Friday, March 14, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude

I read an interesting article yesterday indicating that as we feel gratitude for the good things in our lives, our desire to serve others increases.  I hadn’t ever stopped to think about it in those exact terms, but I have to say that I wholeheartedly agree with the author.

We cannot feel gratitude without also experiencing feelings of positivity, appreciation and happiness.  Gratitude brings with it comfort and peace.  It provides us with a greater sense of who we are, and whatever our present circumstance might be, it reassures us that we’ll be OK.

Gratitude brings with it the implicit power to shift our perspective from an inward focus to an external one.  It, almost magically, inspires us with a want to serve others because it empowers us to move beyond ourselves.  In every way, gratitude is the opposite of selfishness.

As humans, we tend to have a natural tendency to hone in on the negative.  If you ask most people to identify what’s wrong in their lives, they’re likely to rattle off a list large enough to fill a phonebook.  However, ask those same people to tell you everything that’s right and often their responses will barely fill up a Post-it note.

Focusing on ourselves, on our troubles, on our worries, on our challenges leaves us empty inside and so self-absorbed that we neglect to recognize the needs of those around us.  Furthermore, when we do chose to look at others while lost within ourselves, we only see what they have that we don’t.  This creates an inner void and destroys any motivation to do something, anything really, for others.

Not only that, but it also makes us miserable.

Focusing on the negative breeds more negativity.  It spawns self-pity, bitterness and anger – and what good have those feelings ever done for anyone?

The only way to truly invite the peace into our lives that each of us so desperately needs is to move beyond ourselves.  Indeed, the ability to overcome our trials will never come from wallowing in them.

In having gratitude for what we have, we will find ourselves wanting to seek out ways to serve others.  In doing so, we will find ourselves being more helpful, positive and happy.  It will not “fix” all of our problems, but it will rob adversity of its sting and make us feel better.

Gratitude is a powerful tool.  Service is its enriching byproduct.  Both are readily accessible to us.

And that’s something we should all be grateful for.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


One of the greatest joys I've experienced as a parent has been getting to watch Isabelle and Sammy grow up before my eyes.  And while they've each got a ways to go before they're all grown up, I'm amazed by just how much they've changed in such a seemingly short amount of time.  So what’s the biggest difference between when they were babies and now?  I can answer that with one word.  Speed.

Let me explain.

When the girls were really little, I could race them anywhere and win easily.  My dominance was unquestioned, my quickness undeniable.  However, as they’ve grown, I’ve had to find new and creative ways to keep up with them.  Things like punching my wheelchair into high gear.  But now, it’s no use; the tables have turned.  Daddy is fat, old and slow as molasses.  My era of swiftness has been surpassed by the boundless energy and agility of youth.  It’s something every aging generation faces, but not something I’m choosing to accept lying down.

One of the games we’ve always enjoyed playing is tag.  And since the weather finally warmed up, we decided to kick off our first game of the season yesterday.  However, due to their increased velocity, we've made certain adaptations and accommodations in order to even the playing field.  Namely, I carry a big stick.

Again, let me explain.

Normally, the notion of a father chasing his daughters around the backyard with a big stick is frowned upon.  But, for me, it’s the only way I have any shot at tagging them.  I can’t lengthen my stride, but thanks to a long, thin downed branch, I found a way to lengthen my reach.

And thus, we invented the glorious game of Stick-Tag.

Before you report me to Child Protective Services, you should know that the girls love it!  And while I sometimes feel silly picturing myself as I drive around like a madman trying to hit (excuse me, “tag”) my kids with a stick, the sheer delight I feel from playing with my daughters makes the silliness of it more than worthwhile (it also helps that I’m pretty good at it).

Who knows what crazy new rules, regulations or bylaws we’ll add to stick-tag (or any other game) as the girls continue to grow, but so long as we’re always finding ways to keep playing together, you can bet each contest will start and end with a smile.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Who ya gonna call?

Have you ever thought back on some nostalgic experience from your youth only to realize in adulthood that your magical moment wasn’t all you thought it was cracked up to be?  For example, when I was a kid, Cheez Wiz was the sustenance of the gods.  Today, however, just the thought of that yellow goop is enough to trigger my gag reflex.  My how things change.

Well, in an effort to entertain the kids this weekend, we decided to go old school and show them what I remembered to be one of the quintessential movies of my childhood.  A movie that, as memory served me, had it all; laughs, screams, suspense and a gang load of melted marshmallow.

