Too Much “Stuff,” Too Little Room For What Really Matters

Okay, I admit it – I’m a creature of habit. Like most Saturdays, I woke up this morning before the break of dawn, rolled out of bed and immediately headed out for a not-so-casual “stroll” in the park.  To do that, I needed 1 T-shirt (I own a few dozen), one pair of gym shorts (I’ve got at least 6 pairs of those), a pair of socks (got a drawer full of those), one pair of underwear (briefs – I know, TMI, but I figured someone out there would ask)(got another drawer full of those) and one pair of tennis shoes (there are 4 pairs of those in my ever-shrinking allotment of closet space).  Most importantly, I needed 5 miles of neighborhood streets and sidewalks (I know, Mr. President, I didn’t “build those”!) and a healthy, but, if I’m to be honest, rapidly depleting, amount of self-discipline and commitment. Total elapsed time: 1 hour and 20 minutes. 

With that out of the way, I returned home, refreshed and inspired, to prepare my morning meal – the “DAB Breakfast Sandwich.”  To do that, I needed one egg (there are 2 dozen in my fridge), a small frying pan (extracted from a cabinet crammed with pots and pans of all shapes and sizes), one Thomas’ Double Fiber, Honey Wheat English Muffin, a small tab of butter (fortunately there are 2 pounds of that and a extra tub of “butter want-to-be in the fridge”), 3 slices of bacon, 3 small paper plates (thankfully, we have 50 “real” plates and dozens of paper ones to choose from!), one slice of cheese, 1 plastic cup (a quick survey revealed that I had 98 cups and glasses – no risk or running out of, let alone even using, those) and 2 hands – though I was comforted to know that there is an entire drawer full of forks, knives and spoons – just in case.  Total elapsed time:  3 mins and 45 seconds. 

From there it was off to the couch in front of a by-today’s-standards small T.V. to watch some Ryder Cup and then to this small desk that is home to a small desktop computer on which I do what I love most – write.  Then, it’s off to shower, where, despite how much of it I have on tap, I only need one bar of soap, a dab of shampoo and one towel. A quick shave (one razor and a dollup of shaving cream) and a brush of the teeth (a little squeeze of paste from a GIGANTIC tube and a single toothbrush – where did all those other ones come from and who do they belong to?!?).  Once done with that, I will put on one pair of shorts (don’t ask), a Polo shirt, one belt and another of those pairs of tennis shoes I mentioned earlier.  Total elapsed time: Let’s say: 2 hours and 15 mins. 

When I’m done, it will be off to Chick-Fil-A, where “I’ll have a No. 5 8-count, please, with a fruit cup instead of the fries (okay, what the heck, throw in an extra side of the WAFFLE FRIES.  In fact, “super-size those bad boys while you’re at it), and a gallon of iced tea, with a few whole lemons worth of wedges and a box of Splenda (their inventory, not mine). Oh, and don’t forget to throw in a few barbeque sauces. That’ll be for here – and the name is Don.”  And for that brief period of time (20 minutes tops), I will be at peace, having caught my weekly glimpse of what Heaven must look and feel like.  And then I will be off, back to the “House of Clutter,” where I likely will settle in on that same small couch, before that same small T.V. for a little more Ryder Cup and a little college football. It is Saturday in the Fall after all. 

Unable to sit still for more than 20 minutes and with much work still to be done in anticipation of my upcoming presentation at NEDA’s 2012 Annual Conference http://tinyurl.com/8so963n and as part of my ongoing efforts to get the word out about my book, I likely will spend a few more hours back at the computer desk – writing, brainstorming, creating, surfing social media – and then it will be off to dinner and, perhaps, a little live music at a favorite Saturday evening haunt, a place where, quite literally, “everybody’s knows your name” (well, at least they know my name).  By then, it will be time to settle in. For that, I will need exactly one bed, one book on a single nightstand (I’m giddy over the fact that there are SEVERAL HUNDRED other titles in the house and a few dozen boxes more in the storage room, just in case I’m suddenly possessed by Evelyn Wood) and a “pot to pee in” – back to the kitchen cabinet for that!!! 

So, in summary, this is what it looks like I need from a purely “material” point of view: a bed, a pillow, a couch, a desk, a computer, a bathroom, a kitchen, a roof, a T.V. set, a cup, a plate, a few changes of clothes (and a place to put them), a few pairs of shoes, a car and the few odds and ends that go along with those things, but only one of each.  Why then am I feeling so claustrophobic?  Why is there a veritable tsunami of “stuff” everywhere I look?  Where did all this “stuff” come from?  What possessed me to think I needed even 1/3 of it?  Who was I trying to impress with all this “stuff” and why?  Most importantly, what do I do to rid myself of all of this “stuff” now that I have it, so that I can have room to breathe, to think, to not be distracted, to live unencumbered, to focus on what matters?  I want a simpler life.  If only I’d taken this morning’s walk 30 years ago . . . 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DzGxnRz_Ldg&feature=related

I’ve Got A Great Idea: Let’s Leave The “Judgment Piece” For The Big Guy!

