London boundFrom time to time, you bump into someone totally unexpectedly, in a most unlikely place. You would swear it couldn’t happen — except that it does, often enough that the surprise, ironically, isn’t really a surprise.

Tuesday evening I flew from Boston to London, the first leg of a quick trip to Sweden. Coincidentally, my former minister was on the same flight, off to see her son, daughter-in-law, and grandkids in Vienna. Earlier in the day I had seen her Facebook posting, noting that she was packing for the trip, and thought “Wouldn’t it be a coincidence if we were on the same plane.”

I last saw Laurel at her wedding last September. That was a joyous event, yet not conducive to conversation. The last time we had the opportunity to catch up with one another was by phone a year or two before the wedding, and it was a few years before that when we actually saw each other in person.

So the few minutes we had in Boston before boarding and the few minutes walking the long halls at Heathrow, then clearing security, were a gift, time enough to share the important themes in our lives. The conversation seemed to pick up right where we left off, seemingly just last week.

As we separated in the transit hall, she bound for Vienna, me for Goteborg, I marveled at the blessed coincidence. The threads of our lives seem to weave a rich tapestry that transcends time and distance. Thankfully.

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Perfect spring day

Spring DayIndeed, it was a wonderful spring day in the neighborhood, Mr. Rogers &#151 sunny and warm.

And an unexpected gift.

Planning to be in Europe all next week, I expected to spend a manic weekend packing and catching up around here, after being on the west coast much of last week. Late Thursday, starting to stress, I recognized that I didn’t have to go to Europe, that I should tend to the more pressing priorities at work and couldn’t afford to lose a week traveling.

Friday morning I pulled the plug, canceled my reservations, apologized to my co-workers whom I was to accompany, and shifted my focus to those more pressing priorities.

That decision allowed me to awaken this morning to a day of relaxed and infinite possibility, especially with my family in Florida. Just the dog and me. Both of us took advantage of the beautiful weather for walks, I wrote two blog postings, and I finished migrating this blog from Blogger to WordPress (not a pretty process but I’m basically there — assuming you’re reading these words).

It’s also nice to officially express gratitude after an absence of some four months. Not that I’ve been ungrateful. Just lousy spiritual discipline.

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Standing on the shoulders

90 years ago today, my mother was born. She lived for 86 of those 90 years, a full life with no regrets, fully engaged until the very end. I miss hearing her reflections on the world and sharing my own, yet so very grateful for her influence and the time we had.

Prompted by such memories and the tradition of year-end retrospectives, today I am recalling my mother and a few others whose influence during my early years shaped who I am today.

My mother—For her devotion and steadfast support in countless ways throughout my life.

My father—An enigma, whose example defined the person I did not want to become. In later years, I have come to appreciate his more subtle strengths of creativity, innovation, and humor.

Les Gray—He engaged my intellect and interest in philosophy and politics. His example taught me the importance of integrity and service.

Carl Roliff—He gave a kid an opportunity, fostered my interest in engineering, and started me on the path to a career.

HRP—He gave me the opportunity to glimpse and experience a few of the finer things in life, while schooling me in decorum.

Frank Date—A quiet presence who kept me connected to Scouting, from which I learned about persistence and character and Nature.

Florence Lehners—My english teacher my senior year in high school. She set high standards, and I learned that not taking the easy way has benefits that outweigh the hard work.

Isaac Newton said “If I have seen further, it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants.” In that same spirit, I would have to say that my life and journey have been enriched by these women and men who so unselfishly shared themselves.

I hope in some way that my own life will repay these precious gifts by being a positive influence on others.

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Daily dose

Kristen Munson writes a blog called The Grateful Project, where each day she notes something in her life for which she is grateful. She explains how the blog came to be here, which includes this excerpt:

This action of pausing to consider what I am truly grateful for each day is an exercise I have repeated each day since. Because every day something happens to be thankful for. Every day. Even the days your heart winds up on the bottom of someone else’s shoes.

Kristen’s posts are short and often moving, especially when noting the ordinary. That’s the aha. We become desensitized to the ordinary, rather than seeing the extraordinary blessings.

I have much the same motivation as Kristen — if not her disciplined regularity. Gratitude is part of my spiritual practice, a means to keep centered and a principle for living a meaningful life.

