Agree to Disagree – It’s Your Choice

Have you ever read The Four Agreements?  If you haven’t, you should. As I suggested in my previous blog post, I would suggest going in with an open mind, because what he writes might blow your mind. I know it did mine. And it has never been the same since.

I started reading this book at the suggestion of a friend. It was a fairly short read but it wasn’t long before I started thinking about how these agreements relate to me and my life.

The author believes there are only four rules, or agreements, we should live by if we want to be live a life of fulfillment and content. They are:

  1. Be impeccable with your word.
  2. Don’t take anything personal.
  3. Don’t make assumptions.
  4. Always do your best.

He suggests that most people are asleep and it is only when they wake up can they see that what they thought believed, may in fact be someone else’s beliefs.

When we are born, we are at the mercy of our parents. They teach us everything they know about life; how to think, how to behave, our morals and values and what God to believe in. We, in turn, become “domesticated,” a word that Don Miguel uses to describe the process, just as you would domesticate a pet.

We don’t usually question this because when we do, we are “misbehaving” or “rebelling,” which is not tolerated in most households. We learn that there are consequences, and unless we want to be punished, we play the game, obeying, becoming miniatures of our parents (who learned that from their parents, and so on).

By the time we reach adulthood, we assume that what we believed all along was our truth, was in reality, something we never really agreed to.

Many people won’t question their beliefs, because they are loyal to their parents, their families, and to their Gods. Maybe they are afraid to rock the boat, challenge their beliefs, or maybe they are afraid of what they might find.

It is only when we have the courage to explore who we are, and decide what we want our lives to be, that we are truly living the life we are meant to live.

The following is my interpretation of the four agreements, and not necessarily Ruiz’s:

Be impeccable with your word.

I took this to mean that we should not talk bad about ourselves and others. We should say what we mean and be respectful when speaking to someone, even if they don’t always reciprocate. We should be careful with our words. Once they are spoken, they can only be forgiven, not forgotten.

Don’t take anything personal.

This is a great reminder, because many people struggle with self-esteem issues that involves taking responsibility for things they shouldn’t. The truth is, the way people treat you is not because of you. It has to do with who they are and their perception of life. For example, if you do something the other person doesn’t like, it’s because they were expecting you to do something, or expected you to be a certain way. But you have a right to be whoever you want. You are not here to please others. You are here to grow. In addition, when we take responsibility for things we shouldn’t, we are stunting others’ growth, as well.

Don’t make assumptions.

Assumptions can kill a relationship faster than anything else. If you want to know the truth about something, ask. Don’t assume you know. Just like the old saying suggest; “When you assume, you make an ass out of you and me.” I know it’s not pretty, but I use it to remind me that assumptions are based on preconceived ideas from my past experiences. It’s me thinking I know what’s going on inside someone else’s head, but there’s no way I could. I am not psychic. It’s better to have all the facts first, before we decide what our next step will be. Making assumptions also indicates that we know all there is to know, and there is no way we couod. Learning is life-long and when we assume we know it all, no one will want to be around us. Stop, listen, and ask questions; and then decide what’s next.

Always do your best.

“Your best is going to change moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.”

I love this passage, because I used to beat myself up for not being perfect. I am not sure where I got the idea that I could be perfect. Maybe it’s because when I quit drinking and my head cleared, I felt like I could do anything. The truth is, I can’t. I can do some things well, but I will never be perfect. However, I strive to be better than I was yesterday, even if it is just a little bit, and I think that’s pretty good.

Knowing all I really have to do is my best keeps me from being too hard on myself. I used to think I had to be tough on myself, because I really did want to be perfect. I wanted to be the best at something, anything!  Now that I know that is unrealistic, I am good with striving to always do my best.

Everything Changes

Have I used this title before? I am pretty sure I have. I have written countless blogs over the past 8 or so years, and change is a pretty constant theme of mine.

I have a book by Neale Donald Walsh that sits on my desk downstairs with the sincere intention of reading. I bought it last year during a trip to Barnes and Noble and set it aside until I had more time. Because I am still working (which I have a feeling will change soon), I haven’t had the time, or the patience, I suppose.  There’s always work to do, which takes precedence over leisurly reading.

The title of the book is, “When Everything Changes, Change Everything,” and I can’t think of a better time to start reading it.

For those who don’t know, Neale Donald Walsch is the author of the “Conversations with God” books. The premise of the series of books is that Walsch sits down at his computer one day, frustrated with his life, and writes a letter to God, demanding to know why bad things were happening to him. Though it is Walsch typing the words, he states they are not his words, but God’s.

