Presenting with Heart

Presenting on Presenting in Los Angeles.  Fall 2012

Presenting on Presenting in Los Angeles. Fall 2012

In this modern world of ours, we purportedly Google each other.   Today I learned that my 12-year old daughter Googled me.

It was Gigi’s first day of summer vacation and I promised to spend the day with her.  But I had a voice audition due at noon, so while she slept in, I crept over to my recording studio, Studio X, and voiced the audition.  It wasn’t until we were driving to pick her brother up from basketball practice in the evenig that she mentioned it to me.

“Mom, you are good presenter.”

“I am?  What do you mean?”

“I saw your presentation.  It was good.  I liked it.”

“What presentation? What did you see?”

“This morning.  When you were out, I decided to Google you and your presentation is on YouTube.”

“What presentation is on YouTube?  You Googled me?  What were you doing this morning?”

“I was waiting for you so I went on your computer and Googled you.  Your presentation on presentations, on communication.  It’s on YouTube.  You know, where you say that good presentations aren’t here (she points to her head) but here (she points to her heart).  I watched the whole thing.  It’s about 15 minutes.”

Good Lord.  I knew what she was talking about.  My presentation is on YouTube?  Good Lord.

Clicking away, I found it.  Indeed she was right.  It’s posted on YouTube.

Writing this blog, writing my story these last several years made that presentation uniquely important to me because it was the first time I shared information about my burn in a public presentation to a business group.  When I received the invitation to speak at the Los Angeles Legal Marketing program last Fall, it came with a stipulation — my submission on Extremely Effective Communications was accepted but would need to be re-packaged in a “Ted Talks” format, meaning it had to be 20 minutes or less in length.  My original submission?  90 minutes.  Essentially, the format required me to completely re-jigger the presentation, re-creating it as something wholly new and different.

It made me think.  A lot.

I know when I got burned, I learned how to “compartmentalized” like an expert.  How to put things that hurt into a file folder in my head and make them go away.  How I could download them at will, if and when I wanted to.  How life made me understand that living in your head all the time wasn’t really living at all.  How the best way to live was with your heart, and that when you did that, even the bad hurts weren’t so bad.  How the best way to connect with people in business (or life) was when you were doing so with heart, with passion, with yourself sort of out there.

I worked on that Los Angeles presentation for a long time because I wanted to incorporate what I’d learned about great communication and being an effective presenter.  I worked on that presentation for a long time because it had to be 20 minutes or less, which was no small feat.  I worked on that presentation for a long time because I wanted to share a little bit of my experience, a little bit of my heart.  I had never done that before.

In the months since that presentation, I haven’t thought much about it.  But today, my daughter Googled me.

Here it is if you would like to see it.  LMA Presentation — Extremely Essential Skills.

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Tinkerbell Returns

Tinkerbell Returns

Tinkerbell Returns

“We remember what we understand; we understand only what we pay attention to; we pay attention to what we want.” – Edward Bolles

In The Return of the Little Men, I was “reunited” with some miniature Disney characters given to me as a gift when I was burned.

It’s hard to describe my utter glee upon seeing what I endearingly called the ‘little men’. The thrill wasn’t based on the fact of the toys themselves but the reality that they not only existed but that I remembered them from childhood.

When you have a hazy memory and are not sure if it’s real or imagined, there is real joy in things that confirm you are not a crazy person, making up silly memories or doing what therapists call ‘creative reimagination‘.  For me, the trauma of being burned was like a bad dream sequence — foggy, missing pieces, unreal, as if I am holding my breath.  When I can connect with something real from the experience, I can breathe.   I am sure there is a psychological theory to explain why this is important to me but I don’t know what it is.  It is important and that’s enough for me.

I was so happy to reconnect with the little men that it didn’t even cross my mind whether all the pieces in the set had in fact ‘come home’.

“Oh, I found Tinkerbell,” was what Susie said to me, some time after she’d given me the set of little men.

Tinkerbell?  It had no context.

“I was looking in my old high school jewelry box for my claddagh ring and there she was.  Tinkerbell.  Right in that jewelry box.”

