Tag Archives: inspiration

mother teresa 2

Mother Teresa, For The Ages

By: Chris Warren.

I had started an article about Mother Teresa over a year ago, then changed my plans and never finished it. Now that Mother Theresa is officially Saint Teresa of Calcutta, it’s a good time to finish the story, even though the story of Mother Teresa will never end, nor should it.

Mother Teresa’s path to greatness started the same way as most great people: She wasn’t looking for greatness, she was just looking to make a difference. After starting the Missionaries of Charity religious order in 1950, Mother Teresa set out on a quiet mission to serve the poorest of the poor, the forgotten, the unseen, the unwanted, the untouchables.

Earning a Nobel Peace Prize, several honorary doctorate degrees, dozens of other awards and honors, being celebrated by Popes and Presidents, and even having an airport named after her was never part of the plan. Through it all, this woman of God kept plugging along and never diverted from her calling.

What impresses me most about Mother Teresa is her sense of humanity. Not only in her public service to others, but also her private personal struggles, admissions of doubt in her own faith, and her open acknowledgement that she was really just a regular person, a sinner in need of God’s salvation and no better or more deserving than all the rest of us.

It’s easy to see someone like her as some perfect being who operates on a level the rest of us will never realize. Yet, Mother Teresa herself would be the first person to deny having a special pipeline to holiness. She did not see herself as being much different than those she served.

If we dig into the biographies of figures who changed the world by peacefully serving others we find people who were, well, just people. They had faults. They did things they later regretted. They sometimes hurt others and were hurt by others. At their roots they were ordinary folk who somehow found a way to rise up and do big things in spite of their personal shortcomings. Their greatness was not that they were flawless, because they weren’t, and they knew it. Their greatness came from their faith that they could overcome both internal and external obstacles and live what they believed.

These “star throwers” know they are never going to save everyone, but that’s not the point. It did not stop Mother Teresa because trying to save everyone and coming up short is more virtuous than using the impossibility of the task as an excuse not to try at all. Her effort had the added benefit of being an example to others. Mother Teresa never knew how many others saw her good works and were inspired to go out and do something good themselves.

mother teresa 1

Pope Francis recently Tweeted, “To offer today’s world the witness of mercy is a task from which none of us can feel exempted.” This serendipitous statement is everything Mother Teresa lived for. Mother Teresa does not live on in the form of anything she directly did to help others, although those contributions are indeed memorable. Her gift to the world, and what she would want as her legacy, was her role as a guiding light for the rest of us to join her. As Pope Francis teaches, none of us are exempted.

No one ever received God’s grace, much less became a Saint, by watching others perform acts of mercy. To that end, the world’s adulation of Mother Teresa does not mean much if the world will not also walk a path of selfless service. Saint Teresa of Calcutta’s message for the ages is that she did not want to be admired; she wanted to be emulated.

Author’s Note: Please also see my related article, Strong Enough To Throw A Star.

 

block party

Vote For The Block Party!

By: Chris Warren

The news media is like air pollution: It’s never good and no one likes it, but no one can really avoid it, either. The election being just three months away makes things especially dicey. There are lot of high energy disagreements, and the media is happy to feed the fire. Getting away from from the stank is an invigorating breath of fresh air. I found that escape in the most unlikely of places: A big city block party.

I was invited to a gathering in Chicago and it happened to be on one of the few weekends I was not already overbooked. I’m not a city boy, so it sounded like a fun excuse to take a road trip and do something different. I didn’t know it was going to be a block party. I was expecting the average backyard BBQ sort of deal.

A block party is the ultimate community participation event. The whole deal can fall apart if even one homeowner objects. The fact that block parties exist at all offers hope that people can still get along. In a time when there is acrimony everywhere we go, amplified by the media, a group of people getting along and talking about pretty much everything except politics made me think I accidentally landed on another planet.

The weather was stunning. Little kids played in a bouncy house placed in the street while the bigger kids threw buckets of water at each other. The adults sipped beer and talked about our jobs, our kids, our lives, our retirement plans. It was surprising how much we had in common. Music and the smell of sausage and burgers on the grill whiffed through the air. These people really felt like my neighbors even though I didn’t live on that block and had not known any of them until that day.

