суббота, 21 августа 2010 г.

The Lunch Hour

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings

BY: Michelle Mach

Time is an illusion, lunchtime doubly so.
~Douglas Adams

I clutched a yogurt in one hand as I tried to eat and catch up on customer e-mail during the noon hour. Even fifteen minutes in the employee lunchroom seemed too much of a luxury. My company, like many companies, had cut costs by not replacing people as they left. The survivors were expected to take up the slack.

For me, this meant no lunch hour, plus taking work home in the evening or on the weekends. I didn't feel I worked at a job; I felt I was my job. I wanted to quit, but given the economy, I felt I couldn't until I had another job in hand. Nice in theory, but given how cranky all the extra hours made me feel, it was difficult to convince potential employers to hire me. I felt trapped. Then a chance conversation with a stranger's six-year-old daughter changed my outlook. The young girl was positively bouncy, standing in line with her mom at the grocery store.

"Good day at school?" I asked.

A nod.

"What's your favorite subject?"


I smiled at the answer. I remembered when that had been my answer. At lunch, there were no adults to tell you what to do and when to do it. You could sit and talk with your friends or play an exuberant game of four-square. You could draw pictures or swing on the monkey bars. The time was yours to do whatever you wanted. Sometimes we planned our time, bringing stickers to trade or Chinese jacks for a weeklong tournament. Sometimes we were more spontaneous, only deciding what to do while we were eating our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and slurping our little paper cartons of milk.

That brief encounter left me wondering: What had happened to lunch?

I knew that by law I was entitled to a lunch break at work. So I decided to simply start taking it. The office was located in the downtown area of a small town and I set out to explore it. A few blocks away was a local art museum with free admission. At the end of another street, I was startled to discover some horses grazing in a field. A cute gift boutique made for pleasant and sometimes humorous browsing, particularly looking through the leftover holiday items and laughing at the sometimes funny things, like jack-o'-lantern sunglasses and temporary Santa tattoos that no one had the foresight to buy.

When the weather turned cold, I visited the used bookstore or public library. Near the library was a small man-made pond that attracted ducks and small children with their parents, all of whom provided much amusement as they demanded to be fed. Even running errands at lunch to the bank or the post office brought me a small measure of joy. Doing those errands during the week freed up some time on the weekends for fun activities.

When I decided to take back my lunch hour, I braced myself for catty remarks or stares from my co-workers, but they never materialized. In fact, I watched in amazement as some of my co-workers started to drift away occasionally from their own desks during lunch. We started inviting each other out for walks during good weather and discovered that we had other topics of conversation beyond the now common complaints about work.

I'm still looking for a new position, but with less stressed-out urgency than before. You can't always change your circumstances, but you can always change your perspective.


Seven Sticks

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom

BY: Sandy M. Smith

A mother is a person who seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people, promptly announces she never did care for pie.
~Tenneva Jordan

Well, here it was... one of the most exciting days of my youth, my very first trip to college! Twelve years of school had led to this very important day. I am not sure who was more excited, my mother or me. Just being able to attend college was a miracle in itself since Daddy had passed away three years earlier.

I always knew that funds were scarce after he died. But Momma was somehow able to provide for us. I thought I had understood the extent of her sacrifice, but it was on this day, driving in the car with my mother to college, that I learned one of my life's most important lessons.

As we drove, she offered no profound advice -- not about safety or financial responsibility or anything else of any importance. There really was no need for such conversations on this road trip because these talks had happened long before. Instead, the lesson came in the form of a few words spoken as we listened to songs on the radio.
My mother said, "San, do you have any gum?"

My mother never, ever chewed gum. Since I was the one driving the car, I told her to help herself to the gum in my purse. My surprise continued when Momma pulled the gum from my purse and said, "Oh, honey, this is my favorite gum. Even when I was a child, I always loved this gum."

Okay, now I was really, really shocked. Not only did she chew gum, but she actually had a favorite gum? How was it possible that this precious woman who raised me enjoyed such a simple pleasure in life, yet I never knew? As I watched my mother take the gum from the silver foil and begin to chew, I decided that I had to know the scoop about the gum.

"Momma, I have to ask, how did I not know that you chewed gum?"

Before giving her a chance to answer, I went on to reflect on what I remembered as a child. Whenever we went anywhere as a family, we would pile in Daddy's truck, Momma and Daddy in the front and all six of us in the back. Like a tradition engraved in stone, Daddy would always stop and get three Cokes in the bottle, one to share with Momma, one for the three girls, and one for my three brothers. In addition to the Cokes, Daddy always bought a pack of gum, and it was the very flavor that my mother had just taken from my purse.
After I finished rambling on, my mother just smiled and said: "Honey, the pack only had seven sticks."

It was at that exact moment that I realized my precious Momma had made a choice all those times years ago. She'd given each of us children a stick and then one to Daddy -- seven sticks gone and the pack empty, leaving none for her.

To some, this may not seem like a large sacrifice for a loved one to make. But my realization that she spent years giving up even the smallest of pleasures forever changed my heart. I realized that day that, although my mother made huge sacrifices for us, that she also made a million small ones that went unnoticed.

People say being in the right place at the right time is the secret to success. All I know is that a single stick of gum opened a world of knowledge about someone I had known and loved all my life, and about the unspoken sacrifices she had made over the years.

To this day, I am very thankful for the college education I received those many years ago. But it is my momma who taught me lessons of the heart.

By the way, every year since that time, I always nestle a pack of that flavored gum in the bow adorning her Christmas gift.


вторник, 17 августа 2010 г.

Okay, Fine, My Father Was Right

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

BY: John Lavitt

When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.
~Mark Twain

For most of my life I refused to admit that I was wrong, especially when it came to advice given to me by my father. I now see, with naked clarity, how right and caring and sensible my father's cornerstone advice has been from the very beginning.

Perhaps the most consistently contentious issue between fathers and sons is the question of work and how to be successful in the real world. Right from the get-go, I thought I should start at the top. I was a talented young man and I thought everyone around me should realize this. With an air of entitlement and a growing grandiosity, I did not believe that I should have to pay my dues like other people. As a result, I constantly tried to find a short cut to the big time.