Tinkerbell?  Yes, Tinkerbell — she was the jewel of the set!  As a three year-old girl, Tinkerbell was my particular favorite.  For months as I was immobile, re-learning how to walk, I remember sitting on my bed and playing with all the little men.

When I went to collect Tinkerbell from Susie’s house, it was shocking how small she was.  She stood less than an inch tall, even with her blue wings fully extended.

I’m amazed at what turns up when you open the door to your memories.  Forty years later, Tinkerbell and her entourage of little men return from long-ago packed-up things and jewelry boxes from high school.  I keep them on my desk at home.  When you ask, you can receive.  The key is being open to what chooses to return.

The Fire of an MBA

Jim Gallagher graduates with honors with an MBA from Marquette.  Pictured here with the Dean of the Graduate School of Management

Jim Gallagher graduates with honors with an MBA from Marquette. Pictured here with the Dean of the Graduate School of Management

Founded in 1871 as a steel-making center, Birmingham exploded almost overnight, quickly growing into Alabama’s largest city and earning the nickname “The Magic City.”   When I got the call that my brother was injured in a serious motorcycle accident there, mostly  I saw the medical center not the burgeoning culture.  Jim is a motorcycle aficionado with  more bikes than I imagined — Harley, Ducati and who knows what other brands — who did track days and raced at speeds that made me nervous.   That he wiped out on the Birmingham track didn’t completely surprise me but scared me.  At the emergency room, they cut his leathers off to tend to his broken elbow, ankle and assorted other injuries.  It must have been an ugly scene because his wife called me that day to tell me she needed my help.  It was a Monday night and I was watching a Packer-Bear game.  I booked my ticked to Alabama at half-time.

When I reached the medical center in Birmingham, Jim was hooked up to a variety of tubes, his elbow and ankle immobilized.  He was angry I was there, which didn’t make it easier.  “I didn’t ask for you to come,” he hissed.  “Go away.”  Within a couple of days of my arrival, his boss called and fired him.

I talked to the doctors and nurses about his situation.  As a diabetic, Jim was experiencing swelling that prevented some of the surgeries he needed.  They advised me that the best course of action was to get him back to his home in Milwaukee and conduct the surgeries there.  Medical transport to Milwaukee was crazy expensive.  So I did what any sister would do.  I called my other brother Michael.  “Get down here.  I need you,” I  begged.  Mike and I rented a mini-van and retrofitted it to carry our patient home.  The drive was about 18 hours and we traded time at the wheel to drive straight-through.

Injured.  Unemployed.  In a precarious marriage.  Jim’s life had been unceremoniously stripped from him.

And then, little by little I stood by him as he reclaimed it.  He applied for his dream job at Harley Davidson.  He got it.  He bade his bad marriage goodbye and I served as counsel to him and his divorce attorney.  He recovered from his injuries, slowly.  I went to his house and helped him clean it out.  He applied to Marquette University‘s Graduate School of Business for an MBA, accepted on academic probation.  He went to school on nights and weekends, while working a full-time job and traveling the world for work.

When he asked me to help him write a speech as the prospective graduation speaker, I did.  “Graduating from Marquette was my dream as a boy but it took my becoming a man to realize it,” he wrote.  He made it to the top three finalists.  Another guy was selected as the graduation speaker but when I heard him, I knew Jim’s speech was better.    But of course I was biased.

He wrote:

“I was not a good student growing up.  You might  have called me complacent because I didn’t apply myself academically.  There were number of other challenges in my life – being diagnosed with diabetes in my late teens, addressing my father’s long and debilitating illness and ultimately his death when I was in my 20s, followed by my mother’s untimely death, and the challenge of handling my strong drive for success but not knowing how to execute it. You might say I had my hands full.  But it was the critical time when I realized how much I needed guiding principles in my life.  I just couldn’t find them then. You see, when I graduated with my undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee more than 20 years ago, I thought that was enough for me.  Of course it wasn’t and I began to understand that the quest for knowledge lives hand-in-hand with the desire for excellence.  We are all given gifts, but sometimes we can’t see them clearly even when we need them most and so we explore different paths  until we finally understand what these gifts are and how we can use them to our advantage.”

There we were.  At Jim’s MBA graduation on Sunday.  Tears flowed down my face.  I felt like I was watching a miracle.  I was watching a miracle.  I saw a man’s transformation and I was part of it.