Earlier this week, I saw the following on Kim Steele’s Facebook page, apparently a so-called trending topic:

Let’s see how many people can do this. Every day this month until Thanksgiving, think of one thing that you are thankful for and post it as your status. “Today I am thankful for…”

Inspired first by Kristen, then by Kim, I’ve adopted the practice, tweeting my expressions for the past several days.

Texas dawnTuesday — Today I am thankful for airplanes, enabling us to travel and see the world.

Wednesday — Today I am grateful for a run through the cool and quiet morning, rewarded by a stop at Starbucks.

Thursday — This morning I am thankful for my daughter Andrea, who is being inducted into the National Honor Society tonight.

Friday — I am grateful for the ability to see, to see color, to see the dawn of a new day. (Inspired by the photo.)

Later in the day — An extra dose of gratitude today: I made my connection in PHL with barely minutes to spare, yet enough to have dinner with my family.

Saturday — I am grateful for renewing friendships: life stories, shared memories, laughter and food. Creating new memories.

Let’s see how long I can keep this going…

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Gratitude as Spiritual Practice

Here’s a wonderful article about practicing gratitude from

This morning I went to the uuworld site looking for another article, previously read, and, as usually happens when web surfing, found something unexpected and interesting. In this case, compelling.

Gratitude is core to my concept of living a meaningful life. While I would say I am inherently grateful, I want my gratitude to be an intentional, disciplined, and regular spiritual practice, so that it’s never far from my consciousness.

Writing this blog is one way to be intentional, disciplined, and regular — and you can see how regular I’ve been! As the uuworld article states so well:

Perhaps most insidious to our sense of gratitude is the great demon, busyness. There are times when we simply get too busy to notice all the wonderful things and people and relationships around us. Because it is so easy to get revved up to such a pitch that we neglect to notice our gratitude, it is best to find ways to make gratitude a routine.

raindrops on maple, loriEach day offers the gift to begin anew, so on this quiet and rainy Saturday morning, the coolness of the air hinting fall, I am pausing to intentionally practice gratitude.

I am grateful for the life of Senator Edward M. Kennedy. Only since his diagnosis with brain cancer and recent death, have I had the opportunity to see beyond the tag of liberal icon and understand and appreciate the impact of his life. More significant than his legislative achievements, I’ve been moved by the stories of his caring. That a man with such an overwhelming schedule would always take the time to personally reach out and show care and compassion is a model of humanity we should all aspire to.

I am grateful for a road trip with my son earlier this month. We had fun and deepened our relationship, the concentrated time together letting me see the young adult he is becoming.

I am grateful for my mother, who was such a wonderful friend and influence in my life. Three years ago, on August 27, she passed away.

I am grateful for this quiet morning, affording time for contemplation. Cool enough for the windows to be open, the sound of the rain falling on the leaves and flowing through the gutter is calming.

Life is good.

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Simple Gifts

Sun bathing puppyThose mornings when the sun is out, our Miniature Schnauzer positions herself on a chair in the dining room and sun bathes. She sits quite still, happy and content.

Seeing her meditative pose this morning reminded me of the simple gifts we experience every day. Just a moment of presence can enable us to remember our blessings: the warmth of the sun, a sip of coffee, a deep and conscious breath, a smile, a hug, remembering someone dear to us, a melody, quiet.

May your day be filled with these precious moments.

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Good night 2008

Another year comes to a close, number 55 in the chronology of my life. 2008 has been good, however that’s not to say it has been without sadness, nor a presage for challenges on the horizon. The year has been good because life is a gift.

I appreciate this much more after the past three years, when I have personally experienced that decades of seeming stability can end at any moment. Death or serious illness or any number of life-changing events intrude, creating raw edges and the visceral knowledge that the continuity of life is unstable and will be punctuated by loss.

My mother would have celebrated her 89th birthday today, were she still alive. She made it to 86. Except for her last three months, she lived as she wanted: independent and fully engaged with life. I miss her, our daily e-mail chatter back and forth across the country and my occasional drop-in visits when I was traveling to the west coast. I am so grateful that she and I had her last summer to share, for both of us to prepare for her pending death. While challenging, that time was sacred and a wonderful gift.

