Posts Tagged ‘self development’
Posted March 24th, 2015 by The Steve Alexander Group
No more than 10 years old, the boy runs out of the surf with his new boogie board tucked firmly under his arm.
With a beaming smile, he shouts, “Dad, did you see me?”
And, during my daily barefoot run on the beach, as I glance at him out of the corner of my eye, I realize how much I yearn to ask my dad, long-since-passed from this life, that very same thing.
It’s amazing how young we are when we develop that hunger for affirmation from outside ourselves; how critical it is to developing our self-esteem. Yet, it can be our undoing if we don’t learn to affirm ourselves and gain assurance and re-assurance from the inside out.
I can still remember my dad teaching us the importance of inner-affirmation at a very young age.
I can hear his loving words, “Son, open your hand and spread your fingers wide and count ‘em.
If, when you die, you can count your close friends on one hand, consider yourself fortunate.”
Surrounded by his lifelong friends at the services for his final good-bye, it brought home the reality of that lesson. And in my own life, I count my friends (many of whom have grown from clients to friends over the years) among my greatest blessings.
And so I used that counsel when I eulogized my dad’s passing in October 1997.
Knowing his in-person counsel, and love, would be gone forever.
That, and many words of wisdom, coaching and encouragement, prevailed over the years of our lives together as father and son.
Another ‘Dad-ism’ – Grinning when I’d done something well, scored a goal in soccer, celebrated closing night in a school play or figured out how to get my car engine running again, he would sit in his chair and say, “Stand up and put your arms and hands straight out in front of you.
Now, wrap your right hand around in front and reach back over your left shoulder and grab your ‘angel bone’ (as we called our shoulder blades back then). Now, do the same with your left arm, and squeeze as tightly as you can.
Someday, when I’m not around, and no one else is there to pat you on the back, and you’ve done something you’re pleased about, you’ll always be able to hug yourself and pat yourself on the back, and know that you always have it within you to appreciate who you are and what you’ve done.”
How did he know his ‘arm-chair’ philosophy (pun intended – my dad would have liked that!) would shape my life’s work, my career, my relationship with the people I coach, train and team-build?
Along with a team of professional colleagues, I just produced a movie about how folks today can deal with our changing world in light of changes happening on our planet. [More on this new movie in my next blog, or, for an early look, check it out on YouTube, titled, “Answering the Call.”]
We brought together community, business and government leaders, along with world-renowned scientists, to talk about the impacts and opportunities that come from a region, a nation and a world facing drought, extreme weather, changing seas and other realities of our changing climate.
Whether you ‘believe’ (a term I’m told is like ‘believing’ whether or not the earth revolves around the sun – a concept still disputed by 24% of folks surveyed annually who still ‘believe’ the sun revolves around the earth) in a changing climate doesn’t matter; what does is that our world is changing. What matters is what we do about it, and how we work together, for future generations.
What’s this got to do with my dad? And a 10-year old boy on the beach?
Well, we just released the movie. And I was proud to be a part of a group of people – liberal, conservative, practical, theoretical, and all very smart – who came together to work on this production.
As I breathed in during my daily beachfront run, and saw this boy with that big (and hopeful) smile on his face, anticipating his dad’s acknowledgement – the proverbial ‘pat-on-the-back’ – I thought about my dad, and wondered if he’d be proud of me, too.
What would he say?
Would he give me that hug and pat on the back?
And remind me I could reach out my arms and do that when he was gone?
And in that little boy’s face, a stranger whom I will never know, I saw my own.
So many years ago, looking for my loving father, and then again, today.
Saying, “Dad, did you see me?”
Posted February 28th, 2015 by The Steve Alexander Group
An adorable Vietnamese ‘granny’ and I were comparing Cymbidiums.
We stood peering into the racks to see which we liked the most. And at various specimens that presented their blooms.
How to decide? Which to choose? No discussion. Just communicating non-verbally.