I have read most of the series, which I think there are four or five at last count. Walsch has written other books, too. One of his books, on relationships, helped me understand that we enter into them for the wrong reasons. It was only after his words helped me understand that I was looking for someone to save me, that I could see why I was doomed to singlehood. He wrote that I needed to learn to love myself first and then enter into a relationship in which my partner and I helped each other grow. I learned that I had been self-centered and selfish in the way I was thinking, and I needed to look at relationships in a totally different way including how I saw myself in the relationship.

Needless to say, this man’s writings had a profound effect on my motivation for becoming a better person, which is why I value his knowledge so much.  However, an open mind is a prerequisite. Walsch indicates that God is not vengelful, who expects his children to be perfect. Instead, God wants us to experience life to the fullest, to do something with it, to make mistakes so we can learn from them, and be the best human beings we can be.  Walsch also writes that there is no right or wrong, only choices, which also explains his idea that there is no Heaven or Hell, only that which we make for ourselves.

His books are eye-opening, to say the least, but what it did most of all, was to help me understand that there is much more to life than what we allow ourselves to see, and what we choose to believe.

The title of this particular book suggests that when things change, we need to change the way we look at it.  We can embrace change, strive to know more about how we can learn and grow through it. Or, we can fight and resist change, which only frustrates us and makes us feel bad.  Any way you look at it, the result will eventually bring you to the same conclusion: Everything changes, regardless of what we want or don’t want.

Anxiety + Fear = Chaos

The word “chaos” has always intrigued me.  I remember my mom using it when she had to raise her voice a couple of octaves just so she could be heard over the chatter of little children. “This is chaos!” she would exclaim and throw her hands up in the air.

Chaos actually has a few different definitions. Chaos theory is a mathematical theory used to explain things such as the weather, astronomy, and politics. The term chaos is a used to describe “a state of utter confusion or disorder; a total lack of organization or order; any confused, disorderly mass,” which I am sure my mom was referring to.

I don’t know much about chaos theory, but I can relate to the latter, through my experience of raising four children, long before co-parenting was cool. As their fathers saw it, the kids lived with me, so they were my responsibility. End of story. (Eye roll)

Chaos. I lived it. My life was “a state of utter confusion.” Every day there was a new problem, or 10, and I worked through them like a champion. No, that’s not quite how it went. It was more like crawled my way into a hole I didn’t want to come out of. It wasn’t pretty. But somehow we lived through it, and my kids turned out to be pretty good adults.

I have dealt with anxiety all of my life. As a kid, I was plagued with neurotic fears that kept me from enjoying my life. I was scared of everything, all the time. There was no escape from my nightmares.

I developed panic attacks when I was 19, which made me isolate and become a hermit, for fear of having an attack in public. All I could think about was how to prevent the attacks from ruining my life. My life became all about damage control.

I self-medicated with alcohol, and although it helped “take the edge off,” it didn’t help me deal with the attacks. Pretty soon, not even that helped. I lived my life constantly on the verge of a breakdown, letting my emotions control me. I lied and made excuses to hide my feelings of helplessness, but I knew the truth. I was afraid of life itself.

But then I did something I never thought possible. I took back control of my life. (I’m not sure “back” is really an appropriate way of wording it, because I am not sure I ever had control of it. I’d like to think I did, but looking back, I seriously doubt it.)

If I make it sound easy, I assure you, it wasn’t. It took the past 15 years of confronting those fears, accepting who I am, letting go of resentments and regrets, and changing my overall attitude about life to bring me to where I am today; a confident and self-assured woman. I thought I finally had a handle on life, but then the pandemic happened, and the fears I thought had been resolved slapped me upside my head.

Not only was I thrown into my own chaos of figuring out how I am going to deal with this new kind of life, but now I have to do my best to soothe my children and grandchildren’s fears that everything is going to be ok.  Because, who knows if it will? The fear of the unknown, the fear of losing something or someone precious to us, are two of the greatest fears plaguing most people today.

As I sat deciding what title I was going to use for this blog, it occurred to me that my anxiety is not helping my situation. I worry too much about things I can’t control. (I blame my overactive imagination.) And for a naturally anxious person like me, adding unfounded fears to the mix just naturally creates an outcome of internal chaos–the belief that we do not have control over our lives.

