Sunday, December 26, 2010

Stand Up

Christmas shopping has become the epitome of American indulgence. Each year millions of families go out and spend money that they hadn’t saved up in the months prior only to put those purchases on a credit card to be paid at a later time. Instead of scaling down due to the economic downturn, my observation this Christmas was anything but recession spending. Rather, I saw hundreds of shoppers willing to dish out the cash for a Holiday that they seemed to believe in. Throughout this annual Christian tradition that has evolved to symbolize consumerism over anything Holy, I was blessed to have had my faith restored in something a lot bigger than myself.

Earlier this week on my way home from work I decided to do my own last minute shopping at Wal-Mart. Often throughout my daily routines I sometimes forget what I’m wearing or what I represent as I attempt to blend back into civil society after a day at work. On this particular day I walked into Wal-Mart in my uniform to grab a few stocking stuffers that I had forgotten about. While I was busy racing through the aisles to find my presents thinking that I was like the rest of the Holiday shoppers, it took a gray haired greeter at Wal-Mart to remind me who I was.

Upon checking out, I headed for the exit only to see one of the elderly greeters get up from his seated position. Slowly he rose up, pinned his left arm while standing at attention and offered me the sharpest salute I’ve received in a long time. Crusty veterans like the Wal-Mart greeter on that day always catch me off guard. And although it wasn’t the first (nor will it be the last) time that a Veteran has saluted me in uniform, the unexpected nature of receiving a salute at Wal-Mart that led to my embarrassment. I put my head down, awkwardly returned the favor and briskly walked out the exit to my car.

The act of rising to ones feet in honor of another is practiced in many organizations and institutions throughout the country. One of my first observations of this tradition was at Mass. Prior to the Priest reading a passage from the gospel; out of reverence the congregation stands as he walks to the lectern. During weddings, the guests stand as the song “here comes the bride” plays and the bride enters. When a high-ranking senior officer walks into a room, an order for service members to be at “attention” is called. After someone is bestowed a highly coveted award or after someone makes a powerful speech, a standing ovation often occurs. And in the court room when a judge enters, the order “all rise,” is commanded.

The thought of peers, fellow citizens or distinguished men and women rising to their feet is a humbling one. This past month I learned that my father was appointed to the bench and from here on out would be referred to as “his honor.” From now on, when he walks into a courtroom to deliver justice, the members will rise.

Recently many Americans have lost faith in the political system, their government and those who represent them, (me included). And yet, with all of the uncertainty about our future, I have never lost faith in the one man whose character seems to embody everything that is right in this world, my father. My father has the most integrity that I have ever known, and for that alone, I can proudly rise up. With that said, I know men like my father and men like the Wal-Mart greeter, will forever have pride in their country. They are the men who have made it what it is and in spite of the political flavor of the month, they will never lose faith in the United States of America.

After I got home I began to reflect on the old man who out of respect for my rank and uniform and out of pride in his country, saluted me. Men like him have a great appreciation for what freedom is like. They lived through much greater economic recessions, depressions nonetheless, and can perhaps appreciate the shopping activity at Wal-Mart even if they look chaotic. They have seen wars and seen their friends not come home. They have raised children, paid their taxes, paid their dues. They are a generation that is slowly fading away before my generation’s very eyes, and as much as they recognize us, we tend not to recognize them. My uniform is something I take pride in, but probably not as much as past Veterans.

This Holiday season I have been confused about my life’s direction. I always have wondered what I’ll do next and what I should be doing. When I got home from shopping I had my future on my mind. To my amusement I opened up a piece of chocolate and inside the wrapper was a message that read, “You are exactly where you are supposed to be.”

Thankfully, I realized that from an old Veteran greeter at Wal-Mart, who for me was “exactly where he was supposed to be.”

Like every Christmas, I find myself incredibly fortunate to have the material items that I have and the close friends and family around me. This Christmas I am particularly blessed to realize my dream of seeing my father realize his. I am blessed because of the country I live in and the people who have come before me to keep it that way.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Time is of the Essence

In the 1960's over 80% of 25-34 yr olds were married. Today, that number is less than half. Our society has conditioned itself to believe that things like careers are the measurements to the "good life." Work has become the single most motivator that drives what we do, where we move and what we believe in. As a result we spend less of our time on trying to finding love. Millions of people sacrifice their time and energy to a vocation only to neglect the relationships around them. Instead of finding happiness in the moment and enjoying what we have now, we look past what is right in front of us and the opportunities we have today. Foresight and vision are great, but when those dreams disallow taking advantage of the present, they are useless.