For three hours I did not hear any political candidate’s name even mentioned, which is quite remarkable in a city where politics famously, or perhaps infamously, creeps into every aspect of daily life. The closest thing to an argument I heard was a tit-for-tat about the Chicago Cubs vs. the Chicago White Sox. There is something about setting up beer coolers and BBQ grills in the middle of the street that makes everyone more civil. It was as if the the block party was relaxing force floating over the neighborhood. Hardly anyone even looked at their phones, including the teenagers.

I am proposing that a National Block Party Day be declared. It will be a regular guy’s version of a political convention, without the politics. On NBPD, everyone from coast to coast shuts down their neighborhood and turns their street into an open air party room. The only rule is that you have to talk to people you do not know very well and keep it light. No major issues facing society will be solved and no grand policies will be presented, but it will put a human face on those issues and allow us to see there are more similarities than differences between us.

People hate on others in part because the media encourages it, and also because no one hangs out in person anymore. The disagreements will still be there when people put down the keyboards and the cellphones and meet up face to face, but a conversation about what we have in common is more productive than sniping on each other over what we do not. For a few hours on a beautiful weekend we were not Democrats, and we were not Republicans. All of us were members of the Block Party.

gratitude

Poisoning Gratitude With Pride.

Gratitude is an abused sentiment. Every day we are given reasons to be grateful but we don’t always see it, or it is ruined it with self pride. An ungrateful person is usually someone who has been given so many reasons to show gratitude that they become desensitized to the blessings all around them.

Like the little kid who gets such a huge pile of toys for Christmas every year that he can’t appreciate all of them, ungrateful people are always the ones who have the most to be grateful for. They go to a job that they may not like, blind to the fact that there are millions who don’t have a job. They live in a house that may be too small or not in the ideal neighborhood, and don’t notice the homeless in their own town. They have a refrigerator full of food and don’t hear the cries of the hungry. They may be fabulously successful and have everything they ever wished for, and are ungracious about it.

Gratitude is easy to blow off when times are good. Being given a jacket means more to the man who has none than it does to the man with a closet full of jackets. It should not be that way, nor should we devalue gratitude when it is offered to us.

There is a YouTube video of a hidden camera social experiment where a man pretending to be a homeless bum in ratty clothes went around offering money to random well-dressed people on the street, sort of like a “reverse beggar”. Only a few showed gratitude but did not accept the money. Most derided him and were offended that anyone would presume that they needed money in the first place. The most disturbing scene was when he offered cash to a guy in an expensive suit stepping out of a high end luxury car. The would-be beneficiary harshly berated the “homeless” donor and pointed out using numerous expletives that he was a man of great means.

It is a difficult video to watch, but it sadly illustrates that simply being nice to others does not in and of itself constitute a generous heart. The video points out, correctly, that many people are generous not out of love for their fellow man, but to burnish their own self importance. Outwardly generous but inwardly selfish people use charity as way to exert their perceived superiority over others. They are incapable of showing gratitude but expect others to show it to them. Just as it is wrong not to show gratitude for those who are kind to us, it is also wrong to not accept it when we are on the receiving end.

All major religions including Christianity believe in some form of karma. They may have different names and definitions for it, but they all support the concept that our actions, both good and bad, will come back to us in one form or another, possibly not in this lifetime. Christianity openly teaches that people who go around bragging about their good deeds perhaps unknowingly accept that feeling big and important in the short term is the only reward they will get…they have essentially cancelled out their own good karma. The humble gratitude of those we are generous to along with the promise of some in-kind compensation later (karma) is supposed to be the reward of good works. Pride ruins that cycle.

If you look around social media, you’ll get the impression that doing good deeds for others is just another excuse to say, “Look at me! Wonderful, incredible, awesome me!!” It’s nice that they are being nice, but when the real end game is self-indulgence, they ruin what should be a beautiful and understated transaction.

It’s unfortunate that gratitude is often only offered after the positive conclusion of a difficult problem because it is something that we should give every day, just for being alive. And it is even more unfortunate that accepting gratitude is misused as a vehicle to prop up one’s delicate, all-important self esteem. Gratitude is a catharsis, a celebration of the heart that is worthwhile all the time under all conditions but requires sincerity to be effective. Gratitude in its true form is giving back the love others give to you, without conditions or ulterior motives. Gratitude is a two way street that should always be offered generously and accepted with a glad spirit.

customer service

“Your Call Is Very Important To Us.”

By: Chris Warren.

