Saturday, November 27, 2010

Being Remembered

There is nothing like a funeral to put you in mind of dying.

Especially the funeral you find yourself at when you do not know the person who died.

As you sit in the memorial service, packed with people you don’t know, talking about the accomplishments and good qualities of the man who died, you start to think.

Self-centered thinking.

Thinking about – when your time comes – who will be sitting in the audience at your memorial service. Who will speak on your behalf to express a lifetime worth of thanks to those you have known, respected, revered and loved throughout your life.

And how many people would there be?

Would the room be overflowing with people who respected, revered and loved you?

As I sat in the funeral parlor’s memorial service room listening to all the great things being said about our neighbor Ed, I felt bad that I did not ever make the effort to meet this man. I didn’t know anything about Ed until he passed.

And I felt very guilty.

I can do better than that.

Another person I could have learned from slipped right by me.

Another missed opportunity.

And now it’s too late.

Ed was a musician. That much I knew. As part of the therapy to recover from a stroke he had over the summer, Ed frequently played the bongos. You could hear them over the fence as we sat in the summer time heat in our back yard on the deck by the pool.

And Ed was very good. We would actually turn the radio off and just listen to Ed.

And that is all I knew of Ed.

I rarely saw Ed, only the odd time to see his head poking above the fence when he cut the lawn in the summers before his stroke.

But Ed made me do some big thinking today.

Ed died of a massive coronary heart attack last week. We awoke one cold rainy morning to the red and white and blue lights of ambulances and fire trucks and police cars shining through the sliding glass door that leads to our back yard.

Ed left this world early.

And when you see people leave this world early, you can’t help but reflect on the state of your own lifestyle.

I smoke.

I am over weight.

I have the odd drink.

I cannot run up the stairs. But I have been taking the stairs more often at work, all three flights – to go out and have a smoke.

Now as I sit a year and a handful of months from reaching the age of fifty, I take this thought seriously.

I have two little girls, and a lovely wife, and wonderful home.

And what would my faithful black lab Suzy ever do without me.

Does age quicken its pace to catch up to us? Or do we simply slow down to let age catch up?

And what have I really done to inspire people to take time out of their day – spend an otherwise luxurious Saturday morning off work – to come to a memorial service for my passing?

I remember when my Dad passed away in September of 1990. He and my Mom had moved to Pensacola for nicer weather after Dad fell ill in 1983. No family lived in Pensacola, and his sickness did not lend itself to a social lifestyle. So when Dad passed, a man of significant status in his professional life, a man who many have told me inspired them with his leadership – there was no memorial service. Just a brief visitation of the shell of my Dad lying on a gurney as my Uncle Fred, Aunt Sheila, my brother Paul and his family, and my Mom and I stepped in for a few final moments alone with him, before he was to be cremated.

When my Uncle Fred passed two decades later, the small country church in Ilderton, Ontario was overflowing with people. And wonderful words were said. The same happened when my Aunt Sheila passed only a few short years later.

But that being said, the most memorable experience of my life came the summer following my Dad’s passing. On my Mom’s first visit back to Canada since Dad passed, she brought Dad’s ashes with her.

My Uncle Fred and Aunt Sheila, my Mom and I hopped in Fred’s big white Crown Victoria and we took a drive with ashes. We went to the beautiful little town of Goderich on Lake Huron. There was a long point there with a lighthouse on the end of it.

Dad used to love to sit and look at this sight as the sun set.

So we marched out there in the mid-evening and we spread Dad’s ashes around the point by light house.

It was a beautiful summer night. The kind Dad loved.

And as we pulled out of the parking lot of the old fashioned little town with freshly cut grass and trimmed hedges, we passed a sign pasted to a wooden telephone pole.

Steak and Lobster Dinner

A local church was having a steak and lobster dinner.

Steak and Lobster was Dad’s favorite meal.

So we pulled in. And we ate the most perfectly barbecued steaks, and savored the most sumptuous lobster tails drenched in butter that one could ever hope to find in any restaurant. And we sat and talked about how Dad would have found this to be a perfect end to a perfect day of sailing.

It were as though Dad had held that dinner just for us.

So in the end, I only hope that those who might take the time to remember me have such fortune as we did that beautiful summer’s night in Goderich remembering my father.

