Tag Archives: inspiration

life lesson

The Reality of Spiro.

We rolled into the small town of Spiro on an early April evening. The sun was out; it was warm and the skies were clear for as far as one could see across the Oklahoma plain. It was about as heartland as it gets. If you drove through Spiro and never drifted off Highway 271, you’d probably think it was just another nondescript dot on the map where corn and cattle collide. I would soon find out that the scene was deceptive. We turned off 271 and the life lesson started.

One only has to go a few hundred feet from Highway 271 to find the life lesson this town teaches. We turned down a street into a neighborhood that was obviously not wealthy, or even lower middle class. The character of the houses progressively degraded until we came to another street that literally and metaphorically went no where. If GPS had not told us where to turn we might not have ever found the place. We couldn’t identify name of the street because the sign was so badly rusted and worn.

As we looked for our destination, me and my friends just gave each other uncomfortable glances; very little was said but we were all thinking the same thing. The awkward silence was broken when I acknowledged what no one wanted to be the first to say but could no longer ignore: This place is the definition of poverty and need and hardship.

One house had a net, not a screen door, hanging over the front entrance. A few small kids, the oldest was maybe five, were running around unsupervised. There was mud and junk cars everywhere. We found our stop. It was run down and neglected, just like all the rest, with a shabby trailer in the yard. I did not know it yet, but that ended life lesson, chapter one.

An old man smiled and warmly greeted us as we walked up to the house. Some grubby boys, maybe 8-10 years old, were roughhousing on the patio and making a lot of noise like boys often do. The wife was serving punch and sugary snacks, the kind of stuff that kids should not have very often. These boys probably ate junk food most of the time as all except one of them were visibly overweight & hyperactive. They’re not even teenagers yet and already well on their way to diabetes and heart disease and tooth decay.

My guess is the old man and his wife do not have the resources or awareness or time to make healthy meals, so they default to processed junk that is inexpensive and requires little or no preparation. These kids are living proof that one can be both overweight and underfed at the same time, and their socioeconomic status has a lot to do with it. End of life lesson, chapter two.

I had never met these people before this encounter. I had travelled from out of state to visit my friends, who live a short drive from Spiro. They planned this road trip in advance and since I happened to be in town, I went along for the ride. The life lesson continued on the drive home when my friends put into context who these people were and why we went to see them.

My friends met these kids incidentally through a professional relationship with the old man, who happened to be the kids’ grandfather. My friends are goodhearted and selfless people, almost to a fault. They recognized that this family was in need and decided to step up. The purpose of the trip was to bring gifts for the kids, pay them a short visit, and let them know that someone cared. Their altruism must be having an effect. When they got out of the car the kids excitedly ran up to them and hugged them tightly.

These kids, particularly the younger boy, have lived a horrible life. Their parents were no longer in the picture and the children had recently been removed from an severely abusive foster home. They were placed with the grandparents who themselves were struggling. To know that the environment they are living in now is an upgrade from where they came is one of the most unsettling thoughts I’ve had in a long time. These kids are still not in a good situation, but they are with grandparents who care and are doing the very best they can with what little they have. They absolutely have my respect.

That brings us to life lesson, chapter three. There is no greater teacher than reality. In my entire working middle class life I had never personally witnessed poverty. Oh sure, I’ve seen it in the media and maybe from traveling through various towns and neighborhoods, but I never stopped, got out of the car, and visited a poor person’s house. This was new to me, and very disquieting. It was no longer just a distant concept. It was right there in front of me. People really do live this way!

The other reality check was the strong spirit that makes the United States as great as it is. The old man and his wife did not have much going for them, yet here they were, doing everything possible to give these kids a decent life, one day at a time. And although the life these kids were getting was not good, it was the best Grandfather had to offer.

Not everyone grows up in a stable, loving home. Not everyone has a comfortable middle class existence. These are people who at their roots are not really that much different than me. Their wealth, or lack of it, does not determine how much they care about their kids. They are not giving up, and neither should anyone else. That is the life lesson one gets when one wanders off Highway 271 in Spiro, Oklahoma.

flag

Another Old Joe Fades Away.