The baseball metaphor my father always used was that I was trying to hit a home run rather than focusing my efforts on getting to first base. In fact, I expected to hit a game-winning grand slam in my first major league at bat, resulting in immediate enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. As most of us have come to learn through the lens of life experience, such ridiculous expectations lead directly to strikeouts and dead ends, failures that take place without the honesty of a nuts and bolts beginning. But my father and I came from very different backgrounds, and that is the genesis of our conflicting outlooks on life.

My father is a prototypical example of the American dream come to life, a self-made man who achieved success through hard work. In Denver, Colorado, he grew up in a middle-class family that often experienced a roller coaster ride of economic ups and downs. Focusing on the promise of college, Dad won a scholarship to Brown University. Digging into his studies while forming a close-knit group of friends, he thrived at Brown.

Upon graduation, my dad married my beautiful mother at the Plaza Hotel in New York City and obtained an entry-level position at a Wall Street brokerage house. As the years passed and children were born, Dad worked with an unswerving determination, becoming a respected partner of the firm and the head of the sales team. He worked hard, but was also innovative, and eventually became a renowned expert in raising capital when others failed.

His most famous effort was captured in the book, Behind Closed Doors: Wheeling and Dealing in the Banking World, by Hope Lampert. Dad is a central character in a chapter on the challenge of raising money for the initial public offering of the computer company Compaq. Nobody thought anyone could go up against IBM at the time. But after interviewing the founders of Compaq, Dad found an angle to use to sell the company to the investors. By 1992, Compaq was the biggest supplier of personal computers in the world.

In contrast to my father's hard-earned success, I grew up as a privileged Upper East Side New Yorker who expected everything to be handed to him on the proverbial silver platter. Like my father and both of my sisters, I went to Brown where I majored in literary theory, and partied until the wee hours of the morning. After college, I headed out to Los Angeles where I fed into the dream of selling a big screenplay. Although my partying became habitual and out of control, I always thought the next big script sale would change everything. If only I could hit the legendary game-winning grand slam home run, life would fall into place and the prison cycle of addiction would end.

Seeing my attitude firsthand, my father told me that there were no short cuts, and that everyone had to pay their dues. I never listened, always trying to convince him and myself that the next big thing was waiting just around the bend. Eventually, I lost my house and my marriage and wound up at a drug rehab facility. Never listening to the sound advice of my father and insisting on following my own path toward self-destruction, I ended up in a terrible place.

My father, however, never gave up on me and has been remarkably supportive throughout my sobriety. When I helped start a nonprofit investment company, my father accepted a place on the company's board and did everything he could to help us get off the ground. Since I had never worked in the past, I made a lot of mistakes. But with the faith of my family and the support of my father, I have been able to pay my dues and help get my career as a technical writer and a website optimizer off the ground. Unlike some old friends, I have not won an Academy Award or produced hundred-million-dollar films, but I have discovered my own sense of personal dignity and integrity.

What remains so amazing is that so many of the lessons I have learned have come directly from my father. Listening to him, I have come to realize that none of my successful friends were ever given a golden ticket to Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. Rather, all of them, whether they were lucky or incredibly gifted or both, paid their dues and worked hard to achieve their success. Like my father tried to teach me from day one, there are no shortcuts. No matter how talented or fortunate you may be, success is the product of sweat in the form of hard work -- showing up each day and doing your job to the best of your abilities.

This may sound like a bunch of awful clichés from a self-help manual. But each of these so-called clichés has been proven to work in the real world. My father still works hard, even after all of his success. Every weekday, at an age when many of his contemporaries have retired, my father wakes up early in the morning and sits down at the computer to see how the market is doing before launching into hours of networking and conference calls. I have such gratitude that my father has stuck by my side and believed in me even when I was unable to believe in myself. Learning from his example, I have finally embraced the challenges of being an adult. Without my father's consistent love and support, this might never have been possible.


A Father's Persistence

The difference between perseverance and obstinacy is that one comes from a strong will,
and the other from a strong won't.
~Henry Ward Beecher

Whenever I was distraught as a teenager, my father, like most parents, shared in my pain. Nothing, however, could compare to his agony when my life was dramatically changed forever.

I was at the wrong place at the wrong time, an innocent bystander at an armed robbery. I was shot in the head execution style by one of the thieves. Very few people thought I would survive, much less be a productive member of society. In the hospital waiting room, my father believed that I might die and his thoughts were of the past. What could he have done differently? Could he have spent more time with his son?

My parents met with the neurosurgeon in the morning, who told them that he was surprised I had made it through the night. Now that I had, he needed to operate. He then proceeded to say that there was only a 40% chance of my surviving the surgery, and if I did survive, almost a 100% chance of my living in a nursing home, not being able to walk or communicate.

My father was devastated. The surgeon was talking about his second son, a young man. An honor student at the University of Texas. He wondered when this nightmare would end. My mother refused to listen to the pessimism. She told my father, "We need to rent a storage space to keep Mike's furniture until he returns to U.T."

But my father, still stunned, replied, and reminded her of the grim prognosis. "Toby, did you hear the neurosurgeon? Mike will be lucky if he spends the rest of his days in a nursing home."

My mother quickly and angrily barked back, "That doctor does not know my son, my Michael."

My father did not want to argue, especially not at such a delicate time. They rented a storage space in Austin. My father never believed the space would be opened again. But I beat the neurosurgeon's odds and survived the surgery. I was in a coma and with each day that I showed no progress, my father agonized even more.

Then, miraculously, I woke up. I was completely paralyzed on my right side, could not speak, and was hallucinating. When the doctor informed my parents that I was stable enough to fly home to a rehabilitation hospital in Houston, my father finally had reason to hope. My rehabilitation in Houston was steady, but also (especially for my father) very, very slow. He was not a very patient man. He became extremely frustrated when he could not understand what I wanted. When my mother had no problems understanding me, my father's frustration grew even more.

Then, seven weeks after being hurt, I began to utter some words. My father thought this was the perfect time for him to work with me. At first he would drill me on simple things, such as pointing to a 1, then a 2, then a 3. He was so happy when I accomplished each goal, only to be devastated the next time when I was unable to repeat the task.

