So this is my last weekend in my thirties. My fortieth looms ominously just three days ahead and I’m not sure what to expect. Will there be a dramatic change? Will things suddenly stop working? Will I start moving slower and all hunched over? I wonder.
Will I get a letter in the mail on Monday from the AARP? Will I pay closer attention to those TV commercials with the old lady on the floor who can’t get up? Should I learn the intricate strategies of bingo? Not likely.
It’s just forty. It’s no big deal. Turning twenty didn’t bother me. Neither did turning thirty. So why should forty? I don’t fear it… I welcome it.
As I crest this hill, the one thing I look forward to is this new character type that I’m supposed to become. The wise old sage. To put it in Star Wars terms, I’m past the days of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. Now I’m Obi Wan.
And in this day and age, don’t we need more Obi wan’s?
I’ve reached the age in life where I can refer to those younger than me as “Sport”, “Punk” and “Junior”. And I now have the freedom to scream at them to get off my lawn.
I’ve reached the age where I can own the silver in my hair and the wrinkles around my eyes. I don’t need a product to cover them up. They distinguish me. They let people know that I have a story to tell.
I’m thankful for my first thirty nine years. I thank God for making me who I am today, the lessons He taught me, the people He put around me and the future He has in store for me.
So as I crest the hill, I remember that I am a wily old veteran of life while still living it. I’ve been there and done that and am still doing it. There are new lessons to learn and more work to be done.
Forty is not the end.
It’s a new beginning.
The hills of Atlanta started taking their toll on me at about mile eighteen of my first marathon. Each step forward was a monumental task. Every footfall was a small victory. There were only eight miles to go, but the finish line seemed like a world away.
It became clear to me that the person who designed the streets of Atlanta didn’t have runners in mind. Instead of winding, flat, asphalt roads, I pictured the streets of Atlanta as a long, steep staircase that led to a summit. The kind of staircase you see in old kung fu movies. The ones that are made of stone and zig-zag along the side of a mountain that leads to an ancient temple at the peak. Success and enlightenment wait at the top for those who can make the climb.
It’s no mystery that the mind starts playing tricks on you at that stage of the marathon. During those last few miles I was passed by a gangly older man, wearing all black. His skin was olive and we shared the same hair line. I noticed our similarities.
He mumbled to himself while he ran, like I sometimes do. He ran with his head slightly down, like I sometimes do. His arms and shoulders were relaxed and his cadence was steady – like mine sometimes is.
In the distress that I was feeling in those final few miles, I saw that man as the future version of me. My thoughts began to race as I watched him pull away and disappear over the next hill. The marathon is emotionally draining and when my future passed me by, I began to think that my life was flashing before my eyes right there amongst the hills of Atlanta.
I wondered where the old man in black had been. Where did he come from? What got him to this point?He never gave up on running. He was lucky to have not sustained any injuries that would keep him off the street. His legs were strong and quick. His passion and determination are what got him here. Two things you need in a marathon and in life.
I wondered where the old man was now. Maybe he had a family waiting for him at the finish line. A wife, children, grandchildren ready to welcome him with open arms and a cool bottle of Gatorade.
Did he know God? Was he praying that he would make it over that next hill? Not to puke? To reach the finish line? I had to believe he was asking for help from above because that’s what I was doing at that point. I had to rely on God at mile eighteen because my own strength wasn’t enough.
When I crested the next hill, I saw my future far in the distance. He was climbing the next hill. One of the many endless hills that stood between us and the finish line. But he wasn’t intimidated. He never slowed down. He was strong and fast.
I liked how my future was shaping up. It was bright and exciting – but it wasn’t necessarily true.
When the hills flattened out during the last stretch of the race, my foray into the future came to an end. I could see Centennial Olympic Park just down the road. The finish line was near. At this point the future didn’t matter and neither did the past. At this point during the race all that mattered was the here and now. This stretch of road.
I have an idea and a vision of my future but it isn’t guaranteed. Because His ways aren’t my ways and even though I’ve learned from the past, all that matters is where I am now.
My future may not be a gangly old man in black who runs like the wind. I can’t say with certainty that I’ll even be running when I’m his age. I can only hope.
But I believe that there will be hills to climb and that the road will sometimes be flat and smooth. There will be mountains to traverse and the view from the top will be spectacular. And I believe that my strength alone is not enough to make it.
All that matters is where we are now and that the only way ahead is forward. One monumental step at a time. One small victory at a time.
1. I shouldn’t have eaten so many tacos last night.
2. Carbs are good for me.
3. Hot sauce is not good for me.
4. This is not a race. Take it easy.
5. I can’t catch that person in front of me.
6. Yes I can.
7. Predator mode. Claws out.
8. Hello, ma’am. Goodbye ma’am.
9. Watch out for the chipmunk!
10. Alvin. Simon. Theodore.
11. I don’t prefer animated movies.
12. That guy should wear a shirt.
14. How does Han Solo know what Chewbacca is saying?
15. I’m tired.
16. The force is not with me.
17. I need more tacos.
What do you think about while running?
