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Archive for March, 2010

There is something so tragic about a life cut short for whatever reason.  Whether person or animal, the waves of sadness, lament, regret and the sense of something missing lap upon the stable shores of an otherwise normal day, affecting those connected both near and far.

Guillaume Apollinaire, a 20th century French poet wrote a mesmerizing poem called “Le Pont Mirabeau” (The Mirabeau Bridge), that speaks of this connection of the flow of the waters of time and love, joys and sorrows against the stability of the bridge upon which he stood.  I’ll show the original version for those of you who speak or are learning to speak French and an English translation prepared by Richard Wilbur.

Le Pont Mirabeu

Sous le pont Mirabeau coule la Seine
            Et nos amours
       Faut-il qu’il m’en souvienne
La joie venait toujours après la peine
 
     Vienne la nuit sonne l’heure
     Les jours s’en vont je demeure
 
Les mains dans les mains restons face à face
            Tandis que sous
       Le pont de nos bras passe
Des éternels regards l’onde si lasse
 
     Vienne la nuit sonne l’heure
     Les jours s’en vont je demeure
 
L’amour s’en va comme cette eau courante
            L’amour s’en va
       Comme la vie est lente
Et comme l’Espérance est violente
 
     Vienne la nuit sonne l’heure
     Les jours s’en vont je demeure
 
Passent les jours et passent les semaines
            Ni temps passé
       Ni les amours reviennent
Sous le pont Mirabeau coule la Seine
 
     Vienne la nuit sonne l’heure
     Les jours s’en vont je demeure

 And now in English…

The Mirabeau Bridge

Under the Mirabeau Bridge there flows the Seine
            Must I recall
     Our loves recall how then
After each sorrow joy came back again 
           

Let night come on bells end the day
            The days go by me still I stay

Hands joined and face to face let’s stay just so
            While underneath
     The bridge of our arms shall go
Weary of endless looks the river’s flow

            Let night come on bells end the day
            The days go by me still I stay

All love goes by as water to the sea
            All love goes by
     How slow life seems to me
How violent the hope of love can be

            Let night come on bells end the day
            The days go by me still I stay

The days the weeks pass by beyond our ken
            Neither time past
     Nor love comes back again
Under the Mirabeau Bridge there flows the Seine

            Let night come on bells end the day
            The days go by me still I stay

Each of us stands upon a bridge in life.  The river of time flows gently by, experiences, friends and family come and go, yet as Apollinaire penned so lyrically, “Let night come on bells end the day, The days go by me still I stay.”   

What is the source of your stability and sanity?  What makes it so that you can “stay?”  There is an old saying that might help here.  It goes something like this: “In joy not overjoyed, in sorrow not dejected.”  As in all things, there is a sweet spot in the middle.  “In joy not overjoyed, in sorrow not dejected.”

The sweet spot is enlarged to the degree that you celebrate life and living.  Even if a life is cut short there is ample opportunity to celebrate and give thanks for the life lived, the victories established and the joys sparked by that one.  Mourning is essential, but mourning can be balanced with a focused appreciation for what was wonderful, vibrant and true about the lives of those lost.

Take care today to embrace the world around you today, but remember, “in joy not overjoyed, in sorrow not dejected.”

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“Invictus” by William Ernest Henley (1849-1903)

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

How often do you have thoughts of your unconquerable soul?  Do you feel yourself a master of your fate or a captain in life? 

I regularly find myself in awe of the vision and courage of our founding fathers.  In the “fell clutch of circumstance” they found agreement.  They imagined the foundation of the American republic, a new nation, full of possibilities for glory and freedom, peace and plenty.  They were captains of their unconquerable souls.

Every time anyone anywhere overcomes adversity, they are captains of their unconquerable souls.  Stephen Hawking is a scientist whom I hold in high esteem.  Hawking began developing symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease) when he began his graduate studies at Cambridge, eventually leaving him with limited use of his physical capacities.  Such challenges would leave most in a state of blame or anger, but Hawking neither “winced nor cried aloud.”  He made and continues to make full use of his mind.  A master of his fate, unconquerable soul.

Life is full of twists and turns.  Of that there is no doubt.  The question is whether or not you will meet the curves that will inevitably come…unbowed and unafraid.  Mastery and captainship are within your grasp and they are the key to the revelation of your greatness.

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"The March to Valley Forge" by William Trego

"The March to Valley Forge" by William Trego

A painting of General George Washington preparing the Continental Army to march to Valley Forge hangs ominously in my office.  A subtle yet ever-present reminder of one of the most critical winters in American history, the successful handling of the time at Valley Forge turned the tide of the Revolutionary War and laid the cornerstone of the American ethos.