She must have seen my eyes drift to the one she was holding. I’ll never know.
“Okay, good-bye,” she says, as her opening comment.
I step away, surprised that she spoke, her having reached out with her arms with the most beautiful specimen in the store; the one she likes and has been holding the entire time.
“You take this one!” She sort of proclaims, almost commands it. And her proclamation touches my heart somewhere deep and unsettled.
She doesn’t see the tears well-up in my eyes.
Memories rush in.
As I turn my head, I’m transported back to 1969.
A country torn apart.
Innocent people dying.
And my friends, brothers… going off to fight. And die.
Protesting in the streets, “Stop this craziness!”
Walking out in the middle of Accounting 101, studying to be a stock broker.
Just having returned from Woodstock, a musical interlude, symbol of the peace movement and a brief moment in time in-between the fighting, protests and confusion.
No more war.
Leaving my scholarship and plans behind. Knowing, somehow, my path needed to be different. Changed forever.
Looking for life’s meaning.
Now, in my coaching and teambuilding, a major emphasis on ensuring, as we engage in dialogue today, we be mindful of our need to be ‘right,’ rather than doing the right thing. The importance of avoiding the ‘right/wrong’ paradigm (if one side is right, the other must be wrong).
Realizing how much of my work is affected by these memories.
And then, seeing her standing in front of me, again, back in 2015.
And in her weathered face… seeing family members lost. Forever.
And almost 50 years later we stand side-by-side.
Her new home; her adopted country.
One I take for granted.
And sharing love, and maybe even memories, and a kindness, on a moment of crossed paths.
And the tears won’t stop.
Posted December 22nd, 2013 by The Steve Alexander Group
As I tried to make my way into Milt’s home, crammed with well-wishers and partiers, it was hard to imagine being surrounded by so many people, some there in person and some in spirit, making up a 100-year lifetime.
Imagine living for 100 years. The experiences you’d have. Births and deaths, changes in our world, growth of family and friends, changes in your own world, and so much more.
My old friend (and in this case that’s an apropos descriptor!), Milt, turned 100 last week, and I was honored to be at the celebration. We met through his wife, Jo, many years ago. She was the president of the California Association of Marriage & Family Therapists when I was its chief executive. And to know Jo, you had to know Milt, too. She left us a couple years ago, when we all thought Milt would be the one. And yet there he stood with that cherub-like grin of his, laughing among friends and family as would a new-born experiencing his first smile.
When asked what were the most significant changes he’d experienced in his century of life, he was quick to note two things: transportation and communication. He pointed out the obvious – commercial air travel, roads and highways for motored vehicles, the ways we get around now and the range of alternatives.
And communication. It goes without saying, even writing this piece that becomes available to not only you, the reader who subscribes here, but to millions of others throughout the world who can access it through a range of their own personal devices. Instantly. Just imagine by contrast Milt’s world in 1913.
That’s not what was at the heart of Milt’s insights and revelation, though. He talked, too, about the value of people and how it’s changed over time. He quipped that he asked someone recently what they were getting paid, and about the minimum wage being about $7 or $8 per hour. When he grew up, he was paid two dollars. Per day.
But his point was very much a metaphor. He wistfully talked about whether we value people in our lives, in our workplaces and just in general in the world. Do we make the time for them? Do they mean as much as time goes by?
Milt has learned a lot during his 100 years of life. Especially about how to care for and about people. Friends. Family. Co-workers. And expects more to come. That was obvious from the full house and the line of folks gathered outside who couldn’t make it in.
What about us? What has our lifetime meant? Where we work? Among family? And friends? And those whose lives we touch even casually?
My friend and I stood listening to Milt, and contemplated what the next 30 or 40 years of our lives would witness, were we lucky enough to have them. Changes in technology. Communication. And so many other aspects of our lives. And it reminded us of the value of our own multiple-decades relationship, and the changes we’ve experienced, with more to come.