Who could ask for more than that?

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Five Tips For A Positive Mindset

Keeping yourself in a positive frame of mind is hard … if you let it be.
 
I wrestle with it every day.

I want to be in a positive mindset, but sometimes – the path of least resistance leads me to be negative.

Skeptical.

Cynical.

It’s easy to be cynical. The world is full of so many frustrations.

But when I am fortunate enough to catch myself red-handed at being negative, I do have a couple of tricks that help me turn my disposition around.

Everyone benefits when you’re in positive state of mind. But no one benefits more than you yourself.

The real trick is to put yourself in a mood conducive to positive thinking. A good mood. These five tips will help you through this process:


1. Smile

Yup, that’s it. Simply force yourself to smile. In the same way you force yourself to get out of bed in those wee early mornings of winter where all you want to do is continue sleeping in the warm comfortable bed rather than put your feet on that cold floor and start your morning preparations so that you can meet whatever obligations face you for that day.

Smile. Like stretching. Hold it for a minute – square on your face. As your mother always told you when you were little about making scary faces at people “your face will freeze that way”.

I promise you that after a minute of forcing a smile, you will actually feel like smiling.

Don’t ask me why. Why isn’t important. Just do it.


2. Laugh

In the same way you forced yourself to smile, just break out in a forced laugh. It works the exact same way. And it’s good for you to. Nothing to laugh about? Laugh anyways. Just do it.

Granted – you do have to be careful about where – you can’t really just break into a laugh if you’re in a meeting and being told information you don’t like. But once you have a moment alone – break out into a good hard laugh.

A word of warning though - you should never do it in the washroom stall in a public bathroom either.

Once you have gotten past points 1 and 2, step three actually comes more easily.


3. Listen to yourself

Absolutely. Hear your own words (or thoughts in your head) and ask yourself “If I were someone else – would I want to be around me right now?”.

This usually is enough for me to shake myself out of the negative mindset. But if not, I move on to step 4.


4. Go find somebody else and tell them a joke

Anyone who works with me has probably experienced this. Suddenly I will simply appear at a colleague’s desk or office … and I will tell them a joke. They often look at me strangely and I walk away … because usually I am the only one who enjoys my jokes.

Did you hear about the pirate filing his health benefit claims?

After being on the high seas for several years, he arrives home and heads to his insurance company to pay his medical bills.


“I see you have a hook for a hand, how did that happen?” asks the adjudicator.


“Arrgggh … I was in a sword fight, and the bugger cut it off”, answered the Pirate.


“I see you have a peg for a leg?”


“I had to walk the plank and a shark bit it off”, replied the Pirate.


“hmmm, I see…. And the patch on your eye?”.


“Seagull poop”, explained the pirate.


“Seagull poop? I didn’t know it was dangerous enough to cause you to lose an eye?”


“Argggh … it’s not”, explained the Pirate. “It was the first day with me new hook!”


5. Turn obstacles into challenges

This is the tough one. This is the one that requires the most practice. This deserves to be the topic of a whole book. I’m certain many volumes have been written on this topic. But in short, the times that cause us the most frustration are those times where we feel we are not in control of meeting our obligations. You can identify these situations because you find yourself using the term “they”.

When you find the cause of your problems appear to be “they”, then it is time to empower yourself. You need to use instead terms like “I” or “we” to regain control.

Once you catch yourself saying something like “They really messed this up”, you need to answer that sentiment by, “here is what Iwe are going to do to resolve this problem”. Then list your options as to what you can do to remedy the situation.

Don’t let “they” put obstacles in front you. Instead accept that obstacle as a challenge that you will address.

It is amazing how assuming control of a situation injects a positive confidence into your mindset.

In short, the first four are easy. And they do work. They can be applied at the drop of a hat. But the fifth tip is really more of philosophy that I am simply sharing with you. Should you choose to attempt to turn obstacles into challenges, understand that it is an effort you will likely not achieve perfectly the first time you attempt it. But with practice … you will find … over time … your thinking start to change.

Negative people blame others for their woes.

Rightly or wrongly. It doesn’t matter.

But a person successful in maintaining a positive mindset is one that accepts the cards they are dealt, and takes control of how the hand will be played.


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