Sunday, January 29, 2017

Pep Talk: "Our Snapshot Influence"

There are life snapshots forever burned into our memories. The occasions are good and bad: The birth of children, acceptance of a marriage proposal, horrible news of an illness diagnosis or receiving word a loved one has passed. These snapshots define our dash between birth and death.

For your knucklehead scribe there are many snapshots including long ago as a clueless 25-year-old lying on an apartment couch in a one-bedroom pad. It was winter, football season. I was living in Denver, hated my job and wondering, “What the hell am I going to do with my life?” You see, I had it all planned out from an early age. I was going to be a professional athlete. It was the one and only dream of a southpaw who grew up and prospered in football, basketball and baseball. Because of my size and talents, the best route to fulfilling the dream was through the latter. But an accidental poke in the eye during a high school basketball game led to a series of debilitating injuries.

As a 17-year-old high school senior labeled a “five-tool” baseball player (run, throw, field, hit and hit with power) life was good until a life-altering poke led to fainting, crashing to the floor, bashing my head, fracturing my skull, shattering bones in my middle ear, tearing up rotator cuff muscles in my throwing shoulder and losing hearing in my left ear. In seizure and bleeding from the ear, officials had to stop the game, summon an ambulance and rush an injured youth to the hospital. Athletic dreams were dashed from the crash.

Eight years after that defining snapshot, in December 1983, I lounged in a spartan Denver apartment on a Sunday afternoon. Lonely, depressed and wondering, what next? I was watching television and was moved by, at the time, KCNC-TV’s stellar main sports anchor Ron Zappolo. The magnetic talent was flawlessly executing a live shot from the Denver Broncos’ locker room after a thrilling come-from-behind victory over the Baltimore Colts. It was quarterback John Elway’s rookie season. Broncos fans might remember, the Stanford star had told the Colts, “Don’t draft me because I don’t want to play for you.” A trade had been engineered to bring the rifle-armed #1 overall pick to Denver. This was the first of many legendary comebacks for the future Hall of Famer and franchise’s current general manager. 

Zappolo’s live report was an epiphany for a young man searching for purpose. It inspired a lost soul to return to school and earn a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and enter the television sportscasting world. A few years later, in 1988, KCNC-TV hired an eager sports guy whose primary responsibility was covering the CU Buffs football and basketball programs.

Ron Zappolo opened a door in my mind to possibility. His example infused hope in a dude who had little. This week, don’t underestimate your snapshot influence on others. It could change a life!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Pep Talk: "It Sounds Crazy"

Our nation has its 45th president but we’re not united. Far from it. Many respected pundits suggest this might be the most fractured our country has been since the Civil War. The day after President Trump took charge, led by America’s women, millions marched in protection of human rights, protest of the billionaire’s controversial victory and the potential of a better future.

How to build a stronger cord? Easy to talk about, far more difficult to figure out. It’s just one opinion, but many social policies designed to lessen suffering and encourage self reliance are ineffective. Whether we’re black, white or brown; live in a mission, mansion or on Main Street; profess belief in a higher power or not; have different sexual orientations, it doesn’t matter. America is too divided. We can do better.

Let’s start with a more concentrated effort to care for one another. For example, like Bessie’s Hope does for elderly folks residing in assisted-living facilities. So many are warehoused. Our aging loved ones are isolated, vulnerable and displaced. Recently A Stronger Cord joined Bessie’s Hope and had a blast singing, dancing and visiting with wonderful men and women who, sadly, rarely have visitors. One female resident came to life and was found to be standup-comedy hilarious. A male resident, 91 years young, while shooting the bull wondered, “Anybody got a joint?” LOL. Caring for others, holding their hands, rubbing their shoulders, hugging and exalting them. Listening. The room was electric with positive energy flowing everywhere.

“Thanks for the care you’re giving mom,” was a message your knucklehead scribe left for one of my mother’s caregivers in the Kansas City area. The 81-year-old is also isolated. God, how I wished this community outreach wellness movement had already expanded to my hometown. This feisty woman and others would benefit. Our elderly have much to offer but we have to engage them.

“We met in jail. I invited him,” said a grinning dude about a recent conversation with another resident at the Gray Bar motel. The invitation was to join the Denver Rescue Mission’s New Life Program. ASC works closely with guys in this program. It warmed my marrow to hear of a detained man caring for another and extending an offer to a life-changing opportunity. It was accepted and the guy is attending many ASC gatherings. 