The truth is, and something we have to continually remind ourselves of, is that we ALL have control over our lives, even while we are forced to stay home to protect ourselves and others from the virus.  We still get to decide whether or not we are going to let ourselves be manipulated by our own neurotic minds, or if we are going to take control of the situation and do something constructive, rather than wallow in self-pity.

There is a quote by Franklin D. Roosevelt that I use to remind myself that the anxiety-inspired fears are the result of my imagination: “The only thing to fear is fear itself.”

When I start to feel anxious about the things I can’t control and the “what-ifs” start to race through my mind, I take a step back and look at why this is. It usually indicates that it’s time to turn off the news or get off Facebook.  It’s important to stay informed, but if you find yourself reading every single blog that reminds you how bad it is and not balancing it with the good news, of course you are going to get anxious.

Our emotions are not our reality, but it sometimes feels like they are. Our emotions are driven by our thoughts and assumptions. If we change the way we think about something, we can change the way we feel.  That’s why it is so important to focus on something positive.

So, we can sit in our homes and twiddle our thumbs, and be anxious and fearful that something bad is going to happen to us, or we can do something positive with our time and focus our energy in a more positive way. A few ideas:

  • Start a new creative project
  • Take up a new hobby
  • Volunteer to help make masks for the hospitals
  • Deliver groceries to the elderly
  • Learn how to cook new recipes
  • Spend quality time with your kids
  • Take an online course
  • Make cards and take them to the local nursing home
  • Read a book or learn a new language
  • Clean and declutter your house
  • Exercise or take a walk
  • Clean up your yard
  • Write your life story or the next bestseller

The choices are endless!

Keeping busy is what helped me deal with my anxiety in the past, and I have a feeling it’s what is going to help me get through this latest challenge.  But even more than that, I need to remind myself I am in control of the situation, and I can make it a bad experience or a better experience. It’s all about perspective.

Change Isn’t Always Easy

McDonald’s Restaurant in Des Moines, Iowa

My favorite cartoons growing up were the Looney Tunes; Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and all the rest.

The older ones were great; I learned about life from the 3 minute shorts, but what really intrigued me were the cartoons about the future, particularly the one about the House of Tomorrow. It was supposed to be funny but it sent my imagination into overtime, and made me wonder if that’s really what the future held.

Looking back at it, I think the writers from the 1950’s had some insight into what to expect from the 21st Century, though most people just saw it as goofy entertainment.

Though I have been keeping up with the latest technology, I am sometimes take back by how much technology is changing all of our lives. We have an Echo Dot that plays our music whenever we want and of course, my computers, and cell phones, and tablets.

I see people walking down the street or sitting in coffee shops and restaurants, their eyes glued to their devices instead of talking to the person in front of them.  My own adult children have their phones out as I am trying to have a conversation with them. I don’t feel like it’s my lace to say, “Hey, put your phone away.” They aren’t 10 anymore and should know better, right?

But the changes aren’t just socially; they are starting to hurt our livelihood, as well.

I took my grandson, Thomas, home last weekend. He lives in the Des Moines suburb of Johnston. He was hungry, so we stopped at a McDonald’s close to his home. We walked in and I was expecting to see a long line of customers. It was just past 1 on a Sunday afternoon, after all. Instead, just a few people milled around the lobby, looking a little confused, including us. I started toward the counter to order.

“No, Grandma. We order over here,” he told me nonchalantly.  He pointed to a kiosk off to the side with a large sign hung above it that said, “Order Here.” I looked back at the counter (which had shrunk significantly in size from our last visit) and saw a sign above it that said “Pick Up Order Here.”

Wow, I thought. McDonald’s is losing it. Sure, it’s more convenient for the customer, but it’s missing the personal touch. It’s one of our basic needs as human beings. Why even bother going out to eat if you order your food from a kiosk?

It’s happening all over; the lines to the self check-outs at the big discount stores are starting to be longer than the regular check-outs. Jobs are being eliminated, one by one. Who will be next?

Those who are graduating high school may want to think about where the job market is heading and pick a career more suitable to the changes.

Sure we have the technology, but when are we going to realize that maybe crossing that line between convenience, and changing the way we live, is not always a good thing?

 

 

 

Book No. 5

I put the finishing touches on my dad’s book last week and was finally able to submit it to Amazon’s CreateSpace.

CreateSpace is a handy publishing tool for those of us who want their books published, but don’t want to waste our time with rejections by popular publishers.

Maybe someday I will see my dream of being a best-selling author realized, but for now, I am content with marketing my book myself.

