“Reflections of My Life”

For as long as I can remember, beginning before my age reached double digits, I have been emotionally connected to the process of aging, the passing of time.  As a kid, I loved Puff, the Magic Dragon, but it always made me sad that Puff lost his friend. When my friend, Brian, died when we were 19, I could no longer listen to Puff until I was in my 50s. The first time I heard it after decades of musical quarantine, it made me cry again. Passing time and its changes get to me.

At 16, I wrote a poem about a man who was aging. It made my dad cry. He was 60 at the time. I admit to being strongly influenced by Neil Young’s Old Man that had come out about that time on his Harvest album. I included the poem in my book, Daddin’:  The Verb of Being a Dad. I am now past the age dad was when the poem touched him. The words surface in my memory as I feel the effects of time:  “Old man, can you manage / With that cane in your hand? / Can you continue watching / The dropping of the sand?” I don’t need a cane, but changes are afoot for my future years.

My mom told me about a pastor who said, “You are now what I once was.” He was referring to conversations with people younger than oneself. I try to remember his poignant message whenever listening to, or conversing with, younger folks.

A beautiful song from the late 1960s pondered Reflections of My Life. The thusly named song by Marmalade did quite well here and “across the pond.” Its creator, Dean Ford, had a life that made reality of his lyrics. He died this past December from Parkinson’s. I thought of my poem as I watched the beautiful tribute video to him that includes clips of him performing his famous song “then” and “now.” Though he played the song thousands of times, even the renditions from late in his life were shared with genuine gentleness and wisdom. The exuberance of his sharing 50 years prior was replaced with a kind, wise, knowing expression. Youth’s insights had become age’s wisdom.

I think of my high school years with Chuck playing acoustic guitar for a gym full of high school students. Phil did the same. I hope they look back at those days with amusement and appreciation. We all have past experiences that reflect the things that mattered to us then and influenced who we are now.

Life is for the living. Socrates said that an unexamined life is not worth living. Examining is one thing; performing a full-on autopsy of one’s life is quite another. I believe the former is part of the growth process; the latter, a process of over-analysis, can paralyze. Autopsies are not performed on the living.

Our past experiences provide great wisdom and insights, as well as shape who we are. Aging, like parenting, is not for the weak or cowardly, but in those moments when you pause for reflections of your life, allow yourself to appreciate the abundance, the blessings and the way you’ve touched others in your life. Reflect. Smile. Keep going.

 

 

Here is the poem that I wrote about the old man. I have a dream of it being put to music someday.

Old man can you manage

With that cane in your hand?

Can you continue watching

The dropping of the sand?

 

Do memories plague you

Of the days in the street?

Do memories haunt you

Of the people you did meet?

 

So slow to walk

And feeble to stand.

Old man do you need help?

Can I lend you my hand?

 

Those arms that hang and shake so

Were once trunks of power

Does the loss bother you?

Has your life become sour?

 

Your steps are now in inches

Yesterday they were in miles

How come?  What is it old man

That continues to bring you smiles?

 

Old man you make us wonder

Is old age such a sin?

Old man my eyes water for you

But, remember, here’s my hand.

 

(c) Dion McInnis

“How do you pronounce your name?”

Shopping at the local Harbor Freight is always a pleasure because I get good stuff there and they always have coupons for something free with purchase. I got something else for free – something better, something wonderful – on my recent foray into that world of tools and gadgets.

The woman working the register at the check-out was in her early 20s, I suspect.  A friendly gal. She asked for my phone number so she could pull up my record.  I provided it.

“How do you pronounce your name?” she asked. “I’m never quite sure how to pronounce it.”

I pondered why this total stranger would ask how to pronounce my name, in the first place.  I think that would be a great customer service lesson for people who work phones, registers, etc. to ask how people pronounce their names instead of butchering the names and then try to act like they are life-long friends. But, I digress.

I pronounced it for her. “DEE-ahn.” My mind was still racing with her question. There are not a lot of Dions out there, and certainly not spelled that way and most certainly not of my age. Before I had a chance to figure out how to ask, she said, “I love Dion’s music, but I never knew how to pronounce the name.” I instinctively smiled before asking in a genuinely shocked voice, “Dion? Dion and Belmonts, Dion? You like his music?” Maybe her parents, likely more so her grandparents, may have listened to his tunes, including the famous The Wanderer.

She rattled off the titles of a few of her favorites.  I couldn’t stop smiling. I asked if she knew how his music career had shifted to Gospel music (she didn’t but was intrigued with the information). I told her that I have been emailed several times over the years by musicians asking my permission to cover one of “my” songs and how I have to thank them but explain that I am not THAT Dion (she thought that was funny).

