Tuesday, December 31, 2013

To the question presented to me:  If you received a surprise package in the mail, what would you like to be in it?

A Surprise Package

Everyone loves a surprise.  Birthdays.  Christmas.  Anniversaries.  Or any other causes for celebration.  Whatever the reason, we eagerly open our boxes with this in mind – to be surprised  –  to be the recipient of the unexpected.  And often times, the bigger the box the better.  After all, big things come in big boxes, don’t they?  Well, not necessarily, but you already know that from your own personal experience, don’t you?  A diamond ring.  A gold necklace or earrings.  A gift card.  I’m sure you can think of a thousand other things that are potentially big gifts, but small in size.

For me personally, the greatest gift that could ever be found in a package is one that comes from the heart.  In other words  –  a gift of love.  As a would be writer, that “love” could be expressed in the form of the written word.  From a love interest:  A simple ‘I Love You.’  ‘You Are My Everything.’  ‘From Now Until Eternity.’  ‘I’ll Be Forever at Your Side.’  ‘There Can Be No Heaven Without You There.’  Or from a child:  ‘I Love You Daddy.’  ‘Daddy, We’ll Make it Through This Together.’  From parents:  ‘We Are Proud of You.’  ‘You Are Our Pride and Joy.’  ‘You’ve Made Us So Proud.’  ‘When We Needed You the Most ~ You Were There.’  And from a sibling:  ‘I’ll Be Here if You Need Me.’  ‘Thanks For Being the Best Brother Ever.’  ‘Thank You for Taking Care of Mom.’  And let’s not forget our many friends:  ‘Your Friendship Means Everything.’  ‘I Can Always Count on You When I’m Feeling Down.’  ‘You Always Have My Back.’  ‘I Feel Safe in Your Presence.’  ‘Thanks for the Shoulder to Lean On.’

And oftentimes, for all of the above situations, all that a “surprise package” needs to contain is a simple ~ ‘Thank You.’  The reality is this:  A “thank you” is a measure of your worth to someone at a particular moment in time.  And “moments in time” are what we are all experiencing at this very moment.  So, to all of you that read this ~ “Thank You” for your contributions you have made to my happiness – both past and present.

54 Things I've Learned Along the Road of Life

54 Things I’ve Learned 
(Along the Road of Life)

I’ve learned…. That true love comes from giving, not receiving.

I’ve learned…. That the only friends you will ever need in your life are the ones who are always there in your time of need.

I’ve learned…. That rewards are earned, not handed out.

I’ve learned…. That the meaning of life is revealed to those who show concern for others.

I’ve learned…. That the sacrifices one endures today will pay rich rewards tomorrow.

I’ve learned…. That the very knowledge of love is no substitute for the actual display of love.

I’ve learned…. That even a few “accepting” friends are worth far more than a thousand friends on any social site.

I’ve learned…. That a heartfelt ‘I Love You’ are the three most important words in any language.

I’ve learned…. That kindness to others is what keeps the heart beating steadily.

I’ve learned….  That for every beautiful memory made, some form of love was behind it.

I’ve learned…. That the fortunes of life received are equal to the toils endured.

I’ve learned…. That there are no right or wrong answers to the meaning of life.

I’ve learned…. That every child should choose their own course in life … not their parent’s wishes.

I’ve learned…. That love is the greatest gift that God had bestowed on mankind.  But that so few ever come to realize it.

I’ve learned…. That learning to love is a lifetime process that only comes to fruition when once we have lost it.  Only then do we yearn for what we have lost.

I’ve learned…. That we must love ourselves first before we can truly love someone else.

I’ve learned…. That negativity is the opposite of love.

I’ve learned…. That saying “thank you” should be more commonplace by all people.

I’ve learned…. That for every child that cries out, a single heart must listen and respond.

I’ve learned…. That for every dollar spent on those in need, two will be returned.

I’ve learned…. That only an open heart will hear the sounds of love.

I’ve learned…. That only love can open the doors of life.

I’ve learned…. That giving is living.

I’ve learned…. That only love can shine through and melt the most hardened of hearts.

I’ve learned…. That all wars are a result of the absence of love.

I’ve learned…. That without love in our hearts, we have nothing.

I’ve learned…. That we are nothing more than an empty shell without someone to love.

I’ve learned…. That for every tear shed, a loved one has been missed or lost forever – though the memories, if good, shall live forever.

I’ve learned…. That for every love lost, a better one awaits around the corner for those that are givers.

I’ve learned…. That parental love is the key for the continuance of love for succeeding generations.

I’ve learned…. That the heart will never reach its capacity to give love.

I’ve learned…. That one cannot show kindness without love in their heart for all humankind.