As time progressed, I continued to improve. My verbal skills grew steadily each day, and after my father's busy day at work, he would come to the hospital, ready to work with me. I still remember his bag filled with flash cards. He drilled me on math and spelling. He stretched my limp leg. Anything and everything that might help.

The hospital staff worried that he was working me too hard, that I would grow frustrated working with them all day, and with my father all evening. None of that mattered to my father. He knew what was best for his son and no one would be able to persuade him otherwise. Very few of the medical staff at either hospital believed that I would ever be able to return to college. But that is exactly what I did almost a year and a half after the shooting. I could not have made this recovery without my father. He always encouraged me to look for the positive, even when there was very little to feel positive about. He held me up mentally and physically, pushing me as hard as he could and believing that I would have my life back.

Four years after returning to school, I graduated at the top of my class with many honors, including Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude. I was one of twelve students named as a Dean's Distinguished Graduate.

As I limped up to the stage to get my diploma from the Dean, I received a standing ovation. One of the many thoughts racing through my head was of my father -- the man who helped me throughout my ordeal. The man who has always been there for me, no matter what, and who believed I would one day reclaim my life. Even though I could not see his face in the huge auditorium, I knew he was smiling at me. I will always love him.


Summer Son

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Moms & Sons

BY: Jennifer Olsson

While some kids have bar mitzvahs and others have confirmations to commemorate the beginning of their transition into adulthood, my son Peter -- twelve years old, tall for his age with size ten feet, short curly hair and round, wire-rimmed glasses -- had a sea kayak trip. It was the first time either of us had ever taken a major outdoor adventure together. His goal was to paddle by himself in a solo kayak; mine was to let him.

Peter is my only child. His father and I have been divorced since he was five -- we did not part well. He lives a hundred miles away from us and sees Peter when he can. I wish I could have given my son the mother and father combination I always wanted for him, but it didn't work out that way. After my divorce, I felt that I had failed as a person and as a mom. When Peter's kindergarten teacher called me in and suggested I get my son some counseling, I felt that my failure at life had been passed on to him.

As I worked at shoring up the walls that had fallen around us, he tested their strength by trying to push them down. It took time for Peter to regain a sense of security. It took time for him to rebuild trust in me -- and for me to rebuild trust in myself. Slowly, I learned to believe that I had made good choices in life as a person and as a parent, and that not all partings are abandonments -- indeed, some are necessary and should be celebrated.

Still, learning to let go is hard, especially when you're raising a boy who's about to become a young man. Just when I thought I was getting the hang of being Peter's mom, I realized there was one more step I had to make.

Three days into our adventure, we slowly awakened inside our bright yellow tent on the small island of Tannøy in a fjord of the Norwegian Sea. However, it wasn't the morning light that had triggered the end of my sleep; the sun is up all night during the summer in this land above the Arctic Circle in northern Norway, and I had grown accustomed to its insistent shine. Rather, it was the smell of boy -- campfire smoke in his hair, spicy mosquito repellent on his skin, dried sweaty socks on top of the clothes he had shed the night before.

Our breath had condensed while we slept, forming droplets smaller than tears that clung to the inside of the tent. They released and dropped like rain as I struggled to pull on my shirt and pants.

Peter suddenly sat up. The sun was finally above the mountains that had shadowed us to the east. It was unbearably warm. We needed more air. Both of us reached for the tent zipper at the same time.

"I'll do it, Mom."
The zipper stuck, and my reflex was to offer a suggestion, reach out to help, take command of the whole zipper situation until it was fixed. I caught myself and pulled back. I opened my mouth, then shut it. A moment later, Peter successfully dislodged the zipper, and we both crawled out into the fresh morning air.

We were accompanied by the trip leaders, Tim and Lena, and seven other participants. Everyone got along and shared a mutual appreciation for the dramatic pristine land and seascape. As we paddled, we often paused to take in the towering mountains of the coastal range, their chartreuse-green grassy backs sloping down to the narrow rocky beaches along the shoreline. The unusually windless conditions had made for a smooth passage over the blue-green sea.

From the start, Tim had taken Peter in his double kayak, but on this, the third day of our trip, Tim announced, "Pete, today you solo. Get yourself ready. Take the yellow kayak."

Peter moved quickly, donning the rubbery blue kayak skirt and cinching up the life jacket. I came forward and watched silently. Before he stepped into the kayak, he looked over and asked, "Can you hold these for me?"

His sweaty hands dropped a collection of white shells, worn black rocks and a long brown feather from a sea eagle into mine. I cradled these treasures of his in my hands.

This first attempt at paddling by himself would be an hour trip around the island we had camped on. He was joined by Tim and two other men from the group. After they returned, we would all paddle over to the next night's stop at the Tranøy lighthouse.

Tim pushed Peter's kayak off its sandy perch. With careful even strokes, Peter backed, turned, pointed the kayak toward the sea, then waited for the others. He slyly peered out from under a wide-brimmed canvas hat.

Everything looked big on him -- the sleeves on his jacket were bunched at the cuffs, the thick orange life jacket hugged him front and back. And the way he sat made him look short. I wanted to say, "Be careful. Keep up with the others," but after everything that we had been through over the last few years, I had to show that I could believe in and trust him.

I smiled.

He smiled back.

Soon a flurry of white-tipped paddles rose and fell like a flock of seagulls. The men and the boy moved together out of the protective bay. I waved and waved. Peter didn't look back. I was afraid he would disappear from me without a goodbye.

The kayaks reached the open water and turned to the right.
I kept waving. Nothing.

Then the hat on the duckling-colored boat turned toward shore. Suddenly, Peter lifted his paddle overhead and pumped it up and down victoriously. Two strokes later, he slipped out of sight.

At my feet the sea gently rolled in and out. I was alone on a beach near the top of the world, holding the sharp shells, smooth stones and a feather left behind by a bird that had taken flight -- finally able to smile back on the pain and the courage of a little boy and his mother who had lived on a different shore, in another time... long ago.