That’s right.  We busted out the valence meters, fired up the proton packs and launched into one of the greatest cinematic masterpieces of all time.

Care to take a guess as to who we called?  I’ll give you a few hints.  Want to be cool parents?  Want to relive the storied memories of your adolescence?  Want to introduce a new generation to a disgusting green guy named Slimer?  Then who ya gonna call?


Boom baby!  Bill Murray, Harold Ramis and Dan Akroyd to the rescue.

Interestingly, the movie hadn’t been on long before Casey and I began to realize that we had forgotten a few seemingly important (I say important because they were so prominent in the movie) keys to battling ghosts.

As an adult, I now recognize that in order to be a good Ghostbuster, you have to smoke a lot of cigarettes, swear at least once per minute, have dirty dreams (thanks a lot Dan Akroyd, yuck) and include a ton of sexual innuendos in your dialogue.

Boy did they nail the formula for good family fun!

How was it that I hadn’t remembered any of the inappropriate jokes, dialogue or scenes?  Maybe I hadn’t paid close enough attention as a child.  Perhaps I was just too young to know what they were talking about.  Or possibly, I simply didn’t yet posses the capacity to see what was right in front of me.

Don’t get me wrong, Ghostbusters is still a classic; it just isn’t quite what I thought it was with regards to appropriateness for children.  So please, don’t lose the point here by thinking I’m condemning the movie.  I’m not.  What I’m really saying here is that when it comes to judging the situations, circumstances and happenings in front of us, we may need to take a step back in order to really see things for what they are.

For example, sometimes, when we step back to gain a better perspective, we realize that what we have previously perceived to be our most challenging obstacles, are in fact the very factors that have enabled us (through our efforts to overcome them) to become strong.

Another way of saying it is, things aren’t always what they seem.

So, here’s to maintaining a proper perspective, vanquishing our demons and ever being ready to do what we’ve got to do in order to get the job done.

Even if it means crossing our streams (spoiler alert).

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Know thyself

You’ve really got to hand it to the ancient Greeks because when it comes to human nature and the value of understanding our individual capacities, they summed it up nicely with two simple words of advice that created one of the most powerful maxims of all time: “Know thyself.”  Well, thanks to a provocative (not to mention highly sophisticated) television show called The Walking Dead, I have come to do just that.  And what is it that I’ve learned?  That I, my friends, am not cut out for a zombie apocalypse.

It’s a harsh, but true, reality.  So, if you see a zombie coming, don’t count on me to fend it off for you.  I’m just not that guy.

You may be thinking that this newfound revelation should have, given my disability, been obvious to me.  Well, for your information, my not being built to survive a zombie attack has less to do with muscular dystrophy than you might assume.  However, I will give it to you that trying to elude zombies with a dead set of wheelchair batteries could be tricky.  But, in actuality, my real reasons for concluding I wouldn’t make it in zombie-land are as follows:

1. Zombies are gross.  Have you ever watched The Walking Dead?  I’ve tuned in for every episode, which means I’ve seen thousands of zombies in HD and am now considered by everyone in my home named Vance to be an expert on zombies.  And, in my expert opinion, every single zombie is covered in rotted flesh, moldy clothes and walks around with serious hygiene issues.  The word nasty doesn’t even begin to cover it.  No thanks.  I’m not up for dealing with that!  I prefer my zombies to be manicured and well kempt (they may be dead, but they should still have some pride).

2. The stench.  Everyone (living and dead) on that show is so smelly that their disgusting rank actually wafts through the plasma of my big screen television.  No kidding.  I can tell when the show is on because my eyes start watering and my nose tries to run away from my face.  Doesn’t seem like a situation I want to take part in.

3. Lame neighbors/roommates.  During a zombie apocalypse, survival becomes the priority, which means (as seen on the show) that you’re going to end up living with people you wouldn’t otherwise ever want to associate with, let alone bunk up with.  I like my friends and maintain a strict policy against rooming with wack-jobs, psychopaths, homicidal maniacs or annoying people in general.  So, once again, in a zombie episode, I’m out. 

For the record, my admitted inability to thrive in a zombie environment doesn’t make me any less of a man.  If anything it makes me, wise.  So, should you witness a big bang, see a bright flash of light or hear the zombie warning bell ringing, you can spot me right away.  I’ll be the wheelchair dude headed toward the fray.

After all, better to go out quickly than get stuck with the gross, stinky, lame aftermath.

Believe it.  I know myself and that’s the way I roll.