World War II ended 74 years ago. If a kid turned 18 and enlisted at the very end of the war, they would be 92 years old today. Even if they lied about their age and were really sixteen, which was not that uncommon at the time, they’d be 90 years old now. Most World War II vets are older. A soldier who turned 18 and enlisted at the beginning of the World War II in 1941 would be 96 this year. Actuarial science always comes to the same ultimate conclusion. There are very few World War II vets left.

This basic math tells us that the youngest a World War II veteran could realistically be is 90 years old, and that’s stretching it. According to the US Veteran’s Administration, less than 2% of the 16,000,000 original World War 2 vets are still alive. They are passing away at an average rate of 372 every single day. Within a decade, maybe a little longer, there will be none left. None.

One of those 16,000,000 originals was my great uncle Joe. He served in Italy and also fought in the Battle of the Bulge. An artillery guy. He never said a lot about his time in World War II. All I ever got out of him was that his unit was attacked by Stuka dive bombers and he lost most of his hearing due to being in artillery.

world war iiUncle Joe had a quiet dignity about him. I never saw him wear army veteran hats or place stickers on his car proclaiming his service –not that there’s anything wrong with that– it just wasn’t his style. He never talked about how he was the reason why the United States is still the land of Liberty. He never talked about the violence and death of war that he personally witnessed. He never talked of the grateful faces that cheered the American soldiers as they went town to town across Europe driving out the Nazis and restoring peace to the world.

Uncle Joe surely must have understood the history-altering significance of what he did. In his own way, with very few words, the World War II freedom fighter and real-life hero let his character do the talking. I’ve met several World War II vets and this seems to be a common trait among them.

They don’t say much about their service, at least not to those who did not share the experience. I think that is part of the character of the generation. Service to country was something you did out of a sense of duty. It wasn’t about calling attention to oneself. An important job needed to be done, so they stepped up and did it. It wasn’t any more complicated than that.

After World War II uncle Joe did what most of his peers did: Got a solid job, married, had children. He lived a completely respectable life. It was the same kind of comfortable middle class life millions of Americans enjoy…because of people like him.

We go to productive jobs, take the kids to school, practice a religion, speak for and against various causes, read any books we choose, own firearms, vote, travel freely, have access to a legitimate legal system, and run our mouths on the internet…none of this would happen but for uncle Joe’s selfless service.

But uncle Joe would never tell you that. He was much too modest even as there was nothing even remotely modest about his contribution to the United States. I don’t know if World War II gave soldiers character or brought out the character they already had. Does it matter? I’d like to think that if I had been alive back then I would step up and defend my country too. I’ll never know for sure. And thanks to uncle Joe, I’ll likely never be put to the test.

When Japan & Germany provoked the USA into World War II, they did so on the theory that Americans were hedonistic pleasure seekers with no mettle for a long war. Guys like uncle Joe showed them how incredibly flawed that theory was.

Uncle Joe recently died in Chicago after a lengthy illness. His memorial service will be next week. Adding to the sad but not exactly unexpected news is that between now and next week, many more World War II vets just like him will pass away too.

It’s too late to thank most World War II vets for their selfless service, but like uncle Joe they probably would not want to be called out anyway. We can truly honor all the uncle Joes of World War II by living in freedom with the kind of spirit that only Americans have. We need only to look to them as an example.

solar eclipse

The Day The Sun Went Backwards.

By: Chris Warren.

It was so fast, but so grand! The total solar eclipse of 2017 was long anticipated and especially exciting because it went from coast to coast and gave hundreds of millions of Americans a rare chance to see firsthand the wonders of nature. A solar eclipse is an impressive stellar dance with little bit of luck thrown in. If there is a astronomical jackpot, a total solar eclipse is the big prize.

There are accounts in the Bible where God makes the Sun stand still (Joshua 10:1-15) and go backwards (Isaiah 38:8). There is zero scientific evidence that these events literally happened, and I doubt an absolute God would make a cosmically enormous exception to the laws of physics that He Himself set in place just to prove Himself to a human (walking on water and burning bushes notwithstanding), but astronomers have plausibly attributed these accounts to eclipses.