Our Aunt Mary — my deceased mother’s only sister — hosted a private lunch following graduation.  Jim had written of her in his speech, “Over the years, I learned to have faith in myself.  More importantly, I realized that to truly succeed,  I needed to embrace the faith others had in me.  My fellow alum Aunt Mary provided this foundation for me and I feel partially responsible for her recent knee replacement procedure – Aunt Mary – I know  you have worn out your rosary beads and bruised your knees praying for me through St. Jude.  Thank you for your unwavering belief in me, and your love and guidance.  Through your example, you have been one of many people who taught me the meaning of faith, service and leadership.  Not just once but over many years of always believing in me.  You embody the excellence of Marquette every day.  At 85 years old, I know that is no small feat.

It was a good day.  I write about fire and how it shapes our lives.  I had just watched the fire develop in my own brother.  It was a good day.  It is there for all of us.

I Believe and the Story of the Seed – Virtual Book Tour

I Believe:  When What You Believe Matters!

I Believe: When What You Believe Matters!

Today I am taking part in a ‘blog tour’ – an event where bloggers post a book review of a particular author on a particular day, sort-of-a virtual book tour.

Today that author is Eldon Taylor and he has just released the paperback version of his book, I Believe:  When What You Believe Matters.   Now, admittedly some days I just don’t feel like believing but I wanted to give Eldon the benefit of the doubt.  If you click on this link, you’ll find information about the book and can register for some bonus gifts. The book is a compilation of stories and statistics about the mind’s powerful influence in living a successful life.  If you don’t believe in the power of your thoughts, this book can help you understand why you should – and if you do believe, then you’ll find it a sweet refresher.

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought.
If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him.
. . . If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness
follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him.”
B u d d h a

One of my favorite parts of the book is the Story of the Seeds, a little something uplifting and inspiration that highlights the importance of integrity.  It will give you a flavor for Eldon’s book and hopefully make you want to read more.  It’s a little long but worth the read:

The Story o f the Seeds
Author Unknown 
A successful businessman was growing old and knew it was time to choose a successor to take over the business. But instead of choosing one of his directors or his children, he decided to do something different. He called together all the young executives in his company.  He said, “It’s time for me to step down and choose the next CEO.  I’ve decided to choose one of you.”

The young executives were shocked, but the boss continued. “I’m going to give each one of you a seed today— one very special seed. I want you to plant the seed, water it, and come back here one year from today with what  you’ve grown from the seed I’ve just given you. I will then judge the plants that you bring, and the one I choose will be the next CEO.”

A man named Jim was there that day; and he, like the others, received a seed. He went home and excitedly told his wife the story. She helped him get a pot, soil, and compost; and he planted the seed. Everyday, he watered it and watched to see if it had grown.

After about three weeks, some of the other executives began to talk about their seeds and the plants that were beginning to sprout. Jim kept checking his seed, but nothing ever grew. Three weeks, four weeks, then five weeks went by, but still nothing grew. By now, others were talking about their plants, but Jim still didn’t have anything, and he felt like a failure.

Six months went by—still there was nothing in Jim’s pot. He just knew he’d killed his seed. Everyone else had trees and tall plants, but he had nothing. Jim didn’t say anything to his colleagues, however. He just kept watering and fertilizing the soil. He so wanted the seed to grow.

A year finally had passed, and all the young executives of the company took their plants to the CEO for inspection. Jim told his wife that he wasn’t going to take an empty pot, but she asked him to be honest about what happened. Jim felt sick to his stomach. It was going to be the most embarrassing moment of his life, but he knew his wife was right. He took his empty pot to the boardroom.

When Jim arrived, he was amazed by the variety of plants grown by the other executives. They were beautiful, in all shapes and sizes. Jim put his empty pot on the floor, and many of his colleagues laughed, although a few felt sorry for him. When the CEO arrived, he surveyed the room and greeted his young executives, while Jim just tried to hide in the back.

“My, what great plants, trees, and flowers you’ve grown,” said the CEO. “Today one of you will be appointed the next CEO!” All of a sudden, the boss spotted Jim at the back of the room with his empty pot. He ordered the financial director to bring Jim to the front. Jim was terrified. He thought, The CEO knows I’m a failure! Maybe he’ll have me fired!