A person will never take a stronger vow then when they echo the words "'Til death do us part." And yet, instead of seeking that individual for which that vow will one day be intended or nurturing the ones that we love, we get caught up in the rat race which is not life but work. To me finding the right person deserves as much attention if not more than finding the right job. If life is about finding love and happiness, how many of us can truly say that we're on the right path?

The average person works at a job for less than 10 years. If they're lucky and have the security, they may work 20 years before seeking retirement. Once that is over though, there is no telling what is in store for us, except for the man or woman who stood by us while we pursued other endeavors. The cliche is that life is short. Indeed it is. That is why I have chosen to take advantage of every opportunity to be with the ones that I love.

Much of my life has been directed towards going after "something," and not "someone." I've spent an inordinate amount of time taking care of everything except myself. Recently I decided that I would go out and find the person I was meant to be with. It took time and energy but now that I've found what I've been looking for, there's no chance that I'm going to give it up and go back to my old ways. Sure I'm still going to be ambitious and set goals for myself, but not if they interfere with what makes me the most happy. My priorities in life have shifted from caring about frivolous things to caring about the things that mean the most to me.

Like most people, my time is valuable and perhaps it is the greatest gift that I can offer. To the people that I love I know that what touches them more is not the car that I drive or the house that I live in, but the moments that I can share with them. Every second, every minute, every hour of the day matters. Why not spend it with the people you love?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Bucket List

One of the things that I wanted to see while up here in Alaska was the Aurora Borealis (northern lights). With only a few more days left I'm starting to see that opportunity slowly fade away. Although I can happily say that as a consolation, I've seen my fair share of Bullwinkles around, I can't help but think of the thing that will have escaped me. For whatever reason, it seems that when I want something it usually ends up happening which sometimes reminds me of the cliche "be careful what you wish for." I've skydived, swam with sharks, surfed, rode horses, ran marathons, done triathlons, furthered my education, fallen in love, seen things that were purely majestic, competed in sports, done some good, gotten in mischief and still understand that there is much that I'd like to do. So much so that I've created a list of things that I'd like to do and see in my lifetime.

See the Aurora Borealis
Go on an African Safari (Complete)
Visit Machu Picchu
Climb Kilimanjaro
Backpack Europe
Qualify for the Boston Marathon
Climb the pyramids of Egypt
Ski powder filled trails in Whistler
Visit the Coliseum in Italy
Sail around the caribbean in a sailboat
Cruise down the Venice Canals in Italy
Go to Rio for Carnival
Visit the Galapagos Islands
Raft through the Grand Canyon
Run with the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain
Walk along the Great Wall of China
Canoe through the Amazon
Visit the Vatican
Travel to Baghdad or Kabul one day (not on orders)

Write a book
Run for local office
Go to Law School (Complete)
Fly the F-15E (Complete)
Meet a sitting President
Watch Brycen's first Little League game
Finish an Ironman (Complete)
Own a small business
Start a non-profit organization (Complete)
SCUBA dive the Great barrier reef
Write a song and record it
Win my Fantasy Football League
Get Court side seats to a Celtics game
Be an extra in a film
Be on a game show
Break a world record
Visit an orphanage in Korea
Become a black belt in martial arts
Go up in a Hot Air Balloon
Kiss a supermodel
Give a large sum of money to charity anonymously
Give a commencement address
Live in a monastery under the rule of Benedict for at least one week
Catch a pass from an All-Pro NFL quarterback
Teach a college class

See my Nephews and Niece graduate college
Coach a player and then one day see him/her on TV
Be a husband and a father
Be a grandfather
Become someone that my children will always look up to
Do something that would make my parents truly proud
Watch a court room rise when my father walks in (Complete)
Campaign for someone I truly believe in
Fight to end poverty in the US
Make a difference in someone's life
Do something amazing for my parents to thank them for everything
Be at peace with myself and God

To be continued...

Saturday, March 27, 2010


What Can I say? I'm in a hurry. So much so that I forgot to put my girlfriend's car in gear as I parked it in my driveway. As a result I came to find it across the street in my neighbors front yard, with the front bumper lodged between both sides of a gutter slope (this happened Wednesday night by the way). Anxious and still needing to get going I tried everything that I could minus disassembling the front bumper to get it loose so that I could get back on the road and towards my destination.

My generation is notorious for this type of on-the-go, "my way or the highway", scatter brained mentality. We go from our flat screen TVs, to laptops at home (often simultaneously) to our cell phones and ipods on the road. We do this seamlessly without even thinking about what we might have missed because of our obsession and reliance on technology. Because we want things instantly (instant rice, instant replay, instant messenger, instant loans/credit, instant downloads), we have forgotten the virtue of patience that our parents attempted to instill in us.