The internet is littered with rants about poor customer service. Some of them are so over the top it’s hard to believe that they are for real, yet going by the sheer volume of horror stories there is no way they can all be lying. What you don’t often see is the other side of the story, from the service representatives’ point of view. It’s true that poor customer service exists, sometimes on purpose; it’s also true that there are poor customers who are their own undoing.

Very early in my career I spent some time as a call center customer service representative. While we had to be nice to everyone on the phone; behind the scenes it was a very different deal. To be fair, 95% of the callers were reasonable and polite and got their business done quickly and without confrontation. It was the other 5% who became our “entertainment.” Contrary to what these customers thought, being rude to the rep was not going to get their issue solved any sooner, and in most cases made it take longer. A lot longer.

Calling customer service is a lot like the internet: People tend to be nicer face to face than when protected by the insulation of a phone or keyboard. Callers will say things over the phone that I’m sure they would not say if they were standing in front of you. Of course, reps are not allowed to say what they are thinking in return. That doesn’t mean they have no recourse. It is a perfect time to put the caller on hold “to look up some information,”  i.e., chat with the rep sitting next to them about their weekend.

CUSTOMER SERVICEThat’s right, Mr. Jerk Customer: You’re going to wait three times as long to get the same answer you would have anyway. So keep flappin’ your jaws, if that’s what makes you feel like a big shot. Every moment you sit on the phone is a moment the rep is getting paid and you aren’t.

One particular favorite was the “name droppers.” These were the people who claimed they knew the CEO of the company, and either explicit or implied, that means the rep should give in to all demands…or else. Uhhmm, dude, if you’re so well connected, then why are you talking to a lowlife call center drone like me? Go call your buddy and let them deal with your pretentious attitude of superiority. Customer service reps don’t care who you play golf with.

It is totally lost on the average person that customer service reps are heavily supervised and have very limited power to resolve a situation. They must follow a prescribed protocol and are usually penalized if they go outside the program. Furthermore, their willingness to help is is not greater than their desire to keep their jobs. If official policy conflicts with what is truly best for the customer, the customer will always lose.

My time in customer service is thankfully decades behind me. I admit my attitude would probably get me fired in today’s environment, so perhaps fate was being kind by guiding my career in another direction. One lesson I carried forward and use to this day: I go out of my way to be extra nice to call center reps. The fact that I went through a dozen prompts, told the same story to three different people, and waited on hold halfway to my next birthday is not their fault. And I would not name drop even if I had a name to drop.

What all this really comes down to is a pervasive lack of decency and respect followed by projecting one’s frustrations onto people who are blameless in causing the frustrations. Yes, it’s true that what passes as customer service these days really sucks. But the business decisions that make it so sucky come from many levels above the front line employees who have to listen to the rants for hours on end.

Saying please and thank you goes a lot further than a surly attitude. I also joke to the rep that I used to work on a cube farm too, so I understand what it’s like to be in their shoes. I keep it light and polite and somehow things always go well for me. Those who never seem to get good customer service might want to revisit the possibility that they are making their own problem worse.

comfort dogs

Comfort Dogs Speak For Us In The Midst Of Chaos.

By: Chris Warren

In the aftermath of the radical Islamist terror attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, it’s nearly impossible to write about anything else this week. Like all decent people, I was horrified and deeply saddened over what happened. There is no true healing; the surviving victims and families of the lost have no choice but to find a way to endure a pain that will never completely go away. Messengers of peace have been dispatched to Orlando that will hopefully contribute to helping the community cope with the pain: Comfort dogs.

I was so distracted and disturbed that I considered not even doing an article this week. It would have been the first time since this blog started that I skipped a deadline. Instead, I decided to push ahead and find something, anything, I could pull out of this terrible loss that fulfills the thoughtful, positive, relevant mission of Twenty First Summer. I knew it would be a heavy lift: How do I find a benevolent message in a such a hugely malevolent act and not make it sound dismissive of the emotional torment of those directly effected?

The Lutheran Church Charities comfort dogs and their handlers are sent on a moment’s notice to all kinds of trouble spots where their sole mission is to bring unconditional love –the kind only dogs can express– to people who are in such intense pain that they may feel that love has ceased to exist.