When Jim got to the front, the boss asked what had happened to his seed, so Jim told him the story. The CEO then asked everyone to sit down except Jim. He looked at the young man and then announced to the other executives, “Behold your next chief executive officer. His name is Jim!”

Jim couldn’t believe it. He couldn’t even grow a seed. “How could he be the one?” the others asked. Then the CEO said, “One year ago today, I gave everyone in this room a seed. I told you to take the seed, plant it, water it, and bring it back to me today. But I gave you all boiled seeds—they were dead. It wasn’t possible
for them to grow. All of you, except Jim, have brought me trees and plants and flowers. When you found that the seeds wouldn’t grow, you substituted new ones. Jim was the only person with the courage and honesty to bring me a pot with my seed in it. Therefore, he’s the one who will be the new CEO ”

If you plant honesty, you’ll reap trust.
If you plant goodness, you’ll reap friends.
If you plant humility, you’ll reap greatness.
If you plant perseverance, you’ll reap contentment.
If you plant consideration, you’ll reap perspective.
If you plant hard work, you’ll reap success.
If you plant forgiveness, you’ll reap reconciliation.
So, be careful what you plant now—it will determine what you’ll reap later.

Eldon Taylor has spent over 25 years researching the power of the mind and developing scientifically proven methods to use this power to enhance the quality of your life. I Believe is a book that will not only inspire you, but will highlight the kinds of beliefs you hold that may be causing you to fail. In the process, it will provide you with the opportunity to choose the beliefs for your life.

“God Always Loves a Singer” – A Tribute to the Green Bay Boys Choir

St. John's Welcomes the Boys Choir

St. John’s Church Welcomes the Boys Choir on April 14, 2013 for a Mass of Celebration

When it came time for the final goodbye party for the Green Bay Boys Choir on Sunday, April 14th, I and all of my siblings — Kathleen, Susan, Jim and Michael — found their way to Green Bay to take part in it.  Our dad had been gone for nearly 20 years and it was hard not to feel grateful that a group of “boys” thought enough of him (and my mother) to invite us to participate.  There is a power that endures when good men stand together.

While it is true that None of Us Live the Life That He Had Imagined, there are times when an actual event surpasses all of your expectations.  The Compass, the official newspaper of the Green Bay Catholic Diocese, asked our family for an article about the event.  Here is a summary of that article:

The Original Green Bay Boys Choir:  40 Years of Song, Friendship and Fellowship

By Anne Gallagher

While the storm clouds gather far across the sea, Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free,

Let us all be grateful for a land so fair, As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.
God Bless America,
Land that I love.
Stand beside her, and guide her
Thru the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans, white with foam
God bless America, My home sweet home.

  • A favorite song of The Original Green Bay Boys Choir

In the beginning, they came together to sing.  In the end, they created a legacy of enduring friendship and fellowship.

It was 1972 and Green Bay stockbroker Bob Gallagher organized about 50 middle-aged men under the name, “The St. John’s Boys Choir” to sing at the 5:00 p.m. mass at St. John the Evangelist Church, located  in downtown Green Bay  and  the oldest continuous parish in Wisconsin.  Accompanied by organ or piano, they often punctuated songs like “Just a Closer Walk with Thee,”,  “Oh Lord I am not Worthy,” and “God Bless America,” with the big sounds of cymbals and drums, which added both interest and drama to their singing.

“We’re a group of good guys who came together to sing, but mostly it was about the fellowship.  The choir became the way to cement our friendships,” said Ron DeLain, for 19 years the Choir’s final director with and formerly Green Bay City Clerk.  “We were really something special for our generation.”

