Coughing Up Salt

I told Joe that the most important thing I learned at the Fire Academy was to never be too proud to call a MayDay. He looked at me and smiled. “Yeah, always accept help…”he said. Joe said he held the record as the oldest guy to join the Atlantic City Beach Patrol (at age 46) and he was eager to see if I would beat his record. He asked me if I was a confident swimmer. I replied, “Sure!”

Today I did a strange thing. I can’t call it courageous. I can’t call it reckless either. At 47.8 years old, I tried out to be a lifeguard. It was spur of the moment. But my excursion to the New Jersey shore was more of a research project. A colleague of mine posted the ad for lifeguards on her social media two days ago. I saw it and thought “hmmm?” It was time for a new adventure. When I saw the the minimum age requirement was 16, I should have used my God-given wisdom to consider nothing more.

But I’m not built like that normally. So unless there was a VERY good reason not to, I figured it was prudent to take a closer look.

The drive to Atlantic City (at 6am) was spiritual in itself. No one on the road, the sun peering through the overcast sky, and a YouTube sermon that a friend sent me a month ago were all guiding me. Not for one moment did I think that today might be my last.

But as I reflect on those moments that I have been truly at rest with my entire being, I’ve always reached out to my brother to show him that I love him and admire him. The last time something like this occurred was nearly 20 years ago when I passed out while riding my brand new motorcycle. For the record, I went into anaphylactic shock from a bee sting. Alas, that is a story for another day.

Troy and Me

I arrived in the city early. The outlets had not yet opened. The boardwalk still had morning wellness jockeys jogging and cycling. Roll call was 9am sharp! I had time. So I scooted over to my brothers condo which is a few blocks off of the beach. We rapped about current events and the daily grind. But no talk of mom. We wanted to keep the conversation light.

I told him that I was coming down to watch the candidates try out. I assured him that it was a young man’s game. I needed to hear myself say it. I learned today that even I don’t believe the words coming out of my mouth sometimes. But after a hug, I was out the door. Couldn’t be late.

I put money in the meter to allow me a good hour. That would be time enough to witness, ask a few questions, and be on my way. My tenacity changed when I reached the beach patrol headquarters.

“Is this where candidates sign up?” I asked. I was greeted cordially and offered an application which merely asked for my vital information. I noticed that there was no question about an emergency contact. That should have been my second clue not to do this.

They tattooed a 16 on my right shoulder with a red sharpie. This for sure would be how they would identify my body. I was committed now (or I should say I should have been committed)!

A bunch of teenagers, mostly boys, were chatting it up. Some were sporting ripped T-shirt’s from their high school crew team. They weren’t muscular. Mostly streamlined. I figured that my extra mass would either help me stay afloat or contribute to my self-inflicted demise.

There was only one other adult trying out. His name was Mike too and he couldn’t stop pacing. He was bald and had grey stubbles protruding from his chin.

As we walked toward the beach I trailed all of the others. I toted my duffel bag so that I could stow my phone, my keys, and my glasses. The other fellows were stretching and bouncing. A few ran out to the surf to condition their bodies for the cold water. I didn’t need to do ANY of those things. I figured that in a real emergency, there will be no time for warmups.

The lead evaluator briefly explained what will be expected for round one. Everyone will run from the starting line to the water, swim through the waves out to a red flag nearly 175 meters away. Then we would swim another 175 meters north against the current to arrive at a green flag. Crews will be in the surf to direct us and guide us back to the beach. We then needed to sprint to a finish line that was a makeshift goalpost. Candidates will be placed according to their achievement, with consideration given to efficiency and speed.

THIS is when I should have stopped. Instead I paused. I set my bag down at the starting line. I bent down to place my shirt, bandanna, and glasses in the bag. Without my glasses, I couldn’t even see the first red flag. Read that again. I ignored all of the red flags.

He blew the whistle. All of the cadets (because we were more than candidates at this point) jolted towards the surf. I would simply follow them. If I could keep up with a few of them, I wouldn’t come in last. At this point it was just about doing someTHING.

My confidence wavered as I tripped in the shallow water 30 paces in. The others were diving into the cresting waves. Some waded over the surf. The achievers were already into a full on breaststroke. And I was choking on the salt water.

As I write this, my feet are buried in the sand. I’m watching from beneath the beach patrol porch as the cadets continue their quest. Round two is rowing. I was looking forward to that part too. I’ll watch for now.

I had a chance to grab my bag and walk back to my car without being noticed. Instead I’m grinning from ear to ear. I think the veteran staff was either embarrassed for me or disgusted with me. They were certain that this old man would wash out. I didn’t disappoint.

I’m enjoying the breeze though. I’ll stop up at the surf shop in a few minutes to get myself an “official ACBP” tank top. I’ve got time. There’s still 45 minutes left on the meter.