I was a very judgmental person for a long time.  Perhaps as early as elementary school, I established an incredibly high set of standards for all aspects of my life – as a student, as a friend, as a human being, as an athlete, as a writer, etc. – and I was always quite critical of myself when I failed to meet those standards, which, somewhat predictably and despite my best efforts, happened more often than not.  I’m not entirely sure why I grew up that way.  I suppose it was an inevitable by-product of my perfectionistic personality combined with a fair amount of Catholic guilt. But, whatever its roots, one thing is clear to me now: It was a very hurtful and unhealthy way to live.

To make matters worse, it wasn’t long before I began to hold others (e.g., friends, loved ones, siblings, classmates, co-workers, colleagues, teammates – even complete strangers) to those same, mostly unattainable, standards.  Fortunately, most were unaware that they were being “judged” against what I perceived to be the “gold standard” for performance in whatever role they played in my life, but that certainly wasn’t always the case (http://tinyurl.com/csh79fd).  In fact, there were many instances, where I wasn’t at all “bashful” about offering my assessment of others’ “performance” in relation to what I deemed to be “par for the course” – my course.  More hurt – more unhealthiness.

Over time, however, I realized just how “flawed” I was, not in a negative way, in a human way.  I also became privy to the “confessions” of friends who I held in very high regard, but who proved to be similarly human “in their thoughts and in their words, in what they had done and what they had failed to do” – and, for the first time in my life, I listened to their “sharings” from a place of understanding and empathy, rather than judgment.  Ultimately, I came to embrace a simple, but important truth: All of us have weaknesses and, as hard as we may try and as well-intentioned as we may be, from time to time, we act on those weaknesses and fall short of the people we are capable of being.

I also discovered that remaining blind to that reality about ourselves, while simultaneously judging or, worse yet, openly criticizing others for engaging in the same or similar behaviors not only is hurtful and unhealthy for us and the object of our judgmental words and actions, it is not, in my humble opinion, what we were put on this planet to do. Stated otherwise, every day was never intended to be Judgment Day – at least not in our “pay grade.”  I’m not suggesting there aren’t absolute truths, values or standards of behavior that all of us should aspire to and strive for – plainly there are.  What I am suggesting is that it’s not our role, as fellow human beings, to sit in judgment when we or others falter in our efforts.

Instead, our role, as equally flawed human beings, is to be understanding of what it means to be human and imperfect, both in our dealings with ourselves and with others.  It’s a role that, regrettably, I came to very late in life.  Hopefully, this brief “testimony” will encourage you to get a head start.  I promise – you’ll be glad you did.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R_PpRpYME10&feature=related

An Open Letter To The “First Parents”

Dear First Lady and President Obama,

As the father of a very special young woman who spent five years in the death grip of an eating disorder, I am deeply troubled by your obviously well-intended, but badly misguided “Let’s Move” initiative, which ambitiously seeks to eliminate “childhood obesity” in a single generation http://tinyurl.com/8hknxyw.  A few disturbing statistics should suffice to explain the basis for at least a portion of my concerns:

First, a study conducted by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reveals that hospitalizations for eating disorders in children under 12 increased by 119% between 1999 and 2006 and, while more current figures are not available, most experts agree those numbers continue to escalate at an equally alarming rate http://www.cnn.com/2012/08/22/health/child-eating-disorders/index.html?hpt=he_c1 .

Second, long before your initiative began (2004), statistics already were showing that 81 percent of 10-year-olds (i.e., 4th graders!) were afraid of being fat, while 72 percent of 7-year-olds were dieting.  http://www.news-medical.net/news/2004/05/24/1849.aspx – one can only imagine what those statistics look like today.

Finally, the mortality rate associated with anorexia nervosa alone is 12 times higher than the death rate associated with all other causes of death for females 15-24 years old.  http://www.anad.org/get-information/about-eating-disorders/eating-disorders-statistics/ . Simply put, eating disorders are killing our young people – and one of them nearly killed my daughter.

I know both of you are terribly busy right now, which is why I’ve kept this short.  However, I would very much appreciate it if you would carve out an hour of your time for us to sit down and talk.  I’m quite certain that once you hear just one family’s story (ours) you will understand the gravity of this situation and, hopefully, the compelling and urgent need for critical and long overdue “change” on this important social issue.

