Monday, 8 December 2008
These festivities make it a time of happy celebration for some, sadness or stress for others.
Therefore when I received this little piece of prose from a friend, I thought it most appropriate for my last bumble bee insight of the year. Whether you love or dread these festivities you can, as the poem explains, find your own happiness and gift it to yourself.
The Path to True Happiness
What is the path to true happiness? How far must you go to find happiness?
You need not go very far at all. For happiness is always inside you, ready whenever you are.
No object, no person, no circumstance will make you happy. You are always happy when you decide to be.
The good things in life do not cause happiness. It is precisely the other way around.
Allow happiness to flow out from you, and the good things in life will surround you and fill your world. Choose to be happy, with no conditions imposed upon that happiness, and you'll create the ideal conditions for your life.
Happiness is a beautiful gift you can give yourself no matter what. Give it freely and it will change your world.
Wishing you all much happiness and good health over this festive season.
Saturday, 6 December 2008
The author was of course referring to the Ten Commandments. I think all the major religions and philosophies of the world teach something along those lines. No matter what anyone’s personal religious views are, parents and teachers can and should be, bringing up children to know and respect a set of ethical values. During the teenage years, being the turbulent stage that they are, it is very helpful for a teenager to have an ethical religion or philosophy to hold on to: to be their guidance when confused and to give them a greater reason to hold out against peer pressure.
At www.globalethics.org there is a list of what they call universal values – honesty, respect, responsibility, fairness (justice) and compassion (love).
If we all followed those universal values and brought children up to do the same would it reduce incidents such as the one at Skielik and the West Rand samurai sword killing?
A policeman said the Ford Bantam bakkie, which didn't have a canopy, was crammed to capacity with people on the back and in front - 12 altogether.
The driver apparently lost control of the vehicle after another vehicle blocked him in the fast lane.
Among the dead is St Charles College head boy Samukele Khumalo. The St Charles’ headmaster described Khumalo's death as "a tragedy".”He was the type of young man who would have been a future leader of the country”. He was captain of the rugby team and head of the boarding house.”
Was that tragic? Yes it was. A young life wasted.
But there was another even greater tragedy that night.
The report also states:
“His classmate, Sphamandla Bhengu was admitted to the Pietermaritzburg Medi Clinic. Bhengu is in a "stable and critical" condition with head and neck injuries.”
What does that mean “stable and critical”, “head and neck injuries”?
It could mean paralysis.
It definitely means he suffered a severe traumatic brain injury or TBI for short.
It means that even if his physical injuries heal well, Bhengu’s life as he knew it, has been shattered for ever. His parents and family will discover bit by bit that he is no longer the same person he used to be, and he never will be. The brain doesn’t heal like the rest of the body.
When hearing of a car or bike accident where no one was killed I used to think “thank goodness”. Then I started volunteering at Headway-Gauteng, the association that supports survivors of TBI and their families. Now I know that life after a head injury can sometimes be much worse than death.
In SA there are about 100 000 new head injuries a year – about 80% of these are caused by vehicle accidents. An unconfirmed stat says “for every death on our roads four other people will suffer TBI’s”.
One of the most publicized accidents involving head injury this year was that of Ashley Callie. She suffered severe head injuries. Contrary to what her friends from the Isidingo set said, it is highly unlikely that she would ever have been able to return to work as an actress. Very few people with severe or moderate TBI ever manage to be employed again. Those who do, rarely work in their original positions.
In the case of a vehicle accident most of the damage is to the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. These areas are used for memory, learning, planning, organizing, and problem-solving as well as controlling emotions and behaviour.
Every injury is different and how each person recovers is unique. But let me paint a picture of some common complaints.
“My son or my wife has a head injury. She used to be such a dynamic, successful person. She still has a great sense of humour but sometimes the jokes are embarrassing and inappropriate.”
“He gets angry very easily and flies into a rage.”
“When he does manage to get a job it doesn’t last long. He’s slow and disorganised and keeps on forgetting what to do. The co workers get irritated with him for repeating the same stories.”
“Now she is at home I expect her to help out but she just sits and watches TV all day.”
“I am scared to let her cook because one day she went off to play with the dog and left the food to burn.”
“He has all sorts of grand ideas but can’t see they are way beyond his capabilities.”
“We have to manage his money because he would give it away to anyone who asked.”
“Where will she stay when I am gone?”
We, as individuals can do very little about the way other drivers drive. What we can control is how we drive and the example we set for our children. We can choose not to drink and drive. We can drive at an appropriate speed for the road conditions. We can wear our seatbelts.