I figure the entire transaction lasted about three minutes. A lot happened in those 180 seconds, much of which supports Dale Carnegie’s premise that the sweetest sound for someone to hear is that of their own name. The cashier used my name; she honored it by connecting it to Dion DiMucci and she opened the door for conversation, which I was more than happy to pass through. She seemed to enjoy it, too.

I said that I got something better and something wonderful for free with my purchase. Whether we are buying or selling or just interacting, we can use the reminder of using other’s names and the gold-nugget advice of asking someone how to pronounce their name. There are other questions or interactions that can be used  — “That’s a nice name.  Is it a family name?” – but connecting with names reveals respect, interest and courtesy. It only takes a second.

 

PS:  People ask me if my mom had a crush on Dion DiMucci and thusly I am name.  Nope. That is not where the inspiration came from for my naming.

Give the Best of Who You Are

I miss you, Jack, though I only met you once.  I still share with others and to myself your story of barging into a board room to meet an executive who kept ignoring your meetings. I remember your speech and thinking then, more than 35 years ago, that I wanted someday to touch lives as a speaker, too.

Jack Yianitisis died on August 3. (His tribute page can be found here and some of his wisdom can be found here.)  A Marine and veteran of the Korean War, he was in the motivational speaking business when I heard him speak. I can’t even say that I officially met him. A local bank to the Alief area of Houston had Jack in for a presentation and they “loaned” him to the chamber to be their luncheon speaker since he was in town. (To this day, I’ve wanted to have a bank as a client like Jack did.)  Somewhere, I have the recording that I made of his motivating, inspiring message that day. He gave his best and it stuck with me.

Among his stories, he shared that he was working hard to get a particular client but the executive kept standing up Jack come appointment time. On about the twelfth attempt to meet the potential client, Jack was again stood up and the receptionist said that the man was in a big meeting.  Jack, disappointed, returned to his car and there he considered a key question. “If I have something that will truly benefit this man, I cannot walk away. Not again. If I truly believe I can make things better for him and his company, I must talk to him.”

Jack returned to the man’s office, walked past the receptionist and straight through the closed double doors of the board room. He said that when he walked in everyone looked at him like he was a waiter bringing them water.  He approached the man he had been trying to meet and said, “I talked to God this morning.  Why can’t I talk to you?”

I’ll never forget that story. I remind myself of it often when I am facing fears or doubts about talking to a potential client or contact.

Jack shared that he ended up working for that man for about 14 years, as I recall.

I have thought about Jack many times over the years as I have worked to help others with my speaking. I have thought about Jack a lot when I face challenges and fears.  And all because of one presentation I heard when I was a 20-something writer-photographer trying to find a place for his heart and craft in this world.

Many times over the past five years, in particular, I have tried to find Jack. I found information about him, but the listed phone numbers were disconnected. I tried again today.

I think Jack would like me to remind you to always give your best, laugh a lot, maintain your faith, be strong and be humble. You might be touching someone’s life. He did mine.

God bless you, Jack.

ALIVE(ly) Spirit

 

Buddy is 80, and he’s proud to tell you that.  He’ll even show you a photograph of him when he was 66 to prove how well he is doing.  He carries the photograph with him as part of his sales pitch, which he was giving me at a recent chamber networking event. Frankly, he does look better, healthier, more energetic now than he appeared in the photo, and he uses that evidence to support his pitch for the fruit and vegetable supplements that he and his wife sell.  I think it is the man’s spirit that matters the most.

We chatted, we laughed, we compared stories and we laughed some more.  All the while, I watched and listened closely to his stories and comments.  Buddy is alive. Every cell in his being is alive.  He enjoys being alive.  That makes a difference.

The roots of the word “enthusiasm” means to be filled with the spirit. It is addictive and pleasant to be around; it is energizing.  My mom told me when I was but a lad, “Your enthusiasm will take you far.” It is not surprising that I am intrigued by enthusiasm and similar indicators of one’s joy for life and living. Moods come and go, but the spirit that flows from your heart and soul is constant, though sometimes, I admit, it rests in the “pilot light” mode.  Even the small flame will attract moths.

I was networking to find a new job (my remote position that I worked for the last 20 months was recently eliminated) and/or some contract assignments in my fields. What I found in Buddy was even more sustaining:  A reminder to be alive, be spirited, laugh and share. Repeat several times per day.

Life’s Letters

My wife told me about a letter from her great-grandfather to her grandfather that she is taking to her brother.  What a treasure!  I doubt the author thought of his penned letter as a treasure when he wrote it.  So it is for much, or most, of what we write to friends and family. Correspondence of today is a treasure for generations hence.  What letters do you have?  I got to thinking about that and the box of correspondence that I have been collecting and holding for decades.