Now imagine a time when mankind had no scientific understanding of the solar system. There were no telescopes, no computers, no way to collect, process or record large amounts of complex data. Very few people were educated, and the ones that were did not know much by today’s standards. In that context it would not be a big stretch to believe a solar eclipse was the Sun “standing still” or “going backwards” or going through some phenomenon that would be ascribed to a miracle of the Deity because there was no other explanation.

solar eclipse

But what was missed in the festival atmosphere that most eclipse-watchers took part in last Monday is that a solar eclipse is the work of a Deity! If you believe that the entire universe was created by God, then it only makes sense that a solar eclipse was purposely engineered into the plan. If you believe the universe was not intelligently designed we are all the winners of a cosmic lottery, then your faith in mathematical probability is infinitely greater than my faith in God. That one star and one moon among countless quadrillions can line up to produce a moving shadow on a nearby inhabited planet –and it’s all due to pure random chance– is more than my mortal mind can accept.

A solar eclipse is a way of demonstrating that science and religion are not mutually exclusive. Yes, of course the event has a totally logical explanation solidly based in physics and geometry. But where did physics and geometry come from? It has been there from the moment God created the universe. Mankind did not invent science…it was discovered.

God is not a magician. He placed all these unmovable laws of science in place to achieve His higher purpose and show us humans that He is in control. It is takes some serious cognitive disconnect for one to say they believe in God, but the universe happened by chance. A random god is not really a god.

Celebrating the solar eclipse does not require one to either reject religion or reject science. The non-religious will use accounts from the Bible such as Joshua or Isaiah to dispute and even mock those who believe in God. What the non-believers miss in their own cognitive disconnect is that these stories were created by uneducated people who did not know anything about astronomy. The glaring scientific errors in Joshua and Isaiah do not alter the larger point of these Biblical lessons: Those who witnessed these events were so moved by an act of God demonstrating His science that they recorded their observations so others could experience the marvel of His work.

Today hundreds of millions of people still find hope and inspiration in Bible stories from thousands of years ago. Believers know exactly where –and from whom– the solar eclipse comes. Everyone else is just not paying attention.

fatherhood

Fatherhood For The Masses.

I was at the store last Sunday, and it being Father’s Day, all the usual accessories for the occasion were on full display. What caught my attention was that according to the selection of greeting cards, at some point it was decided that Father’s Day should also extend to uncles, older brothers, women in same sex relationships, and even pet owners. What was supposed to be a simple and understated day of gratitude to fatherhood has been transformed into yet another catch-all “everyone gets a trophy” event dedicated to “inclusion & diversity.” I’ll let my readers draw their own conclusions about the political inclinations of those who think this revolution is good idea.

I’m having a hard time relating to single moms, same-sex female couples with children, uncles, brothers, and pet owners (yes, pet owners!) who think they should be under the fatherhood umbrella and therefore merit a pat on the back on Father’s Day. It’s not that these people don’t do anything meaningful. And it’s not that I don’t empathize with the problems they face, which are just as real as anyone else’s problems. And it’s not that they can’t be a wonderfully positive influence on children. It’s that they’re not a father! Jeeze, people! Does this really need to be explained? Apparently, it does.

Living in a society where everyone wants to be in the pageant but no one wants to watch it makes me wonder how far afield has fatherhood gone that huge swaths of society has become oversensitive marshmallows because they were excluded from a holiday.

They remind me of a four year old screeching at a birthday party because he’s not the birthday kid and not the center of attention. The version of fatherhood I was raised under was fortified with the concept that not everything has to be about me, that I’m not the center of the universe, and (to the horror of the snowflake crowd) sometimes I’m going to be left out.

And here’s the anachronistic kicker: My Dad believes, and I concur, that not having your way every now and then builds character. If the adults no longer believe this and have become the grown up version of a four year old at a birthday party, how can anyone expect the children to figure it out? The progressive quest for everyone never to suffer even a moment of discomfort or exclusion has reached a point where one cannot tell the difference between truth and an article from The Onion.

Unknown to my childhood self, my dad would sometimes purposely let me be the outsider, not because he enjoyed seeing me struggle, but because he wanted me to learn things for myself and find my own place in the world. It was his chance to guide me through the experience and better prepare me for a future where those around me are not particularly concerned about my feelings.

And wow, what a future that turned out to be! Several decades removed from childhood, I’ve discovered that Dad was right: I’m not the center of the universe! Imagine that! Judging by the Father’s Day greeting card selection, it seems many others have not been taught this concept.

I doubt this goofy social justice fad of extending fatherhood honors to pretty much everyone is going to end, but the next generation would be much better off if the adults would stop trying to blow the candles out on someone else’s cake.

home improvements

Homeowner Wisdom, From A Tool Idiot.