We can also educate our teenagers. Encourage them to make careful choices and resist peer pressure. Khumalo and Bhengu should never have been on the back of that bakkie.
Let us each do our part to reduce the risk of being killed, or possibly worse, seriously injured on the roads.
Wednesday, 12 November 2008
Until fairly recently I had not taken too much interest in the topic. I concentrated on understanding different personality styles and how to apply that for better business and relationships as well as specific techniques only used for understanding individuals in depth.
Getting on with and understanding people of different generations did not seem difficult. However with the so called Millenium Generation entering the workforce I became more aware of the differences. I am now overlaying generational theory with personality styles to deepen our understanding of how to interact productively and harmoniously with people both in and out of work.
I am addressing this specifically to those of you in the training and HR environments or in business. I believe the only real way to differentiate one’s business is through the quality of service and experience that your customers receive.
That is achieved through quality people. Quality people are those chosen for their values and qualities and then facilitated through a combination of training, coaching and mentoring to develop the required skills.
In my research I came across this blog post from the TomorrowToday company, generations-and-training, which I encourage you to read so we can all more effectively grow the skills base.
Friday, 7 November 2008
People make change. The leader inspires and focuses the efforts.
"I'm asking you to believe. Not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington. I'm asking you to believe in yours." ~ Barack Obama ~
Thursday, 6 November 2008
Wasn’t that a great speech? Well written and presented with style and skill. Earlier in Obama’s campaign I was unimpressed by hearing him speak. But today I was so impressed and inspired I had to write.
Obama spoke to all Americans, not just Democrats. He reached out to include Republicans who’d voted against him and he complimented McCain on his contributions to the States. That was refreshing to me. Both candidates demonstrated good sportsmanship in their respective speeches - McCain gracious in defeat and Obama a courteous winner.
I am pretty clueless on US politics but leadership is my hobby horse. So far Obama is showing promise. He has a vision and he can share that so that people are inspired to join with him and follow him - two very important factors in leadership. Time will tell whether he has authenticity, another essential in my book.
John Robbie on 702 this morning was asking whether, with such high expectations from the people, Obama could deliver. A listener, with an American accent, called in to say it’s not up to Obama, but to the people, to deliver.
It made me think. There is truth in what she said. The leader will get the credit when all is said and done but it’s not his job to do the actual work or in this case make the “change”.
We all have tremendous potential within us to do good, be creative, make change, find solutions, put in productive effort. Many people are doing a great job of contributing to society in their way. But without cohesion we are like many little streams flowing across a dry plain in different directions. If all the little streams are channelled into one direction they can join together into a full, flowing river whose potential energy can be used to power a country.
A leader’s role is to have a vision, to share the vision and inspire others to follow it, to assemble a team with the required skills, create supportive conditions and let them get on with the job, all the while ensuring they remain encouraged and focussed on the vision.
After the speech was broadcast a variety of South Africans called into 702 giving comment. In all their voices you could hear the excitement. Because of a speech on the other side of the world many people here went to work feeling differently today.
Yes we can take positives from Obama’s speech and leadership example and make SA change for the better as well.
Red meat’s bad – eat soya. Most soya is genetically modified. You don’t know what problems that might cause.
Advice on what is or isn’t healthy to eat is highly confusing and contradictory. But there is one concept that makes good sense, is very easy to apply and is healthy for all of us. That is the glycaemic index, or GI for short.
Many things that we eat cause a release of glucose into the bloodstream. The pancreas then releases insulin to maintain balance. If a large amount of glucose is released the pancreas responds with a large amount of insulin. The result is an initial sugar high followed by a sugar low. This yo yo-ing can feel uncomfortable and is unhealthy in the long term.
The glycaemic index is a scientific measure of the rate at which a food releases glucose. A true Low GI food releases glucose slowly and steadily into the bloodstream without overstimulating the pancreas to produce too much insulin.
By using the GI concept we can maintain steady levels of blood glucose. If we combine that with low-fat foods then blood pressure, cholesterol and weight levels can all improve as well. The Heart Foundation of SA recommends it as a healthy, normal way of eating for the whole family.
Leo and I have eaten this way since the early 2000’s. We started because both of us often experienced low blood sugar episodes. Nowadays it is rare that we have that experience of a sugar low when you struggle to think clearly and concentrate, maybe sweat or just feel tired.
Last week when speaking to my homeopath he stated that we should all probably eat in this manner just for general good health.
Now you know what GI is and why using it is good for you, how do you do it?
