One Voice

… because one voice, armed with the truth, can help begin to heal the world.

Yesterday’s comic relief can be today’s truth

“We’re all strangers, but after a while you get used to it. You become deeper strangers. That’s a sort of love.”

Richard Castellano in "Lovers and Other Strangers"

When I first saw “Lovers and Other Strangers” in 1970, I viewed the character played by Richard Castellano as the comic relief in the movie. His most frequent line was, “So what’s the story, Richie?” as he tried to find out why the older of his two sons was getting a divorce.

The last few times I’ve watched the movie — of course I have the DVD — I have actually come to realize that his character, Frank Vecchio, whose younger son is the groom in the movie that is the movie’s centerpiece, is actually the most important character of all.

He’s the one who speaks the lines at the beginning of this piece, lines that say an awful lot about what marriage in America was once — two people who shared enough and had enough in common that they could live together in relative happiness and raise a family.

My grandparents were married for nearly 65 years — from 1920 until my grandfather died in 1985 — and I can’t remember ever seeing them hug or kiss or share any other sort of physical affection. I never heard them say they loved each other, but they stayed together and I never saw any sign that they didn’t love or at least respect each other.

They stayed together.

So did most of the people I knew in my parents’ generation. Things like no-fault divorce were much more rare in those days. Indeed, in some states the only grounds for divorce was adultery. That’s the generation that Castellano’s and Bea Arthur’s characters in “Lovers and Other Strangers” inhabited. When Frank explains to his son Richie what people could share other than sex — a love for good food, for example — it sounded hilarious to those of us who were 20 years old in 1970.

But they made a commitment and they kept it. Unlike my generation; too many of us took the attitude not of “till death do us part” but instead “stay with it till it’s no fun, then split.”

That was why my first marriage essentially lasted a little less than four years and left me on my own again before I was 30 years old.

But if you hang in there, good things happen. This November, Nicole and I will celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary, and while I have no chance to live long enough for 65 years together and only a slim chance for 50, I know I went to spend the rest of my life with her.

Yes, in some ways we are strangers. I don’t presume to understand her, although I try.

But we are deeper strangers, and that’s a sort of love.

It really is.

posted by Mike in baby boom,Family,Happiness,love,Movies and have No Comments

I’ve got amazing children and 10 toes to boot

This is going to sound strange, but sometimes I wish I didn’t love my children so much.

You see, it’s because I love them so much that I spend so much time missing them. Pauline and Virgile are two of my very favorite people in the world, and I cannot imagine being any more proud of them than I am. They are both intelligent, good-looking, hard-working caring people, and neither one of them smells bad.

Editor’s note: Where did that come from?

I’m not sure. I think I was afraid if I didn’t lighten things up a little, I might start weeping.

Pauline, Lex and Maddie

Pauline is the older of the two, and she has done a wonderful job of trying to do the impossible — what they used to call having it all.

She has a good marriage, two wonderful children and is one of the rising stars in the diplomatic corps. She is nearing the end of her third overseas tour — Cameroon, China and Indonesia — and her reward is that she’ll spend three years living in the same time zone with us, albeit a little farther to the south.

She’s going to Jamaica, mon.

Maddie will be 4 years old in September, starting her final year of preschool, and baby Lex will celebrate his first birthday in November. By the way, I also wish I didn’t love my grandchildren so much. Same reason.

Virgile is nearly five years younger than Pauline, so in some respects he has been following in her footsteps. Then again, he has blazed some trails of his own at the same time.

My son started out with the goal of becoming the next great jazz saxophonist. He was damn good, too, but about halfway through college he made the tough decision that he was only good, not great, and it might make more sense to try something else.

from left, Joe, Virgile and Sterling

He wound up following the same route his sister had, into the diplomatic corps, and in 2010 he and his wife Sterling left for their first tour.

Give the kid some credit. He didn’t pick a boring post for his first. He has been in Athens, Greece, for about 18 months, and will be returning to Washington for language training for his next post later this year.