As another year comes to an end, and a dear friend like Milt reminds us of what a lifetime really means, what about you? What has been important during your lifetime? And what do you imagine the next 10, 20, 30 years or more will bring? Not just to our world, collectively. To your own special world you get to create every day.
Thanks, Milt. For the reminder. For me. For all of us!
Posted November 10th, 2013 by The Steve Alexander Group
I’m not sure who said that. My brother has reminded me of it in many of our conversations.
The more professional coaching work I do these days, the more I remind others of it as well.
We seem to want to focus on what others need to do. To make us happy. To give us what we want. To change to make our lives more comfortable. Easier. Less complicated or conflicted. And yet it’s these very expectations that leave us feeling like we didn’t get what we wanted.
As the old Zen lesson reminds us, “Have no expectations, get no disappointments.” What if we lived a day without expecting anything from anyone else in our lives? Instead, what if we asked ourselves what we might do to bring pleasure, peace of mind, some small gesture of caring and concern to others in our lives?
With friends last evening I watched the movie “About Time,” a delicate romantic comedy with a science fiction time-travel twist. One touching moment, upon realizing there were limits to his time travel, our protagonist had to learn something from his father (brilliantly performed by the masterful Bill Nighy).
Though he had the ability to travel to anywhere in the past, instead of looking for the big moments, instead live each day twice, once as he lived it and once again, going back and looking for those moments within each day to find and give to others some simple pleasure, some small opportunity for happiness in between the spaces of what we normally live through in the course of a day.
How the day changed. No expectations. No disappointments. Beyond that, giving without expecting to ‘get’ something in return.
Can you live a day like that? At work? Home? In line at the coffee shop while you’re in a hurry to get to where you need to be next? In spite of the problems or challenges you’re facing? Or the ‘important’ work you’re doing? Or the many things on that long list of ‘To Dos” you need to get to?
I know we’re all busy. How many times do I find myself rattling off a list of all the important things I’m doing with clients when others ask how I’m doing.
What if you took a day and made a conscious effort to expect nothing from anyone or anything. And instead focused on how you might fulfill someone else’s needs and desires. For a conversation. An extra bit of comfort. Time. Care. Love.
I’m going to give it a try today. How about you?
Posted October 6th, 2012 by The Steve Alexander Group
In the cacophony of this intense political season in the US, it’s worth taking a pause from all the noise to reflect on the values that matter in our lives. It’s easy to get caught up in the ‘rightness’ or ‘wrongness’ of this stuff. Even more, to become ‘righteous’ about it.
Hence, why the story I shared last time about this humble man named Sixto Rodriguez must have captured the imaginations and yearning in so many. I can’t otherwise explain everything that’s happened since.
We received so many responses to the last post about the amazing documentary about Sixto Rodriguez, it seemed a sequel was in order. And for those who thought it was just a movie review, this man’s amazing story serves as an inspiration to all of us who work, live, socialize and otherwise interact with others of the human species!
The story of Rodriguez is almost unbelievable of itself. What has happened in the short time since my last post is, to me, even more so. First, I sent my blog to one of the documentary’s main characters, Stephen Segerman, the person who really ‘started it all’ with his search for Rodriguez. Turns out there was a connection there with one of our strategic partners, Orit Ostrowiak, who was born and raised in South Africa, and who is a worldwide speaker, coach and professional development trainer. We discovered Stephen and Orit shared the same tennis club in Johannesburg (albeit a few years apart).
Stephen posted our blog on the official “Searching for Sugar Man” website, commenting that he felt it captured the spirit of Rodriguez and what they were trying to express through the movie.
Now, just a couple of weeks later, the latest news is this story appearing in The Wrap, was forwarded to me by my friend and Cinema Society of San Diego director Andy Friedenberg. The story’s title is, “‘Searching for Sugar Man’ Rodriguez: From Poverty to Carnegie Hall.” It’s a must-read and gives additional insight into why I was so inspired by this man’s story.