I’ve learned…. That aging gracefully is more mental than physical.

I’ve learned…. That being alone does not imply loneliness.

I’ve learned…. That time can be both your best friend and your worst enemy – depending on how you use it.

I’ve learned…. That honesty in all matters will nurture not only the mind and body, but the heart and soul as well.

I’ve learned…. That there are far greater rewards and happiness in this life that money can’t buy.

I’ve learned…. That the only proven way to achieve happiness is by making others happy before yourself.

I’ve learned…. That peace can only be achieved through the absence of wealth.

I’ve learned…. That children are the answer to yesterday’s woes.

I’ve learned…. That all crimes and wars are a direct result of greed.

I’ve learned…. That my accomplishments in life are due more to learning from my mistakes than from my successes.

I’ve learned…. That the greatest acts of kindness are those that go unrecognized by others.

I’ve learned…. That if you are going to do something, do it right or don’t do it at all. This I learned from my father.

I’ve learned…. That promises made and kept will hold one in high esteem.

I’ve learned…. That to bring happiness to others, you must first be happy with yourself.

I’ve learned…. That saying “please” will never come back to hurt you.

I’ve learned…. That the better educated I became; the less I realized I knew.

I’ve learned…. That smiles are infectious.

I’ve learned…. That natural bonds of love are not instantly created, but earned over time.

I’ve learned…. That hate results in wasted energy.

I’ve learned…. That forgiving is part of giving.

I’ve learned…. That listening is more important than speaking.

I’ve learned…. That one should not judge a fellow human being by their appearance.

~ Michael R. Jennings

Saturday, September 28, 2013

(A Tribute to Barb Who Walked With Her Joe)

Walk with Me

Walk with me 
While old I grow
Hold my hand
Take me back 
To my yester years

Walk with me
Please guide me along
For the once many memories 
Are behind me now
Forever lost in time

Walk with me 
Speak to me
Of long forgotten pasts
And a future lost
Within my hazy mind

Walk with me
Place my arm within yours
For the potholes of my life
At least within my mind
I know not where to step

Walk with me
Be my eyes
Refresh my mind
Both grown cloudy
With the passing years

Walk with me
For I really know not
Where I've walked before
Nor where my
Tomorrow’s lie

Walk with me
My forever love
For you are now the me
That time and age
Have long forgotten

Walk with me
Guide me back to you
For you’ve always been
The keeper of my heart
The essence of my love

~ Michael R. Jennings
© 2013
Zip Lining in Hawaii

This piece is excerpted from a more comprehensive discussion of our recent vacation to Kona, Hawaii.  A vacation that included both sons, along with Kit and Kelly.

Midway through our stay there, the five of us headed out for a drive that took us approximately an hour and a half.  I don’t particularly like long drives, but this one was worth it (maybe).  My two sons (I was hoping for girls) decided that the three of us would go “zip lining.”  You know, where you are hanging onto an ancient, heavily worn-out cable and “zipping” along at 200 miles per hour while five miles above the ground.  Okay, that might be a “slight” exaggeration on my part, but that is exactly what I had envisioned when they mentioned zip lining as something to do.  Why I had originally agreed to do such a thing is beyond me?  For three or four days, I kept thinking to myself, “What was I thinking?  Were the boys intentionally trying to induce a heart attack to collect on my non-existent life insurance policy?”  I had all these visions of plus screaming down the hill while wetting my pants.  I kept telling myself, “Remember to bring a change of clothes.  This could prove to be quite embarrassing; especially in front of Kit and Kelly.”   Let’s face it; I had a macho image to uphold, right?

Anyway, the hour of reckoning was soon upon me when we arrived at the site.  The first thing the company had us do was to sign a waiver holding them blameless for any loss of limb or life.  Yikes!  My fears were now compounded ten-fold.  After signing my waiver, I swore, then and there, that I would get even with my sons for what was about to happen.  One by one, the two guides placed each of us in upper-body harnesses, along with an ill-fitting helmet for me that bore evidence of having been riddled with massive dents.  Needless to say, my imagination ran wild as to the source of those dents.  Was I about to add to those dents?  I was only a half-hour away from finding out.  “Lord, have mercy on me,” I prayed over and over.

With the three of us, plus another couple, about to jump into a van that would take us higher up the mountain, I went over to Kit, gave her a kiss and said, “It was nice knowing you.”  Of course, it was easy for her to find humor in those words as she wasn’t the one going zip lining.  It wasn’t her life being put at risk.  She then looked up at me and said, “Yes, it was nice knowing you.”  OMG!  She has obviously been around the boys way too much.