Virgile is still a few years from turning 30, and he has already received two compliments that are nicer things than anyone has said about me in my entire life.

In his first year of college, one of his roommates took us aside and told us that Virgile was the nicest person he had met in his entire life.

Wow.

Then last year, in his first job evaluation, his boss wrote that Virgile was the finest young foreign service officer he had known in 20 years.

Dang.

I’d have given up a toe — not an important one — to have had anyone ever say something like that about me. But actually, I learned something when I heard that second compliment. When you’re a parent, I think you’re happier to hear someone compliment your kids than to hear somebody compliment you.

You see, you get the joy of it and you get to keep all your toes.

 

posted by Mike in Family,Happiness,love and have No Comments

On the ‘bucket list,’ love is what matters most

One thing that has become popular in recent years is creating something called a “bucket list.”

I know my daughter has one, and I know she has a lot of things she hopes to do and accomplish in her life. Of course, Pauline is young and still has a lot of time to accomplish her goals.

I don’t have as much time as she does, and while there are still many things I hope to do, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at some of the things I have already done, things that might wind up on someone’s “bucket list.”

Windows on the World

– I have been up in the tallest building in the world. Twice. Two different buildings. The Empire State Building in New York in 1957 and the Windows on the World restaurant in the Twin Towers in New York in 1979. Sadly, that’s a place no one will ever visit again.

Anyone who knows me knows that heights kind of creep me out, so I’m not ashamed to say we didn’t have window seats when we went there.

– I have walked on the Great Wall of China. It wasn’t a long walk, at least partly because it was a rainy day, but it was still impressive to realize I was standing on one of the only man-made creations that can be seen from outer space.

– I have been to three of the seven continents, and I don’t know how likely I am to visit too many more since travel isn’t the priority for me that it was for my parents. I would like to see Australia, but I honestly don’t know if I’ll make it to South America, Africa or Antarctica. In fact, I have only been south of the Equator once in my life, in 1999 when Nicole and I visited Tahiti and Moorea.

Visiting Moorea is to me a real highlight of my life’s travels. Cook’s Bay in Moorea, named after Captain Cook, is considered by some people the single most beautiful place in the world. From my limited experience, I can’t disagree.

– I have attended political conventions of both parties, Democrats in 1980 and 2000, Republicans in 1996, although almost all the reporting I did came outside the convention halls.

Cook's Bay, Moorea

– I have attended a World Series game (1985), a Super Bowl (1993), two Final Fours (1985-86), two baseball all-star games (1969, 1992) and a game in the NBA Finals (1975). I have watched an amazing number of top-flight athletes play, and I have interviewed more of them than I care to admit.

– I have made appearances on radio and television and in fact was profiled for a story on television in Southern California.

– In 2001 my face was on a billboard, a nice followup to January 1987 when my picture appeared in Sports Illustrated in a photograph with John Elway.

– I have seen Broadway shows, plays in the West End of London, film premieres and the taping of at least one television show. When it comes to theater, I saw “A Chorus Line” in New York, London, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles, although my favorite play among all the ones I’ve seen is “Miss Saigon.”

– I have traveled to every state in the union except Alaska, North Dakota, Mississippi and Arkansas. And someday I hope to get to the remaining ones, except maybe North Dakota. The most amazing sights I have seen in my travels are an erupting volcano on the big island of Hawaii and Yosemite National Park. I’ve been to Tucson and Tucumcari, to Tehachapi and Tonopah, for those who remember the song.

– I’ve seen an amazing number of wonderful concerts, from the Lovin’ Spoonful in 1967 (for a $3 ticket) to Bob Dylan and the Band, the Rolling Stones (twice), the Beach Boys (four times), the Eagles, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, Loggins & Messina, Billy Joel and a host of others, including one Beatle (sadly, it was Ringo).