I have a box of items, writings and memorabilia that I began to collect when I was nine or so.  Included in the cardboard box – I call it my Wonder Years box for the television show by the same name which represents my era – is pretty much every letter and note I received from friends, most of whom were girls.  Many are taped on the creases for having read them so many times as a coming-of-age boy-to-man. I have a letter or two that my brother wrote me before I was old enough to read and he was in Korea with the Air Force after the war.  I have notes written to me on torn scraps of grocery bags when I worked at Handy Andy grocery store.  There is a lot of growing up in those notes and letters, though I admit to not having opened the box in a decade or more.

I never really thought about why I kept them, but I knew somehow that I should. One of the stories I wrote when I was 12 and poems I wrote in high school appeared in my book Daddin’:  The Verb of Being a Dad.

Perhaps the writings will illuminate ideas for a book (perhaps the one I am working on now about growing up in Houston!). Perhaps someone will reach out to me someday and I ask for them so they can better understand their mother when she was a young woman.  Perhaps they will remain there until I am gone and my sons, granddaughters and grandsons read them to better understand me.  Who knows?  The point is that we don’t need to know why we keep treasures. We never know when personal writings as poetry, letters or stories become a treasure to someone else.

Sadly, the era of text messages and emails have stolen from our collections the writings of friends and family.  Maybe we should be printing many of them and putting in a box for future generations.

Benevolence at the Waffle House

The man walking along the side of the street caught the attention of my wife and me.  The heat index was in the low 100s. The man in black shorts, black shirt and bright fluorescent colored athletic shoes stood out for his attire, and his ink work.  He was bald, and all of his scalp was tattooed; tats appeared on his arms and legs. It was hard to note any details as we drove by, but he definitely caught our attention. Minutes later, we would catch a more close view of the inkwork and the man; we would also see benevolence in action.

We were in the neighborhood of the church we attended in the past when we lived south of Houston.  We would often go to the Waffle House near the church after Mass.  Since we were in the area again, we decided to stop by for lunch. What we were about to witness spoke to “love thy neighbor” as much as any homily could have.

The man in black took a seat at the end of the counter. The manager asked the man what he wanted.  Barely audible, the customer asked for a glass of water.  “I don’t have any money, but water would be good.”  Even less audible than the customer, the manager said, “Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you.” A waitress brought the man a sandwich – grilled cheese, I think it was – to go with his water.  While he was waiting for the sandwich, he wrote. And wrote. He made his notes on a piece of paper that reminded me of a mini-scroll, about three times as long as it was wide. The manager spent time with the customer, who showed the benevolent manager some of what he had written. Their conversation continued.

As I watched the interactions, I thought of this past Sunday’s homily about the Good Samaritan. The manager provided the man comfort and sustenance on a horrifically hot day; he also provided the man attention, respect and listening.

There were only a few customers in the restaurant that day. I am not sure how many paid attention to what was happening at the end of the counter.  Benevolence and love was served at the Waffle House that day.

Instructions for Life

I watched an online video for visual instructions on how to install quick-hitch attachments on my tractor. I learned some about installing them, but I learned more about what usually happens in life when people want guidance and help with challenges.

The two men in the video were standing at the rear of the tractor and discussing how to install the attachments. The parts and the cardboard box they came in were laid out on the ground. The men discussed how the parts likely fit and the ways the roll pins would resolve part of the installation challenge. They discussed options, each sharing information that seemed to be a mix of previous experience and speculation. As I listened and watched, my attention moved from the tractor and the adapters at the end of the lift arms to the paper flapping in the breeze. As they considered and speculated, the paper flapped as one end was weighted down with one of the parts. As they experimented and discussed, the instructions flapped for attention.

While it might be humorous to make a gender joke about men not reading instructions, the joke is actually on all of us. If we breathe, we are guilty of tackling challenges in life – both big and small, critical and inconsequential – without referring to knowledge, wisdom, instructions and guidance that are readily available, and I don’t mean on the internet.

Every step of the way on our life’s journey, we have been able to pick up knowledge, wisdom, instructions and guidance, either from our mistakes and successes, or from those we encounter. We try, and we learn; we miss our goal, and we learn; we watch others, and we learn; we ask others, and we learn; we listen to others, and we learn. We have knowledge, wisdom, instructions and guidance in us that we have picked up along the way, and we have access to people who can help.

While online videos can be useful when trying to learn something, I think we are missing much by not calling someone or asking a family member or neighbor to show us how to do something.  There is much more to be gained than just instructions when we get learn from a living, breathing teacher, guide or mentor.

The previous paragraph may sound like a contradiction to my original premise.  After all, the men were seeking guidance from each other, and that can be a good thing, for the conversation if not anything else. What they missed amidst the conversation was the information they sought. And that’s my point: we have what we need to face challenges; to find joy, happiness, faith, courage and success; and, to seek solutions by asking the right questions, because of the life we’ve lived, not despite it.  Don’t ignore what you have while searching for what you think you need.