Making Forgetting Unforgettable

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inside Basketball

BY: Donna Ruiz, VP Human Resources, Sacramento Kings

The beauty of memory is that it still sees beauty when beauty has faded.
~Paul Boese

In the NBA, amazing things happen every day. LeBron James gets a triple-double whenever he wants, Dwayne Wade dunks over seven-footers like it's going out of style, and Tim Duncan hits turn-around jumpers with three to four guys guarding him every night. The league truly is filled with gifted athletes who do incredible things seven days a week.

But in the years I've worked in the NBA, I find the greatest memories are built on providing unique experiences for special fans. For some fans, coming to the game isn't just about the amazing performances by the world's most talented athletes. Those are just the bonuses. For some, coming to the game is about exhilaration, elation and the ability to forget about life's daily realities.

For a young father with a ten-year-old son, coming to a Sacramento Kings game meant forgetting about cancer, life, and even death.

I received a call from a colleague telling me about her friend, Kevin, a forty-one-year-old man who was in the final stages of lung cancer. He was a long-time Kings season ticket holder who had been unable to attend games for a while because of his illness. My colleague said that Kevin wished he could attend just one more Kings game with his son Zach before he passed away. So she asked if there was a way to get him tickets in seats that would accommodate his wheelchair, wife, son, father, cousin and hospice caregiver.

These simple requests are things the Kings owners, Joe and Gavin Maloof, always want to accommodate. I immediately contacted the strategic people in our organization who could make this happen. The evening that was provided for this family was an incredibly heartwarming experience for everyone involved. Although many observers may have believed the family members were the benefactors of this special evening, in reality, it was the people providing the experience who felt the greatest blessing.

Kevin's family was met at the VIP entrance, escorted into the building and through the player's tunnel to their special courtside seats. Zach was wide-eyed and beyond excited at the special treatment he and his family received. Little did he know that the courtside seats were just the beginning of his family's memorable evening.

During the first quarter, the family was visited by Big Mike, the Kings emcee, and Slamson, the Kings mascot, who delivered a special Kings prize pack with Kings hats and jerseys. Throughout the game, the family was treated like royalty. The smiles from Kevin, Zach, Kevin's wife, father and cousin were priceless. It was clear to everyone that a special memory was being made for this family.

After the game the family was escorted to the area outside the Kings locker room. Before long, Kings players came out to say hello. Kevin Martin was first, then came Ron Artest and members of the coaching staff. Each time someone came to say hello, Zach's eyes opened wider and wider. Before he knew it, Zach and his dad were being escorted into the locker room to meet the entire team.

Each player spent a few minutes talking to Kevin and Zach and everyone signed Zach's hat. The look of joy on this boy's face and the look of satisfaction on his dad's face was one of the most moving and memorable moments that the people making this experience possible had ever experienced. Kevin's wife, Chris, pulled us aside to express her heartfelt gratitude. She explained that the organization had provided so much more than tickets to a basketball game; it had provided a wonderful, positive lasting memory for her son to share with his father and for her to share with the two of them together. By the time the family left the arena, there was nary a dry eye among the people who helped provide this experience for this special family.

Ten days after this memorable evening, Kevin passed away. As friends and family gathered at the house, Zach made sure everyone saw his Kings autographed hat and listened to him detail the night when he and his dad were special Kings VIP guests.

For one night, a father forgot about his cancer. A son forgot about his future without a dad. And everyone who made it happen realized how blessed we are to provide unforgettable memories based on forgetting, even if only for a while.


The Marathon Miracle

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners

BY: Allen R. Smith

Miracles happen to those who believe in them.
~Bernard Berenson

It's 6:15 in the morning and the pavement is flying beneath me. With each stride through the dark, frosty morning, I'm gobbling up yards of San Vicente Boulevard as I head for the final stretch back to the office. Even though I'm cold and clammy, there's a certain exhilaration knowing that there aren't many others up at this hour, let alone preparing for an event like the marathon: 26.2 miles of grueling, energy-sapping punishment.

I had wanted to run a marathon for more than twenty years. But even during the fog of my alcohol and drug addiction, I somehow acknowledged that subjecting my body to the rigors of long-distance running would be a more expedient death than a bottle or another line of coke. But, when I finally got clean and sober on October 21, 1986, the world opened up to me. For the first time in my life, goals and aspirations seemed within reach without the artificial obstacles of youth, immaturity or my own physical and mental limitations. I could do anything I put my mind to.

Ironically, what complicated the issue was my college degree -- in particular, my area of study. In 1983, I graduated from San Diego State University with a degree in Exercise Physiology and went to work for a cardiac rehabilitation clinic. My denial allowed me to drink to excess every night while I counseled patients on the value of taking care of one's health by day. For the next several years, every patient that I came in contact with naturally assumed that I was the picture of health and a marathoner. After all, haven't all exercise physiologists completed at least one? I struggled with my disease while in my own mind I felt invalidated as a fitness expert who was touting the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.

When I finally entered recovery, I had no excuses or limitations. I was determined to go for it. Over the next six months, I read every conceivable book on the subject of marathon training. I experimented with everything from diet, running shoes, shorts and fluid replacements -- even underwear. Every Saturday morning was reserved for my long runs (between 15 and 25 miles) while the weekdays were peppered with shorter hill climbs and weight training. As the mileage and dirty laundry piled up, I became a fit and highly-tuned running machine.

With one week to go before the Los Angeles Marathon, short cruising runs were the order of the day; the concept being after months of preparation, it's time to cruise and relax. Just keep limber and get ready for the big race on Sunday.

As I approached the final stretch of my pre-dawn run, out of nowhere a pothole suddenly appeared, dropping me to the asphalt. On the way down, I heard an audible "pop" from my left knee. In one split second, six months of training evaporated in the wake of my dislocated knee. By the time I hobbled back to the office, it had swollen to the size of a cantaloupe.

While I wasn't immediately sure just how badly I was injured, I had taken enough anatomy classes to know that knees were not supposed make sounds and look like cantaloupes. But the thought of missing the marathon in five days concerned me far more than my physical infirmity. I had not just given the marathon a small place in my life; it had become my life. I had shared all of my competitive dreams of running my first marathon in my hometown with my friends and everyone else who was important in my life. Now my dream was gone.