Now, it turns out, ’60 Minutes’ will feature a story about his incredible journey on Sunday, 7 October 2012.
I can’t help but continue to feel inspired by this story. I’ve come across numerous others who were in some way touched by his music, his life, and now this unfolding story. He is playing to sold-out venues throughout the country and is touching a part in all of us through his gentle, quiet, humble notions about his newly-reclaimed fame.
Worth a listen, worth a look; I encourage you to check-out his story. There’s a message in it that’s timely. And maybe, for if even for a short time, it will take you away from all the ‘stuff’ that tends to take over when we’re on the fast track of our typically full and often over-stimulated lives.
If nothing else, I promise you’ll have ‘met’ a man who’s a modern-day soul that simply defines humility in a way I’ve not heard or seen in a long time.
Posted August 18th, 2012 by The Steve Alexander Group
Every now and then a film comes along that, from what you hear about it, promises a morsel of wisdom, insight and perhaps a message that will affect us and endure beyond its hour and 30 minutes. “Searching for Sugar Man” starts out as more than a morsel – soon delivering the whole cake – and ends up a banquet of emotions, messages and motivation that leaves no human heart untouched.
When I received the email from my dear friend and Cinema Society of San Diego Director Andy Friedenberg early Friday morning, I thought, “Hmmm, it’s rare that he’ll drop me a note this clearly telling me to see a flick, so it must be good.” I checked and found the local showings and set aside the afternoon to see what the buzz was about.
A small film about a songwriter musician with the talent of Bob Dylan and the gentle tenderness of a holy man, the story of Rodriguez will leave you in a daze long after the last of the credits roll. In fact, the theatergoers sat silently after the film, and much like the character memorialized in our hearts in that hour and a half, shuffled out in solemn reflection of what they just experienced.
Searching for Sugar Man is about the human spirit, humility and a brand of self-deprecation reserved for saints. You have to see the picture to understand it. And you have to experience it to receive the gift of the personal lessons it may hold for you.
You’ll probably never see Rodriguez, and the film that portrays his life, at the Academy Awards. Unless they include a new category for the Most Creative and Inspirational Film of the Year.
In today’s world, filled with so many recent senseless shootings, unpredictable violence, worldwide turmoil, economic uncertainty, name-calling and blaming, we find Rodriguez, and the many other real-life characters who fill the screen, to be refreshingly honest, open, and heroes in small, special and powerful ways.
The backdrop is the early 70s, an era in South Africa when apartheid was at its peak. Juxtaposed in a way that makes sense when you see the movie, the Detroit music scene, this talented, gifted musician and the songs he writes take on a meaning extending far beyond his failed commercial journey. It heralds the beginning of white South African anti-establishment awareness, since the National Party government heavily censored all media.
We ask ourselves, “Why we didn’t know about this?” And it helps us to remember that, even today, we get so caught up in the business of our own small worlds that we forget we are part of something bigger than ourselves. That there is a connectedness to things beyond our immediate sphere.
A common theme to my posts has been the encouragement, the urging, to take the time to look around, to see and appreciate the experiences of others, to touch deeply those around us, to hear their hearts and share their struggles… and their successes.
The irony of what happens in Rodriguez’s life, and how he and his family handle it, is a lesson for us all. The lesson is timeless, and it crosses generations, cultures, economies and countries. Each of us, in some way, big or small, affects the lives of others. Each of us has an opportunity to pause, take a moment and be present for those we love, those with whom we live, work and socialize.
Sometimes it doesn’t even require much more than a few simple words. A touch. A notion that someone matters. And that’s worth acknowledging. Who knows? You may leave a lasting impression, affecting someone in ways you can’t imagine. You can even change their world.
Just like Rodriguez.