Hugging comfort dogs has no downside. No one has ever hugged a dog and went away from the experience not feeling better. And the comfort dogs give the Lutheran Church an outreach to people who might otherwise not be open to anything a church has to say.

lcc-k9-comfort-dog-sent-to-orlando-tragedy-6

All these missionary comfort dogs do is walk around and let people pet and hug them. Really, that’s it. It doesn’t sound like much, but to those on the receiving end of their wagging tails and sunny dispositions, it is a powerful healing force. The clinical effectiveness of therapy animals is admittedly a bit cloudy, yet no science is needed to explain the smiles of happiness the comfort dogs provoke in people who have little to be happy about.

When there are no words to express sadness and despair, let the comfort dogs silently work their magic. I understand it’s certainly not a long term solution to the grief of the victims’ loved ones, but in the midst of so much hurt, a dog can be a powerful force for good, even if just for a few moments.

Week after week I discuss a topic that I hope will have a positive impact on my readers’ lives. The truth is, nothing positive can be said about a radical Islamic terrorist attack. At the same time, saying nothing is cowardly and disrespectful to those effected.

We, all of us, owe it to the victims to do what we can to lessen the pain, knowing full well that making them whole is an impossible aspiration. It’s something of an irony that non-human comfort dogs are sent to help patch up the evil of humans. The Bible teaches us that God’s love can come in unexpected forms. Yes, I absolutely do believe that animals can be His ministers.

I would like the people of Orlando, Florida to know how much I deeply care about them. I wish I could undo everything that happened, and I hope the Lutheran Church comfort dogs silently speak the love that I can’t adequately say myself.

Peace be with you.

children memorial hospital

This Kind Of Care Can’t Fit In A Building.

By: Chris Warren.

It’s normal to have an attachment to a place. It might be a childhood home, a favorite vacation spot, or where you had a first date. Of course, it’s possible for a location to have bad memories, or mixed good and bad. Hospitals, particularly pediatric hospitals, are vessels of  hope and despair. There’s very few places where one can witness both the joy of healing & the pain of loss. Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago was such a place. Spoiler alert: This story has a happy ending.

children's memorial hospitalThe hospital where I was a really, really sick kid during my  junior high school years is at this moment being torn down to make room for “mixed use development,” which is urban planning-speak for “million dollar condos and high end retail”. The Lincoln Park neighborhood where Children’s Memorial Hospital was located has always been upscale and trendy, so I’m sure the new development will be successful.

As disappointed as I am to see a big part of my life fade into history, it’s helpful to remember that Children’s Memorial Hospital was never about a physical building. It was about the “vampire lady” who was so good at what she did that she could draw a blood sample from my arm without even waking me up. It was about the pediatric nurses, a whole army of them, that made me and my parents feel like I was the only patient in the place.

It was about the doctors who tried so hard and didn’t always have good news, but every single patient and parent who came through the doors at Children’s Memorial Hospital knew that it was their best, and in some cases, last, chance. Almost every kid there, including me, was a medical refugee sent to CMH when no one else could figure out what was wrong with us.

There was no better place to be if you were a really, really sick kid. I did not fully understand what was happening to me or how serious my illness I was, but I knew those people were going to put heart & soul into helping me and that I would leave better than I came.

I was quite surprised to discover that the doctor who treated me over thirty five years ago and got to know me like a relative is still out there practicing medicine. I don’t think he would remember me, but I think he would be pleased to know that I went on to earn two college degrees, build a successful career, and a live productive, positive, and happy life.

After I was well enough to go home, I still had to return to Children’s Memorial Hospital every two weeks for follow up care. For almost three years, the trip to Chicago was an all-day affair that meant I missed a day of school. One of the best parts of these road trips was a stop at the John Barleycorn Pub for dinner.

The quirky, eclectic place was less than a block from CMH and had become a traditional stopover. Unfortunately, when the hospital moved out, Barleycorn’s business went with it and they closed. But like the hospital, what made Barleycorn’s meaningful was not the actual place. Barleycorn’s was my gateway back to a normal junior high school kid’s life for another two weeks. It was a small celebration of a good report from the doctor and not being admitted back into the hospital.

Countless sick kids are now healthy adults leading normal lives, not because of the physical building that was Children’s Memorial Hospital, but because of the extraordinary people who ran the place day after day. Even the janitors and the foodservice workers would smile and say hello and wish patients well. From the Director to the doorman, everyone in the entire organization was wholly committed to the wellness of the young patients.