CreateSpace is very helpful with online marketing, but it’s up to the author to get out and sell it. Published books are available in digital and paperback forms, though paperbacks are a lot more costly.

For those of you who may not know, I posted stories my dad wrote about his life on a separate blog, “Leaving a Legacy.” I started the blog, so my family would have access to it. One of my uncles asked if I was going to publish it, and though I had thought about it, I wasn’t sure how I should frame it. Should I write it “as is,” or do a little editing so it made sense? Or maybe I should tell the story about how I found it in a box after he died and became closer to my family after reading about his life? Or maybe I should break the stories up and put them in chronological order, adding a forward and introduction to explain the misses pieces in his story.

I chose the latter, and got to work editing. It took a few months to complete putting it in order and making it make sense, and another month to edit, but I finally submitted it to CreateSpace last week.

I have used CreateSpace before, publishing a series of three teen sci-fi books and a recipe book, but it has been a while since I used it.

I had to create a cover of my own in the right size in PDF form, and then using a template, had to save my interior content in PDF form, as well. Once I walked through the process a few times, it became a no-brainer.

Here is the link to my dad’s book, which is for sale on Amazon: Legacy: An Autobiography.

I have decided that all the proceeds with go to one of my dad’s favorite charities, but because he had so many, I’ll have to give it more thought. My father was a generous man, and I think he would not appreciate the gesture, but he’d be a little proud, too.

A Writer’s Gift

Every year my kids ask me what I want for Christmas, and every year my answer is the same: “Save your money to buy gifts for your kids.”

But they never listen to me. Most years, I receive a bottle of perfume, gloves, or a candle. And though I appreciate all of them, I secretly wish they wouldn’t have spent any money on me.

I understand how they feel, though. I did the same thing to my mom. (And I still do!)

But this year, I was presented with a big box from my granddaughter, Lily. The first thing I noticed was a DVD if my favorite movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

The second thing I noticed was a book. I pulled it out and read the title: “300 Writing Prompts.” I opened the book and realized it was a journal. A writing journal, the best kind!

This was the perfect gift for a writer! It’s not always easy to come up with a subject for a blog. Some days the words just won’t come, but this was the answer to my writer’s block.

I still wish my kids wouldn’t spend their money on me; but then again, sometimes it’s pretty cool.

Some of the prompts include:

What is your favorite breakfast to get you up and out the door? Write about the middle of something, anything! What do you want your retirement to be like? How do you act when you’re afraid? Is there a mistake you keep making in your life? Explain.

I think I’ll start using the prompts as a blog writing exercise. Not only will it help my creative writing skills, but most likely I will learn something new about myself.

 

In Search of …. the Perfect Sugar Cookie

I was 6 or 7 when I tasted the perfect cookie. And I have been trying to replicate it since. They were bought at the SunMart store on Mt. Vernon Road in Cedar Rapids, where DrugTown stood for years when SunMart closed, and where Goodwill is now located.

Business started declining at SunMart after Hy-Vee moved in up the street, and I was sorry to see it go. I got my first lesson in “rights” and “wrongs” when I was caught shoplifting, before I knew the consequences for breaking the law.

I have many fond memories of the store; my first Hostess pies and Snowballs; the flavored tabs that fizzed when you put them in water to make a concoction similar to Kool-Aid; the fresh-baked donuts that melted in your mouth; and SunMart’s amazing sugar cookies.

Fifty years later, and I still haven’t found a cookie, nor a recipe, that comes close to it. Funny how our taste buds hold a memory; as if I will know it’s the one when I finally taste it again.

I’m going to do my best to find the perfect sugar cookie this holiday baking season. And even if I can’t find the perfect sugar cookie, I hope I come close.

Tribute

NaNoWriMo-The Last Word

 

It was 10:15 last night when I put the last word on the last page, ending what I considered to be one of the most important months in my career as an author. It was important, because I learned more in November about creative writing than I could ever have imagined.

I put my life on hold for practically the entire month. I worked on my novel every day, but I didn’t always reach my goal of 1,700 words. It was tough; work, family, Thanksgiving, migraines, and lack of motivation kept me from completing the overall goal of 50,000 words in 30 days (I wrote 40,294 words, but I finished my story). However, I don’t see it as a failure.

I knew a week ago I wasn’t going to make my goal, and confided to my fiancé that I knew I would finish my story by then. But there was no way I would get to 50,000.

“But you worked so hard on it, and you’ll feel really bad it you don’t ….”