– I’ve met and interviewed some wonderful people who are no longer with us, among others Catfish Hunter, Peter Ustinov and my good friend Walter Masterson.

– I stood in front of an audience once and did six minutes of stand-up comedy. I could have been better, but I got some laughs and didn’t bomb.

– I have been blessed to have some truly wonderful friendships, including several of the type that would qualify as lifelong. Mick Curran in California and Bill Madden in Florida have been my friends for 46 and 38 years, respectively, and I hope to know them till I die.

– I was blessed to have good parents who loved me, and three sisters and a brother who somehow tolerate me despite my many flaws as an older brother when they were growing up.

An old picture, but I love it.

– I have a wonderful grandchild who makes me smile every time I think about her, and one of the happiest days of my life was holding her on my chest as she slept when she was just 10 days old. Maddie will be 3 this September, and God willing, she will have a little brother or sister come November.

– I have two amazing children who have never given me any reason to feel anything but loving toward them and proud of them. Being a part of raising Pauline and Virgile ranks in my mind as the greatest accomplishment of my life.

– And most of all, I have a wife who entered my life when I was 42 and changed it from mundane to spectacular. There truly are no words to do justice to Nicole. All I can say without sounding trite or cliched is that meeting her was the best thing that ever happened to me.

Anyway, that’s pretty much my bucket list of accomplishments. I left out some things that mattered a lot to me once, like awards I won or the five years I spent writing a newspaper column, but don’t matter much anymore.

I still hope to accomplish more. I know I’ve got at least a publishable book or two in me. It’s just a case of making myself write them.

I left out breaking 80 on the golf course. I’ve written enough about that lately. I guess my only real goal now for golf is for once in my life, maybe to shoot par.

But that stuff doesn’t really matter.

All that really matters in our lives is what we do to make the lives of the people we love better.

I think I can still accomplish a lot more in that area in whatever time I have left.

posted by Mike in Family,Friends,Happiness,Home,love and have No Comments

If you’re looking for truth, look to love

“… and the lonely voice of youth cries, ‘What is truth?’”
– JOHNNY CASH, 1968

If there’s one answer I could give to that question, it would be that truth is something almost everyone thinks they know, but very few of us actually do.

There are certainly plenty of folks on both sides of the political divide who will tell you they know the truth and they’ll be happy to share it with you, but truth through one side or the other of the political spectrum is usually lacking.

Truth isn’t really about politics, anyway. Regardless of what folks on the left or the right will tell you, they don’t have all the answers. That doesn’t mean they don’t have any answers, though, and taking a “plague on both your houses” approach rarely accomplishes very much.

Truth?

I know a few things that might qualify as basic truths, and one of them is that love is at the heart of everything. It’s why Jesus boiled the 10 commandments of the Old Testament down to what he called the two great commandments — love God and love your neighbor.

That’s a basic truth. If you love God and love your neighbor, and put those two goals ahead of everything else, you’ll probably be a fairly happy person.

It’s why if I fall anywhere on the political spectrum, it’s to the left of center because I believe we have a responsibility to help the less fortunate among us. It’s why I believe in a progressive income tax, and in an estate tax that limits the vast wealth that can be passed down from parents who earned it to children who didn’t do anything except belong to the Lucky Sperm Club.

I’d rather see a government that represents me helping children from poor families — it isn’t their fault their parents are poor — than giving more and more tax incentives to the wealthy to send jobs overseas. Overly simplistic? Sure, but there are very few of us who don’t oversimplify things. One of the great heroes of the right wing in the ’80s was Margaret Thatcher, who said that there were really no such things as communities, that there were really only individuals and families.

That’s certainly one way of looking at it. If we assume that everyone will act in their own interest, we are at least able to predict what they will do.

But to view the world that way, we have to ignore the possibility that we contain any spark of the divine, any basic goodness. I don’t know how Thatcher would explain the Gandhis, the Mother Teresas; maybe her theory only covers the world of politics.

So what is truth?

To me, anyway, the most basic truth there is involves love.