Caring. Defined many ways, including, “To feel willing.”

And then there’s Doug Wittenberg, the amazing spiritual warrior bravely battling cancer but always thinking of others. The latest? The father of six videotaped an inspirational message his church showed at a recent service. A man in a life-and-death struggle with a nasty foe but still focused on encouraging others? Off the charts.

What’s the ol’ saying, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way?” Sure, we have many problems in this country. Trust me on this, folks, money alone will not solve them. We need to feel willing to care. Let’s get millions to march about that. I know it sounds crazy, but maybe such a spirit would make America great again.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Pep Talk: "Winning More Important Games"

The Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons were kicking things off for the weekend’s NFL playoff games. Your knucklehead scribe was settling in for, hopefully, some good games.

But my mind was reflecting on a phone conversation just minutes before action commenced from Atlanta at the raucous Georgia Dome. I had been talking with a good buddy from The Rock Church in northeast Denver. A Stronger Cord loves working with faith-based organizations. Churches, mosques and synagogues, all reach out to the community with worship and works. Why not wellness? Invite folks to participate in community outreach while becoming more fit, connected and giving? Healthier.

TRC and ASC had teamed up earlier this day for a men’s breakfast gathering. The theme focused on men assuming a more responsible position in today’s world. To, ASC’s words, “Become more fitness-minded, dependable and productive dudes who seek a stronger cord to family, purpose and community.” Sorry, couldn’t resist.

Anyway, my feeble cranium was mulling over its list of guys who demonstrate the kind of character, resolve, strength and other important stuff that, well, make a man a man. In America today we’re paying a dear price for too many kids growing up without good male role models.

Like a former neighbor and devout A Stronger Cord participate. The devoted husband and father of two great kids is a lawyer who works in downtown Denver. Each Wednesday he faithfully shows up for ASC’s 4pm workout at Phoenix Multi Sport. When asked why, the friendly fellow offered, “A Stronger Cord connects me to people who have traveled a different road than I, and who face different challenges. We all gain from making these connections.” Amen. This man clearly understands another problem in Denver and America today: We have too many isolated, vulnerable and displaced adults. They live in missions, mansions and on Main Street. Alan Greenberg gets it and helps make a difference. Way to go.

With the pre-game hype still blaring, a long-time spiritual warrior bursts into brain. Folks who consistently read this weekly musing know Doug Wittenberg. He’s a fellow knucklehead from a Friday morning men’s fellowship group. I love this guy so much. His faith while caught in a cancer storm of epic proportions has been inspirational to observe and write about. Cancer’s still furious. With a throat and larynx ravaged by treatment, speaking is tough. Also, he’s very ill. Nevertheless, the Family Life ministry representative texts and emails buddies encouraging them to not take anything for granted and cherish time with family and friends. Amazing.

A passionate and smart environmental lawyer talks about the value of connecting with others who have traveled different paths. A marriage and family outreach dynamo talks about the value of spending more time with family and friends. Each describes the importance of engagement. To those we have little in common and those we have a lot. Engaging with others in healthy and productive fashion. For men and women? Rarely bad.

In fact, embracing such a philosophy helps us win games far more important than an NFC playoff battle.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Pep Talk: "Go Make Cookies"

It was billed as a celebration of life. Event organizers, in remembering Ruth Perry, gave the audience quite a show.

The Nebraska native’s roots sprouted in Wyoming but are burrowed deep in rural Baldwin City, Kansas, just south of Lawrence. She was being laid to rest. As your knucklehead scribe shared in last week’s blog, “An Unsinkable Spirit,” the mentor to many (including me) passed just a few weeks shy of 105. An incredible life.

Pastor Don Scott officiated. In describing Ruth’s childhood years on a Wyoming ranch near Devil’s Thumb, he wondered, “Who lives out here and what do they do?” Well, Ruth Hahn Perry began teaching school at 18 years old in a one-room schoolhouse. To and fro, she rode eight miles on horseback. Really.

My sister Debbie was greatly influenced by our step grandma and the Perry clan. It was cool to witness an older sibling deliver a terrific eulogy and declare afterward, “I didn’t realize how respected she was in the teaching community.” Yep. A career educator didn’t receive a bachelor’s degree until 50 but was a Hall of Fame influencer of children’s lives. A former principal and superior (Ruth taught sixth grade) told a hilarious story. Long ago, the mother of three and stepmom to two, refused to teach a district-mandated “Youth and Sexual Development” class. The principal was in a pinch. An outstanding faculty member was drawing a line in the sand. “We came up with a deal. I taught the class and she played principal. We did that for ten years.”

