2017, people in the United States have split into opposing camps, those who yearn for ‘how it used to be’ and those who want everyone to conform to the “new normal”.   Where has humor, civility, disagreement, and free expression gone?

I look back fondly to my military service.  I understood the military as the conversion of the willing into a homogeneous offensive or defensive unit.  It was also my conversion to educated citizen of the world.   Each culture has advantages and disadvantages, with  different ideas, customs and history.   As a result of a military uniform,  I was able to see the benefits of living in America come into sharper focus despite the nation’s ills.

That is why I am becoming fond of family comedy of the sort that Tim Allen’s show represents.  It allows a little relief from contemplating all the challenges around the globe.   I am a different sort of humanist.  I love people individually.  I am learning to have an open mind toward the rest.

Remembering where I came from

Looking through old photo albums, when they were actually processed and printed on

paper,  I spent part of Saturday rewinding about 90 years of my family’s history through some dusty albums that were in my garage storage bins for several years.

my dad

Old photos encourage me.  Even seeing my father looking so athletic and proud with his young son dispels memories  of the many years he was crippled by illness.  My dad was a brilliant, funny and an athletic man.  I spent many years of my youth thinking of many negatives: when dad read something in the Wall Street Journal that said that glow-in-the-dark balls were unsafe, I was marched back to the toy store to get my change back.  When we went on road trips I was drilled on my multiplication tables.  Later when my mom and he were divorced,  and dad took me out on his weekend visit, we would go to nice restaurants,  but he always ordered the cheap meals and we filled up on the free rolls and butter.

Only later as an adult, I remembered that he would drive across the country from his job to attend my middle school and high school graduations.   He took a teaching job near our home so he could spend time with me.  At that time he was still trying to get half his body to respond after a stroke – and dealing with people who would equate debilitation with stupidity.   Far from it  – even in that condition.  He graduated near the top of his class in high school and in college as an aerospace engineer but also played sports.   He probably was motivated to excel as my grandfather’s occupations seemed to change as jobs came and went.   Instead, he worked in missile propulsion and development in the early years.  (Which likely helped me to get the jobs I held that involved trust.)  My father died 28 years ago while I was in the service.  I did not find out for two years.

mom

My mother was a good-looking woman;  as sharp mentally as attractive outwardly.  And it must have been quite the catch for my father.   When my maternal grandparents emigrated from Ireland at the end of WWII, she had to contend with Seniors in high school making fun of her accent.  In New Jersey they did not have much else to poke fun at.   She had graduated at the top of her nursing class at Mount Sinai Hospital, and as an R.N. worked with infants, intensive care, emergency treatment, and supervision.  Looking back at my teen years, it no longer seems odd that she pursued a dream to become an english literature scholar and college teacher in middle age.  She became a nurse for the career opportunity that would always be useful and financially secure.  But her passion was elsewhere. 20170423_150516

Mom’s aged photos showed several beaus – a soldier who looks like he only just lost out to my dad;  and some guys who might have been doctors, attorneys or business people.   Among her circle of friends included a Nobel laureate.  But the family photos bear witness to the changes that time, health, and fortunes – waxing and waning produced.

After deciding to marry again, she later learned that her second husband was attracted to children.  That divorce sealed her future as a bitter woman, more inclined to spend her savings on old horses, rescue dogs, cats and a burro.   You see, I have a sister, an adoptee, whom I have rarely spoken with in forty years.  Robin never forgave her mother for divorcing my father and subjecting her to abuse.   We went separate ways after I initially joined the Navy – and she was the one who suffered at the hands of my mother’s second husband.  After thirty years, we last spent any time together in the few months after my mother’s passing six years ago.

son

I chose to go into the Navy as much for the adventure,  the training – which has become the means I earn a living,  and for several veterans’ benefits, as I did to make a clean break from the family.   That’s actually the ironic part,  as I returned after my first enlistment to the same city, Tucson,  to attend the University of Arizona.  My father, still living at the time, moved to Tucson, and I spent time with him and with my mother – still my most ardent cheerleaders for my success.

I can only speak for myself, but I realized around the age of 39, that all of life’s successes mean less than how you handle failure.  Raised with a concept of the spiritual, but never seeing God,  I was continually trying not to be the sum of my upbringing and family.   But after twenty years of a changed life,  I recognize suffering allowed me to treasure the family I have now.   I realize that there is a God that cares for us, but does not force us to engage with him;  most of the world is suffering at the hands of people. For the goodness and love to have any impact, overcoming self-centered attitudes,  misgivings about our childhood,  misgivings about our marriages or children or jobs or finances or health have to be overcome.  Some people blame God for being on the sidelines. Others have no room for God.  Still others have god in their schedules but not in their driver’s seat.

And that is why I can look at these photo albums of people and places that shaped my life with contentment.  I appreciate family history but I am not bound by the people my parents became nor am I limited by my own shortcomings. I trust in my heavenly Father and Lord.   And the future does not hold any fear for me.