I promised a happy ending, so here it is: The Children’s Memorial Hospital I knew is gone, but a newer, bigger, better version was built at a nearby location and most of the CMH staff transferred over. Now renamed the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital, the legacy of giving sick kids and their families healing and hope will continue for generations.

It’s understandable that a lot of people are crestfallen to see the original CMH unceremoniously go under the wrecking ball, but take heart, my fellow former patients: The kind of care and concern Children’s Memorial Hospital had for us could never be contained inside a building anyway.

idrache

The Amazing Flight of US Army Lt. Alix Schoelcher Idrache.

By: Chris Warren.

The American military is full of incredible people. There are so many real life heroes, so many success stories, so many tales of selfless bravery, that what is superlative to us civilians is actually kind of baseline average to those in uniform. When there are so many outstanding people collected together, it’s hard to find that one who rises even higher than what they consider ordinary. Lieutenant Alix Schoelcher Idrache has achieved the envious goal of distinguishing himself among those who already meet an impressive standard, and his military career has barely even begun. His story is almost too amazing to believe, but it’s all true and it’s something that every American needs to hear.

Lt. Idrache is an immigrant from Haiti who started off life with very little going for him. Haiti is not the kind of place where kids realistically think they might someday be in command of a multi-million dollar, high tech helicopter like the ones Alix saw the US Army flying during humanitarian missions around Port-Au-Prince. Most Haitian kids live a day by day existence and feel lucky to have a safe place to sleep at night.

The Idrach family came to the United States, legally, for the same reason millions of immigrants before him did: To build a better life in a land where the opportunities are infinite and anyone can become a huge success if they only have grit and work ethic.

Almost immediately upon arrival, Alix enlisted in the Maryland National Guard in part because it would fast-track him for US citizenship. His path fortunately crossed with a Lieutenant and a Sergeant who saw his potential and shepherded him through the complex process of applying to the US Military Academy at West Point.

Their mentoring paid off in a very large way. Idrache met every challenge, passed every test, and made it all the way through to become a West Point graduate, class of 2016, with a degree in physics. He was awarded the Brigadier General Gerald Counts award for the top physics student and was also named regimental commander of 950 cadets.

“I am humbled and shocked at the same time. Thank you for giving me a shot at the American Dream, and may God bless America, the greatest nation on earth.”

-Lt. Alix Schoelcher Idrache.

A moving graduation day photo of Lt. Idrache standing at attention with tears of pride running down his face raced around the internet. More meaningful is the hard work, studying, dedication, patriotism, and faith that drove those tears. A few years ago he was a poor kid in Haiti who could barely speak English. Now he’s an officer in the United States Army and a top graduate of one of the most respected military institutions in the world.

Lt. Alix Schoelcher Idrache speaks in humble words about his thanks to God and the United States for the opportunities he’s been offered. It is We The People who should be thanking him. Besides having a brilliant mind and a pure heart, Idrache’s story is a reminder how blessed the rest of us are to be citizens of this great nation.

Idrache did not have the benefit of being lucky enough to be born in the right place. He had to sweat and work very hard for what most of us were given by birthright. How many of us would rise up to the challenge the way Idrache did? By living his life the way he does, he’s almost daring the rest of us to keep up with him.

That kind of challenging leadership is what America needs. The next stop for Lt. Alix Schoelcher Idrache is helicopter flight training school in Fort Rucker, Alabama. It’s very symbolic, being that he has already lifted himself –and the United States– to a place of honor. We should all be grateful and proud that he chose to come here and dedicate his life to defending our freedom.

Lt. Idrache, the scrappy poor kid who once thought he had no future beyond the dirty streets of a third world country, is living a reality unimaginably above that far-fetched Haitian childhood yearning.  I am certain his life and career will go a lot higher than what any helicopter can do.

team 120

Team 120 Is Driving Tomorrow, And We All Get To Ride Along.

By: Chris Warren

Here at Twenty First Summer I love to opine about life and society and philosophy and other liberal-artsy type stuff, but in the real world I am a communications electronics technician who services the equipment that makes the bars on your cellphone light up and the internet connect and the TV stream. It all sounds so modern and impressive. It’s not, actually. What I do is fairly average stuff by technogeek standards. The guys & girls who deserve admiration for their technical skills are the young scientists and engineers from Cleveland, Ohio known as Team 120.