Ron DeLain Leads the Boys Choir in their final song

Ron DeLain Leads the Boys Choir in their final song, “Let Their Be Peace on Earth” (Photo by Jim Gallagher)

After 40 years of singing together, the “boys” – now mostly in their 70s and 80s – formally retired in 2012.  Originally singing only at St. John’s, the Choir’s popularity grew and took the group to no less than 10 surrounding counties for performances at masses, weddings, funerals, anniversaries and Christmas programs.  To reflect their new-found growth, they changed their name to “The Original Green Bay Boys Choir.” They sang at veteran’s homes, nursing homes and Our Lady of Good Help Chapel.  As they tell the story, in the early days Bob Gallagher would rent a school bus for their out-of-town transportation and contract with the prisoners at the Green Bay Correctional Institute to create bus signage and banners.  With the blessing of the warden, Bob paid them in cigarettes, as was the custom in those days.

By the time they retired, 112 “boys” had filled the various choir lofts, garnering the attention of Green Bay’s Bishop, David L. Ricken.  “I am deeply humbled that so many of you participated in this choir over the forty-year period.  How wonderful that so many senior members of the Catholic Church continued to sing at the Masses throughout the years.  The sounds of hymns coming from the choir certainly brought much joy to each Mass,” wrote  Bishop Ricken in a tribute letter to the Choir, as they prepared to celebrate one last Mass together on April 14th, 2012 at St. John’s.

———————————————————————————————————————————————

“We offer our music to our God, our family and all who hear us.”

From the invitation to the Boys Choir Celebration Mass on April 14, 2013

_______________________________________________________________________

Forty or so men arrived that day at St. John’s, each dressed in a blue blazer with a red rose in his lapel.  They sat together at the front rows of church, sang the last hymn “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” and presided over the dedication of a framed commemorative plaque telling their story of service.  The plaque will hang in the parish hall.  With friends and family, they gathered after mass at the Rite Place at Bellevue Street and Allouez Avenue for lunch and friendship.

“You know, I had an affinity for choirs when I joined the group in 1993 or 1994.  I met my wife one day when I was singing in the Cathedral choir so I thought it might be fun to join this group,” said Norb Kalinoski, who served as Choir Director for about a year and was a high school principal during much of his working career. He heard of the choir when it formed in 1972 but had just accepted a job in Shiocton.  When he returned to Green Bay years later, one of his first orders of business was joining up with the Choir. “The driving force of the group was social.  We were not the world’s greatest singers by the way, but we got by.  When you sing, you are happy.”

Liturgical and classical musician Lester Bleser Jr. joined the Choir as its accompanist (organ and piano) about 20 years ago.  “The choir did the music I enjoyed and at the time there was an opening for an accompanist,” he recalls.  The group’s only female member – an organist – was moving to another parish.  Les joined in a heartbeat.  “I enjoyed the camaraderie.  We got together once or twice a month to socialize and I liked the all-male environment.  Plus we were a unique group – there are very few all-male choirs.  We were really one of a kind for our time.”

Boys Choir Members Sing from the front rows under Ron DeLain's direction

Boys Choir members sing from the front rows under Ron DeLain’s direction.  Traditionally, they sang from the choir loft at the back of church. (Photo by Judy Lepak)

Choir members came from all walks of life.  There were educators and social workers, doctors and lawyers and judges, public officials and business owners.  At one time, the local sheriff – Norb Froelich – served as the Choir organist.  “It didn’t matter what you did.  We came together for a common purpose and shared a love of God, Church and family,” said Dr. Jim Falk, the Choir’s final president and a member for 40 years.

“Oh, they came together to give praise and glory to God with their voices and wasn’t that a good enough reason to be together!” added Gwen Falk, Jim’s wife of many years and the mother of their 15 children.  “Plus, the truth is that Bob Gallagher made it fun to be a Catholic.”

If there was one story about Bob Gallagher at the Choir’s luncheon, there were 100.  Bob, the original Choir director, died after a lengthy illness in 1993.  “If you ask me my favorite memory of the Choir, it is Bob Gallagher.  My life changed dramatically because of that man.  He had the ability to join us together and make us do things we never would have done otherwise,” said Jack Smith, now retired but for many years a parole and probation officer at the local Green Bay prison.  “You know, I’m not even a Catholic and when I joined this Choir I wasn’t the only non-Catholic.  Bob brought us all together as friends.”