Honestly, I don’t feel bad at all about it. I didn’t do it to prove to anyone I could do it. I did it so I could learn from it. I did it for the experience. And now, I know the price I have to pay if I ever needed to write a 50,000-word novel in a month. I would basically have to put everything else on hold and put all my efforts into that novel. I would have to ignore my duties as a mother, a grandmother, a daughter, and a friend just so I could complete the task.

I truly enjoyed writing the novel, but it’s not done. The editing alone will take a few months, at the very least. Which is fine with me. I’m ready to take a few days off to work on all my other projects that have been waiting patiently for me.

My advice for people wanting to do the challenge next November:

  • This will take most of your spare time. Let your friends and family know you won’t be available for the month.
  • Stick to you goal of 1,700 words a day. Once you get behind, it’s extremely difficult to catch up.
  • Don’t give up. (If you started the challenge with a purpose, chances are you won’t have to worry too much about this one.)
  • Gather a support team. Whether it’s your boyfriend, girlfriend, mother, father, brother, sister, kids, whoever; you will need them to help you brainstorm and keep you on track. They will also become your cheerleaders.

Next year I will be better prepared. And I will also have an advantage; it will no longer be my first.

Tribute

In My Father’s Footsteps: The Navy Years

The following stories are excerpts from my father’s journal, his life story, which I am copying into blog form, under the title, In My Father’s Footsteps.

My father served in US Navy at the end of World War II on the USS Vella Gulf. He visited exotic places such as Hawaii, Japan, Guam, and the Philippines, and I didn’t know the extent of his adventures until I came across a box of typed pages in my mom’s storage room nearly five years ago.

My dad died in Sept. 2008, but his memory lives on through his stories. And after reading his stories about his time in the Navy, I have a deeper appreciation for those who have served in the military, and what was sacrificed so we could be free.

The atom bombs had decimated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Japan sued for peace. Later, I wondered about our choice of Nagasaki, which was something like 90-95 percent Catholic I find it hard to believe; is it possible that hatred of the Catholic church could poison a decision of such magnitude?

We anchored off the coast of Japan–was it the end of April,1945? –and everyone hit the sack.  There wasn’t anything else to do! Next morning everybody was talking about how we rode out a typhoon.

I missed it; slept right through it.

But our curiosity carried us topside to the flight deck gangway. The day was one color; dark, low-lying banks of clouds. Black seas with a little more roll than usual. And the distant land mass repeated the overall impression of foreboding.

The only apparent life ashore was several figures in flowing white attire. Later somebody told me it was a sign of mourning in Japan.

While my shipmates and I slept through the typhoon, the fury made landfall and carried the unsuspecting into eternity.

Once in a while, it seemed, the white robes appeared to pause in their dreamlike pursuits, gaze silently out to sea. To seek comfort perhaps?

Or maybe it was to pray that the salt spray cleans their loss, their sudden grief.

When we finally got clearance to enter the harbor, we did it with painful care. It reminded me of when we slowly made our way up the majestic Columbia River to Portland, Oregon right after the shakedown.

I swear there was no more than a few feet on either side of the bank. My memory’s dim, but I think power cables inched us along.

Now, entering Tokyo Bay, it seemed unreal we should be doing so, peacefully. We passed a famous Japanese battleship, the pride of the fleet, sitting on the bottom.

The USS Arizona was avenged.

Before they set us ashore for liberty in Yokohama, they told us we had to have an officer with a sidearm, peace hadn’t been signed. But at the small boat dock, all’s I saw were enlisted men and a smattering of commissioned officers and they seemed to be in charge of the dock.

So, I and a buddy took off by ourselves. The following are mainly observations; not necessarily in order. Cause I’m not sure when, only that. My first impression was dozens upon desolate dozens of flattened city blocks.

And the sickening sweet, almost suffocating smell of countless bodies beneath the bombed-out rubble. And maybe ruined sewage systems; putrid decaying flesh, alone, couldn’t smell that bad. An occasional lone plane droned high overhead, triggering Pavlovian panic and frantic stabbing toward the sound, “B-29! B-29!”

I’ll never forget boarding the little old-fashioned trolley-most of the citizens were women and old men-pretty much all dressed, it seemed to me, in the same type of uniform, same drab color. They wouldn’t take our money. Without exception, everyone bowed politely, the beautiful Japanese custom, when we came into speaking range.

What a surprise when I took my hand down the pole that ran down the length of the car, the one you hang onto. Surprise! My palm was black with sooty dust. Japanese, small in stature, didn’t aspire to those heights!