By: Chris Warren.

Back in the summer of 2015 I wrote an article about people who have good intentions but no skill for home repairs and how they always manage to botch up even the simplest job. What I left out was that any homeowner who is quite handy with tools owes the “tool idiot” a debt of gratitude.

A new construction house is a poor teacher. When a building is sparkling and new, there is nothing to change or fix. It will be many years, maybe a decade or more, before any major upgrades or repairs should be needed. But an older house carries with it the wisdom and skill of the previous homeowner, or if the case may be, the flubs and foibles of the previous homeowner.

My house is about 35 years old, and I’ve lived here for fifteen of those years. The guy who owned this place before me was a “tool idiot”. He meant well and really tried, but pretty much everything he touched became a fat smelly turd. One would think fifteen years is enough time to undo all his screw ups, yet even now I still occasionally come across one of his homeowner from hell Frankenstien efforts.

At first it was easy & obvious stuff: Upside down hardware on the doors. Ten feet of trim held up by only two nails (and they were incorrect nails). Bathtub caulk that looked like it was put on by someone having a seizure. Then I got into the hidden treasures: A bathroom fan that vents to nowhere. Pink paint under wallpaper that needed numerous coats of primer to cover up. Plumbing that defies the laws of physics. A deck put together with three different kinds of screws.

Sometimes his flubs actually worked to my benefit, namely, wallpaper so poorly hung that I effortlessly tore it off in huge sheets. My dad is a supreme handy man and homeowner. He can do pretty much everything, and he usually helped me with the bigger projects.

Over the years I’ve needed dad’s help less and less because as I became more experienced as a homeowner, I figured out how to do things myself. My latest project is the bathroom. After a decade and a half, the tool idiot strikes again: An improperly installed vanity and a tile floor that could have been done better by a first semester high school shop student. What was supposed to be a relatively simple weekend paint/redecorate ended up with me completely gutting the entire room.

I was frustrated but not surprised. I long ago acclimated myself to expect these problems and now approach them with a sense of humor. I tell myself it’s just another one of what’s-his-face’s screw ups. The upside is that his screw ups are my homeowner education. But for his hapless incompetence, my skills would have never developed this far. I’ve learned so much in the last fifteen years that now my dad asks for my input on projects he’s working on. One of the greatest signs of respect is when the master defers to the student.

Back in the day, I was told that the guy I bought this place from moved into new construction a few towns over. His house is now at the age where big stuff starts breaking. Assuming he’s still there, I imagine he will revert to his old ways and the cycle of tool idiocy will perpetuate itself.

The old cliché that you learn from your mistakes has a forgotten step brother: You can also learn from someone else’s mistakes. That maxim has never been more evident than within the walls of my own house. I kinda feel sorry for the previous homeowner because he did give it an honest effort, yet all he succeeded in doing was providing the instructional material for my “training”. And for that, I think I owe him some respect and gratitude.

train set

If I Could Live In A Train Set.

By: Chris Warren.

Last Saturday evening I stopped by my brother’s house to see his kids, and as luck would have it, my young nephew was away at a sleepover and my niece was with one of her girlfriends busy doing…whatever junior high age girls do. So I thought to myself, uhhmm, well, I guess I can stay a while and actually spend some time with my brother. What I thought was kind of bummer because I didn’t get to see my niece and nephew turned into a fun and insightful evening playing with a train set.

My brother is big into model trains and has a large O-gauge layout in his basement. So like two little kids we descended the stairs into his electrified rail-realm. All males, and I do mean all of them, no matter how old they get, like to play with toy trains. A guy who does not like toy trains needs psychiatric intervention.

To call it a “toy” is factually accurate but a little misleading. A lot of adults, maybe too many, take the hobby very seriously. They spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars constructing very realistic looking layouts. My brother is not so much of a purist. His train set is realistic enough, but he does not sweat the details. He’d rather spend time running his trains than fuss over whether the rivets on the locomotive are historically accurate.

He flipped a series of switches, turned a few dials, and his little world came to life. One steam engine chugging the main line, one diesel hauling freight, and a streetcar shuttling back and forth across town. A train set is quite noisy when everything is running, yet the rhythmic sound is alluring and has a soothing quality to it. If that noise came from anything else it would be annoying as hell. But trains have a certain something that calms your nerves.