Dad Will Fix It

When I’d have a problem that I couldn’t fix, just before giving up entirely, I’d ask my dad for guidance. When I expected that he’d encourage me to surrender (and call in a professional), he would instead listen to the entire problem and even suppose the various outcomes. And finally, when I expected that he’d offer advice, he would offer to come over and show me precisely how to tackle the problem.

Now it must be said that my dad was no superhero. He wasn’t smarter than everyone else either. In fact, he wasn’t even that dedicated to a solution. Anyone who knew him would tell you that his loyalty wavered (usually in the direction of a green-bottled brew). But what made my dad unique (to me) was his desire to serve.

He knew his own limitations, but didn’t let them prevent him from trying. The mark he left on a problem would always be evidence that an interruption certainly took place. The unresolved problem was a problem that would have been much worse had it gone unaddressed.

My dad enjoyed stillness. But he could never sit idly watching anyone struggle. He was so eager to be helpful that he would help out as a simple courtesy.

In his final months, he spent his remaining fortune at yard sales and flea markets. He would often offer more than the asking price for any trinket that caught his eyes. He defended, “that there is worth twice as much…I’d be taking advantage if I haggled the price.” He was helping without being asked for help. I suppose it was a low-cost way to claim a victory.

It’s been 21 years since my dad died. Even his last day was poetic and not without purpose. He believed that he was resolving a problem that wouldn’t fix itself. For those he left behind, we’ve varied in the ways we processed our grief. Having answers to one question rarely resolved the grief. It merely provided permission to ask other questions. And the unanswered questions become the most important.

I stopped asking questions like “How did he die?” “Why did he leave us?” and “What were the circumstances that led up to his death?” I’ve grown past these questions, mostly because the answers were too uncomfortable. And the only time I could get a little comfort is to write something in his honor on the anniversary of his death.

Over the past 21 years, I’ve encountered a number of problems and wondered how my dad would have approached each one. I’d like to think that his energy in the moments might have impacted the outcome. No doubt, his input would have changed the trajectory. But for 21 years I’d led myself to believe that the outcome would have been better with his hands-on approaches.

Perhaps I should rely on the notion that the lessons that he’d taught me would provide the wisdom needed to approach any situation. After 21 years of wishing he’d been there to consult, to intervene, or to force a solution that may not have been the best outcome, I pause. It is now that I realize that no one, including my dad, has the perfect solution to every problem. It is now that I realize the fact that we often decide for ourselves how committed we are to any given problem. Finally, I must concede that how we’ve approached our problems in the past plays a large role in determining how we will handle current and future problems.

Although I miss my dad a great deal, 21 years is more than enough time to stop asking “what would he have done in this situation?”

Twenty one years is enough time to have bore another human being, watch them grow into an adult, and model for them the tools to manage a world of problems on their own. It’s enough time to ascend and descend a dozen times. Its enough time to be loved and hated. It’s enough time to be at the top and the bottom simultaneously. What would he have done in these situations? What could he have done to assist? Would he have listened, advised, or assisted, or intervened, or ignored situations entirely? It doesn’t even matter because 21 years have passed any way. It’s ALL in the past now.

I can’t be certain of anything. I know I miss him. But I also know that he’s left enough behind for me to contend with. I know that if I handled situations the same way he did, my outcomes may have mimicked his, and that’s not ok either.

Missing someone doesn’t mean that having them beside you still would be better. It just means that you wouldn’t be alone. And I never felt alone. I just felt overwhelmed.

The Other Side of Hope

As the new year begins to reveal the playbook for the coming months, I’m pondering my lesson plans. The possibility of another stint of virtual instruction looms as the actual storm clouds cloak us with snow.

We are never more than a few hours away from tomorrow. With holidays come a time of reflection and redemption. But more importantly we develop hopes that the future will be brighter. Brighter than…what?

To anticipate something greater than something else is to have at least an experience or exposure to something less great, right?

Whether you’ve thought about it or not, hope is an acknowledgment that we’ve already come through something unpleasant. Life is the acknowledgment that death has not occurred yet. Good is the proof that evil has not prevailed.

Therefore, we can suppose that on the other side of demise, there is hope. Hope is what keeps us going. In the presence of despair, hope looms in the darkness. Hope is the cousin of faith. But with faith comes denominational choice. With faith comes organized religion or the opinion to shun spirituality. You have a choice.

These are constructs that can be debated, embraced, or debunked. So in the spirit of either, let’s consider, for a moment, that hope is a drug. In the eyes of a pessimist or someone who lives amongst habitual chaos, hope is an intangible that is just beyond their reach. Hope is both a noun and a verb, where as faith is just a noun. Hope is cheap and accessible to anyone. Faith requires effort, and it’s expensive and exclusive. Hope is pedaled by politicians and producers. It’s offered to excite and motivate, manipulate and mutilate pessimism and hopelessness.