Washington maintained his dignity and sense of honor while providing leadership in the most tumultuous and tenuous years of our nation’s childhood.  He strove to bolster the newly born republican institutions and to build public trust in government while leading his army through years of defeat and deprivation.

General Washington, amongst his manifold achievements in life, removed any doubt in the mind of man that there is strength in humility.  Washington wrote extensively during his entire career and one particular letter written to Henry Laurens on January 31, 1778 leapt from the pages to my heart last evening.

Washington was regularly under fire from Congress and early January 1778 was no exception.  He wrote after being warned by Mr. Laurens of enemies seeking his demise: “I was not unapprized that a malignant faction had been for some time forming to my prejudice; which, conscious as I am of having ever done all in my power to answer the important purposes of trust reposed in me, could not but give me some pain on a personal account; but my chief concern arises from an apprehension of the dangerous consequences, which intestine dissentions may produce to the common cause.”  Isn’t his writing beautiful?

Washington continues: “My Heart tells me it has been my unremitted aim to do the best circumstances would permit; yet, I may have been very often mistaken in my judgment of the means, and may, in many instances, deserve the imputation of error.”  Again, isn’t his writing lovely?  How often I wish I could have clothed my thoughts and feelings with words so perfectly chosen and arranged!

There is no harm in always leaving room for the possibility that your perspective may be limited, even if you have done your very best.  Humility averts the pitfalls of hubris, prejudice and fanaticism.  Humility is the harbinger of nobility and dignity.  In true humility lies a fountain of inexhaustible strength and determination.

Washington revealed that he knew of the waters of the fountain of humility through his writings, his words and his actions.  What harm is there in allowing for the possibility that you may have been wrong, in everything you do?  Some fear that their enemies will gain advantage as humility is often perceived to be akin to weakness, but true humility has nothing to do with weakness.

Humility is not self-deprecation.  Humility is not assuming a lowly posture to give the appearance of meekness.  True humility is both revealed and strengthened by an unwavering sense of self, a flexible confidence in one’s abilities and perspective and an assurance in action as your best foot is put forward.

Think of ways you can open the door to a more refined expression of humility through you.  “If my perspective is correct…,” “I may not be seeing the whole picture but my impression is that…” and “Here is what I think we should do.  Do you see a more effective approach?” can gradually replace the inflexible, inconsiderate, immoderate and fanatical approaches that tend to be taken when opinions are voiced and tempers flare.

Be willing to accept correction gracefully and graciously, place great value on the perspective of others and harness the power of humility.  Naught but blessing will come of it!

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Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.”  – Anne Frank

There is nothing like parenthood.  It is an opportunity to distill your central values and beliefs in preparation for passing the baton.  Parenthood forces the question: what do you hold most dear?  

Your children are both mirrors of your influence and fountains of unique expression.  Part nature, part nurture, each and every child born on our great earth develops character on the path from childhood to manhood or womanhood.  Furthermore, each holds the keys to an aspect of the future.

Strong character does not guarantee success, but it does ensure that the best possible foot will be put forward in all affairs.  Conversely, weak character does not gaurantee failure, but it makes it all the more likely.  In my estimation, the greatest gift you can give a child is a firm foundation of character.

At some point, every child must make the transition to adulthood.  Adulthood is the phase of life where the balance of responsibility for the continued refinement of character shifts from an external source to internal generation.  Whether this watershed came early or late for you, there is no better time than the present to delve into the refinement of your character.   

Several elements of character stand out to me this morning.  Patience, forgiveness, kindness, responsibility, decisiveness and fairness must be present to some degree in any person of real character.  In the absence of these qualities of character, impatience, blame, meanness, carelessness, indecision and lack of concern for others will find their way to the surface at one point or another. 

Remember this:        

Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become character.
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.

Have a wonderful Sunday!

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“All things on earth thus change, some up, some down;
Content’s a kingdom, and I wear that crown.” 

-John Heywood 1497-1580

Ah, contentment.  That elusive muse more fleeting than prey in the presence of its hunter!  If you’ve ever felt the warm embrace of contentment, you know of her charms.

Contentment can be known in any situation.  Perhaps you’ve been content doing nothing or maybe you’re more prone to know it when busy.  Either way, contentment is contentment.  It can be found in any activity.  Business, sports, music, work, play.  The setting matters not, in fact, the setting provides the canvas upon which your contentment can be painted.