I was quickly absorbed into the make believe. Job and family stresses, world events, and political vitriol all seem to melt away in train land. It puts one in a much better frame of mind to  face the real world when it’s time to come up from the basement. My brother has a tendency to freak out over any little thing and I think his train set, whether he realizes it or not, is his therapy.

And effective therapy it is! I don’t have my own train set so it was a real treat to run the engines around, work the horns and bells, relishing in what I have to admit is pointless as a practical activity but amazingly beneficial as a visceral escape. There is no bad day that cannot be made better by playing with a train set.

We cracked a few profoundly offensive & tasteless jokes (sorry, mom!), talked about our lives, and discussed ideas for expanding the layout. We would have kept going much longer but for a call from upstairs that dinner was ready. The hour or so we were down there seemed like mere moments. That was probably the longest time I’ve spent alone with my bother in decades.

There are certainly other pastimes that give their practitioners a lifetime of stress relief and fun, yet few hobbies are as universally appealing as train set and have an efficacy equal to or better than antidepressant medication. Both my brother and I were big into trains as kids but along the way to growing up it drifted away from me. I’m glad he stuck with it, for his own benefit and mine. I know I can’t always live in the idyllic world of a train set, but for a while it sure was nice to pretend.

winner 2016

Winners & Losers 2016.

By Chris Warren

Wow, so much happened in 2016! It was like the year that had three years’ worth of stuff happening. There’s a lot of recollections of the year gone by going around the internet, so I thought I’d put out my own list of winners and losers for 2016. In no particular order, here we go. Because this is the Thoughtful, Positive, Relevant  blog, I’ll do the 2016 winner first…

2016 WINNER: Twenty First Summer blogJanuary 1, 2017 is the third anniversary of TFS, and I’m very grateful to all the loyal readers who have pulled me this far. Some of you have been here since the beginning; others jumped on since then. I take all comers. While there have been some minor tweaks in the format and I no longer post every week because of a commitment to writing technical/engineering articles for another website, Twenty First Summer will be around for the foreseeable future. I’m truly flattered that my thoughts mean something to someone, and for me that can’t be anything other than a huge win. Thank you all so very much for being there for the last 156 posts.

2016 WINNER: Social media. While I have a low opinion of social media and have often mocked it on this blog, there is no denying that in 2016 social media asserted itself and for better or worse influenced the world in a way like nothing else did. Not long ago one would need to be a major newspaper mogul or own a broadcast network to speak to millions. Not anymore. Any average schmuck with an internet connection has a megaphone equal to anyone else’s. That’s not always good, but it’s how we roll in the Land of the Free and the Home of The Brave. Social media is the ultimate form of free speech, and freedom is always a winner.

2016 LOSER: The Democratic party. Wow, how can they not be losers? After the Democrats ended up on the wrong end of Presidential election flameout for the ages, they proceeded to blame pretty much everyone and everything except their preordained candidate, Hillary Clinton. In addition to screwing up what should have been an easy ride against a man that many members of his own party threw under the bus as an incompetent, obnoxious boob, during the last eight years Democrats took a net loss of over a thousand federal and state offices and numerous governorships to Republicans. The liberal analyst wizards are certainly free to offer convoluted excuses if that’s what makes them feel good, but there is no talking point logical enough to get around the ugly reality that Democrats go into 2017 with less than they’ve had in decades, and the jaw-dropping path of destruction leads directly back to Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama.

2016 LOSER: Fans of art/music/entertainment/sports. Every year we lose a few celebrities, but 2016 seems to have been especially harsh. David Bowie, Gene Wilder, Muhammed Ali, Prince, and most recently Carrie Fisher, George Michael, and Debbie Reynolds (in the same week!). And there are many more. It’s regrettable that these legends pass with no up-and-coming generation to replace them. I can’t identify a single entertainer or artist under the age of 35 that is likely to be relevant three or four decades from now. It’s true that all legends start as nobodies, so maybe I’m assuming too much, but I’m not hopeful that the next David Bowie is out there somewhere playing in a bar. I fear we are entering what will be a long era of soulless, overproduced noise, with movies that are more memorable for computer-generated special effects than actual acting talent.