Lives quite literally depend on what I hope will be your prompt and “inviting” response.

Warmest regards,

Don

P.S.  I’ll be happy to foot the bill for my trip to D.C., so as not to further burden my fellow taxpayers!

When Clinging To Life’s Final Threads Is Required, Stubbornness Is Quite A Useful Character Trait

When Ashley was 4 years old, we enrolled her in a “Dance at Your School” program. The Program essentially involved having a group of dance instructors come to the school after recess and offer 45 minutes of beginning, intermediate and advanced dance instruction for students of all ages and talent levels 3 days a week. Ashley loved to dance and seemingly couldn’t get enough of the classes. As the holiday season approached, she and the 15 members in her group began preparing for an annual Holiday Recital that was to be held in the school auditorium before what would turn out to be a crowd of more than 100 parents and other loved ones, a number of whom were our friends.

I remember leaving for work early the morning of the show only to find Cyndy and Ashley already hard at work fixing Ashley’s hair in a beautiful bun. By the time I arrived at the school auditorium around noon, Cyndy already had secured front row seats and Ashley was happily situated behind the curtain with her fellow dancers.  Moments later, however, we heard a bit of a commotion that sounded an awful lot like Ashley pitching a fit. I immediately dispatched Cyndy to investigate.  She returned to report that Ashley had become very upset when the teacher insisted that she and her dance-mates wear a Russian fur cap for the first “pairs” dance, because it covered her bun!

Ashley flatly refused to dance unless she was allowed to do it without the hat.  Eventually, an acceptable compromise was reached and Ashley and her fellow dancers strode quietly toward the back of the auditorium to a small staging area – hats securely in place.  Within seconds of arriving at the holding area, however, Ashley started in again. This time it was my turn. I hurried to the back, pulled Ashley aside and using all of my “considerable” advocacy skills (and a heavy dose of “guilt”) convinced her to quiet down and take the stage with her classmates. Armed with a  promise that she would, I scurried back to my seat and settled in to watch the show.

Sure enough, Ashley went up on stage as promised and paired off with her partner. I smiled broadly as her eyes met mine. She returned my look of affirmation with one of utter disdain and defiance and, as the music started to play, she stood statue-like in the center of the stage with her arms folded in front of her! Much to the chagrin of her dance partner, who was completely taken by surprise and simply continued to dance in circles around her like a horse on a lead line, Ashley remained frozen in that position until the music stopped. Cyndy was mortified. Truthfully, it was all I could do to keep from bursting out laughing.

As Ashley exited the stage, I called her over, sat her on my lap and very sternly asked her what had become of all the “promises” she had made to me in the holding area moments before taking the stage, the fact that I had taken time off from work in the middle of the day and driven all the way down to the school just to see her dance? She paused for a moment, looked away and then turned back and stuck out her tongue! And with that she hopped off my lap, ripped off her admittedly rather unattractive Russian fur cap and headed off to rejoin her classmates back stage, as if nothing had happened. Suffice it to say, it was all more than a little embarrassing to mom and dad.

Little did I realize at the time, of course, that it also was a foreshadowing of a degree of stubbornness, bordering on open defiance, and, in an odd sort of way, a level of courageousness (I suspect not many 4-year-olds would “have the guts” to stand motionless on a stage in the middle of a holiday dance recital “in protest” before a crowd of a few hundred adults, let alone do so over an accessory!) that, twenty years later, very likely  contributed to saving her life – as time and time again, she steadfastly clung to what were increasingly thinning threads of hope.  I can’t pretend I’ve always viewed Ashley’s stubbornness as an “admirable” character trait, but it certainly, thankfully has had its moments!

A Clenched Fist, A Sheepish Grin And Some “Unspoken” Wisdom From A 5-Year-Old

playing in dirt

A hundred years ago, I coached a renegade band of 5-year-old T-ballers known as the Fuddruckers’ Sluggers. For those who are not familiar with the game, T-ball is identical to baseball with three fundamental differences: (1) instead of being pitched, the ball is placed on an adjustable rubber tee at home plate, making it easier for the batter to hit; (2) the defensive team is allowed to station as many people in the field as it wants, the idea being that 1/2 of them will be afraid of the ball (even though it is rubbery and soft, rather than rock hard like a traditional baseball) and that those who aren’t will have absolutely no idea what to do with it on the off chance they manage to field it; and (3) balls hit to the outfield need only be thrown back into the infield to bring a play-in-progress to a stop.