I managed to see an orthopedic surgeon the next day, having already lost one valuable day of training. For the uninitiated, losing a single day of training when preparing for a marathon begins a downward spiral that can potentially erode the confidence necessary to complete a race that defies the limits of common sense. Lying on the exam table with a synovial fluid-filled syringe protruding from the side of my knee was not exactly instilling the type of pre-race confidence that I had hoped for.

The good news was that after a thorough examination, X-rays and an MRI, nothing appeared to be permanently damaged. When I stepped into the pre-dawn rut, I stretched every ligament, tendon and joint capsule to the extent of their unnatural limits; but nothing was broken. The first thing I asked the doctor was, "When will I be able to run again?" Remaining cautious, he explained that as soon as the swelling went down, I could do whatever I felt I could tolerate. The gauntlet was thrown down.

Later that afternoon, my self-confidence began to return to normal, even though my knee hadn't. The injury damaged my body, but not my spirit. The next day, I hobbled into a local running store and asked if there were any marathons later in the year. With all of the training that I had put in, I was certain that I'd be back on the streets within a couple of months.

"There aren't any more marathons until the last part of November," said the clerk. "Oh, wait. There is one smaller race next month: the Long Beach Marathon." A ray of hope emerged.

Even despite the rosy picture the orthopedic surgeon painted, I was convinced as I limped along on my gammy leg that there was no way I could pursue the Long Beach Marathon. It was only three and a half weeks away. Impossible. But, Aristotle once said, "Hope is a waking dream." My dream was only three weeks away.

Fortunately, due to my area of study, I knew more about physiology than the average weekend athlete. I knew that if I could sustain my fitness at its current level while my knee mended, there was a possibility that I could run the race and maybe even finish it.
The next morning, I embarked on a self-prescribed training regimen unlike any you'll read about in Runner's World; probably the first time anyone has ever prepared for a marathon without running. I was fortunate enough to be working in a hospital fitness center that had a wide variety of stationary bikes, treadmills and free weights. One of the bikes was a Schwinn Airdyne, arguably one of the finest pieces of fitness equipment ever invented. The Airdyne is an over-sized contraption that has not only pedals, but arm cranks that thrust up from the flywheel. With a large fan mounted in front of the rider, the faster that you pedal the greater the resistance. Hmmm... This could actually work.

I hooked myself up with a series of electrocardiograph leads designed to monitor the heart rate and rhythm of cardiac patients during exercise. Having already calculated my training heart rate range based on my previous program, I knew that I could theoretically maintain my fitness if I could persevere through 90 minutes a day at a minimum of 150-165 beats per minute. I dragged a barstool up next to the bike and propped my ice-packed knee on it and proceeded to pedal with my good leg and both arms until I reached 150 beats per minute.

Over the course of the next week, I downed prescription-strength anti-inflammatories like candy. The swelling in my knee went down as my fitness level climbed. I was actually becoming fitter without putting in so much as a mile of running. After about two and a half weeks, I solicited the doctor's approval to start running again. He gave it.

The first day back out on the street was torture. I was handicapped more by my mental fitness than physical. After a few easy miles, I returned to the office with renewed confidence that I just might be able to finish my first marathon.

Within a week, I was back up to 10 miles. The Long Beach Marathon was now only days away. At a time when I should have been tapering down, I was ramping up. Trainers advise anyone contemplating running a marathon to run at least one run of 20 miles or more before the event. Fortunately, I had already completed mine, so I just considered my injury a minor "interruption" in my training schedule.

By the time race day arrived, I was fit and motivated to run the race of a lifetime. I completed the race in just under four hours, running the first 18 miles faster than I had ever run before. As I crossed the finish line, the loudspeakers announced my name and hometown to the crowd of cheering spectators. I immediately broke down in tears as the preceding seven months of stress finally oozed out of every pore of my body. I could finally relax; I had completed the Long Beach Marathon.

Over the next few years, I completed three more marathons, but none of those victories was a sweet as the first. The power to overcome overwhelming odds to attain an impossible goal made it even better than if my training had gone exactly as planned.


Why I Run

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners

BY: Cindy Hanna

I have always thought the actions of men the best interpreters of their thoughts.
~John Locke

Allow me to introduce myself. I am a long distance runner who logs 140 to 200 miles per month. People are very passionate about running: they either love it or loathe it. I run seven days a week.

When I was fourteen, as a cyclist, I was hit by a car and almost paralyzed from the waist down. I spent the next four years wearing a back brace complete with custom steel rods.

I began running seven days a week to strengthen my core muscles. It was grueling but my persistence paid off. I built my core muscles solid and was able to shed my back brace before I graduated from high school.

When I was twenty-five, I was in a car accident in which I herniated the disks above and below my now degenerating vertebrae -- another setback. Being stubborn and determined, however, I ignored the doctors who told me to limit my activity and again set out to rebuild and strengthen my broken body through my own personalized training program. That impairment only cost me two years.

When I was thirty-one, I was in yet another car accident in which I tore both of my Anterior Crucial Ligaments -- another hindrance. That injury was serious. I had surgery and underwent physical therapy three to five times a week due to complications. It took me two years to learn how to walk again, having to wear knee braces every day during that time. The specialists told me that their goal was to get me to walk "normally" but that I would never run again -- devastating news for someone who views running as the oxygen she breathes.

The doctors were right. For the next nine and a half years, I was unable to run more than twenty-five feet without my knees ballooning up like cantaloupes. Having four children by then, it was extremely frustrating to not be able to rise to the athletic ability I was used to.

In 2006, I began self-training to participate in a 60-mile, three-day breast cancer walk. My goal was to accomplish that task blister-free, without inflamed knees and feeling strong at the end. I began a self-guided five-month training regimen. I was determined to do that event without the use of my knee braces. Yes, I still needed to use them while engaging in sports. I knew I would have to build my core muscles strong to support my back, as well as my leg muscles to support my knees.

Three months into preparing, I realized that walking four to five hours a day was too time-consuming. If only I could jog part of it -- that would abbreviate my time spent training. I started jogging between telephone poles without my knees swelling. Slowly and cautiously, I increased the distance. Two months later, I was up to running six miles without my knees protesting. Being highly competitive, I relished proving the doctors wrong. Of course, it only took nine and a half years to do so.

