We’re having a heatwave!

The sun shone like a little clementine orange in the sky. A gentle breeze in the air felt as if the clouds were blowing me a kiss. At nearly 70 degrees, the temperature was perfect for sitting outside at a café with my wife while we were on our date.

Was it mid-May or June? Nope. It was two days ago, December 14th… in Rochester, NY!

If you aren’t from this town, it’s tough to appreciate just how rare that type of event is. Even stranger, November and December have both been marked by a stretch of warm days with hardly any snow. My shovel is getting lonely but I am content to leave him in isolation for as long as I possibly can.

My distain for winter is no surprise to the people who know me. The older I get, the more I loathe the cold! As a matter of fact, I develop an entirely different personality in the winter. He’s not a ton of fun to be around (imagine a David Banner/ Hulk situation). We call him “Winter John”.

Winter John hung around for several months last year. It was bitterly cold for long periods of time. The sun rarely made an appearance. I forgot what it was like to feel the sensation of warmth. This year, I braced myself for Winter John with steely resolve. His violent takeover is always a shock to the system. As of right now, he has been kept at bay.

This stretch of nice weather has got me thinking about a couple of things.

First of all, I realize my hesitancy to live in the moment and enjoy each day for what it is. When things are going well, one of my first thoughts is always, “When is the other shoe going to drop?” While I know that January and February still hold the possibility of tortuous temperatures, I don’t want to let that keep me from soaking up every ounce of warmth I can. It’s the same in life. When I shut off my ability to feel pain, I also eliminate my ability to experience true joy.

Second, the weather is a constant reminder of another reality. Ultimately, I am not in control of the events around me. As the wise poet Vanessa Williams once said, “Sometimes the snow comes down in June”. I have no control over the wind, the temperature, the jet stream or el nino (heck! I don’t even have control of my ninos). There are times when everything seems great, then tragedy hits. Similarly, there are moments when I brace for something terrible and joy shows up instead. That doesn’t mean that I am powerless. I am still able to decide how I will respond to life.

My prayer is that I will have the courage to face each day on it’s own. This means mourning during the harsh days but also celebrating when the temperature hits 70.


Lessons from the gym

I finished a set of hack squats. I was feeling slightly out of breath but pretty good about my leg-pressing prowess.

A college guy walked up to me. “Excuse me sir”, he said. I was taken aback by the formality of his introduction. “When did I become a ‘sir’”, I silently thought to myself. Oh well, that would have to wait.

“Can I ask you a question?” he continued. I responded with an enthusiastic “Go for it!” Would his question be aimed at the specific workout plan I follow? Maybe he is interested to know how I maintain such a svelt physique at an advanced age. Perhaps he would like some pointers on a specific exercise. There were so many possibilities!

“How do you take care of your bald head?” he asked. I stared emotionless at him for what felt like 15 minutes. His question had genuinely surprised me. How do you respond to a question like that? Was he really serious? Should I call bears out of a nearby woods to attack him?

I guess he sensed the state of shock I was in. “I’m going bald too and I want to know what to do. I’m sorry if that is an awkward question.” His statement hit me like a bucket full of ice water to my face.

I tried to play it off nonchalantly, “Oh, no problem at all!” I said. “What do you want to know?” We spent 5 minutes talking about shaving techniques, shampoos and lotions. I realized I had picked up a lot of bald man wisdom over the course of 20 years of hairlessness. Afterward, he looked me in the eyes and said with all sincerity, “Thank you so much! I’m sorry again if that was a weird question.”

This time, I had a greater appreciation for what a courageous step he had taken. I smiled at him and responded. “Glad I could help. Welcome to the brotherhood of the bald man!” He grinned and walked away.

Our culture tends to elevate strength. We are constantly building our resume whether it is on paper or in our heads. Our value is directly tied to how productive we can be. We are only as good as our strengths.

There is only one problem. We all have weaknesses or parts of ourselves that we wish we could change. We tend to sweep that side of ourselves under the rug. We hide them so that no one else can see.

I have come to realize that people may admire my strengths but they identify with my weakness. There are enough people in the world unwilling to share their struggles. Maybe I can be a blessing in the lives of a few people by refusing to wear the toupee of performance. Instead, I choose to live in the freedom of honesty…bald head and all!


Oh Christmas Tree!

I’m sitting here on my couch looking at Randy. He’ll be a guest in our home for about a month. Our family already loves having him around. He doesn’t wash dishes, clean windows, cook meals or watch children but he isn’t high maintenance either. Give him some water and he is good to go.

Randy is our Christmas tree. In a process similar to naming hurricanes or winter storms, our kids pick a name for our tree every year. No one can anticipate the name beforehand. We have to set eyes on the conifer and get a sense of his personality before a proper moniker is given. Ooooo! Cool band name alert- “Conifer Moniker”. I call it!

Yesterday after school we made our annual trek to the Christmas tree farm. About a mile before we reached our destination, an eerie feeling came over me. I turned to Laura and said “I hope the place is open”. It hadn’t occurred to either of us that perhaps the farm wouldn’t be fully operational on a weekday.

Sure enough, we arrived and there were no wagons headed to the fields. I was disappointed. We wouldn’t be able to cut down our tree. Thankfully, some workers let us peruse a bunch of trees they had recently harvested.

The yearly “Great Tree Debate” ensued. After spending way too much time looking (and investing a lot of emotional energy passionately defending the trees of our choosing) we decided that Randy would fit our home nicely.

The rest of the process was easy. We gave the tree to an attendant who bailed it. I paid for it and we were on our way home to decorate.

Even though the experience was fun, it seemed like something was missing. What difference is there between cutting a tree down myself and having someone else do it? Or even dare I say, a fake tree…Ugh! Maybe the answer lies in our cultural understanding of life and death.

I rarely think twice about where my food comes from. How did my chicken wings, cheeseburger or even broccoli make their way onto my plate? Something had to die so that I would have life. I am not faced with that reality every day.

Secretly, before I cut down my Christmas tree, I take time to think about how long it has been in the field. I wonder how many snow storms, torrential downpours and heat waves it has lived through. I look around at the other trees that have stood by its side for years. Does that make me crazy? Yeah. Probably.

I always feel a little sad right before my saw hits the bark of the tree. At the same time, I have a higher level of thankfulness and joy for what is standing proudly by my couch.

In a weird twist of irony, maybe taking the time to think about the death around me, would make me appreciate life even more.