Love, whether it’s for God, friends, family or neighbors, ennobles us in a way nothing else can.

posted by Mike in Happiness,love and have No Comments

Time alone is ending, time together to start

It’s amazing for me to realize that tomorrow I will have completed my nine weeks of solitude here at Rancho Cortez.

I’ve still got two weeks to go before I leave for home, but Nicole arrives tomorrow to spend the next 14 days here with me. It will be wonderful to have her here, but it will be very different than it has been.

For one thing, it will be an opportunity for me to see if I really have progressed that much on an emotional and philosophical level. I believe I have, but it’s easy to talk a good game about putting other people first when you’re living alone. Starting tomorrow afternoon, I am a full-time married man again.

Me after eight weeks

I have written before about what a unique opportunity it has been to step outside my life, as it were, for more than two months and do a reassessment of where I have been, where I am and what I want to do with the years I have left to me.

The one thing I am more sure about than anything is that I want to spend those years with Nicole. She has been a wonderful wife through both good times and not-so-good times, and she has stood by me at times when I let her down very badly.

I have told her she is my favorite person in the entire world, and indeed in many ways she is my closest friend.

The next two weeks can be wonderful ones for her. Between work and all the other things going on in her life, she is dealing with more stress than I could handle — and dealing with it well.

Still, I’d love to help her have two stress-free weeks here.

That’s my goal.

posted by Mike in Family,Friends,Health,love,Texas and have No Comments

A slip, a fall and learning from the experience

I am somewhat disappointed in myself this morning. I don’t know if I was flying too close to the sun and my wings melted or if I just failed to remember my own flawed humanity, but for the first time in 18 days, I’m feeling a little bit down on myself.

Enchanted Rock, Texas

Maybe part of it was yesterday’s hike. I have been hiking by myself and enjoying the wonders of nature here in the Hill Country of Texas. Hiking alone allows me to set my own pace and also enables me to tune out the outside world and let my thoughts run freely.

But yesterday we went to Enchanted Rock State Natural area north of Fredericksburg, and I stretched the envelope of my comfort zone until it ripped.

Enchanted Rock isn’t Mount Whitney, but it’s still a place where they sell t-shirts so people can boast that they climbed it. It’s a climb of 425 feet in just one kilometer (.6 miles, for my American friends), which makes it pretty steep.

I climbed it — fairly easily, actually — and then went on to the second part of the hike, which is a loop trail around the bottom, maybe 4.5 miles or so. By then we were in the heat of the day, and there is very little shade along the loop.

By the time we finished (about three hours after starting part one of the hike), I felt sore, tired and irritable. Maybe partly because of that, I sent a mean e-mail to my lovely wife in response to something she had written that had ticked me the wrong way.

Read more…

posted by Mike in Family,Happiness,love,Texas and have Comments (2)

When every day is a good day, life is amazing

It is completely amazing to feel good all the time, as I have for the last 11 days.

I certainly don’t mean physically, although even that is improving rapidly. A month ago, I couldn’t hike three miles without feeling exhausted. Now I’m doing 5 1/4 miles early in the morning and feeling great (with a couple of minor exceptions). I have started carrying a tube of Ben-Gay along on my hike, and when I stop on the way back for my snack and some thinking, I rub it on my left oblique until I can feel it burning.

My left side is a lot weaker than my right, and if that big muscle doesn’t stop barking sooner or later, I might have it surgically removed. Then there’s my left Achilles tendon, which is never going to be completely normal again.

But even when I hurt, it doesn’t bother me.

Beginning and finish line

There are at least five or six places I could cut my hike short, but I don’t do it. I don’t hike just for the hiking, and cutting it short would cheat me out of all the other benefits of it — the thinking, the creativity and especially the closeness to God and nature.

This morning I was feeling particularly good, and I was thinking about how wonderful this summer has been for me. The chance to step outside my life, as it were, and fix the things that were wrong.