While practicing, I suffered a devastating loss, a dear friend -- my senior by one year -- suddenly and inexplicably died. His life's mission had been to mentor women to accept themselves and reach their fullest potential. He firmly believed that people should let nothing hold them back from attaining their goals.

Soon after his death, while on one of my runs, a crazy thought entered my mind: what if I could run the LA Marathon? I remembered viewing that event on television as a child, thinking that the people who crossed the finish line were gods. I wanted to be one of those gods. I wanted to know what it felt like to traverse the prized finish line, even if it meant I had to crawl across it.

The seed was planted. I had only four months to get ready. I took my self-taught training to an all-time high and prepared as if my very existence depended on it -- actually, it did. I knew that if I didn't train to my fullest, I would tear my body apart and the doctors' diagnosis would win. I wasn't about to let that happen. I was on a mission: I would run the LA Marathon to honor my fallen friend and fulfill one of my life's greatest goals. I trained eight times a week, seven days a week -- twice on Wednesdays. I dedicated my final quarter-mile sprint of every run to my lost friend, as a way to remember his teachings and life's work.

My hard effort paid off. I celebrated my friend's memory by sprinting across the finish line of the LA Marathon strong and solid -- he would have been so proud. Since then, I have crossed the finish lines of many marathons, half marathons, 5Ks, 8Ks, 10Ks, 12Ks, obstacle courses and Mud Runs all over the United States to the amazement of my doctors. I select one individual for whom I run each race. This is my way of honoring the tremendous physical or emotional impediments they are facing, or for those who have lost their battle and passed on.

I'm often asked why I run, to which I always reply, "I run because I can, for those who no longer can." Through my own personal mantra, "Just take it... embrace it! That's why you're here," I remind myself that the aches and pains I experience while training and racing are nothing compared to the suffering those whom I revere must endure. This is why I run.


A Fallen Friend Gets Back Up

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Middle School

BY: Carol Wong

A friend encourages your dreams and offers advice -- but when you don't follow it, they still respect and love you.
~Doris Wild Helmering

It wasn't too long ago -- reality is beginning to sink in -- but a part of me is still in doubt of the change. Autumn is coming again and the leaves in our old school are already turning crimson and orange. I remember last autumn, when we were the best of friends and worst of enemies. We fought over having the highest average in class, the Art Award, the English Award, and everything we could possibly compete for. Back in those days, we discussed our future, our dreams, and our goals. You were always full of them, while I was always confused about what I wanted to do with life. I was only in eighth grade, after all. But you seemed to be wiser than your age.

"I'm going to go to Harvard to study law when I grow up, just like my cousin. I'm even starting to study for the SATs," you'd tell me all the time during recess. Then I'd laugh, telling you that we hadn't even reached high school yet. But then, you were always thinking one step ahead of all of us. While most of us only cared about going to the hottest party of the year or dating the cutest boy in the grade, you only cared about your future plans and grades. I remember how you always were with grades -- you wouldn't even be happy with a ninety-nine percent. Whenever you didn't get a perfect mark on an assignment, you would go up to the teacher (and drag me along for support), to ask what you had done wrong.

That's how you used to be. It's strange how a person can change so quickly.

It started off with you meeting some new friends from another class, and they invited you to a party -- one of the cool parties. I was bummed because you got invited and I didn't. Now that I look back at it, I couldn't be more grateful that I wasn't invited, because that party was where it all started.

The day after that party, you started experimenting with alcohol. It started with only a few sips per day, then a couple of gulps, and then an entire bottle at once. You were only thirteen back then, and I thought you were joking when you told me how you got drunk. You said vodka and rum made you feel like you were floating. I simply thought you were trying to strike up an interesting conversation on a boring day. One day, you said I should come over to your house and try drinking because I would like it, and that it made everything so much clearer. I agreed because rebellion sounded fun. I never did, though. My lost conscience came back to me at the last minute.

A couple of days later, I saw you going over to your popular friend's place for lunch. That day, you came back extremely late and the teacher made you stay after school to explain yourself. You lied and he let you off with a warning. It didn't matter what lie you ended up telling the teacher -- what mattered to me was how you were slurring your speech that day and how your breath smelled of alcohol. I even had to support you while you walked because you were so dizzy afterwards.

It was then that I realized you weren't joking. It was serious. Your old intelligent self faded quickly, and the only thing you cared about was booze and popularity. On the outside, you pretended to be happy so you could keep up the new popular image. But after a while, everything starts to show -- especially to me. The deep cuts on your wrists, hidden by heavy bracelets -- cuts that only I noticed -- told the entire story.

More and more your mind became clouded. Later, you even fell victim to eating disorders because you felt "fat" next to your popular friends. When I followed you into the bathroom, I saw you puking your guts out. You would do anything just to keep up with them. And after starving yourself, you decided to start wearing revealing clothing.

A long time ago, I told you that I wanted to be one of those cool, popular girls in our school. And then you told me, "Popularity isn't anything -- just because something looks cools doesn't mean it actually is. Once you grow up, people won't hire you based on how many people you have dated or all the popular friends you had."

It's strange how the advice you gave me then was the same advice I tried to give you, but you refused to take it. "Who cares about grades anymore these days? Get a life," you told me when I tried to tell you what you were becoming. Your grades dropped and our friendship dwindled.

Seeing what those people were doing to you, I started to oppose everything about them. I even threatened that if you ever got drunk again, I would tell your parents and our teacher. You became angry with me. You said that all I ever wanted was to get you in trouble and that I'm no fun to hang around with. Then, you started to skip class and said that I ratted you out whenever you got caught. You even spread rumours about me -- hurtful and untrue things. And after a while, I became angry as well. Angry at what you had become, angry at how I couldn't stop you, angry at how you treated me, angry at everything that made you this way. Unsurprisingly, we ended the year on bad terms.

Later that summer, I heard that you wouldn't be coming to the same high school as me. Your parents wanted you to get away from those people, after they found out what happened when you were caught skipping. I was happy for you, but a little sad at the same time. At my high school orientation, you gave me my birthday present and a card with a smile. I guess being away from those people did make you feel better after all. Either way, I accepted it with a simple "Thank you," because I didn't really know what to say.