The life lesson I am learning with each year’s passing is to savor each day, to recognize that it might be the last. This thought is beautifully expressed in the poem Otherwise, written by Jane Kenyon.

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.

At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

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Mountain view

Flat Irons outside of Boulder

Traveling on business isn’t as glamorous and fun as often imagined. Crowded airports and planes, up early and late, hurry and wait, delays, jet lag, traffic, getting lost, missed or hurried meals, and boring meetings are the routine.

Now that I’ve convinced you of the negatives, I’ll hasten to add that there are a few moments in most every trip when I resonate with the awe of traveling: the miracle of flight, an occasional spectacular view from the plane, seeing a place where I’ve never been, meeting people and learning a bit about their lives and the universality of life.

This week I had a meeting in Boulder, Colorado. The night before, I arrived well after dark in a rental car from the Denver airport. The next morning I awoke fairly early, still on eastern time, and had the opportunity to watch the day develop. While making my ritual trip to Starbucks, I was able to capture this photo of the Flatirons, the mountains that define the geographic persona of Boulder.

Who knows when — even if — I will return to Boulder. So having a few hours to be in the presence of these mountains was a real gift.

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Last week marked my in-laws’ 55th wedding anniversary. They were married the year I was born, which is truly remarkable. Their relationship is a great example of a partnership of mutual respect and long-term commitment.

They quietly celebrated this year, as my father-in-law just finished a series of radiation and chemo treatments for tongue cancer. No night out or fancy dinners, as he’s relearning how to swallow. Nonetheless, I suspect the anniversary was quite special, given all they have been through this summer.

Yesterday was the second anniversary of my mother’s death. I remember the day too well, the culmination of a summer of preparation and waiting. On that Sunday morning, having lived fully to 86, she died quietly and at peace, in her home with her dog. That was just the way she wanted it to end.

While the grief has subsided, I miss her and always will. We were close and constantly chatting via e-mail or Skype. She was a good adviser: her life experience combined with a mother’s advocacy. Through my experience, she fed her interest in business, vicariously seeing a career that her age and the context of her time wouldn’t allow her to experience herself.

55 years and 86 years; both signify longevity. The paradox of such is that we come to believe it will never end. But it does, usually catching us by surprise and ill-prepared. Looking back, we may wish that we had savored and cherished the moments and experiences more.

One of the secrets of living a fulfilling life, I think, is to live in the moment. No day but today, to quote the song from Rent.

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Independence Day reflections

FireworksHere’s my list of things worthy of gratitude on this holiday:

The obvious one is being a citizen of the United States, enjoying the benefits of the grand experiment this country pioneered in 1776. Notwithstanding that the world and country are deeply troubled, the values upon which the U.S. was founded remain a source of promise and optimism.

Freedom, equality, opportunity.

We haven’t achieved them yet, and no doubt never will, however each generation moves closer to the vision. Our progress is not the result of a natural force, like gravity. Rather, it is often the result of hard-fought and painful challenge to the sources of status-quo: the prevailing wisdom, the center of institutional power, even evil. As Charles Caleb Colton, 19th century author, noted: “We owe almost all our knowledge, not to those who have agreed, but to those who have differed.”

We should be grateful for all those who saw a different world, helping to create the one we enjoy today. And as important, let us be sufficiently humble to consider that those with whom we differ may be leading society to a better tomorrow.

Secondly, I am mindful of the gift of each day.

A year ago this 4th of July, I was attending my wife’s family reunion. We were catching up and enjoying each other’s company before a backdrop of warm summer days full of laughter, plentiful food, fireworks, fishing, and minor league baseball. This year, my father-in-law is undergoing treatment for tongue cancer. His barbecued hamburger will be delivered via feeding tube, with a dose of morphine rather than a beer.

I am reminded that life can turn on a dime, leaving those halcyon days as memories. While we cannot change the course of life, we can live it with presence, so that our memories are of days enjoyed to the fullest. Henry David Thoreau expressed this same idea when he wrote of his rationale for moving to Walden Pond: “I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to live deep and suck the marrow out of life, to put to rout all that was not life, and not, when I had come to die, discover that I had not lived.”

Now, to the most important item on my list. I am most grateful that my father-in-law’s prognosis is good. We fully expect he will be eating that hamburger, with a cold beer from the bottle, by summer’s end.

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