I owe so much to my wife for her willingness to let me do this. Nicole is my joy, and the fact that we are able to spend this time about without worrying whether we will still love each other when I return home has worked wonders for me.

Read more…

posted by Mike in Happiness,Health,in God's name,love,Music and have No Comments

God has given me more than one gift

Anyone has been reading these posts recently knows about the amazing experience I had earlier this week, the insights I received from God that have changed my life incredibly for the better.

But I need to clarify something.

The wisdom I received, and the mission it has given me, aren’t the first time I have felt the presence of God in my life. Indeed, what the Lord gave me this week wasn’t even the greatest gift I have received from him.

My greatest gift — the most wonderful I have ever received — came in September 1992 when I met my wife Nicole. And when I have said this week that everything is different now, that isn’t true. My love for my wife and our wonderful children will never change. Nicole, Pauline and Virgile are my three favorite people in the world, and they are also the three people I admire the most.

My wonderful wife

My wife is an accomplished person on every level.

She is beautiful, sexy, athletic, loving and intelligent, and she was and remains the best thing that ever happened to me.

She married me because she thought I was special, and there have been too many times in the last 18 years when I have been anything but special. There were too many times when I put myself first.

That’s what has changed.

No more regrets, no more being crippled by things that happened 10 or 20 or 50 years ago. My friend Mick and I were talking about people who live in the past, and he mentioned something the great C.S. Lewis said about time.

He said there are four types of time in which people live — the past, the present, the near-term future and eternity.

Of those four, Lewis said only two make sense.

He said we should live in the present as well as being aware of our role — and our responsibility — to eternity. A friend gave me a quote from the movie “Gladiator,” in which Maximus says, “What we do in life echoes in eternity.”

I love that quote. It says so much.

I hope with all my heart that my love for Nicole is worthy, that it will echo in eternity.

She means that much to me.

posted by Mike in Family,Friends,Happiness,in God's name,love and have No Comments

You can’t grab happiness, only share it

“… to dance beneath the diamond sky with one arm waving free.”
– BOB DYLAN

I was walking on a hiking trail in Lost Maples State Natural Area here in South Texas when I tweaked my knee and decided to sit down for a while.

The atmosphere was incredible, and the sky was so clear I could see the half moon in the western sky at 10 a.m. I sat on a rock, pulled out my little notebook and started jotting down thoughts about happiness.

Get past "me," put other people first

One thing I realized almost instantly is that unless you allow it, there isn’t anyone in the world who can prevent you from being happy. But along those same lines, the most useless piece of advice you can give anyone is to “try and be happy.”

The more any of us “try to be happy,” the more elusive happiness becomes. If I “try to be happy,” I eat too much, I indulge my senses or I spend money to buy things.

Any of those actions might give me a temporary high, but those highs are nearly always followed by lows.

On the other hand, if I set out to make the people around me happy, I usually don’t feed them, stimulate their senses or spend money on them. I praise them, I help them accomplish things or I do something thoughtful for them.

Read more…

posted by Mike in Happiness,love and have No Comments

An afterlife? It shouldn’t matter at all

Is there really a Heaven?

Is there really personal and individual salvation that comes to those who believe the right things, who act upon those beliefs and lead righteous lives?

The answer I’m going to give you might surprise you:

It doesn’t matter.

Is therean afterlife? Does it matter?

Nope, it doesn’t matter at all whether we are striving toward salvation. In fact, my guess is that there’s at least a chance that the whole idea of heaven, paradise, nirvana or whatever else you want to call it was created by man as an incentive to get people to behave themselves within the strictures of whatever religion they follow.

In some respects, at least as I understand it, Judaism has the healthiest view of an afterlife. At least as my father used to tell me, the idea in Judaism is that there may or may not be an afterlife, but we should behave ethically even if there is no ultimate reward.

In other words, virtue is its own reward.

Read more…

posted by Mike in Happiness,in God's name,love and have No Comments
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