Posted February 18th, 2012 by The Steve Alexander Group
In the communications world, we’re constantly looking for those anecdotes and stories that help others learn about the importance and challenges of communicating to our audiences. One recently occurred with a little friend of mine (‘little’ meaning 10 years old!) in trying to help her solve a problem. It helped underscore the importance of using language that has meaning to the receiver, and of making sure our communications are audience-focused.
She called me, as a family friend, from her mom’s mobile phone to tell me they were having trouble with their new television and video-streaming reception (not that I’m an expert by any stretch, however, I’m a practiced tinkerer and have some talent in unexpected areas beyond my day job!). It seemed like nothing was working. Because they had one of those full-service, one-provider arrangements, I asked if the house phone worked. She didn’t know (and rarely uses it), so I asked her to pick up the phone and listen for the dial-tone. Her response was startling!
“What’s a dial-tone?”
At first I thought she was teasing me (something she learned from me and at which she is now well-practiced). I repeated my question, and asked if she could hear the dial-tone on the house phone. For context, this is someone with an iPad, iPod and notebook computer, and who uses her mom’s mobile phone for voice communication. Once she knows your eddress, you’re a regular in her ‘Contacts’ list, and are sure to be updated on her life activities via email, texts, etc.
I was a bit taken aback and started to describe what a dial-tone was when I realized she was of a generation that had no real experience with the concept, and that I’d lost my ‘audience’ because I was unable to speak in a language and with words, symbols and substance that she understood. In my inability to explain and attempt to grasp for comparisons, this thought came to me: How often do we communicate in a language, at a time, with an emotion or intent that makes complete sense to us, but leaves our audiences, our listeners, totally disconnected (pardon the pun!)?
We act based on what WE think WE know, rather than taking the time to understand what our audiences/listeners know and need. It’s a focal point of a lot of the professional coaching I do as well. Often my counsel (when clients present a challenge in communicating with someone) is to slow down, think about the person they are communicating to, and ask them to apply the old ‘put yourself in their chair’ exercise. For example, what is that person thinking? What experiences do they bring to the conversation? What are their needs, wants, desires; fears, apprehensions, anxieties? Apply the “Seek first to understand, rather than to be understood” lesson. In other words, focus on your audience.
When we train speakers, it’s the same advice. Ask, why are folks sitting in their chairs listening to me? Why are they there? What do they want? (Rather than the classic speaker’s mistake of asking: What do I want to tell them?)
This little 10-year old is pretty sharp, and eventually I was able to help her with her problem. It made me aware that a mobile-phone generation may NEVER hear a dial-tone, and that word, like so many others, illustrates the need for changing language, symbols and substance as we communicate to others who may have a different perspective, background, culture, history, etc. than we do. We need to understand what others need and want from the communication, presentation, meeting, or other interaction they’re having with us, and help understand their ‘language,’ and where they are coming from in the midst of their challenge, or solution-seeking.
And remember, we may be speaking ‘dial-tone,’ and they may be speaking ‘mobile phone,’ and we both may lose out on making an important connection!
Posted November 18th, 2011 by Steve Alexander
I recently attended another Cinema Society of San Diego event run by my friend Andy Friedenberg. I’m not sure how he does it; his timing is impeccable when it comes to delivering movies just right for our times. Thanks, Andy!
After posting my recent blog about dysfunctional group dynamics, and receiving so many responses about how useful it was to folks, personally and professionally, Andy delivered with a touching, tender, poignant and timely movie called “Being Elmo” that was right on point!
So, why Elmo? The movie (releasing late December 2011, and you won’t want to miss it) is about an eight-year-old boy’s dream; a dream to become a puppeteer. More than that, it’s about the soul of this boy and how his character, whom we later learn is Elmo, reaches full expression in his life. Through Elmo, he touches a world of children and adults with love, compassion and care. His message is one of acceptance without judgment. No labels, criticism, put-downs or name-calling. How refreshing. And how timely.