Team 120 is a crew of high school students from the Cleveland public schools enrolled in a science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) program run out of a local community college. Anyone with internet access knows that STEM education in the United States is trending in the wrong direction; what Team 120 is doing is vital to reversing the decline.

What pushed Team 120 to the top was their spectacular championship win at the For Inspiration & Recognition of Science & Technology (FIRST) Robotics Competition in St. Louis, Missouri last April. The FIRST competition is no run of the mill science fair. It’s a very serious, high pressure event that attracts competitors from all over the world and has big name corporate sponsors such as IBM and Boeing. Just making it to FIRST is a difficult and impressive accomplishment.

Students participating in FIRST have to build and program robots, then run the robots through a series of complicated tasks in competition against all the other robots. Far more valuable than prizes or glory is the real-world experience the students will use to pursue what is sure to be successful STEM careers. This year the competition attracted 20,000 of the very best students, formed into 900 teams from 39 nations. Team 120 beat every single one of them and came home to Cleveland with the big prize and the big pride.

The importance of what these teens are doing and the spirit they inspire in others cannot be overstated. Someone is going to be the bridge to the future and invent the next era of complex machines that make civilization hum along, and Team 120 is leading the way. There are other bright kids out there tinkering in their bedrooms and basements who need that one little push. What better than someone in their own age group, a peer, to be that push and show them how far one can go when they truly want it bad enough? Team 120 is already bearing a torch for the next generation and they are still kids themselves!

Equal to the remarkable technical accomplishments of Team 120 is the image they project to other kids. Teens are all about being popular and trendy; math & science does not rank too high on the cool-o-meter, at least it didn’t until now. Robots, computers, and some high profile competition give STEM a new coat of paint and may be just what is needed to attract others.

There is no way to know for sure what the next step will be for the members of Team 120, but I have a lot of confidence that they still have many great ideas to release on the world. The FIRST competition was only one weekend and a small sample of what they are capable of doing. We, everyone, need these kids very badly. When they are given a chance and strong leadership, kids become champions and leaders themselves. I am absolutely certain that in the not-too-distant future something a member of Team 120 invented will be making my life better. These young scientists don’t just have the golden ticket to a better tomorrow, they are the golden ticket to a better tomorrow…and what a great blessing it is that we all get to ride along.

class of 2016

Celebrate Me Home, Class of 2016.

By: Chris Warren.

You’ve spent years preparing for this day. The sum of all the hard work, all the achievements, all the failures, every moment, is right now. The class of 2016 will carry the lessons learned here for the rest of their lives. No matter where you go, you will have a connection to this place. Carry that connection with honor.

Many of you are anxious to get out of here and go chase some far away, exciting goal. That’s understandable and I encourage you to do exactly that. The class of 2016 has the potential for greatness and needs to get out and experience new things. There will always be supporters in your hometown praying and hoping for your success. They know you. They know what you are capable of. They do not want you constrained. They want the whole world to see what they see in you.

You may not believe it right now, but when the class of 2016 is far away in time or place, the memories of the years you spent here will be a comfort in difficult times. Even if your life was hard and painful up to this point, it will still be a positive guiding force later and make you strong for when troubled times come again. And they will come again.

Your connection to this place helped make you what you are. For better or worse, it is the foundation for the rest of your life. From this point forward, the class of 2016 is responsible for building something meaningful upon that foundation. You are hereby released from the rules that you felt were holding you back but were really there to help you grow and mature. This is your big chance to use your good judgement and show everyone what you can do with your own wisdom. Whatever happens after today is to your credit, or your fault.

The day will come when it’s your turn to do the guiding and protecting. You will be hoping for the next generation the way your elders hope for you now. You will be the foundation that others will build on. What kind of foundation will it be? Will you try as hard to help them as your parents and teachers and entire community did to help you?

Do not say that helping the younger generation is not your responsibility. It’s important that you help them because, even if they are not your children, they will be taking over someday. Your duty to the next generation is not because of tradition or civil legislation, though these mandates do exist. You should help them out of your own free will  because it’s the decent and right thing to do.

The class of 2016 is wise enough to see that kindness is the only valid reason to do good works. You will be held accountable for how you apply the kindness you learned here to others in the future. By showing compassion to others, the class of 2016 is in effect “going home,” that is, passing on what you learned here. Honor your elders by following them down a path of selflessness.