He told the story of Bob Gallagher’s run for an officer position at Green Bay’s Junior Chamber of Commerce, or JC’s.  With a hand-lettered sign, “Vote Gallagher – Don’t be a Chicken,” Bob gave an election speech, and then released about a dozen live chickens into the crowd.  “Well, people were howling with laughter.  Bob just had a way with people and a way of creating fun.  I owe that man so much,” Jack Smith said, explaining that he wasn’t really a singer but with Bob’s urging, regularly sang before as many as 400 people.

As Bob’s illness progressed in the late 1980s, Jack said Bob developed a great difficulty with speech.  “It was hard to understand him at times, you really had to work at it,” he said.  “But you know, we would take Bob up to the choir loft in his wheelchair and when he sang, every word came out clear as a bell.”

As Choir members and their families finished their meals, Ron DeLain rose to say a formal goodbye. “It was so great to be part of this group because of what we represented and who we are.  I hate to say goodbye.  I don’t want to say that we are finished.  So until we meet again, we’ll see you all again soon,” he said.

Jim Falk stood beside him and said, “God always loves a singer.  If we have an encore, that’s going to be up to the Holy Spirit.”

Some of the remaining members of the Boys Choir pose for a photo at St. John's Church

Some of the remaining members of the Boys Choir pose for a photo at St. John’s Church on April 14, 2013 (Photo by Jim Gallagher)

ORIGINAL GREEN BAY BOYS CHOIR MEMBERSHIP 1972-2012

FOUNDER

Bob Gallagher

DIRECTORS

Ron DeLain

Bob Gallagher

Norb Kalinoski

Rollie Macco

Bernie Schlafke

ORGANISTS

Lester Blaser, Jr.

Norb Froelich

Ms. Val Niraz

Mert Mueller

David Seering

MEMBERS

Jim Baenen

Don Bailey

Arnie Beimborn

Dick Bender

Ron Benzschaewl

Ray Berker

Milt Besanson

Dan Boettge

Jim Brawner

Carl Burkel

Keith Campbell

Jerry Chapman

Tom Coe

Harry Cygan

Larry De Groot

Jim De France

Bob Delacensarie

Bernie Delwiche

Steve Deneys

Gary Des Jardins

John Dolan

Dan Drossart

Steve Everson

Jim Falk

John Finco

Bob Flatley

Tony Frederichs

Bill Galvin

Ray Gantenbein

Larry Goeben

John Harrington

Dick Heardon

Leon Herlache

Cal Hirn

Gil Hoffman

Brian Holloway

Bud Huebner

Ralph Jenquin

Chuck Jones

Ray Josephs

Bob Juley

John Kafka

Dick Kalishek

Ed Kaufman

Tom Kiedinger

Peter Kiefer

Jeff Klarkowski

Rick Knaus

Larry Kust

Jerry Lemere

Carl Lewis

Chet Lewicki

Ron Liebergen

John Loritz

Tom Lukas

Joe Mader

John Mancheski

Ardo Mariucci

Ken Martin

Ken Mathys

Don Melberg

Bill Mielke

Tom Mielke

Francis Moes

Mark Monfort

Dean Mraz

Roland Murphy

Roger Navarre

Jim Neuser

Leo Nikowitz

Ivan Nowak

Ken Payette

Fred Pergande

Bill Phillips

John Prosser

Bud Pytlak

Pat Reed

Bill Ricker

Maury Robinson

Bob Rockstroh

Pat Sands

Jim Schiebel

Greg Schmitt

Ken Schuldes

Urban Schumacher

Bob Seering

Al Siudzinski

Del Skelton

Jack Smith

John Smits

Ron Spielbauer

John Thornton

Bernie Van Camp

John Van Rens

Jim Vande Walle

Don Van Straten

Earl Verheyden

Paul Wagner

Len Walczyk

Tom Washienko

Mike Wichowski

Larry Younk

The Secret of Why

Secrets, secrets are no fun

Unless they’re shared by everyone

Author Unknown

We all know about secrets — having them, keeping them and having them kept from us.   In my case, I felt a lot of people knew secrets about my accident and I set out a couple of years ago to unearth them.   Granted, what-I-believed-to-be the so-called “secrets” were often straightforward things like someone’s  stories, a medical record or a hazy recollection.  Yet to me, these were secrets of a grand proportion for the simple reason that no one had ever told me about these things before.