"Thanks for being such a great friend to me," you wrote in the card.

I read that line over and over again. The meaning in that simple sentence overwhelmed me and I called you. We talked for a while, and for once, you sounded like my old friend again. Your voice sounded so much happier and livelier than when I had last heard you talk -- as if you are actually content again. Even though you won't be in the same school as me from now on, at least everything is starting to go right again for you. That's the best thing that can happen. I hope that in your new school you will be able to find yourself again and reach the goals that you had once set for yourself.

The trees in our old school are turning crimson and orange again, and I hope that this autumn will be a beautifully sweet one for you, with new friends and a new start.


воскресенье, 15 августа 2010 г.

Coming to Grips

Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Golf Book

BY: Robert Scott Nussbaum

I'm not saying my golf game went bad, but if I grew tomatoes, they'd come up sliced.
~Miller Barber

After fifty years playing this game, my skills have abandoned me. I actually shanked a three-foot putt yesterday. I see chips heading in directions unknown. I find my once trusty driver to be a foreign object in my hands. I can take comfort in no part of my game. I am a stranger masquerading as myself as I wander helplessly for eighteen holes.

I took up golf at six, and from that point on it was a natural fit. I took a few lessons when I was eight or nine, but I don't think it was this professional advice that molded my game. I was an athlete, and the flow of the swing came to me as easily then as walking.

Now, fifty-six, as I look in the mirror, I see little evidence of that young boy. I play with a friend, same age as me, who regularly hits 300-yard drives. I find myself struggling to bunt the ball 200 yards. The distance with my irons is equally pathetic. I often find myself lying to my fellow players when they ask what club I hit, so as not to be embarrassed by my lack of strength. My friends who took up the game late in life are now passing me on the golfing highway.

My sister insists I should be taking lessons. For someone who is inherently lazy, cheap, and has been forever convinced that corrections are ultimately within one's own power to make, I have rejected her advice. For so long, a tweak here and a tweak there have been enough to bring my game back. I was always able to pull out from my memory bank some forgotten secret that aligned me physically and mentally. I could handle whatever little missteps I made, and bring my game back to the level I was comfortable with and enjoy moments of pride in my accomplishments. Now, all I find when I look for these guides is an empty box. Someone has hidden the answers from me. The CliffsNotes have been lost. I am looking into the abyss and am having trouble maintaining my balance.

Is the answer to swallow my pride and admit that after half a century the golfing gods have been wooed away? Must I make that dreaded phone call to a pro asking for help? I still cling to the belief that the light will be turned back on with my next swing. That the high, short, ugly slices and complete mis-hits that now inhabit my game will be replaced with beautiful low draws that travel forever. That I will find birdies and pars to be regular staples of my golfing diet once again.

I think I will give myself one or two more bad rounds before I cry uncle. I will get the names of some teaching pros I can call upon, and carry their phone numbers with me at all times. If and when the weight of my disappointments becomes too much to bear, I will start dialing the phone. Until that moment comes I find myself like an addict who believes that salvation can be attained by the sheer belief that you have the inherent power to achieve it.

As I look in the mirror, I like to think I am still the six-year-old boy who could play. However, until the magic reappears, I would strongly suggest that you stand behind me whenever I swing because I have no idea where the ball is going.


Lifestyle versus Life

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings

BY: Kay Klebba

I'm living my life, not buying a lifestyle.
~Barbara Kruger

The "perfect" lifestyle is never worth the cost of your life. If you have to sacrifice the quality of your family life or your spiritual life to keep up with your lifestyle ideals, you're cheating yourself. Society tells us if we just get that one more thing, we will be happy. Time after time, we give in only to find that we're still not really happy, so we go back to looking for that "one more thing."

One day two years ago, my husband, Scott, came home from work utterly depressed and burned out. The truth was that he'd been depressed for a couple of years. It is amazing what I could ignore in the busyness of our everyday lives. Just when you think you have everything together, life caves in on you. In all honesty, I panicked.

We lived in what I call "Stepford" -- a very nice planned community for families. Little league under the lights, soccer fields, hiking trails, golf courses, you name it. We had a beautiful home, a great church, good schools for the kids, and a very comfortable lifestyle. We had the right cars, the right job, the right vacations. What we were lacking was a family life. Scott worked sixty to ninety hours a week. That's not a typo. That was our reality. He worked that crazy schedule for fifteen years. No wonder he was depressed.

Time isn't something you can ever earn back. Scott missed birthday parties and holidays and everything else in between for his career. I was raising our kids alone and also getting burned out -- I wasn't doing it well, because I was doing it alone. In reality, our family didn't make a very pretty picture even though it was wrapped up in a beautiful package.

That month of our reckoning with reality, we faced some tough questions.

Is the time away from family worth the money Scott is making? If he quits his job, will we be able to provide for our four kids? When we began to talk about our current finances (which I was in charge of at the time), Scott asked me if I might have a gambling problem. "Of course not!" I said huffily. But then I realized the truth: our lifestyle was supported by credit cards. Our community was expensive. Keeping up with the Joneses never seemed to be at the forefront of our goals, but it certainly always lurked in the shadows.

We finally came to the same conclusion. Scott could not keep working at the same pace and survive. I could not keep raising our children alone and survive. What should we do? Tough questions require tough answers.

We prayed, our church prayed, our friends prayed, and then we prayed some more. Then we made the tough decision: we would move back to Scott's home state and live with his mother until our house sold. He would look for a job that would support our new goal of working together to raise our kids and nourish our marriage.

We thought the process would take under six months; it actually took a year and a half. That's a long time to be in limbo -- and I didn't like it at all. I got angry and stubborn and bitter. Why shouldn't I have a nice house? Why shouldn't we have nice clothes and a vacation and all those wonderful things? I still wanted my lifestyle. I liked the nice house, the pool, the golf course. There I was stuck in a house I didn't even own, with not one thing of my own around me -- and for what?

Needless to say, that year was our stretching year. We were stretched, our marriage was stretched, our kids were stretched. But was the lifestyle we gave up worth the price of my marriage, my children's happiness, and my authentic happiness? I came to realize that the answer to this question was an easy one. No. Never.