2016 WINNER: Consumers of technology. There’s so much technology available that it’s hard to take it all in. Tablet computers, smart phones, smart watches, the Amazon Echo, Google Home, internet connected lights, appliances, thermostats, and yes, even pets. It seems there isn’t anything that can’t be adapted to technology. Most of these things have been around for a while, but in 2016 they became mainstream as the technology improved and the prices came down. I admit I’ve been sucked into the vortex myself: I have a home automation system, a smartwatch, Apple TV, and a host of other technogoodies. I had my doubts about the “need” for a smartwatch until I got one. Now I’m a true believer. There is some frivolous crap, like the refrigerator with a camera on the inside, presumably so you can check to see if you have pickles without having to open the door and look. Tech for tech’s sake is pointless, but it’s now possible for anyone to afford technology that really works and makes life easy and fun. For us techno geeks, 2016 was an awesome win!

This list could be a lot longer, but these are my top choices for 2016 winner and losers. Every year brings something new. My hope is that we can learn from the good, discard the bad, and all become better for it.

Happy New Year from Twenty First Summer. May your 2017 be a big winner! 

christmas

Christmas 2016.

Author’s note: I’m taking the week off to enjoy Christmas. Here is a favorite reposted article from December 19, 2015. 

By Chris Warren

Christmas means different things to different people. For some, like me, it’s a religious holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus. For little kids, it’s a joyful time of toys and presents. For people employed in critical professions, Christmas is another day on the job.

Sadly, for many, the holidays are a very painful reminder of their loneliness and isolation. A battle with addiction. Homelessness. Unemployment. Estrangement from family. Thoughts of suicide.

Christmas is the seriously ill patient, grateful for having made it another year and nervously concerned that it might be their last.

Christmas is the old man sitting alone and forgotten, contemplating the lifetime of bad decisions that brought him to this time and place.

Christmas is the unemployed veteran who gave so much of himself to protect the liberty of others and was rewarded with broken promises.

Christmas is the struggling single mom and her kids who are squeaking by for now but have no idea what life will be like in another month.

Christmas is the oppressed and persecuted all over the world who cannot find even one moment’s peace or the simplest of freedoms.

We are commanded by God to watch over and care for the less fortunate. Non-believers will question and even mock this concept with statements along the lines of “if your god is so powerful and almighty, why does he let people suffer?” God does not want programmed robots working for Him. He gave all of us a free will. Doing good works is our way of showing others our love for Him, but He rigged it so we could decide for ourselves if we were going to answer the call. When the needs of the hungry and the poor and the sick go unaddressed, it’s not because God “let” it happen. It’s because we mortal sinners let it happen.

Yet all is not dreary and bleak. Christ himself  taught that there is always hope for those who believe. Christmas exists for the sole purpose of letting everyone know that through Him is the path to a better place, even if that “better place” is not on this physical Earth.

For sure, Christmas is a celebration and there is nothing wrong with partaking in parties and food and gifts, unless the only reason you’re into the holiday is because of parties and food and gifts. When the egg nog wears off and the sales are over and the decorations are put away, what, or who, do you truly care about? Are you hearing the message, or was it just a party?

Christmas is December 25. And January 17. And March 5. And July. 10. And October 8. And so on. You get the idea. God is real. Are you?

Merry Christmas and God Bless from Twenty First Summer. 

hero

The Value Of A Hero.

With the political season nearing its denouement, there is a lot of hero worship from every campaign. The military and police are oft cited examples, and the hero label has been applied to everyone from generals to pizza delivery guys. It seems like the definition of hero can be stretched to include almost anyone, and that is quite bothersome.

What I’m left wondering is, what exactly is a hero anymore? There are obvious examples that are easy to quantify, such as the guy who risks his own safety to rescue someone from a car sinking in water, or a Congressional Medal Of Honor winner. But after that it’s not so clear cut.

Is someone a hero simply by being in a certain group, such as firefighters and the military? Or do they actually have to do something heroic? Suppose an ordinary guy who otherwise has never shown any proclivity for acts of bravery is suddenly thrust into a situation…such as child trapped in a burning building. If he places himself in great peril to rescue the child, is he a hero more, less, or equal to the retired Army sergeant who spent his entire career at a desk job and never did anything more hazardous than minimum required basic training?