Just why did I need to know these things and why did I need to know why?  In fact, why does anyone need to know why?

It seems science answers this for us, which comes as a great relief to me since these are the things I would otherwise have thought too much about.  “Why is what drives not only everything we do, but also our emotional reactions to everything that happens to us,” says the Buddhist doctor Alex Lickerman, author of the blog, Happiness in This World, Reflections of a Buddhist Physician.  “The negative impact of being left in the dark about why things are done the way they are can be so extreme for some people that explaining our thinking to others actually represents an opportunity to contribute to their well-being. Research has suggested that taking the time to explain yourself will help your children develop a moral conscience, your students achieve mastery, your employees stay happy, and your personal relationships flourish.”

Ahhh, it feels so good to hear stuff like this.  It confirms how important it is to understand the context of our lives.  It is (in my opinion) the essence of Kierkegard‘s quote, “Life must be lived forward, but can only be understood backwards.”

If there is an easier way, please let me know.

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Spring Blizzards and Dire Thoughts

“But there are dreams that cannot be

And there are storms we cannot weather.”I Dreamed a Dream, Les Miserables

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Mack had a rough night of basketball, not finishing the last game until nearly 11 p.m. and so I thought I’d let him sleep in at the hotel a bit.  I watched him sleep and surfed the news on my laptop and  listened to the rain pound on the window, learning that a winter storm was brewing on our route to Chicago from Southern Illinois.  Rain didn’t seem so ominous for a winter storm nor enough to take away our  lazy morning.  We started back to Chicago about 10:30 a.m.  That timing proved pivotal.

Rain turned to snow quickly and before we knew it the three lanes of I-55 North compressed into one, whipped by high winds and fast-accumulating snow.  Before we knew it, we were driving on chunky patches of ice.  Having grown up in Wisconsin, I knew the dangers of black ice — treacherous and unseen zones — and began to feel fear build up inside me.  One wrong movement with the wheel and the car could spin-out.  It had happened to me years ago, driving from Green Bay to Chicago in a frigid Wisconsin January and the car landed in the ditch.  My hands clenched the wheel.

“Mom, why don’t we just get off the road at one of these exits,” Mack suggested.  He had seemed nonplussed thus far.  While I appreciated the thought, I also knew that the off-ramps weren’t plowed or salted yet and would be as dangerous if not more than the road we were on.  With cars in front of us and behind us, it seemed best to drive on slowly and see if the storm would break.

Then without warning, white-out.  No visibility.

I turned the radio off to concentrate on the road and whispered to Mack, “Let’s pray.”  Intuitively I began to pray the rosary, aloud.  My mother used to make us kids pray the rosary when we drove from Green Bay to visit her parents in Milwaukee.  I did it grudgingly and with a lot of eye rolling.  But now, it was like a meditation, keeping negative thoughts and perhaps weather conditions at bay.

Given those conditions, I mentally gave us about a 10% chance of survival.  Before the white-out, we had passed maybe 25 cars in ditches along I-55,even  including a tow truck, which presented an ominous example.  We had about a quarter tank of gas left, enough I hoped to get us past the eye of the storm.  Though I wasn’t sure I could maneuver the car well enough to stay on the road that long, particularly without being able to see a car in front or behind us as a guide.

In between the Hail Mary’s, I seriously began to wonder if we would make it.  When your number is up, your number is up but I looked at the 15-year old boy beside me and thought, “That’s not fair, he has a whole life in front of him so focus yourself and drive him out of this.”  My stomach clenched and I slowed the car’s speed to about 20 miles per hour.

If it all ended today, would I have done all the things I wanted to do?

Certainly that was a question old people considered but was hardly ripe for my demographic.  And yet, I thought it and thought about it.  I felt anxious.  Would anyone get a perfect score on that report card?

The whiteness lifted and I could see the car in front of me again.  I breathed a deep breath and looked at Mack.

“It was never as bad as you thought,” he said, then smiled.  We both knew it was as bad as we had thought.

When we pulled over for gas in Springfield, a thick piece of ice covered the entire front of the car.  We hacked it off, then went for coffee and food.  What should have been a five-hour drive home took eight hours.  It wasn’t the ride we anticipated; simply the ride we were meant to have.