Candidly, I’m not sure what possessed me to want to coach a T-ball team. Maybe I was afraid if I didn’t my son might wind up with an axe murderer for a coach or, worse yet, someone obsessed with winning at all costs (even at the T-ball level), thereby causing him to end up hating baseball before he’d even played his first game. Maybe it was an ego thing. Maybe I just thought it’d be fun, because I always had an affinity for baseball and kids – and it was. Whether it was watching one of my players get his first hit or seeing another cross first base and continue running down the right field line because he forgot to turn and go to second – there was never a dull moment.  One time, a Slugger actually ran directly from first to third, forgetting that second base even existed!

But there’s one image from my short-lived T-ball coaching career that is fixed in my mind.  It was late in the game and we actually had the lead for the first time all season.  The sweetness of victory was so close to my lips I could almost taste it.  Then, with the bases loaded, the opposing team’s batter hit a hard ground ball up the middle.  Predictably, my “pitcher” jumped out of the way.  As the base runners advanced, three more Sluggers converged on it.  Two collided and fell to the turf in a heap and it went under the legs of a third and into center field.  Everyone on the field, including yours truly, were screaming like banshees for our center-fielder to pick up the ball and throw it into the infield to stop the seemingly endless carousal of players circling the bases.

To my amazement, my center-field Slugger, seemingly in slow motion, bent over and tried, repeatedly, but quite unsuccessfully, to pick up the ball with what appeared to be a clenched fist!  What he actually did, of course, was “muddle” the ball into the soft dirt as the last of the four base runners crossed home plate – a not-so-rare T-ball grand slam!  I called time and jogged out to center-field, in part to retrieve the game ball and in part to figure out what had gone so horribly wrong at such a critical moment.  When I arrived, my young Slugger, with his right hand still clenched in a death grip, appeared mostly indifferent to what had just occurred.  “Steven,” I exclaimed, exasperated, “what in the world do you have in your hand?!?”

He slowly opened his hand to reveal four shiny pebbles, the bounty of what likely had been a game long scavenger hunt in the outfield!  As I glanced back at his face, it bore a sheepish, almost apologetic smile.  Not knowing whether to laugh or cry, I simply shook my head in disbelief, bent down to pick up the ball and headed back to the dugout.  It was much later before I “translated” the hidden message of that smile:  “Coach, I’m sorry.  I know the 4 runs that just scored were probably really important to you.  But these 4 shiny pebbles were really important to me.  I worked hard to find them and I wasn’t about to risk losing them in this tall grass just because you wanted (maybe even “needed”) me to pick up a baseball and chuck into the infield.  Simply put, I know I’m only 5, but I had other plans. Go ahead, coach, you can smile now.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A90XZ5GWYKQ

Trust Me: If It Matters To You, You Can “Find” The Time To Do It

A few weeks ago, I met an old friend for lunch and presented him with an “advance” copy of my book. As he flipped through the pages, a smile of disbelief began to creep across his face. “Where did you find the time to do THIS?” he asked, knowing, as only a fellow trial lawyer could, the daily demands of my active law practice and, at least in a general way, the circumstances of our family’s journey over the past several years and my many other familial and professional responsibilities.  “On my evening walks,” I replied.  A bit surprised, he wondered aloud how that was possible: “You mean you brought a Dictaphone along with you on your walks?” “No,” I said, forced for a moment to reflect on my rather “unconventional” writing methods. “Actually, all I took with me was an idea.  Eventually, I would ‘write the chapter in my mind.’ All that was left to do at that point was put it on paper.”

And so it was nearly every day for almost 2 1/2 years – walking and writing and then walking and “editing.”  In some cases, a chapter would essentially “write itself” in the span of one or two walks. Others might take a matter of weeks – and, on occasion, months. Regardless of which it was, I grew to love the process and I’ve grown to love walking. I love the lack of distractions, the peacefulness, the opportunity walking affords to be alone with my thoughts. I love the solitude of it all. Looking back, I realize that, in many ways, walking fills the same needs and generates the same emotions that I once derived from carving out time to play 9 holes of golf almost every day after class in college or visiting the local driving range and putting green an hour or two a day in high school. Only this time around, there was far more at stake and a far greater “reward” for my commitment and self-discipline.

The truth is: Whether we realize it or not, there is more than enough time in all of our daily lives, no matter how busy they already might seem, to devote to the things that matter most to us – whether it’s coaching your son’s and/or daughter’s youth league sports teams, spending more quality time with friends, attending and being supportive at school and extracurricular activities, organizing, hosting and/or participating in charity events for causes that are close to our or a loved one’s heart, getting involved (or more involved) in church or community activities, pursuing a passion or avocation other than your chosen means of support (e.g., teaching legal research and writing), reading – or maybe even writing a book.  So the next time you find yourself thinking or starting to say, “I wish I had time to ___________,” I encourage you to think again – at least if __________ is truly important to you.  If it is, I’m confident you can find the time!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hj7LRuusFqo