We stopped at a little shop that also had postage stamps. The only clerk in that shop, housed in a small building, was Caucasian. She gave us some yen we used for change. I bought a tiny carved elephant ornament. I don’t know human nature, but I do believe the look she gave me with my change could be interpreted:

“Hmmnh … the last of the big-time spenders! Sayonara!”

Which reminds me. At one point, two or three Japanese teenagers followed us, taunting insults. They would keep their distance, stopping when we stopped, and then stand there and jeer something in the mother tongue.

And of course, in the true spirit of the international code, the first thing they learned from the GI’s careening around in their Jeeps was to flip us the bird and then run away, hysterical.

I felt like I’d never left home!

At one point, we found ourselves atop a windswept hill in Yokohama. A small cottage was the focal; apparently the man and wife thought we were coming their way, and came out to meet us. I believe a teenage daughter held back about 12 paces. They bowed politely, of course, hoping to put them at ease and no one to interpret; we showed good intentions with generous handfuls of Camel cigarettes.

Message received, we took our leave.

One phase of the Navy not touched on: the opportunity came to move up to the ship’s photo lab with Jack Evans from Spokane. I jumped at photography; it’s fascination was just short of fanaticism. It was a good life. Cooks sent up yummy stuff like veal steak; we never cooked anything, except in butter! And another fringe benefit; I learned to process film and print pictures.

Once I got the hang of it, I blew up our family portrait (minus Molly), an 8 x 10 to something like 11 x 14. I think I ended up with enough of these to paper the bathroom!

Jack Evans also taught me how to use different types of cameras, including the K-20, a handheld aerial camera. The closest I came to a news photo. I was on the flight deck near the bridge superstructure, when this F4U came in too high … or the water may have been choppy.

The inverted gull-wing fighter, preferred by many of our Marine pilots, actually had landing gear not built for setting down smoothly on a rolling flight deck. Too static?

Just as the plane touched down, the sea suddenly rose to meet it. I squeezed the shutter of the K-20 … or maybe the speed graphic … just as the left wheel buckled, fire shooting out with the escaping fluid. I shot the camera again, ending up with a two-photo series of the accident.

I had the duty the morning of the fatal accident. Pilot misread the flight officer’s signal to elevate the flaps two degrees.  Seven degrees simply threw the doomed plane into the sea. The pilot’s body was never recovered.

The picture of the funeral service was a perfect variation of the Missing Flyer Formation. Purely by accident, of course. But the fact that our skipper was late, left an empty chair in the front row.

The expressions of grief, subdued sorrow among the remaining members of the pilot’s squadron made the empty chair the focal point of that moment of silence.

One day in San Diego, shortly before we would begin our cruise up the coast for decommissioning, I had a ball with a K-20, boxes of Kodacolor film spools at my side. I spent all day shooting planes coming in for landings and taking off. It was a good experience, keeping those beautiful birds inside the frame, coming and going.

I never got to see the results; it was something like six weeks back and forth to Eastman labs. But I can imagine they set the tone for the day.

I promised I would get back to you about almost buying the Deep Six at Waikiki. It was a piece that followed my adventures in qualifying for sea duty in boot camp at Farragut, Idaho.

My buddy and I wore swimming trunks under our uniforms, and wandered wonderingly through the breath-taking lobby of the Royal Hawaiian hotel. In 1945, this beautiful red sculpture was the top-of-the-mark of the South Pacific.

Imposing majesty describes it pretty well. We were the only two in the lobby, and our heel-clicks echoed, “intruders!” down from the high-flying ceilings. 

Maybe it was the soothing silence of the quiet A.M. that felt good. But more than likely, it was because we weren’t tossed out, persona non grata, on our Navy Blue Butts!

“I guess I’ll get my feet wet,” I said standing and brushing sand. I was being accurate.

“Go ahead, I’ll sun awhile.”

Explanation. I must tell you, dear reader, for background. Fire Control is not manning the hoses.  It is aiming and firing the big guns! The Navy seeks to determine personnel best qualified to do this, through testing.

Which of these lines is parallel? Which of these lines intersects? Which of these two lines curve away? Which of these lines is longer? Which of these lines is thinner? If you stare at line A, does Line B appear to merge or move away?

I honestly thought, all those years before my Company Commander, a Chief Petty Officer named Steve Stracchia, formerly a coach in the Chicago school system taught me the difference between a granny and a square knot, that I knew the meaning of the shortest distance! 

I didn’t; not by the wildest stretch.

