In the end, being a good parent or a good friend is a pretty simple thing. It all comes down to time spent together. That’s what people remember at funerals. Some of the best memories are also some of the simplest.
For instance, I remember going on a hike with my father. Somewhere along the way we stopped. He said, "I've brought provisions." He didn't say the usual or expected:
I've brought a bite to eat.
I've brought a snack.
I've brought some food.
No, provisions is the word he used, and it's the word that stuck with me. I don't even remember exactly what they provisions were.
What I recall is two men (OK, one was just a boy) walking down a path called life, and stopping along the way to share provisions.
When something happens that fills your heart with joy, who is the first person you want to call so you can tell them all about it? Now let’s turn that around; for whom are we the very first person somebody else wants to call when something happens that fills his or her heart with joy?
That was the second thing that really struck me at last week’s funeral, the second benchmark. “In our lives,” the youngest son said speaking for all this man’s children, “when we were really passionate about something, we wanted to talk to Dad above anyone in the world.”
Why? Because they knew he’d be passionate about it too. “All of us will miss that rush to the phone to tell dad something we learned,” the children all agreed.
Who calls you or me on the phone to share their excitement in life and learning? If we can’t think of anyone, is that perhaps an indication we need to invest ourselves more deeply in the key relationships of our lives? That we need to care more about what others care about?
Despite having over three feet of snow piled upon it, our roof made it through the winter intact. The skylight, however, was another matter. Our younger daughter (who was home for sping break) was sitting in the dining room chair and noticed a blanket we keep there was wet. We looked up and sure enough, there was a small patch of peeling paint on the ceiling where water had got in.
I duct taped a garbage bag over it (note to self: do not wear clogs up on the roof), but I think the week of absolutely beautiful weather right after we discovered it prevented further issues more than anything else. Fortunately, we were able to get if fixed before the next storm a hit-- a real doozy, with torrential and some pretty good sized hail thrown in as well.
Linda and I weren't quite so lucky. We were on a walk to the Potomac. It was the second time that day I got absolutely soaked the bone, the first having been at the funeral in Arlington.
You no doubt know that benchmarking is a business practice of determining who is the best at something and then learning from them. Said another way, it is determining who sets the standards and then gaining perspective and improving current practices in light of them.
So, for instance, if you want to build an ultra high performance super sexy mid-engine sports car, you would no doubt procure a Ferrari. You’d drive it hard, seeking to pinpoint what makes it so great. And then you’d proceed to tear it apart to better study the components that make it best in class. Anybody thinking about doing this who could use a little help with the driving part?
I think benchmarking is equally important in our personal lives. I think we all need role models; we need people we respect who are farther along in life than we are, and from whom we can learn. At funerals, when people reflect back on what meant the most to them in the lives of those they love but see no longer, I am often privileged to receive an opportunity to benchmark.
That was true in this last funeral. One of the things this man’s children said was that their father was a “moral compass” (exact words) for them. When you come right down to it, could there be a more important role for a parent? Spiritual guide, maybe, but even that is going to have a strong moral component to it.
They said it wasn’t that their dad was an authoritarian, autocratically imposing some strict moral code. I think we probably all know that while that may be an effective short term strategy, it doesn’t work (and is often counterproductive) in the long run.
What they did say was that their father lived a life of integrity. Again and again he did the right thing--not the easy thing, the right thing.
And then they said this. Our dad gave us an incredible gift: In any decision, we can ask ourselves… what would Dad recommend we do here? And generally in asking the question, they said, we know the right path. (Of course they added they didn’t always take it, but at least they knew what it was!)
Wow. Now there’s the benchmark: WWMFD. What would my father do? If our kids are asking that question in the decisions they are making, I’d say we are doing pretty well in life. I don’t know about you, but that gives me an awful lot to think about…
We’re all busy people, I think. Whether it is students who are busy studying or adults who are busy working, we all have a lot going on in our lives. And so I think many of us struggle with finding the balance between work and family and friends—and perhaps even managing to have a little good old time fun in the mix.
There are those, however ,who do get it right. At the funeral I did on Monday, the son who gave the eulogy said that his dad matched whatever he gave to his country with wonderful gifts to his family and friends. That’s quite a statement when you consider that the man being spoken of was a four star general and the chief of staff for the entire Air Force—a position I imagine requires quite a bit of time and quite a few sacrifices.
I believe the son was speaking the truth. His children came up with a list of over 100 “gifts” their father had given them. For all of us who are parents or friends, perhaps that is worth pondering right there. What gifts would others say we have given them that have made them better people or helped them live better lives?