By this time, the guides were starting to get a little tired of my stalling tactics and ordered me into the van.  While in the van, I kept my eyes closed all the way up what had to be the tallest mountain in the world.  It seemed to take forever to get to the first of seven zip lining stations.  Brendan later informed me that the ride was only twenty minutes in duration.  Personally, I think his sense of “time” is way off.  Possibly caused by too many drinks the night before.  That’s my side of the story, and I’m sticking to it.  Perception is reality, you know.

Note:  There were seven “jumping off” platforms in total.  Each one longer and higher (from the ground) than the one before it.  As I stood on the first platform, I could see that it appeared to be at least a mile-long  – even though the sign on the platform read fifty yards.  Whoever made up that sign clearly had no handle on distance.  Most likely, American schooled.  Because I was brought up to let others go first, I was the last of the five to go screaming off the first platform.  The elderly lady who went first never made a whimper.  I’m thinking just maybe she was blind – what you can’t see won’t scare you.  That’s the only excuse I could come up with for her lack of screams on all seven jumps.  Either that or her husband loaded her up with anxiety medications.  I wish I had thought of bringing some.

I begged the guide to allow me to walk to the second platform because I found this first jump to be non-challenging and made for children – something I felt was beneath me.  The next thing I knew was the feeling of a slight push on the back, and away I went flying (ready or not).  What seemed like a one-hour flight on the overhead cable was probably no more than 20 seconds.  As it turned out, it was pretty cool; except for trusting that the cable wouldn’t break.

I won’t bore the reader with the next five jumps.  With each “flying through the air” experience, I gained more confidence as we went along; except for trusting that the cable wouldn’t break.  The seventh and last of the runs was to be the longest and highest.  I’m not sure as to the actual length of the run.  I just knew that I couldn’t see the end of it.  By this time, however, the word “fear” was no longer part of my vocabulary; just the part about trusting that the cable wouldn’t break remained with me.

This last jump would take us directly over a large waterfall that appeared to run to the center of the earth.  In actuality, by the time I was directly overhead, I was a mere 3,000 feet above the bottom of the waterfall.  And to further live up to my “macho man” reputation, I even took a series of pictures with my camera as I sailed over the waterfall – using no hands to hang onto the harness as I snapped the pictures, I might add.  Pretty brave, huh?  Would I do zip lining again?  In a heartbeat.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

One Moment in Time

One Moment in Time

A special lady in my life posed a “what if” question of me the other day.  The question being: If you could relive any one day of your life, which would it be and why?  An interesting question to say the least.  If one has lived long enough, it’s a question they have answered, or at least tried to, more than once.  It’s the kind of question that makes one think and to look back at their life, as one does in a rear-view mirror, for that one pivotal moment that changed everything.  Or it could be that one special day or moment that brought them the greatest joy.  The possible moments for most individuals are endless.  Fell in love.  A wedding day.  The birth of a child.  Your first car.  Going off to college.  The list of special moments could fill a book.  There is no right or wrong answers.  Whatever one comes up with for an answer is unique to that individual.  No one would (or should) place a value judgment on your “special” day or experience; unless you committed a heinous crime, of course.

For some, that special moment could have manifested itself in some monumental way – surviving a plane crash, almost drowning, finding yourself in the middle of a burning building, the death of a child, a sibling, a spouse, a parent.  For others, it could be something as simple as holding a baby in your arms for the first time, bringing home a puppy, watching a rainbow form and fade in the glistening sunlight, your first crush.

Regardless of what it is, it’s a moment generally tucked away in our minds until something, or someone, brings it back to life … and we smile at its recollection.

So I pause to ask myself, ‘What is my defining moment?’ Or do I even have a defining moment?  If you’re my age, you have a lot of life to look back on.  The answer, quite naturally, would come a lot easier for those that are still teens or in their early twenties.  Ah, to be that age again.  So, never one to back down from a reasonable challenge … I pondered … and pondered some more.  And then it came to me.  It is not a “moment in time” that I would necessarily need to relive, as it was a defining moment in who I was to become.  The exact day (as in actual date) is unknown to me.  The date, however, is unimportant; it’s the actual moment, the personal experience that the above question begs to answer.

It was in the winter of 1963.  I was aboard a Naval aircraft carrier.  We were being escorted into Hong Kong harbor by tugboats in the darkness of the early evening.  It was chilly.  As was the custom when pulling into any port, we enlisted personnel were lined up, side by side, along the outer perimeters of the flight deck in our dress blues, hands clasped behind our backs.  Standing alongside of me was what we call a “lifer,” – an enlisted man with 26 years of service behind him.  This was to be his final cruise before retiring from the service.  He, like me, worked in the Personnel Department.  He was not only my mentor, but my closest friend.  When I came aboard ship for the first time as an eighteen year-old, he immediately took me under his wings.  Being unsure of myself and undergoing a new and unknown environment, I was grateful for his reaching out to me.