So in the next few (days) of the new year, my resolution shall be to mix and match. For every two negative situations, I will mix in one serving of hope. It will spice it up! It will taste great. It will reduce the acidity (sort of like mixing sugar in with the spaghetti sauce). I will match the energy I’m presented with with a force equal to (or completely opposite of) whatever I am faced. I will challenge adversity with possibility. I will look evil square in the eye; and offer it a hit of hope.

Money For Nothing

Forty years ago a little-known group called Dire Straits released a song that mocked MTV and most pop culture connected to the iconic creation. But they weren’t wrong. Long before Brandons or Karens, there were innovators engineering new ways to glean a penny from a dime.

It’s the “trust” for me. For most of our lives, we unwittingly spent money without considering where the extra goes. We bought things at the suggested retail price, grew tired of it before we even considered the depreciated value, and discard it even sooner.

Interestingly, those who refuse to get rid of their pop gadgets and fashions are ridiculed as hoarders. Strangely, they see a value in things that others do not. Intrinsic value is still value. As is sentimental value. But the psychologists call this an ailment best classified in the DSM-IV. The rest of us are “normal” because we buy overpriced things and throw them away.

I think value hits differently when we can actually afford something.

In reality, we often overlook the actual cost of our purchases and/or investments:

Purchase price
Practicality
Durability/reliability
Cost of financing
Satisfaction with the product/service
Availability
Replacement costs
Maintenance
Serviceability
Supply/demand
How long it will be fashionable
Long term value
Trade-in value/depreciation

How will you apply this theory? Does it only apply to goods and services? Could it apply to “other” things?

When we pay for something, we don’t ask about the profit margin. We don’t consider the innovation, research, or development. At best we might imply that we’d like to see the fortunes we spend result in responsible benefits for the employees or charitable contributions to a non-profit. But if those perks translate into inflated prices, then all deals are off!

We want transparency but we don’t want to invest energy. For the purposes of this idea, money is energy.

We might engage if we thought we have something to gain.

How much would you pay for trust? What would you invest? Should you invest even a penny? Or how about a dime? Are you willing to play a game? Would you be more willing to engage in an experiment? Let’s develop a compromise and call it an experience.

We can not buy trust. But we can lease it.

Here’s how it will work. Without knowing for certain where your money will go, transfer one penny. By doing so, you invest some time by learning where your money is going. Once you have more information, lend me a dime. By offering me the opportunity to send it back, you are leasing trust.

But if you like the prospect, and you trust the process, donate a dollar. You won’t get the dollar back, but I’ll appreciate the cup of coffee you’d be buying me.

Intrigued yet? Give it a try!

Now let’s recap:

(1) transfer a penny. It will not be returned, but you’ve learned something about yourself.

(2) lend a dime. I’ll send it right back, and you’ve practiced the art of trust.

(3) donate a dollar. I’ll accept your contribution for my coffee and add you to my subscription list.

I look forward to seeing what you decide.

Movement Heals

Just yesterday, I shared an appetizer with a colleague who is going through a personal trial. My friend doesn’t offer many details at first, but once asked, the emotions flowed. I can’t be sure how to measure the disappointment, but also can not determine the amount of trauma my friend is enduring. Either way, it’s not for me to judge. All I know is how I process what I’m told. All I can do is try to empathize (and maybe draw from my own experiences). I wasn’t asked for input, so I reserved my opinions. And when we had consumed the entire appetizer, we washed it down with a bottle of beer.

We moved on…

We listened to our other coworkers. We laughed. We drew some conclusions. We walked away.

We moved…

When we think about our interactions with one another, we can not overlook the fact that whatever we are going through right now is but a sand in an hourglass of time. It rarely feels that way in the moment, but when we look back we can be glad that we came through it.

I suggest chronicling your experience while you’re going through it. Talking through it is helpful to, but when the conversations subside, what’s most important is how we process and progress. Movement…

Yesterday, I chronicled nothing. There is no record of what happened. I barely recall how I made it to today, and yet…today came. So today, I will reflect on how I felt, my obstacles, and how I overcame them. Today, I move…

As I move, I decide to change it up a little. I left my car keys behind. I overlooked the bicycle with the flat tire, and took a stroll. With a fuzzy destination and a foggy mind, I began to walk. I walked…

I walked and walked. There was so much on my mind at first. I wanted to write it all down, but I had no pen. I wanted to talk it out, but I was all alone. And so I let it all just dissolve. Like grains of sand between my fingers, it all just faded away.

My problems are not resolved. My trauma is not gone, but my steps are counted. It was the movement that was setting me free. And suddenly I realized that even without chronically my fears and victories, nothing matters more than right now. I am here. I am moving. I moved on. I kept walking…

Keep Moving

Ocelot's journey towards success