For the eulogy itself, the family reduced the list to 8 points-- one for each planet in the solar system (this man was also the director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab), or one for each star on his shoulders. Over the next few days, I’ll reflect on a few of those points. I think they give great insight as to how busy people still give back to the people and communities they care for. I think they also give us some bench marks to thoughtfully consider how we are doing in the roles that are most important to us.
Earlier this week, I presided over the full-honors ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in which the 10th chief of staff of the Air Force was laid to rest. We processed in the heavy rain to the grave site where the service continued with a
three-volley salute and Taps--always haunting, but all the more so given the conditions. As the funeral drew
to a close, General Schwartz (the current chief of staff for the Air Force) presented a folded flag on
behalf of the Air Force. It was very poignant to see one of the most powerful men on the face of the earth drop to one knee and, the muscles in his jaw clearly clenching and unclenching, tenderly offer words of
When I was at Great Falls National Park about a week ago to see the high water, I met a nice young man named Chris Kayler. His camera set up was a whole lot more impressive than mine, so I asked him if he might send me some of the pictures he took that day.
This led to further conversation which I thoroughly enjoyed. As it turns out, Chris is a nature and wildlife photographer who has done some very impressive work. You can view his photos on his website, Chris Kayler Photography.
Above please find "the 1 keeper image" Chris got of Great Falls in full flood stage. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
I was very pleased that Scot McKnight published a book review I wrote on his excellent blog, The Jesus Creed. In case you missed it there, I've published it below.
It is my belief that Jaron Lanier’s book You are Not a Gadget is one of the most important books a serious minded person in the early 21st century can possibly read. It is so because the basic question it addresses is, “What does it meant to be human?” Perhaps even more to the point, it raises the question of “How do we appropriately recognize and honor one another as unique persons of depth and substance?”
I’ll admit right up front that there is a lot of this book I simply do not understand. But I do understand enough of it to get his main point; the digital world and it its representations of persons threatens to diminish, reduce, and flatten us. And because we increasingly interact with each other through digital mediums instead of face to face, our relationship also are diminished, reduced, and impoverished. The individual is replaced with the hive. A unique point of view is obscured in a mash up. A distinct voice is lost in the computational cloud.
As an example of Lanier’s concerns, consider the following paragraph: “I know quite a few people, mostly young adults but not all, who are proud to say that they have accumulated thousands of friends on Facebook. Obviously, this statement can only be true if the idea of friendship is reduced. A real friendship ought to introduce each person to unexpected weirdness in the other. Each acquaintance is an alien, a well of unexplored difference in the experience of life that cannot be imagined or accessed in any way but through genuine interaction. The idea of friendship in database-filtered social networks is certainly reduced from that.”
Could it be that if we are ever going to be fully present in a given moment or to a given person, we are going to have to limit our connectivity? Lanier goes on to discuss the pursuit of quality through quantity, suggesting that in reality these two pursuits are actually heading in different directions. (My own editorial note on this: Just ask Toyota.)
Those of us who blog or tweet regularly know what he is talking about. A couple of Lanier’s suggestions:
“Write a blog post that took weeks of reflection before you heard the inner voice that need to come out.”
“If you are twittering, innovate in order to find a way to describe your internal state (my note: but that would take time and work and reflection!) instead of trivial external events, to avoid the creeping danger of believing that objectively described events define you, as they would a machine.”
Of course, when one is talking about persons, the question of materialism is bound to crop up. Are brain and mind and person synonymous? Can we be reduced to energy (electrical impulse)? Lanier’s thoughts on this, which include a call for “intellectual modesty”, are perhaps unexpected: “The desire for absolute order usually leads to tears in human affairs, so there is a historical reason to distrust it. Materialist extremists have long seemed determined to win a race with religious fanatics: Who can do the most damage to the most people?”
There are other questions Lanier asks that I expect aren’t even on most of our radars—but they should be. Otherwise the answers are going to be decided for us in ways that we may find profoundly disturbing, and it will be too late for us to be able to do much about it. For instance, there is the whole question of authorship. Lanier warns of those who consider it their “’moral imperative’ that all the world’s books would soon effectively become ‘one book’ once they are scanned, searchable, and remixable in the universal computation cloud.”
This is just a tiny snippet of the kinds of substantive issues this book addresses. Coming from the “father of virtual reality”, a person at the top of his field in the very heart of technological prowess and progress, we ignore this book and the questions it asks at our own peril.