The heart and soul of Kevin Clash, the tender, compassionate, caring boy whose dream actually becomes Elmo, is the heart and soul of this character we see develop on screen. We learn how congruent this is for Kevin and Elmo’s lives, if you will. By the way, Kevin is not a ventriloquist, putting a voice into a lifeless puppet, he’s a real, live human being putting his own heart and soul into Elmo. Touching lives. Caring. Carrying a message that says, “We’re basically all alike, regardless of who we are and where we come from; take the time to see that in others, see their dreams and hopes, and encourage and care for them.”
I never watched Sesame Street, Elmo’s home, only because I was from a different era. Learning about Kevin Clash, and his “Elmo,” gave me an appreciation for how much we could use his message in our tension-filled world, and in our distracted lives. How much we could all use a little compassion, unconditional acceptance and positive regard.
And maybe a re-visit to Sesame Street.
One of the many benefits of Cinema Society is we often meet the writers, directors, actors, producers and others connected with a film. We did that night. And also met 51-year-old Kevin Clash, who fulfilled his dream, and still carries that heart and soul on his sleeve, and, of course, in Elmo.
Listening to him talk, watching him connect with the audience, both in and out of character, was an inspiration. I’d like to take him to a few meetings with me; the tough ones I facilitate, where opinions and egos get in the way of sharing, caring and collaborative, mutual gains problem-solving. Kevin (in the character of Elmo) has a lot to say, and do, to help us in these challenging times, when communication has become so tragically dysfunctional.
I walked away that night with a refreshing sense of hope. I was touched by Kevin, even more, his Elmo. And it made me wonder if he couldn’t inspire in all of us a little more, to find that place in our hearts and souls, for reaching out to someone, friend or foe, and practicing in our own lives a little more… of Being Elmo!
Posted March 19th, 2011 by Steve Alexander
A good friend of mine recently arranged girls’ night out for her birthday and kid duty became a challenge, so I got the call. Watching a nine and ten year old. Seemed manageable. My night was supposed to include a quiet, relaxing premier of the latest IMAX release, Tornado Alley, with the Cinema Society of San Diego, run by my dear friend and fellow movie lover (in his case, expert!), Andy Friedenberg. I grabbed a couple of extra tix from another friend who couldn’t make the show, and it seemed like a snap. This would be easy, right?
I figured, what the heck. A couple of kids should get a kick out of the show. And maybe learn something, too. Plus, the theater is close to Bronx Pizza, one of the few good East Coast pizza joints in town, and, I was told, a favorite place of theirs. So, off we went.
What I realized soon into the event is that the one doing all the learning was me! Watching the world through the eyes of a nine and ten year old transported me back to that time in my own life. The relationship between me and my brother, also a year apart. The things we used to do that could keep us fascinated and engaged for hours. The little things that we appreciated. How simple life seemed. And maybe was.
As we got out of the car, one of the kids asked if I liked doing stuff like this, and why I was doing it with them. I replied that it was like there were three of us that were nine and ten, not just two. That this was as much a treat for me as it was for them. They transported me back to that earlier time as if it was yesterday. Good memories of a great little brother (who I picked on too much!) and a mom and dad that loved us and encouraged our learning, intrigue and curiosity with a world that was so full of wonder. The capacity for laughter over even the simplest of things. Boy, is it easy to forget, even worse, lose all that with the years of responsibility, change, loss, sadness and just the pressures of an adult world.
But they brought it all back in a heartbeat. As we crossed the parking lot, the younger one grabbed my hand. I’m not sure if it was to keep her safe. Or if she was making sure I was okay. In any case, it was like we were three little kids about to be treated to a great adventure. And that it was.
After the movie we played the scientific games at the Science Center. For a couple hours I was transported to another time, playing, laughing and becoming a ten year old all over again. Until we got kicked out of the place for being the last to leave!
So, what I learned, as has been written so well by George Bernard Shaw, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.”