Grandkids saluted their “Mar Mar” and the influence the Scrabble-lover had on them and her children, their parents. We cried, laughed and applauded. A construction owner told the story of building Ruth her final home. “Many people thought, why in the world is a 96-year-old woman building a new home?” cracked the bespectacled fan. “Ruth would always say, Why not?” The loving testimonies went on an hour for a woman who defined her dash with an infectious zest for learning, loving and living.

Love was abundant. One disciple who spoke bore a striking resemblance to my darling wife. After the celebration officially ended, everybody spilled into the chapel foray. Little did I know, this woman had ended up right beside me. After ending greetings with someone else, I turned in her direction. From behind, she looked just like my beautiful bride. I was reaching to give the kind of embrace a man might offer an adored spouse at such a loving moment when it was realized, “That’s not my wife!” She wasn’t offended by the offense. We chuckled. The women’s boyfriend said, “You must have a good-looking wife.” I do.

The best line - there were many - came from Pastor Don. After hearing all the praise he offered: “Go make some cookies.” Ruth always made chocolate chips cookies for others. As a child, I ate a ton of them, the cookie dough too. Pastor Don was spot on with, “It was Ruth’s way of saying ‘I’m thinking of you.’” 

This week, figuratively, go make cookies. Trust me, it will wonderfully impact others and inspire them to speak highly of you in the future!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Pep Talk: "An Unsinkable Spirit"

“I’m bummed about next weekend,” was truth stated to fellow A Stronger Cord stalwarts. We’re excited to begin a partnership with Bessie’s Hope and love on the elderly. Too many are isolated in our land today.

Anyway, your knucklehead scribe and other ASC folks were talking about our first gathering with the wonderful non profit that has been loving on the elderly, and at-risk kids, for more than two decades. We’re jacked up to help. But, this old jock was gonna miss it while attending a celebration to the life of Ruth Perry. As we chatted, more than one said, “Tell us about Ruth.” I eagerly obliged.

Here’s what they heard about a wonderful mentor, born in 1912. The year the Titanic sank. The dynamo navigated sometimes turbulent waters with gusto till, a few weeks shy, of 105. Yep. She sailed long with distinguished service. I know for certain the school teacher inspired my love for words, writing and sports. I spent a lot of early childhood visiting the Charles (my grandpa on mom side) Perry family farm just outside of Baldwin City, Kansas. Home to Baker University, the Kansas rural community is about 15 miles south of bigger Lawrence and the well-known University of Kansas, its collegiate basketball prowess, fun vibe and decent county jail. The latter, a story for another time. She’d always called me, “Mark David.” We made tons of chocolate chip batter and cookies in her kitchen. I ate a lot of each.

Along with daughters (my aunts) Sally and MaryLou, we had many evening Scrabble games. Usually after catching “Lightning Bees” with uncle Charlie in the yard at sundown. During formative childhood years, I was lucky to marinate there. It positively impacted life. I know devotion to writing stuff like this weekly rambling was nurtured there. Through playing endless hours of Scrabble with loved ones, I fell in love with words and writing. Ruth, thanks.

Long ago during summers, Ruth, as an educator would travel the short distance north to KU for continuing-education classes. Sometimes with a young freckled-faced lad who loved sports. While busy learning, stepgrandmom (McIntosh kids called her “Aunt Ruth”) would drop a buck-toothed kid at the university’s football stadium. A southpaw would run, throw, catch and kick while visualizing touchdowns and pick sixes. Just a kid with blossoming athletic dreams fostered on the turf inside Memorial Stadium. Ruth, thanks again.

Facebook is great when it comes to connecting. There, a beloved fellow Mizzou School of Journalism graduate beautifully responded to something I had written about Ruth: “Sorry for your loss, Mark, but what a lovely tribute. How awesome that you can trace your love of words to her influence. That's a wonderful legacy.”

What kind of legacy are we gonna leave? Whether we sail past a century like Ruth or sink tomorrow? I think of this special spirit - still played Scrabble and Crib to the end! - and think of three things. She was amazing at learning, loving and living. Ruth, job well done. We would be wise to sail with a similar spirit. It’s unsinkable.

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