Sunday, January 25, 2015
“The water is rising and the land is sinking,” stated our handsome tour guide Enrique. Other than that, from what was seen through the eye - have a cataract in the left one and can’t see out of it - of an aging jock, Venice, Italy was looking just fine.
I didn’t know what to expect prior to visiting the northeastern Italy city for a rendezvous with darling wife. The business executive had been there for meetings before this knucklehead flew in for some fun.
“You’re gonna love it!” many would say. “It’s so romantic!” Others would counter, “You’re gonna hate it. Too much trash in the water!” Well, I loved it: the food, vibe, history and, for me, a powerful example to the unlimited potential of the human spirit and mind.
From information gathered, it seems about 150,000 folks live, work or play in the one-time maritime center of the world. It’s a bustling place, even in the off-season when the cool and damp weather keeps the tourist population down a bit. But what amazed me in this thriving spot of humanity was that you’d never see a car or truck.
People went about their business by boat, walking or riding a bicycle. I found that very cool and refreshing.
117 islands separated by canals and connected by bridges. Almost every island had its own piazza, church and cistern. Narrow walkways separated restaurants, hotels, shops, homes and businesses. If you’re claustrophobic, Venice might not be your town.
The city floods all the time. “More than 150 times a year,” Enrique suggested. Everywhere you walk, platforms are stacked neatly. Wooden sentries stationed for when the tide or rains come and water rises. When needed, the platforms are laid out so residents, workers and tourists can step upon them and go about their merry way. Also, it’s the city of masks. Shops with masks are everywhere.
So is a spirit of adaptation. Sure, the water might be rising and the land sinking but Venetians figure out a way to keep on truckin’. Well, in their case, it would be, “keep on boating, walking or pedaling.”
Standing inside of St. Mark’s Cathedral, built about 900 years ago, while gazing up into the five-dome grandeur that is the massive shrine, the mind wanders to, “How in the heck did they build something like this so long ago?”
Venice. One word continues to pound into my brain. Ingenuity. Oxford American Dictionary defines it as, “Cleverness, imagination, inventiveness.” Those characteristics have served Venetians well for thousands of years. Cleverness, imagination and inventiveness will serve us well too.
Is the water rising or land sinking in your world? Where might it be time to shift from whatever is, to what could be? Take a gondola ride with ingenuity.
If history’s any indication, it’s a darn good thing to possess. Life brings us challenges. Let’s learn from the Venetians. We might get wet but, thanks to an ingenuity platform, we ain’t gonna drown.
Saturday, January 17, 2015
Most know the ‘ol saying, “Good things come in threes.” Is it true? The knuckleheads of A Stronger Cord sure believe so. For instance, we believe in fitness-minded, dependable and productive versus isolated, unfit and stressed.
What follows are three different statements that have blasted into this aging jock’s cranium the past few weeks. Different. However, for a simple dude from Missouri, with the same meaning. In no order of preference whatsoever, as Jim Lange used to say on the television show, The Dating Game, “Here they are!”
“We’re just one step from stupid.” This brilliant line comes from a brother from another mother, Dennis Jenkins. We like to joke, we’re “Ebony and Ivory” or “Salt and Pepper” or, and we crack up, “Dumb and Dumber.” A giant man with an even bigger spirit. A water restoration specialist by trade but a knucklehead when it comes to believing in ASC’s mission to reduce the amount of isolated, unfit and stressed folks in our communities. He’s all in. The Colorado native gets quite competitive on the basketball or volleyball court and leads chapel services each week at the Denver Rescue Mission. He encourages men there and anybody else listening, “We’re always one step from stupid.” For us, the more we hang with one another and challenge one another to heed Jenkins’ advice, the better off we’re gonna be, right? Please say yes!
“We have a choice in life. Be a turtle or a giraffe.” This wonderful statement rolls off Darrwin Ben’s tongue often. An Arkansas Razorback fan - this knucklehead can call the ‘Hogs - is another dude taking a leadership role in ASC’s march forward. The Navy veteran was wounded in action during duty in the Gulf War. His ship hit a mine. Something hit the back of his head really hard. Ben loves to mention “turtles versus giraffes” when talking about settling for whatever lies right before, or below, our point of view. Instead, he encourages others to reach for higher ground in search of more fruitful sustenance. He’s a man on a mission to help fellow military veterans return from the ravages of war and embrace a spirit of fitness-minded, dependable and productive. Ben believes “Too many vets have left their post” as men in our society. Pig Sooooeeeeee, Razorback! Love his spirit.
“Attack the issue not the individual.” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock muttered this gem recently during a race relations event in Denver. In wake of Ferguson and New York City, and the unrest it festered, the popular leader led an overflow crowd in a conversation about it. Can you imagine? What would our world - homes, businesses, neighborhoods, teams, schools and whatever else I’ve forgotten - look like if we focused on attacking issues that divide us, not individuals? Holy smokes Batman.
Why not give it try? What would we have to lose?
This week, let’s stay one step from stupid; reach for higher ground and, if necessary, attack the issue not the individual. It’s a terrific trio.