It didn’t take long for me to see the competitiveness of the Burton brothers. I had heard of their legendary will to win and how serious they take competition. On that overcast, Friday afternoon on the golf course, I witnessed their passion to win and their desire for perfection first hand.
The Burton brothers take their sports seriously. They play tennis, golf, softball and volleyball among others and the only time they relish in the joy of these sports is if the results earn them a notch in the win column. From physical sports to Iphone games, the only foreseeable end for them is with a victory.
Golf is a leisure sport. But not for the Burton brothers. From hole one to eighteen, they embody the eye of the tiger. They analyze every lie and every break. They judge the wind and argue the accuracy of yardage markers. A round of golf for them is not leisure. It’s business.
It’s when things didn’t go their way that I saw their true passion. A bad decision or a hitch in their swing leads to expletives and outbursts. It was only until I saw the shiny nine iron flying over my head followed by the eight iron that I knew that one of them had missed the mark.
A bad day of golf leads to lots of flying golf clubs when you play with the Burton brothers. And by the end of that day, their throwing arms had to be sore.
If you joke with them about their golf balls landing in the woods, their passion turns towards you and you have nowhere to hide from their wrath. In the heat of the moment, their skin is thin. You don’t haze the Burton brothers unless you’re their father.
“I thought I raised boys!” their dad says when one of them leaves a putt short. Their faces turn red and their brows furrow. But they don’t return their fathers chastisement. They never would.
Before playing golf with the Burton brothers, I always thought that I was overly passionate about competing. I’ve been labeled a sore loser, an ungracious loser. I’ve lamented over a run that didn’t go my way. I’ve pounded my fist on the poker table when the cards didn’t fall my way.
But I learned something about my passion when I played with them that day.
I learned that pitching a fit may make you feel better but it doesn’t make things better. There is a better way to deal with failure than throwing clubs and screaming four letter words.
While playing with the Burton brothers, I learned that I didn’t want to lose that way. There can be grace in failing.
How do you handle failure?
If you’ve ever ran a half marathon or a marathon, you’ve heard them. They’re those little whispers of doubt and negativity. They sneak in there when your oxygen levels are low. They are there when your glycogen is gone, when you are depleted.
When ever you want to accomplish something big, you hear the lies that the mind tells. Some people call it resistance. Some call it fear. But rest assured that it’s all fiction. It’s not real. Don’t believe the hype.
During the tenth mile of my first half marathon my mind began to chatter. I was tired and in over my head and that hill on Peachtree street was never ending. It was a blustery November morning. We ran into a biting headwind the whole way. A frozen mist pelted us in the face. Conditions were rough and my mind spewed it’s nonsense:
“You need to stop.”
“You’ll never make it.”
“Save face. There is always another race.”
But with the finish line in sight and my father by my side, I vowed to press on. In those last hundred yards, I found myself in a full sprint to the finish gate. I was convinced that I had what it took to complete the course and the doubt that was in my head turned out to be merely an annoyance.
The bible says that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. The only way to beat the lies and doubts that the mind conveys is to bring out the human spirit. That unseen force that’s deep down in all of us. It’s that God given will that we all keep holstered just in case we need it. The human spirit is our get up and go when our bodies and minds have got up and went.
When the spirit takes over, those doubts that used to look like menacing bear traps turn into nothing more than an annoying gnat, something we can swat away and move past. The human spirit turns the light on the lies and reveals them for what they are. Fiction, nonsense, babble.
Despite the doubt that the mind is feeding you, know that we all have what it takes to push past it. Keep churning. Keep climbing and don’t believe the lies.
I’m often ridiculed when I reveal that one of my favorite super hero movies is about an african american vampire that hunts and kills other vampires. My friends and coworkers can’t make sense that I think that this was my favorite.
It’s not the hero that made an impression. I just thought that it was an entertaining film. It was different and exciting and my african american vampire hero had wicked ninja skills which is always a plus.
We love our super heroes because they are an escape. They lead exciting lives. They fly around and drive cool cars. They shoot laser beams out of their eyes and cause s’plosions (that’s southern for explosions). They always win the fight and always get the girl. They live the ideal life.
But it isn’t their super powers that impresses me. I can do without capes and masks. My real life heroes can’t fly. They don’t wear utility belts and cod pieces. My heroes don’t wear disguises to hide their true identities. On the contrary. They’re heroes because they aren’t afraid of who they are.
My heroes are those that don’t give up when the going gets tough. They fight through the pain because they know it’s worth it.
My heroes are those that put others first. Selflessness is a super power.
My heroes don’t hide their beliefs. They unashamedly follow their God with passion and loyalty. Even if that means they’ll face ridicule. At the same time, my heroes don’t always live by the rules. They love God, not religion.
My heroes fight for those less fortunate, building wells in third world countries for people they will never meet. Helping the impoverished in their own communities by giving their time and money. They fight against modern slavery. They’re abolitionists.
My heroes aren’t perfect. They have flaws. They struggle with their own, personal demons. But this is what makes them super. They don’t try to go at it alone. They share the burden. They rely on God and their sidekicks.