A path of selflessness always leads to home, and I do not mean a physical place. I mean a state of mind where one knows who they are. Home is being at peace with oneself and feeling affirmed that you contributed something positive to the world and lived a life of benevolence. It means you know in your heart you did as much as you could to make the world better.

Decades from now, when you have accomplished much and can’t count how many people whose lives are better because of you, you’ll be confident that the younger generation will carry on where you leave off because you taught them everything they need to know about love and decency. When they will follow you on that path of selflessness, you, the class of 2016, will ascend to the place of honor that your elders hold now. You can look at your grandchildren and great-grandchildren and tell them, “celebrate me home.”

challenges

The Challenges of Mount Magazine.

By: Chris Warren

I consider myself a reluctant adventurer, meaning, I don’t go looking for challenges but if one is pushed upon me I’ll take it. Sometimes the challenges are mental, other times they’re physical. When I recently got caught completely unprepared for a long hike in the woods and came out of it feeling affirmed and positive albeit beaten and tired, I made the connection between mental and physical challenges and how they complement each other to make us stronger and better.

I was in Fort Smith, Arkansas visiting my active, outdoorsy friends who love taking long hikes in the many hills and mountains of the Ozarks. A day of bad weather finally gave way to sunshine and they invited me to to join them on a hike to the top of Mount Magazine.

Mount Magazine is 2,753 feet straight up and the highest point in Arkansas. My friends had never been there, so this was going to be a totally new experience for all of us. I had no idea what to expect so I stuffed my backpack with a jacket and some bottled water and we were off.

Mere minutes in I realized that this was not going to be a gentle stroll on a nicely groomed, clearly marked trail designed for retiree tourists and grade school field trips. What the map called a “trail” was barely a clearing of very rough, uneven rocks. I thought maybe it would smooth out after a while but it didn’t. It actually got worse.

The mistake of not wearing proper hiking boots became apparent almost immediately. All I brought with me to Arkansas was a pair of light Nike running shoes. I felt every sharp corner of every rock through those thin soles. It was going to be a long day.

It took us over an hour and an half of walking through this very rough inclined terrain to reach the summit of Mount Magazine. I’m glad I had the foresight to bring a jacket because it was cool at the higher elevation. My feet were killing me, and we still had to go back down, but the view and camaraderie with my friends as we pushed ourselves was uplifting.

On the descent the rocks were becoming even more painful on my feet. One of my friends happens to be a doctor and I joked that she might have to refer me to a podiatrist when we get back. After three-plus hours of walking on rocks, half of it uphill, we arrived back at the trailhead where we started.

We plopped on a bench and looked at each other in weary silence. There was a sense of “We did it together. We were given challenges and we beat them.” When I got up to leave, the consequences of my poor choice of shoes reached its peak: Everything below my knees was numb and in pain. I was walking like a ninety year old man! Fortunately, I was not crippled for long. The hour and a half ride back to Fort Smith gave me a chance to stay off my feet and by time we got home I was mostly back to normal. I was surprised and grateful that I recovered from that much pain so quickly.

Later that night when I was laying in bed waiting to drift off to sleep, I was contemplating my exciting day. A hike in the woods is more than just hard physical challenges. Nature is a classroom of philosophy and spirituality and introspection. My takeaways were:

1. With the right mindset, challenges can be overcome. We all must walk over the same rocks but how you approach it determines the outcome. Had I worn the correct hiking boots, the trip would have been far less physically painful, but I kept up with the others and finished because I wanted to. There is an analogy to other life situations: If your progress in work or relationships is difficult and painful, it may be because you have the wrong attitude. The difference between those who succeed and those who fail is usually in their outlook.

2. With the right friends, challenges are easier. I would have never walked that trail alone. And the others probably would not have either. The physical pain of aching feet and the emotional pain life sometimes thrusts upon us is greatly reduced when you have friends to encourage you along.

3.  When you succeed in completing challenges as a group, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. When it was over, every one of us felt bigger than just individuals. And none of us would have felt as good had we done it with random strangers. People who think they can do everything themselves usually get lost in the woods. Having friends matters.

Our day on Mount Magazine was far from a high adventure trek worthy of a North Face commercial, yet it was something we will be talking about years from now, and will probably do again (Note to self: Bring appropriate footwear!). Had we decided to bum around a mall or go to a movie that day, I doubt it would have made much of a lasting impression on me. To really understand the world, one has to get out in it, push one’s limits, and share the challenges with a friend.