I don't know if I can live without my blackberry, but I know that I don't need everything right away. I can wait, start up a conversation with a stranger and act like a human being who speaks English and not just text lingo.

On the news I have heard a lot about the discontent of certain talking heads concerning health care reform. Before it has even been given a chance, the impatience of some lawmakers is to "repeal and replace." Seriously? When have we become so impatient that we refuse to see the first week of a new law, let alone see it through to the end. I don't know what Christian values these reportedly "Christian lawmakers" are choosing to utilize in their arguments, what I do know is that those 32 million uninsured Americans have had their prayers answered and that is one of the few types of instant gratifications that I can get on board with.

I suppose House Democrats were probably getting impatient with trying to pass a policy which our President ran on. But perhaps not more so than the struggling father of four children who lost his job a year ago and is battling cancer. It's been over 60 years since the US has made this appeal and it has finally gone through. It was a long road that had a political, economic and for me a very personal cost.

As I ran down a rural North Carolina road this afternoon with my iPod playing, I thought about some of the homes that I was passing and how many of them would now not have to worry as much about the availability, affordability or ethical implications of their health care. As I looked to the horizon, I patiently took my strides back home. I looked down at my iPod with an inspired peace of mind and I thought,"there's no App for that!"

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Politics of Fear

Recently, there has been heated debate concerning the fate of suspected terrorists. With Guantanamo Bay closing down and the question of where these alleged criminals ought to be tried, the politics of fear have once again surfaced and captivated an audience of Americans with short term memories.

During the Bush Administration 190 terrorists were prosecuted in what are called “Article Three” courts. All of them were convicted and now reside in maximum security prisons. Still, there are those out that lack faith in the fundamentals of our judicial system and the law enforcement officials who protect our citizenry. Furthermore, they would have us believe that American principles can take a back seat to convenience and demagoguery. During a convention with Republican “Tea Party” activists, former Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin drew rousing applause by her audience after declaring “We need a Commander in Chief, not a Professor of Law.”

When dealing with the decision to try a person in a court of law (military or civilian) it seems to me that the law ought to take precedence and that it ought to dictate our actions. Although, I suppose if one were not familiar with the tenets of our Laws than this would be a rather convenient thing to dismiss.

The assumption by the pundits is that a military court would be vastly different than a civilian one. This is not the case. The presumption of innocence, burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt and due process are legal rights that are shared by all courts in our Judicial system. Furthermore, we ought to send a message to those who despise our country by affording them the very rights and freedoms that they wish to kill us for. We ought to hold ourselves to a higher standard and the rule of law so that justice prevails.

Umar Farouk Abdulmatuallab, affectionately known as the “Christmas Day/Underpants Bomber,” has further fueled this debate. Republicans were outraged when they discovered that he was read his Miranda Rights since he was being interrogated by the FBI. Instead, they would prefer their harsh interrogations which they advocate.

The United States cannot live in fear. We need to try terrorists like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (mastermind of 9/11) in the very city that he tried to destroy. I suspect New Yorkers and families of the 2,750 people killed on 9/11 would gain a sense of closure when this man who is given all of his civil liberties in accordance with the principles that he despises is tried and convicted. This is the message we can send to the world: America is not afraid.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Caught in the Rain

4:30pm: I left my house for a late afternoon jog around my neighborhood. Earlier in the day I had been cooped up in my house because of the rain. I patiently waited for the rain to stop and for the the sun to break through the clouds. When it did, I took off expecting to go on an hour long jog.

I rarely have an idea of where I am going or which route I’m going to run when I go running. Part of the adventure for me, is the unknown of what I’m going to see or what I might encounter. While I always have a destination in mind and know where I’m going to end up, I don’t always know the exact path I’m going to take from point A to point B. Sometimes in new areas I even challenge myself to get lost so that I can get a better work out in. I guess you could say that my running style is more Forrest Gump-like than that of a trained Marathoner.

4:45pm: I can see the sun slowly setting in the west through the ominous clouds. I’m unfamiliar with the North Carolina roads that I’m traveling but hope that I’m heading in a direction that goes back to my house. As cars zip past me, I pick up my pace so that I’m back before sunset and whatever precipitation that may be looming.

The independence, solitude and adventure I get from running is a very American concept to me. I truly enjoy setting out on my feet to unexplored areas and getting to places based on where my legs take me. As a matter of self-reliance, I don’t back down from the elements. Rain, snow, wind and cold are factors that I try to plan for but in the end I persevere through whatever nature throws at me.