My heroes aren’t super because of their good looks, their swagger or the size of their sword. They are super because they transcend. They rise above and take a stand. They lead extraordinary lives because they aren’t afraid to do so.
What makes a hero super to you?
There are times when the computer screen mocks me. It’s blank, grayness resembles an overcast sky and it sucks the color out of everything around it. The same way writers block sucks the life out of your soul.
The blinking cursor glares at me. It’s like an angry boss sitting across from me at the other end of a long conference room table. It taps it’s fingers on the table and demands that I give it something.
“What do you got for me son?” it asks.
Sometimes I stare at the screen and let my eyes lose focus. The few words that I have managed to get on the screen turn into a blur and my thoughts drift. But then reality snaps me back. I still haven’t accomplished anything. I still have something that needs to be said.
The fact that I have nothing makes me sweat. The thoughts in my head have gotten clogged up along the path that leads from my mind to my finger tips. If only there were an Exlax for the mind. Until then the keyboard remains quiet.
Luckily, writers block is temporary. The thoughts will flow. Everything will come out… eventually.
I find that writing about writers block, relieves writers block.
What do you do to get past writers block?
My paternal grandparents, Pop and Georgette, lived in a quiet little house in a quiet little neighborhood in the suburbs of Atlanta. In their living room, was a small shelf that was built into the wall, right next to their chiming alarm clock that hung above the couch that I slept on when I stayed over.
On this shelf, they kept knick knacks and keepsakes. There were matching coffee mugs with their names on them. There were pictures of my great grandparents and other relatives that I had never met. There were statuettes of birds and angels and dust covered artificial flowers. The shelf was full of things that they collected over the years. Things that meant somethings to them, memories.
On one of the lower shelves were pictures of my grandparents when they were in their early twenties or younger. The picture of my grandmother was beautiful with her big blue eyes and white smile. She was a looker; Pop was a lucky man.
The black and white picture of Pop is one that will never fade from my mind. He was in all of his military gear. He wasn’t a very big man so the gear and the uniform seemed to swallow him up. He looked too young to be wearing it all, like a child in a halloween costume.
The one outstanding feature of this photo was the big smile on his face and the look in his eye. He looked happy, excited, nervous. I could tell that he was happy to be a soldier. He wanted to serve and fight for his country despite not knowing exactly what he was about to face. I wonder what kind of memories Pop formed while he served, the friends he made, the friends he lost.
I’m not sure of what branch of the armed forces Pop was in or where he traveled to but I’m proud of him that he did. It’s humbling to know that he risked his life for his wife, children and grandchildren.
It’s heart warming to know that the same man who took me camping, held my hand, bought me happy meals, taught me about faith and made me pancakes, put his life on the line to protect my freedoms.
Because of Pops service and all of those who serve and have served, I am able to live in a country where I can freely worship God. I’m free to live the life that I choose.
I’m free to write this post on my couch, in my quiet little house in my quiet little neighborhood in this suburb of Atlanta.
People say that the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. If I am the apple and my dad is the tree, then that tree would be out on a hill by itself, away from the orchard. Unique and different. It wants to stand out and not be in a straight line with all the other trees. It wants to make a difference with style. It wants to be a hero.
My dad taught, and is still teaching me, how to be a man. One of the things he taught me was to be fearless and he did that in a unique way.
When I was six or seven years old, he gave me a cup of brown liquid and said ”Here son. Drink this. It’s like chocolate milk.” After sipping it, my face wrinkled up and my mouth burned. Coffee tasted nothing like the sweet taste of chocolate milk. It was bitter and new.
In that moment, my dad taught me to not be afraid to try new things.
When I was eight or nine, my father made me watch horror movies. The TV screen was full of vampires, monsters and guys wielding machete’s while wearing hockey masks. There were lots of people screaming and running for their lives. I was mortified. ”It’s not real.” he said, “There’s no such thing as monsters.”
In that moment, my dad taught me to not be afraid of the things that go bump in the night.
When I was ten, my dad took me to Six Flags. ”Do you want to ride the choo-choo train?” he asked. I was barely tall enough to reach the height limit. When the bar came down over my lap, I quickly learned that this choo-choo train was like no train that I have ever ridden. Choo-choo trains don’t climb up steep hills. They are safe, slow and happy.
When the choo-choo train dropped off that first hill and plummeted towards the earth, I knew that this was no kiddie ride. It was indeed, not a choo-choo train. It was the Great American Scream Machine, one of the oldest and fastest roller coasters in the world.
In that moment my dad taught me that life is a thrill ride. It’s full of ups and downs and that I shouldn’t be afraid of a little adventure.
I dont recall enjoying these things when they happened many years ago but over time I realize that this was one of my dads unique gifts. He taught me these things by putting me in the moment. He is fearless and has taught me to be fearless. The apple didn’t fall too far from the tree.
He leads by example.
He is one of a kind.
He’s my dad, my hero.
Here are five things that I learned or was reminded of this week:
1. God is closer than you think.
2. I want my life to be narrated by Donald Sutherland.
3. When it comes to running, some days you have it; some days you don’t.
4. Grass doesn’t sprout overnight.
5. Writing is fun… most of the time.
What did you learn this week?