As we slowly made our way into port, I could clearly see a vast array of tall buildings dotting the landscape – a combination of office buildings, hotels and apartments.  With the blessings of an almost full moon, I could see the distinct outline of a mountain ridge rising up and behind the various buildings.

And then came the moment of enlightenment.  Glancing to the left of the city I could make out what appeared to be hundreds, if not thousands, of flickering lights of some sort dotting the mountainside.  None of which appeared to be coming from any building, but the mountain itself.  Turning my head slightly to the right, I asked my mentor what the flickering lights were all about.

Without a slightest turn of his head, he answered, “Those lights you see in the hillside are basically nothing more than what we would call campfires.  Hong Kong, like anywhere else, has their share of poor.  The poorest of the poor have dug what we would call caves into the side of the mountain.  That is where they, both individuals and families, sleep at night.  That is their home.  The campfires, set just outside of the caves, are the only means available to them for fending off the cold winter nights.  Tomorrow, when there is adequate sunlight, you will see another class of the poorest … those who live and fish for their existence aboard sampans.  They cover the harbor by the thousands.”

As an eighteen year-old know-it-all who grew up in a middle-class environment, I was shocked by what he had just shared with me.  I had no idea that people actually lived like this in other parts of the world.  It would be some years later before I would learn that millions of people in my own country lived in abject poverty – much the way the people living in Hong Kong did back in 1963.

As we continued to inch our way into the harbor, my eyes and thoughts remained on the flickering campfires.  And then it happened … the emotions I never knew I had kicked in and the tears began to roll from my eyes.  At first slowly … and then in a torrent.  My mentor, breaking protocol, reached over and placed his left hand on my shoulder.  Without looking my way, he said, “Son, I reacted the same way as you when I first entered this harbor some twenty odd years ago.  It’s okay.  Just remember that what you’ve seen this evening and vow, in your own way, to right the wrongs of life.  You already have far more benefits in this life then these people will ever have.  Your personal goals are probably college, marriage, children, and a house with a fence around it.  Their goal, on a daily basis, is, ‘where will my next meal come from; or will I even have a next meal.’  So keep in mind, always, that no matter how little you think you have, no matter the obstacles you may face in life’s journey, these people will have 100 times less benefits than you.  They are fighting daily for their very existence.  Something you and I never give a thought to.  Or at least I hope we never have to.”

His words went a long way in consoling me … but still the tears flowed.  If nothing else, I grew up that dark, chilly evening in Hong Kong.  I have the campfires, the caves, and the people living in them to thank.  It was that “moment” in which I finally came to realize that there are other human beings in this world besides me -- not only other beings, but people in far dire straits than I would ever encounter in my lifetime.  Oh, like most people, I have encountered my fair share of problems, for which I most likely blamed my God for having inflicted them upon me.  But those problems, like all the others before them, quickly passed.

Anymore, when I am faced with what appears to be insurmountable obstacles, I think back to those campfires, either consciously or unconsciously.  I’ve come to realize, and accept, the fact that I am not exactly what one would refer to as a “macho man.”  I have a tendency to openly shed tears while reading a sad part in a novel, watching a tear-jerking movie, or reading about a real-life event of something heroic.  It’s just me.  Don’t ask me why.  I can’t explain it other than taking someone on a “memory tour” that took place in the winter of 1963.  This one moment in time was life defining for this 18 year-old kid.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Toothpaste Delight - NOT!

You ever have one of those days where it didn't start out right? Where you should have just stayed in bed and not gotten out of bed until the next day?  Well of course you have.  We all have.

After finishing my breakfast (the boys were at work), I headed off to my son's bathroom to brush my teeth ... at least those that are left (a result of candy, coke, Twinkies and potato chips when I was a kid).  I noticed a small tube of my son's toothpaste standing upright on the bathroom counter and proceeded to squeeze the paste onto my Sonicare.  When I travel, it goes with me.  Electric toothbrushes take the hard work out of brushing.  Anyway, I spent the next three-minute cycle attacking all the vile germs that just love to find a happy home on my teeth.  But something wasn't quite right.  The toothpaste had a strange taste and feel to it.  Hey, I told myself, everyone has their own preference in toothpaste.  If it cleans, it cleans.

After brushing my teeth and rinsing my mouth out, I decided to check out his brand of choice.  It turned out be a brand most of us have heard of, but seldom, if ever, used on our teeth, let alone in the mouth -- Cortisone.  You know, the stuff that one applies to heal wounds ... not clean teeth.  Upon that discovery, I headed directly back to bed ... hopefully not to wake up until the following morning.