Sunday, January 11, 2015
It’s a chilly Friday night in the Mile High City, darling wife is away, Billy Joel’s playing in the background and I’m thinking of my old man. This day, the ninth of January, would have been his 84th birthday. Cancer took his life, but nothing can quench that man’s spirit.
That’s my pledge to him.
My mind wanders to the night before. At the usual A Stronger Cord Thursday night workout, this ol’ jock had encouraged and challenged the other gathered knuckleheads with, “Let’s have a great workout in honor of my old man.”
What a guy.
Challenges? You have challenges in life? Of course you do. We all do, right? Marvin Walter McIntosh, Jr. was the oldest male in a six pack of siblings. The oldest boy. His father - I never met him - checked out before my father was ten. His mom died shortly thereafter. Grandparents raised six kids. Dirt poor. Dad used to say, “We didn’t have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out.” I hope that doesn’t offend. It’s the truth.
But he never complained.
From a dirt poor and uneducated background rose a great man. A knucklehead for sure - tap dancing on bar tops in golf spikes - but a dude that rose above adversity, time and again. From quite humble beginnings the father of four cared for his kids, rose to outstanding business success and befriended a ton of folks who would have ran through a brick wall for a enthusiastic spirit who loved to organize golf gatherings.
So I’m sitting here on a cold Colorado evening with Joel cranking out “Say Goodbye To Hollywood” and, considering it would have been my golf buddy’s 84th birthday, somewhat pensively wondering, as Donovan sang long ago, "To catch the wind and play a round of golf with Dad.” He’s missed greatly.
And then I zoom back to the night before, when a bunch of knuckleheads from missions to mansions and everything in between came together for a wonderful workout that honored a guy affectionally called, “Marv Dog.”
We were, to steal a line from the beloved ’89 Colorado Buffaloes, “One Heart Beat.”
With gusto and guts, everybody poured heart and soul into a challenging workout. There was a spirit present on this night that, at least for this simple dude from Missouri, resonated with the ol’ man sitting up there, at the 19th hole after a round, shouting, “Way to go!”
That’s just the way Hacker Mac was. There were many bumps, physical, emotional, and financial along the road. He never allowed himself time to be a victim of them. He attacked life with guts and gusto. Trust me folks, it was not a walk in the park. Dad persevered. He never gave up.
The knuckleheads gathered for ASC’s Thursday “Sweat, bond and grow” gathering poured that kind of magic potion into the workout in honor of my old man. Pretty cool.
Guts and gusto. Worked for my father. It’ll work for us, too!
Sunday, January 4, 2015
Controversy had struck A Stronger Cord. A front-page story in the December 26, 2014 edition of the Denver Post, while generating valued exposure and outreach, had created consternation within the ranks.
Some of the guys living at the Denver Rescue Mission felt reporter Jennifer Brown had not portrayed them as desired. For the record, I thought it was well written story telling. From personal experience, it’s a common challenge for journalists and their subjects. In my sportscasting days, there were many times, after creating a profile piece on a newsmaker, they would later inquire, “Why did you say that?” or, “Why didn’t you include this?”
It’s the challenge of having someone else define us. It will certainly be open to interpretation.
That’s true whether we’re talking a growing platoon of ASC knuckleheads coming together to sweat, bond and grow while reducing the amount of isolated, unfit and stressed out dudes living in our community; a group of folks coming together to reduce the amount of sugary foods in schools; a group of folks trying to clean up streets. Whatever.
Brown, who has been reporting in the Post extensively about Colorado’s mental health challenges over the past few months, nailed the story well but ASC continues to evolve. For instance, since the journalist/fitness enthusiastic and photographer visited about a month ago, we’ve partnered with Union Baptist Church.
We needed a winter home because participation had grown and the Denver Rescue Mission’s Crossing facility doesn’t have a gym, and it’s often too cold outside. As mentioned last week, ASC needed a gym. Union Baptist was looking for men to fill its gym. Bingo. A match made in heaven.
We’re also starting community outreach. Knuckleheads knocking. In groups of three, fanning out into the neighborhood around the church. Looking for isolated men, knocking on their doors with, “Hey buddy, come join us for a workout.” Finding the single mothers in the neighborhood. Knocking on their door with, “Trust us with your sons.”
Brown wrote the story about two weeks before it was published on the day after Christmas. ASC had evolved in the interim. Some of the guys wondered why the emphasis of the piece was more on their past than ASC’s future.
We’re all knuckleheads. A bunch of dudes, with checkered pasts, but united in trying to become more fitness-minded, dependable and productive men. We choose to believe that type of spirit will help us build a stronger cord - thus the name - to families, jobs and communities. We all win. If pulling up to a fast-food speaker, we’d bellow, “Supersize it!”
The point is this: others will always have their perceptions, opinions and interpretations of our thoughts, words and actions. That’s okay. That’s life. Let’s just make sure those perceptions, opinions and interpretations do not define us.
But let’s also remember our past should not define us either. If the past leads to certain perceptions, opinions and interpretations deemed unflattering, it’s incumbent that we prove otherwise.
Good luck this week!