By virtue of their enlistment, the military people have professed a willingness to place themselves in danger on behalf of others. The same could be said of police officers and firefighters. This willingness is not mere words. It is  verified by lengthy, difficult training intended in part to weed out the pretenders from those who really mean it. Is that enough to satisfy the nebulous “do something” requirement?

Whether or not they have ever actually done anything dangerously heroic is beside the point. Raising their hands and volunteering to imperil themselves in the service of complete strangers must count for something, and in my mind it makes them a hero on some level even if they are never called to perform these duties.

That brings us to the less obvious. Teachers, clergy, medical people, and a raft of others are often lifted to hero status. The missions they undertake are unarguably difficult, noble, and often done at great personal sacrifice. But here we go again…does mere inclusion in one of these respected groups by default make them a hero?

We admire teachers and clergy and the rest…I get it. Yet I cannot make an easy connection between someone who does something honorable and selfless, but not particularly risky, and someone who actually does take a big risk or accepts the potential of danger.

The problem I have with the modern hero is that, consistent with society’s attitude of “everyone gets a trophy,” and “let’s not hurt anyone’s feelings,” the concept of a hero has been diluted down to include pretty much everyone. And if everyone is a hero, then being a one isn’t such a big deal. Furthermore, the real heroes, those who clearly earned it, are having their rightful honor debased.

I do not consider myself a hero, but I’m sure if I was a lot more full of myself I could find a circuitous way to claim the title. Meh. I’ll watch with a little sadness while so many others abuse the term. When it’s all over, I’ll give up my spot on the pedestal for someone who really deserves it.

work shoes

The Story In A Workingman’s Shoes.

By Chris Warren.

I went out yesterday and bought a new pair of work shoes. I know it’s not exactly a profound life event, but when I looked at my old shoes it struck me that every beat up, worn out pair has a story to tell about a Workingman.

Most people have several pairs of shoes for everyday use, but the Workingman, a guy who doesn’t wear a fine suit, usually has only one pair. Those old shoes carried me through every moment of my career for several years. I wear them more than any other single article of clothing I own.

The photo above shows two pairs of my work shoes. Both are the exact same make, model, and size. One pair is three years old and well past the end of its useful life; the other is brand new, never worn. When compared side by side, it’s a bit startling to see what three years of honest hard work will do to a pair of shoes.

Those shoes were a silent witness to many great things that happened to me, and a few not so great things. They were there when the boss dressed me down over a mistake I made; they were also there when the same boss gave me a fat bonus and told me what a great employee I was. They’ve been to funerals and retirement parties. They’ve shoveled snow and walked through 100 degree heat.

Every scuff and crack and stain and scrape on those old shoes has a story behind it. Of course, I don’t remember the details of how and when every blemish occurred, but collectively they are the testimony of a guy who clearly does not spend much time sitting around.

Workingmen are not a complicated lot, which, by the way, should not be interpreted as being uneducated or simple-minded. Their skills are technical and complex and can take years, even decades, to master. The Workingman’s job requires advanced math and analytical abilities; many of the people in work shoes and hard hats hold college degrees and/or have completed vocational training that essentially equals or exceeds a college degree. They show up every day with lunchbox in hand and a can-do spirit in their heart and do what is needed to keep our modern world seamlessly running.

Building buildings, lighting up the cities, keeping cellphones on line, toilets flushing, and trucks and trains and airplanes moving are all part of the countless behind the scenes labors that no one sees but everyone would definitely notice if they did not get done correctly and on time. These are not skills any unmotivated dropout can learn. Workingmen are diverse in their advanced expertise but they have one thing in common: Their shoes do not stay pristine and new for very long.

I don’t know why, but there is something about getting a new pair of work shoes that boosts my mood. For that first few days, before they are fully broken in and start showing obvious signs of wear, I put my work shoes on in the morning and leave the house feeling like it’s going to be a good day. Like a blank sheet of paper they too will collect the story of my daily life and someday will be worn and spent.

That is where the Workingman is different from his shoes: The Workingman is never spent. He may return home tired at the end of each shift and dream of a well earned retirement, but the next morning he will put on the same pair of shoes and go out and make the world happen…again. During the course of his day his shoes will collect a few more scrapes and scuffs, each of which is a testimony to honest hard work. Show me a beat up old pair of work shoes, and I’ll show you a dignified Workingman who never failed to carry the pride of his skill and labor upon them.