How would you describe the times when you’ve known contentment?  Did worries subside, focus sharpen, tension abate and pleasure increase?  What stands in the way of you wearing the crown of contentment?  As Heywood noted, “Content’s a kingdom.”  What kingdom do you rule? 

I am convinced that contentment is the natural state, but it is no longer the normal state.  Contentment is not dependent on what you have or don’t have relative to others, in fact, contentment is often more easily known as concern for material goods recedes in priority.  Contentment is an inner state made possible by a constant state of thanksgiving and appreciation. 

Some say incorrectly that money is the root of all evil, but they misquote.  It was said that “…the love of money is root of all evil…” that will result in its idolators being “pierced through with many sorrows.”  You may have heard someone say “If only I had such-and-such I would be content.”  Rarely is the prize of contentment found inside the shell of a much lusted after object.

How often do you take a moment to consider all in your world that you appreciate?  Monthly?  Weekly?  Daily?  Hourly?  Appreciation opens the door to contentment.  Contentment opens your heart and mind to the greater possibilities for change in life.  Conversely, discontent imprisons your creative self and constrains to bitterness, cynicism and pettiness.  

The choice is clear.  And remember, contentment is a choice!  It cannot be given or taken away by anyone or anything.  Contentment is a crown you choose to wear or choose to leave on the table in the dressing room of your life. 

The choice is yours.  What will it be?

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You’ve all no doubt heard the acronym K.I.S.S., which stands for “keep it simple stupid.”  It is a concept often touted but seldom heeded  in marketing, in public speaking, in systems development, in boardrooms, in classrooms, in the world of medicine and health care and just about every other department of human life.

Alan Siegel, a branding expert, makes an interesting case for keeping things simple in this short but sweet TED presentation:

Think about your world for a minute.  Are there areas of your life that are weighed down by complexity?  Your relationships, for example?  Your schedule?  Your outlook on life?  If it isn’t simple, it typically isn’t clear.  

Simplicity is attractive.  It is appealing.  It compels participation.  Did you catch Mr. Siegel’s slide quoting Thomas Jefferson?  It said “When the subject is strong, simplicity is the only way to treat it.”  Whether you are for or against the original intent of the recently “deemed and passed” health care overhaul, you must agree that nothing of its 4,000 plus pages is anything close to simple.

Keep your world simple and call for simplicity in the world around you.  Far too many simple things are overly complicated by faulty human intervention.  Complexity is valuable, but it certainly has its place. 

Have a great, and hopefully not overly complicated, day!

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Last evening I played a great game of checkers in the sky.  The jet contrails in the brilliant blue air above North Georgia provided an immense board upon which the men in my mind could make their way strategically toward the kings row and then onwards toward victory.  While nature did its best to distract me from my enterprise as it celebrated the early days of spring, I imagined my way from beginning to end.  Unfortunately, I was vanquished by my formidable opponent!   

Imagination is a powerful, but far too often under-employed, tool.  It makes confinement feel spacious.  It transforms the apparently impossible into the eminently do-able.  Any great invention in history was born of a mixture of knowledge and invention.  The wheel.  The steam engine.  The United States of America.  The telephone.  The internet.  All the result of knowledge plus a healthy dose of imagination.    

That said, it is easy to lose imagination in the mad pursuit of knowledge.  There must be an oscillation.  Get yourself too focused in one or the other and you will fail.  Live exclusively in the world of imagination and you will earn yourself a straight jacket.  Dwell solely in the domain of knowledge and you will become a pig, desperately poking your snout in the dirt in search of the next truffle.

If our imagination has grown rusty from disuse over time, fear not, there are ways to get it flowing again.  Here are a few ways to help get the wheels of imagination turning:

1.  Brainstorm solutions to some problem you face, either alone or with others involved.  Take care not to judge any of the ideas as they come out.  Record them and analyze later.

2.  Be willing to go beyond logic on occasion.  Logic is linear.  Imagination is boundless and amorphous.  Make space for both sides of your brain to get the exercise they need.  Think of the “wild ideas” as well as the tame ones.  Don’t be ashamed of or afraid to think creatively, in fact, take pride in it!

3.  Thinking involves bearing down on a problem.  Imagination involves letting up on a problem.  Practice the ability to shift from intense focus to complete abandon when problem-solving.  Be serious when you need to but don’t forget to lighten up when you don’t need to.  Again, the oscillation is key.

Have a great day!  Fill it with limitless big thinking and laser-like attention to detail.  Condition the knowledge you have at your command with imagination.  Bring the creative spark that only you can bring, no matter how mundane, repetitive or seemingly meaningless the task at hand may be.

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