For those of you who have kids, and have the privilege of playing with them as a regular part of your life experiences, take a moment and thank your kids for that gift. For those who don’t have children or the opportunity to spend time around them, figure out a way to do so. Borrow a friend’s kids. Do volunteer work. Rent some. Whatever it takes. Just don’t let the chance slip away as an important part of your life. You won’t regret it.
And for a memorable, transporting night that brought laughter (and an invisible tear to my eye), a big thanks to my two little friends for letting me be part of your own joy and fascination. I hope you’ll let me do it again soon!
Posted November 2nd, 2010 by Steve Alexander
For those of you looking for a strictly business-oriented post today, you’ll have to decide if you can find some kernels in this one. Perhaps some of the thoughts, issues and characteristics about my relationship in this post will touch you, push a button or turn on a light that’s been off for awhile. Taking the journey is up to you. Nonetheless, I invite you into a part of my life that has endured and influenced who I am and what I do every day.
Paul T. Kamide, my best friend for the last 40 years, passed away in October. I just returned from memorializing his life on a quick trip to the Boston area this weekend. Paul and I shared the kind of relationship that significantly influenced my life and my work; I believe he would have said the same. It was an unusual relationship for us both. We met in 1971 at Merrimack College, where he was the head of Campus Ministry. Paul was an ordained Augustinian priest and I was a rebellious college student; imagine the contrast: me, fresh off of hitchhiking up and down the coast, patched jeans, long hair, Woodstock ‘graduate’ concerned about a country at war, idealistic, in search of my own spirituality and the meaning of life; Paul, from a conservative upstate small NY town; preaching God’s word in a traditionally Catholic college; well-formed views about theology, spirituality and his life’s direction dedicated to God. In so many ways different, and yet underlying, we found a common bond, a thread that wove between us across four decades: a quest for true spiritual meaning in our lives, the love of family and good friends, the unwillingness to accept injustices and the mistreatment of others, a desire to give back more than we take from this journey and a thirst for doing what’s right and what we believed in even the face of criticism, doubt and sometimes fear.
Over the past decades I’ve stayed with or visited him in all the various places and parishes he’s been and lived. Though he wore a collar, to me he was a plainclothesman, just a man, a fellow traveler with all the same issues each of us count as part of our make-up. And that’s what made our relationship different, and special.
Early in our relationship, Paul’s mom died, and a few of us loaded in a car and made a trek across the snow-filled Berkshires to head up to some of the coldest country I’ve known in my life, Carthage, NY, on the Canadian border. That was a defining moment between Paul and me. Since that time, I’ve always made a point to value that time in others’ lives when they’ve lost a parent. Paul later shared with me how profoundly the loss of his mom, and the visit from those of us who were there to support him, affected him. I learned that none of us is immune from what that life transition means, and when it happens to our friends, it’s important to be there for them.
Paul was a risk-taker when it came to people. He was willing to trust his instincts when he saw good in someone, in spite of outward appearances and public perceptions. Bear in mind, this was an era of turmoil in our country. My long-haired, outspoken style was a challenge to the administration at this small, private, liberal arts college run by the Augustinian Order. Nonetheless, Paul gave me a job in Campus Ministry to help me pay my way through college. We designed programs that would connect the community surrounding the school to the students attending. We called it People, Plus… and it was a way of building a thread between students and local families. Today it’s among the roots of my work with others, helping to build connections and communication where it’s challenging and unexpected.
I only had enough money to pay my way through my first year of school, so Paul introduced me to the then-president, Reverend John Ahearn, who helped underwrite my college journey, based on his confidence in Paul’s judgment of and faith in people. I learned the importance of faith, confidence and the importance of acceptance of differences in others, no matter their views, values, cultural, societal or other differences. Those who were willing to take a chance on me taught me to be open to others as well, and that judgment only clouds our ability to love, to give and be generous of spirit and thought.
Paul left Merrimack to work at the Newman Center in Winter Park, Florida, and I decided to complete my studies early and join him there. We worked together for six months, and through countless hours of discussion, dialogue, interaction with numerous itinerant travelers and visitors, we both learned more about one another, people, the world, our faith and subjects and issues that stimulated and challenged who we were, what we believed and how we lived.