I slowly walked out into the silent surf-hardly a ripple-in an, imperceptible to me, widening line. Like I had good sense.

When the water rose above my belt line, I turned and started back in a straight line. 

Oopserblub!

Who moved the bottom of the ocean?

A small voice, panic, I think, kicked-in my best Dog Paddle; I rediscovered air. Another tentative feel for the bottom; all water. Then i spotted a small Hawaiian boy–must  have been 9 or so–swimming toward me, straight out from the faraway beach.

“Hey!” I hollered. “Where’s the bottom?”

Without interrupting his strong methodical strokes, he pointed straight down. And nonchalantly pursued his Olympic swim to — I don’t know, make a monkey out of a non-swimmer we all know and love …

After that, a lifetime to compose an oath never to so much as venture levity on the subject of swimming in unsupervised oceans … specifically the Pacific!

As my account attests, I made it; 25 years later, I also made it through a drunk-up-the-bucket head-on collision. The accident was bloodier–and I vaguely remember an out-of-body experience, but the result would have been the same. 

So much for close calls. I’d like to leave swimming behind, too. But one more experience was when we were in Guam. It doesn’t involve me; just silly things a guy will do for attention.

A big Polish kid, a deck hand-and I say it with all the respect a guy that chases false echoes all over a radar screen can muster for men who do the hard work-just off the fantail in his dungarees on a dare…for 20 buck actually. But was it worth it? Getting called up before the captain, having it on your permanent record. Unless you go for a Hollywood stunt stint, how would this sound?

“Jun 15, 1945 — Seaman First Class Harvey Youngblood. Captain’s Mast. Charge: Jumped into the waters off Guam from the ship’s fantail, against all regulations and rules of common sense. For a lousy 20 dollars. Disposition: 30 days restricted duty and loss of credibility and bathing privileges.”

Signed (Captain)

Vella Gulf”

Remember back when, I was talking about our Radar gang studying shipboard units on the old World War I 4-stacker destroyer, The USS Moosehead? The only time in the Navy we rigged our canvas hammocks, and actually slept in them!

Took me back to E Avenue, of course, and the homemade hammock Mr. Hess fashioned from baling wire and barrel staves.  Except the Navy type had no hesitancy about showing you the flip side!

A week or two really isn’t enough time to get acquainted with a ship; but she had her moments. Porpoise, related to the dolphin-one step down would be my guess-swam beside us like patient sheep dogs. I think I know attitudes; in reality, I imagine attitudes. But if I could read the Porpoise that attached themselves to our outfit, they seemed to be saying, “We know you don’t think we know. We know you don’t think you need us. But apart from being refugees from Sea World, we are in our element. And we will show you the way back to San Diego. Trust us.”

I must admit, Porpoise create greater phosphorescence accidentally, than man-made fountains do on purpose! The phenomenon was awesome! And while the huge swimmers weren’t silhouette, they cut through the water like swift shadows, swirling the eerie bubbles.

Other little animals, sea lions, occasionally made infrequent appearances near the dock; the little guy with the push-broom mustache and Eddie Cantor eyes, was a real character. He’d lay there, swimming on his back, and stare at us, unflinching, like sailors were something in a zoo, and was afraid he’d miss something if he looked away.

This little guy was so covered with oil, he resembled an Alaskan disaster.

But back on board, and out to sea: The waters had gotten choppy, and destroyers, being the smallest first line fighting ships, really bob like tin cans.  So a few of us went topside after evening chow and the up-and-down and round-and-round motion is easier to take when you’ve got the open sky to take a fix on. 

Three or four of us were strung out along the railing; none of us saying a whole helluva lot. Rather, we were listening to what the sea was saying to the Lamb Stew, which we were looking to settle peacefully.

Now, I’ve got nothing against Lamb Stew, but most of my shipmates can’t say the same.  Or prefer not to. I’m afraid they want to vote with the majority, who claim they hate Lamb Stew!

They insist it’s BAAaaaad. 

I like it. I doubt I would ever get enough of it.

And now, standing here beside me was Jonathan Booker; the tall guy who looks like Nat King Cole, and our connection to M.I.T.  I said something to him, noncommittal, and his eyes told the whole story. Picture a nice guy with a Master’s degree, wearing a white sailor’s cap, squared at two fingers, of course, and you’d see the same thing I saw:

An egghead in a sailor cap. You couldn’t miss him. Eyes at half-mast and down at the mouth. I wasn’t just communicating, so I simply observed, fascinated. 