5:00pm: I can feel the drops of rain as I head towards the dark matter ahead of me. In the back of my mind I think I can outlast so I speed up hoping to take a corner around the bend that will lead me to a road back home. As I check for a time hack I see that I’ve only been gone for 30 minutes and become worried of what I’ve gotten myself into. At this point I can’t explain the adrenaline that has come over me all I know is that the feeling that I get from the unknown is a rush like no other.

Running is a very simple and mindless activity. For me it’s a matter of lacing up my shoes and turning my Ipod to play before I start. Although I never enjoyed the activity growing up, it now brings me great relief from my day to day routine and gives me an outlet to clear my mind.

5:35pm: The sky opens up and releases a flurry of raindrops and wind. I run for several hundred more meters before I’m forced to stop and ponder my next move. The rain is coming down so strong that I’m immobilized as it feels like thousands of tiny pebbles piercing my skin when I’m on the move. Several vehicles pass me along the side of the road and I think how nice it’d be for someone to pick me up. Ahead in the distance I see a mini-van do a three point turn. It’s headlights get brighter as it slowly returns back to my direction. I approach the window knowing that the gentleman inside is going to offer me a ride and I suck up my pride and accept. I think to myself “I’m saved.”

As I entered the vehicle sort of sheepishly, I extended my gratitude to the driver who had the good conscience to stop and pick up a stranger. Drenched and embarrassed, I continued to say “thank you” as we headed back towards my house. Accepting the ride is very contrary to any any runner’s principles who believe that they have enough drive to make it back on their own. This circumstance was different, I had never been in such a predicament and I wondered how I got myself in that position to begin with. I then realized, sometimes certain things happen to people along their journey that one can’t predict and a small country in the Caribbean came to mind.

Five days ago Haiti was rocked by an earthquake that registered 7.0 on the richter scale. Some experts predict that the body count which is above 50,000 now could escalate to over 200,000 when all is said and done. I doubt anyone could have predicted such a natural disaster just as I couldn’t have predicted getting caught in the down pour that left me isolated on the side of an unfamiliar road. Yet, with the help of a stranger who had the decency to pull over on the side of the road, I was back home and in a warm shower in 10 minutes. Haiti needs such a driver to take a small break from their daily activities and reach out to help. It is as American to set out on your own on a path less traveled as it is American to lend a hand to people in need. The two are not mutually exclusive.

After the fifth time that I had thanked the man who picked me up, he replied “I think it’s just a natural human reaction to put yourself in someone else’s shoes in these circumstances.” What he said was not a pre-planned talking point or a response to a question that I had asked him. His reply was a heart-felt belief that he had an obligation to help out his fellow man.

I believe someone was looking over me today and because of that I am happily at home typing away in a warm and safe home and not stranded by the side of some road in rural North Carolina. As Americans we too can be that beacon of light and hope for the Haitian people as they struggle to piece together whatever it is that they had prior to the disaster. We can do this not because it’s politically or economically beneficial but because it’s the right thing to do and because we may never know when we too are caught in the rain.

Friday, January 1, 2010


The checklist has become a familiar habit of mine in recent months. Prior to beginning a new task, I write it down on either an event planner, my blackberry or a Post-It. The satisfaction of striking a line through one of the subjects on my list brings me great reward and a sense of accomplishment. Like a baseball manager setting a lineup, I rack and stack my agenda hoping to see it through completion.

Subconsciously I probably over due the items on my checklists purposely so that I can feel that I am progressing through my day, week and month. Looking back at 2009, I had a “to do list” for nearly every daily task. Grocery lists, homework, workouts, and just plain work. Once these checklists were complete I conveniently threw them away, out of sight and out of mind.

Upon thinking about my New Year’s resolution, I came to the conclusion that I would tie it to my newfound obsession with checklists. I thought about how most of my checklists had to do with subjects that mattered only to me and did very little to make a difference. My New Year’s resolution is more of a challenge than anything else. It will be a constant reminder to myself that there are always people out there that need help.

I have decided to do 52 good deeds this year. Each week I will seek out a new and innovative way to make an impact in someone else’s life and chronicle what I did to make it happen. The difference between this checklist and the traditional kind that I create, is that I don’t intend to throw this particular checklist away. In fact, I hope I can pass it on and encourage more people to do the same.

So far I already have a few ideas lined up. Starting next week I have my first youth basketball practice and a mentorship meeting at the YMCA. Fortunately for me, these don’t seem like chores to me. If anyone is benefitting from these activities, it’s me.

Each year seems to be more busy than the previous. I am amazed that with each month, I have more to do with less time. Filling up my schedule though is my choice and I don’t intend to use “being busy” as a crutch or excuse. With so much to do, I can’t wait to get started. I hope you’ll join me.

Follow my progress this year!