The "perfect" lifestyle is never worth the cost of your life.

When we began to ask the tough questions and pray about what we knew would be tough answers, we began to put our priorities in order. But I had a lot to learn, and my heart didn't change overnight. I came to realize that while I may have been caring for my kids 24/7 all those years, I had also been selfish. In many ways, I had put my wants and needs above those of my family. To be selfish is to be human, but when I look back, I know I was most miserable while I was separating myself from God by prioritizing my lifestyle over the life He wanted for me.

In our new fish-out-of-water living arrangement, I finally picked up my dusty Bible and began to re-establish my faith life. Then I took a good hard look at my heart and chose to bloom where God had planted me. I began re-connecting with God. While our circumstances haven't changed much, I am truly content. Our current "lifestyle" would be laughable by my old standards, but our family has never been closer -- or more engaged in our faith lives.

I think I can sum it up with a conversation I had in the car one day with my fourteen-year-old son. I was trying to explain that while we didn't have as much "stuff" as we had in Arizona, his dad and I had made these decisions so that we could have a closer family. Tyler simply stated, "You know what, Mom? I think I saw Dad more in the first year we lived here than in the previous twelve years of my life."

That alone made every day of stretching ourselves worth it. The truth is, we may have given up everything we used to identify ourselves by, but what we got in exchange was priceless: we got our lives back.


When You Wish Upon A Star

Chicken Soup for the Soul: True Love

BY: Susan Staunton

We were written in the stars, my love, all that separated us, was time, the time it took to read the map which was placed within our hearts, to find our way back to one another.
~Source Unknown

I was a fourth grader in love. Our families were friends and our moms thought it "cute" that I had such a crush on the neighbor's son, who was five years older and entering high school. But, to me, it was real love from the first moment when he gently smiled and looked at me with his soft hazel eyes.

Each night as I lay in bed, I quietly half sang and half recited, "When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are... anything your heart desires will come to you." I was sure that Walt Disney had gotten it right. Did it really matter that I was in my awkward stage, with buck teeth, and that he was in high school and didn't know my name? Not really, I decided, because somehow marrying my fourth grade crush was going to happen.

As the years slowly passed, I still "wished upon my star," yet reality was slowly creeping in. He was in college, had a serious girlfriend, and life beyond college would be starting soon. I reluctantly tried to move on, but each young man I dated unknowingly shared some similarity with the boy that I "wished upon a star" for -- the hazel eyes, soft smile, tall and slender frame, or a gentle and kind heart. Yet no one I dated was him -- not even close. In my heart, as strange as it seemed, I couldn't let go. Was it because I had fallen hard for my first crush, or did I really know something? Such a simple question, but one that I truly couldn't answer. Maybe one day my heart's question would be answered honestly.

The summer I graduated college was the summer my brother got married. It was a small and intimate wedding with just family and close friends. "He's probably not coming," said my mom, when I asked if my crush would be there. He was moving and his life had become busy with work and weekend plans. "His parents will be there though," she added. It would be nice to see them and find out what had happened to the boy I had once known. I quietly "wished upon a star" as my heart fluttered. Maybe he would come after all.

A few days before the wedding, my mom found out that he in fact would be coming. It was one of the few weekends that he had free to come home to spend time with his family. And, since there was a wedding of a longtime friend, this weekend seemed like the perfect time. As excited as I was to hear this, it only complicated things though as I had refused to go to my brother's wedding alone. A college friend had accepted my invitation as my date and it was obvious that he hoped for a more serious relationship despite my desire to only be friends.

My heart skipped a beat as I entered the church in front of my soon to be sister-in-law. I scanned the backs of the guests as I walked down the aisle. I spotted him almost instantly -- and he was just as I had remembered him. As I led the wedding procession past his pew, he looked at me with astonishment. Goodbye to the pigtails, braces, and buck teeth. I was no longer "Jeff's sister" as he finally noticed me for who I was. As our eyes met, his head gently nodded towards me and he smiled the tender smile that I had loved for so long.

It was the longest twenty-minute wedding I had ever attended. "Where is he?" I asked when the service was over. "I don't know," said my mom as she greeted every guest with hugs. "He'll be at the house, I'm sure," she added. My heart continued to leap, skip, and jump. Even though I was a college graduate heading off to a new life in two weeks, I tingled while thinking of reuniting with my fourth grade crush at the reception.

"Why did I ever invite a date?" I wondered. Conversations I hoped to have with my crush were definitely going to get complicated. As the reception began, I found myself sitting between my date and my crush. My crush was just as anxious to get to know me as I was to see if this was a crush or if this could be true love. We snuck in moments away from the wedding guests and my date to quietly catch up on the years that had separated us. The wedding reception quickly became a blur; an instant friendship, gentle love, and admiration for each other quietly began that day.

Two weeks was all we had before summer ended and I moved to Maryland for my dream job. The summer was ending too quickly and I found myself wishing I could stay at home, but I had no choice. We constantly dated yet I always found myself wondering if I was living out my girlhood dream or if it was true love.

On one of our last dates, he gently took me in his arms as we stared up at the stars in the night sky. "Susan, would you ever consider marrying me -- if I asked at some point?" He had taken my breath away again. "Yes, I think that could be very possible," I quietly replied. My heart was leaping as I realized that it was true love that we shared. It had taken awhile for us to find each other, but all my wishes had come true.

Three months later, during one of his visits to Maryland, we headed to the Eastern shore. Soft breezes, seagulls, and the gentle lapping sounds of the waves relaxed us as we quietly sat down to a picnic on the beach. Nestled in his arms, I watched a couple walk by hand in hand and I smiled, knowing that I had also found such happiness, friendship, and love. As I turned my head to look up at him, my dream became real. "Susan," he began, "will you marry me?" My heart's question was finally answered as he slipped the ring on my finger.

After almost seventeen years of marriage and children, my husband is still the boy I fell in love with thirty years ago, but even better. Yet one thing remains the same -- my heart still skips a beat every time I know he's coming home. The star that I wished upon so many years ago is brighter than ever.