Where Were You?

"Sorry I'm late, some plane hit a building in New York. Don't worry, it will be a made-for-TV-movie by the holidays." said Coach Lance Lowry as he arrived for my 8am handball class at Texas A&M. Little did we know how different the world would look when class ended 40 minutes later. Coach Lowry arrived at 8:10 (CST) for class. I remember this exactly because for an 8am class, everyone pays a lot of attention to the 10 minute rule. If the professor doesn't show after 10 minutes, everyone walks. But he did and we had a full class on the technic one should use to strengthen their weak hand returns. When class was over, I walked up to the gym's juice bar and grabbed a banana and a smoothie. I sat down in the lounge area with the intention of finishing some homework. But, there in the front of the room was of a big screen TV tuned into CNN.

As I sat down, the first tower fell.

It was not going to be a normal day.

I walked over to the Memorial Student Center and used a land line (I didn't have a cell at that point) there to call my family and talk briefly about what was going on. As I walked through the halls, TV from classrooms on rolling stands were being positioned for people to gather around.

Then the second tower fell.

I logged into to the main webpage for the school to see if there were any announcements about changes in schedules, or the all important, classes being canceled announcement. Nothing yet. I checked a couple more times throughout the morning, but ended up going to my 2:10 Economics class.

I did not want to be there.

"I know you don't want to be here," began my frequently rather grumpy professor. "But you know what, those evil people that took down the towers today, they didn't want you to be here either. They wanted to mess with the life that you have as an American and change what it means to have the freedoms that we have. Don't let them. Live the life with the freedom that you've been given as an American and don't give those terrorists an inch. Now, onto the ways in which a demand curve indication of marginal utility..."

I knew a couple people that were in the Towers when they got hit, but they were on the 16th floor and made it out with no problem. I filled up my truck with gas because I was worried about the prices increasing the next day.  I went over to a friends house and had burgers that night by the pool.

Now, a decade later, I live in New York. I live just over a mile away from where the Towers stood. I can see One World Trade rising from the still gapping hole in the ground when I walk out my front door. I wasn't a New Yorker when the Towers fell, but I am now. And this morning, I took full advantage of my proximity and the gorgeous sunrise to reflect on what has changed and what has stayed the same in the 10 years since the world stopped turning.

President Obama didn't have any remarks this morning. He felt, and I agree with him, that the Psalmist summed up what needed to be said perfectly in the 46th Psalm:

1 God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, 3 though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. 5 God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. 6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

7 The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

8 Come and see what the LORD has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth. 9 He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. 10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

11 The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Attention Deficit World Order

Yesterday, I asked myself an honest question: "Why does it seem that the American people cared more about the revolution in Egypt than the one that is currently going on in Libya?" And then a scarier question: "Does the fact that Charlie Sheen is on Twitter this week have anything to do with it?" I pondered the questions while I continued to read the Times and then posed the questions to my Twitter followers.  I got some great responses.

Some of the points that struck home with me:

1) It is amazing what kind of response you get to a truly honest question.

2) I need to get add some new sources of information since a lot of my current sources seem to be saying the exact same thing.

3) In the world of constant and instant information, our ability to care about one thing that doesn't directly effect us is increasingly short. Especially if the trend, in this case revolutions, is some what similar to what we cared about last week, we want something new.

This last point resonated with me and actually brought up a point that I had made in a conversation last year around the time of the floods in Pakistan. We are a fickle bunch that likes having our cause de jour but don't want to be tapped for more than that.  And, because of the earthquakes in Haiti earlier in the year, we were all tapped out when it came time to jump in on being a part of the relief in Pakistan.  We had all texted when Larry King and the Red Cross asked us to in January, so we were a little busy in July when asked again by those on the ground in Pakistan.

All of this continues to push me to believe that there must be a better way to change the world than the current nonprofit systems that rely on the fickleness of the American public. There needs to be more to motivate true change than a celebrity asking you to donate for their birthday, a news anchor using their "oh so serious" voice, or one of a dozen "we know it is the end of the year and you need a tax write off" postcards that I get each December from well meaning charities.

There needs to be a shift and a bigger way of thinking about things than our current filters.  There needs to be more to our news cycle than Charlie Sheen and his #Winning.  There needs to be a story bigger than ourselves that we believe in enough to sacrifice short term entertainment for long term gain.

Good People

I was having one of those mornings, just a little overwhelmed with everything that is going on and all that the next few months have in store. I sent a quick email to a long time friend.  I asked him to "sum up in one sentence what is the big picture vision that has you motivated today."  The quick response he sent from his Blackberry was beyond amazing and exactly the perspective I needed.

"The quickest and surest path to greatness is to involve yourself with Good People, and then spend your days quietly seeking to make them great." - Kyle E. Carlton

Race the Day

I could have made it to the top faster.  I know for a fact that there was a more direct path that would have saved me some time.  The wrong turn I made when halfway up definitely cost me a few minutes.  But, then again, I was climbing the mountain in the dark.  I'm sure I would have seen those mistakes if I'd been making my ascent during daylight. But, then again, daylight wasn't an option for me on this climb.  Daylight would have meant failure.