Is that a gyro, maritime folks use in navigation? I think Seaman Booker was trying to create a mathematical equation using peristalsis–his internal move-alongs–and the up-and-down pitch and roll of the heaving sea.

When the USS Moosehead reared up, Jonathan just reached over to the railing and claimed the motion with an index finger until his inner ear lined up with steady-as-she-goes.

And he was comical. Methodical. 

Jonathan slowly removed his white hat, folded it carefully and tucked it into his waist. In the same, slow, purposeful, metered motion, he removed his tie from the middy collar, and placed it carefully at his feet. It was ritual. 

Continuing in deliberate slow motion, Jonathan pulled the jumper over his head; nothing said. The mood was unhurried patience as he bent to place his blouse on the pile at his feet.

Then, leaning as far over the railing as common sense and safe procedure permitted, it came up for a vote.

Bleeaaaahh!

And man and seas were one once again.

I think they waited until we made port before Jon Booker and another fella went over the side to wash down the Lamb Stew, and anything else that came up.  By the way, through all the upheaval, my black buddy’s white T-shirt stayed spotless. For although we were landlovers, we did not know better than to spit into the wind!

In My Father’s Footsteps

Perspective

There’s no doubt that when we change the way we look at something, we see it in a whole new light; a different perspective, if you will.

For example, if we get stuck in the loop of believing that nothing good ever happens to us – that the only luck we have is bad luck, and the world would be better off without us – we are going to see the world as gray and meaningless.

But once we find that spark of hope that tells us that we have the power to change the way we think, our lives become better. We become empowered to want to do more, be more. 

All we need is a little nudge; something or someone to show us that it is possible.

Let me tell you a little story:

“Once upon a time there lived a little girl who came from a large family. The members of the family were  much too busy with other things to care much about the needs of the little girl. This unhappy little girl decided if no one cared about her, she wasn’t going to care, either. Her once lively spirit diminished, until all that was left was a shell.

As she grew into an adult, she found herself searching for something that would fill the emptiness inside her. But no matter what she did, happiness was always just out of her reach. She looked for it in relationships, her work, and her children, but nothing ever seemed to fill the hole inside her.

One day, she realized she couldn’t go on living that way. The way she saw it, she only had two options; end it all, or do something about it. Fortunately, she choose the latter.

She quit drinking and smoking and joined a 12-Step group. She started hanging around positive people , good examples of who she wanted to be. She  faced her demons and her fears. She began to accept life on life’s terms. And after years of being what everyone wanted her to be, she learned who she really was; a wonderful, caring, generous, socially-awkward basket case. And she learned to love every aspect of who she was.

She learned to let go of her resentments and was finally able to forgive those who had hurt her.  She took chances on love and life, and learned that every little success brought her closer to where she wanted to be. And every setback made her even more determined  to become the person she was meant to be.

Years passed before she was able to look back and understand that the suffering, the pain, and all the heartache she had gone through, had a purpose.  She had to go through the bad to appreciate the good. She learned to look at obstacles, not as something trying to defeat her, but as lessons to learn from, so she could grow as a human being.

And as she contemplated her life, she realized for the very first time she was truly happy. Oh, she’s had happy moments throughout her life, but they were fleeting.  Now she was happy, truly happy, just because. And that is how she lived her life.

And she lived happily-ever-after.”

As you might have guess, this is a true story. This is my story. But it’s not the only one. It’s the one that catapulted me from my simple existence, to become an active participant in life. Not only did my attitude change as a result of my ‘Self’ work, but so did my life. I became more positive, and ambitious. I had more energy and drive to help others.

There was a time when I hated my life. But hard work and determination paid off; somewhere along the way, I learned to love myself, and my life.

Today, I may be a better version of myself, but it doesn’t mean I don’t have problems. I face new challenges every day; whether it is health, work, relationship-related; but I can go to bed with peace of mind and thank God for the opportunity to learn and grow.

I know; it sounds too good to be true. But I am living proof that it can be done.  When I think about where I was, and where I am now, all I can say is that it is truly a miracle.

But it’s not magic. It’s a lot of work, it takes time to unlearn bad habits and develop new, healthier habits. You will have to challenge your beliefs and let go of everything you thought was real. You will have to reach deep inside you and pull out your most painful memories so you can finally resolve them, instead of just pushing them away.

You will cry so much you think you might never ever stop. But then one day, you will wake up and realize how great your life is. You will feel like shouting it to the world and you will want to share it with everyone. And then you will know you have changed the way you look at life.

In My Father’s Footsteps

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