Forward to 1977, Paul was my best man in my wedding (an unusual duty for someone in his position). We continued to visit and stay in touch, always challenging and learning from one another, sharing history and memories as well as exploring and growing as life changed, new people and events occurred in our lives, and opportunities for both of us came, were pursued and achieved or not. My concept of friendship was chiseled out of this intellectual, spiritual, emotional relationship that endured the years, the distance and the life changes. It served as the centerpiece of my work today, where I encourage and train others as a facilitator, motivator, trainer and coach.
When others would hear us on the phone talking and catching up, nurturing and growing our relationship over a 3,000 mile chasm, they’d always comment about the gut-level laughter they heard as we teased, provoked, reflected and challenged one another. The ability to laugh and joke and not take oneself so seriously was the hallmark of this successful, adored, yet humble man. It’s a trait I admired and still emulate.
Paul died last month after struggling (stubbornly, as was his nature) with diabetes. It wasn’t like him to ask for help after spending a lifetime helping others. The cornerstone of his life was learning and teaching how to live a life based on the abundance theory. (Recall from prior posts how important I believe this is; Paul was an inspiration to me for that.) He always sought ways to give, rather than to receive, and to share his heart, his encouragement and his support with others, rather than seek his own glory or credit. The more he gave away, the more abundantly he lived with the love from others.
I’m not sure how many lives he touched given his life’s work, I only know he taught me well that we have to take every moment in our lives to appreciate and enjoy those around us, and to do what we can, when asked or not, to give support, encouragement and nurturing. We never know how we might affect that life in even the simplest of moments, with the slightest of effort.
During Paul’s memorial service, I talked about the importance of these kinds of relationships in our lives. As I reflect on the importance of these life-long relationships, I recall from an old movie the quote, “In life, we don’t get a second chance to make new ‘old friends’ so we better value and honor the ones we have.”
In the legal world, there’s a concept called, “privileged communications.” These are communications and relationships that are sacrosanct, untouchable by others and private to those who share that privilege. My relationship with Paul was like that, and the two of us enjoyed a safety and peace in knowing how unique and nurturing that was. As we shared our stories, challenges and perspectives on people, life, politics, religion and so forth, we knew our conversations were our own and beyond intervention by others. Extraordinary in this world. Joyfully, we recognized this, and we cherished it.
These are rare relationships. If you have them, you, too, are privileged. Don’t wait to remind yourself and those with whom you have them of how meaningful and priceless they are to you. You don’t know how long each of will be around to appreciate them.
In my typically youthful ideological way (of course we knew everything at that age!), I remember telling Paul at Merrimack, “Well, all these folks coming and going from school who promise to stay in touch will eventually lose track of one another. After all, time and distance change all relationships.” He never let me forget that. And each call or visit, when we’d end our time together, he’d always remind me that we might not speak again, because, after all, “Time and distance change all relationships!”
For forty years I heard his voice echo that teasing refrain. And now no more. Our relationship, as we once knew it, has forever changed.
In closing my reflections at the memorial service, I shared this poem by Sally Huss. I’ve had it for almost all the decades I’ve known Paul. It reminded me so of him, and the many others that have come and gone in my life.
“Around me I wear an invisible coat of many colors, fabrics and textures. It is made of friends and family here and no longer here, far and not so far. They are all part of my coat which keeps me warm wherever I go.”
Paul will always be a part of that coat. I’d like to think I was part of his while he was here. His inspiration will continue to be a part of my life, as I hope I was of his.
For those in your life with whom you have a special relationship, I encourage you to share your own story, how you value that relationship and how it affects who you are. Taking the time to do so promises an abundance in return. And Paul would have liked that.
Good-bye, my friend. May you rest in peace, and know forever how much you meant to me.
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