Last week while spending Thanksgiving week in Scottsdale Arizona, I climbed Camelback Mountain.  There are a couple different approaches and trails that you can take to get to the top, and I went with Echo Canyon. I started the climb a little bit before 6am and had just a sliver of moonlight to light the path ahead of me.  It is a wonderful climb mixing steep paths with some pretty good bouldering and a couple "don't look down" ledges for good measure.  All of which are made even more dramatic when it is tough to tell where one starts and the other begins.

As I reached the top, I knew that I had raced the day and won.

Along the clouds on the horizon, just the slightest hint of daybreak pierced the darkness.  As I sat on top of the peak over looking all of the Phoenix valley, I watched as the underside of the most distant clouds began to go from the black of night to a deep ember and then to a fiery red.  The light below the horizon kept growing until finally the first ray of sun rose over the mountain range.  Wow. The photos that I took don't even begin to capture the incredible scene that I witnessed.  But that did capture that moment in time for that is all it was.  Less than a minute later, the clouds moved closer to the horizon and hide the sunrise from view.

As I smiled and flipped back through the shots that I took, a group of climbers reached the summit, cameras in hand.  "We missed it," I heard them mumble,  "We should have started earlier."

At the time of the sunrise, there were only three others on top of the mountain.  Three other people who had set out early enough to race the day to the top of the mountain and win.  Only three other people in the world saw that day begin the way that I did.

As I climbed back down the mountain a little while later, I passed countless folks headed to the top.  Some asked "How was it up there?" and others kept their head down as they looked for the next step they'd take.  I am sure that they probably made it to the top a little faster than I did.  They probably didn't take  a wrong turn or have to back track.  And for most of them, getting to the top probably was the accomplishment they had set out to achieve.  When they reached the top, I know they saw a great view of the Valley of the Sun, but that they'd missed the epic moment that I witnessed.

More rewards are available to those that take more risks.

Some moments in life are reserved for the trailblazers.

Soma Holiday

I am reading Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. I am especially intrigued by the constant dialogue about and socially acceptable use of Soma.

"There is alwaya soma, delicious soma, half a gramme for a half holiday, a gramme for a weekend, two grammes for a trip to the gorgeous East, three for a dark eternity on the moon..."

There are so many modern day parallels, just found in different forms but still causing the same effect: detachment from the harsh realities and consistent pain associated with embracing our world and living life in authenticity.

Far Too Easily Pleased

"We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. WE ARE FAR TOO EASILY PLEASED."
C. S. Lewis preached these words at the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin in Oxford, England on June 8, 1942. I was drawn to the full text of his sermon this morning as I thought back of 2008 and thought ahead to 2009 with my Venti Drip in hand. (Please read it, it is worth your time: "The Weight of Glory") This past year has been the most challenging year of my life. The have been highs, but they have been out numbered by the lows. There have been triumphs and success, but with more regularity there have been near misses and pitfalls. The extreme mountain tops have been punctuated by the depths of the proceeding and following valleys. The joys have not been nearly as vivid as the pains.
It is with that in mind that I read this morning. With a honest and challenged heart I poured over Lewis' text. My mind raced to the parallels in my own life and ways in which I have gotten used to "making mud pies" when there is so much more out there. The way in which even as I watched another goal fall by the wayside, another dream be postponed, that I still knew that there was more in store for me than this. "The world's greatest lie" had never seemed so easy to believe. The thought that maybe it was just "time to grow up and stop dreaming so big" was glaring me in the face from every angle.
But some where deep down, somewhere in my innocent heart of hearts, I knew that, though I had never been there, "a holiday at the sea" was still being offered. What I had glimpsed in my journey thus far was only a predictor of things to come, "they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never visited." The experiences that come along our way, the moments in our lives that we feel truly alive and right, these are just a sampling of what is to come.
"We are far too easily pleased." We settle. We get very comfortable and content in the things that are easy. It is in that ease that complacency is bred. Once fat and happy, it is tough to break that habit and go back out and fight anew. It is in that comfort that dreams and desires are submitted to a sense of order and regularity. The question of "why would we disrupt what we have for a chance at something better?" becomes the prevailing thought. And when comfort and normality have entrenched themselves thoroughly, the likelihood of true growth disappears. The will to strive and to strain and to fight goes dormant and we smile along side everyone else who has picked the same path.
"We are far too easily pleased." It is never too late to get back in the fight. Rocky made 6 movies. Seeing a champ return to the ring, seeing a general come out of retirement, seeing a superstar athlete un-retire; everyone loves that story line. Everyone loves the chance to watch someone who was great be great again. That is what a new year brings, the chance to shake off the dust, clear out the cobwebs, and step back into the fight. Not for a quick knockout punch, not for a sprint, but for good. To find ways to keep our minds, bodies, and souls in shape for and engaged in the pursuit of our Personal Legend, "the calling with which we have been called."
It is indeed the road less traveled, but it is the road that I choose. It is the chance to never stop working toward the glory that awaits. Not only in this life, for that glory is fleeting, but in this life and the life everlasting. "We we do in life echoes in eternity."