The idea is to adjust your choice of food so as to eat more low GI and less high GI foods.
Finding low GI foods is quite simple. Just changing the brand you buy or the variant you use is often sufficient.
Here are a few examples –
When buying breakfast cereals or breads many of them tell you on the packaging if they are “low GI”. If not then slowly become familiar with what is. If it’s All Bran Flakes you want then buy Bokomo or Spar, if oats then buy Bokomo, Spar, Pick n Pay or Woolies brands. And the wholewheat variety of Pronutro as well as the multi grain version of Provita biscuits are both low GI. By the way the so called slimmer’s cereal of Special K is a high GI cereal. This means that you feel hungry again quite quickly after eating it. A bowl of Bokomo All Bran Flakes and some plain yoghurt will keep you satisfied for much longer.
Most white and brown rice is low GI and Basmati is intermediate. Pasta made from dhurum wheat is great and baby potatoes in their skins are both delicious as well as low on the GI scale.
Most fruits and vegetables are naturally low GI. And all meats, fish and chicken as well as eggs. Also the dairy protein sources like low fat milk, yoghurt or cheese.
How our bodies react to food depends on chemistry so combining foods correctly lowers the GI. Adding milk or strangely enough sugar to cereals lowers the GI so Strawberry pops have a lower reading than Rice Krispies. Another funny one is cooking and then allowing something to cool often lowers the GI. This works with pap and custard.
Generally the simple mixing of a high GI item with a low one will bring the value down to the average. In general combining protein with carbohydrate moderates the body’s response.
To get a more detailed understanding of the GI concept you can go to the website www.gifoundation.com. There is also a range of recipe books all containing low GI, low fat recipes. The first one was called Eating for Sustained Energy. All are coauthored by Gabi Steenkamp.
To sum up why it is beneficial to adjust one’s eating in this way. It helps one generally feel well with good energy levels and in the long run reduces one’s risk for lifestyle diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol.
And best of all it is really simple to get started and it easily becomes a normal way of life.
“make things happen” and then “inspired, motivated, involved”
In 1976, before Soweto erupted in riots, I was a compliant and diligent 11 year old. Sport wasn’t my forte although I participated with great enthusiasm and lesser ball skills in the B netball team. However I was doing well in highland dancing.
My big escape was devouring books. All my life I have read anything that passes my way. At breakfast I would read the back of the cereal packets, everyday. If I visited someone in a block of flats I read the notice board whilst I waited for the lift.
It was now time to choose a high school. My parents applied for scholarships to a number of good schools and I wrote the exams and attended the interviews. The outcome was that I tied with another girl for the Kingsmead College Scholarship and was offered a bursary to attend Woodmead High School. The choice was mine. A very prestigious, all girls school or a small, radically different, co-ed school. I chose Woodmead and as the poet Robert Frost says “that has made all the difference”.
Kairos time is an opportune moment, or a time in between - in between what was and what will be. The Ancient Greeks used the word Kairos to describe a time when conditions are right for a crucial action.
Our lives are the accumulation of how we use our periods of kairos time. Each time we use one we put our lives onto a new path.
When I made my choice of high school, that was kairos time. It’s the first such kairos moment that I can recall in my life.
Woodmead encouraged and actively developed free thinking and questioning, self discipline and leadership. The school’s leaders were challenging invalid laws by being the first secular school to admit non white pupils. During the two years I was there I experienced real education rather than just schooling. The previously hidden rebellious side of me began to emerge. Thereafter I no longer accepted an adult’s superiority unquestioningly and I began to speak up for anything I felt strongly about. A boss of mine once wrote in my reference letter “Alison challenges management in a positive and polite way”. I thought he was being very kind!
In the mid 1980’s I began my first career, as an Optometrist. By 1995 I had changed from full time practise to doing locums, was married for the first time and had two young children. Regular part time work at one of Pretoria’s large practices led to another kairos moment.
I had always had an interest in IT and at this practise I had tweaked the data tables in their software. One afternoon I received a call from a man who introduced himself as Stephan from Capital Computers. He explained that his company was developing a new package for optometrists and needed an optom to help them understand the unique needs. The owners of the practice had recommended he speak to me. He asked me to go to their offices and spend two hours with the development team answering their questions. At the time I had a visitor from overseas so it wasn’t very convenient but I felt an upsurge of excitement inside and I arranged to meet them the day after. I remember going to my visitor, Mark and saying. “I think this could be my opportunity to get into the IT field”.
It turned out to be just that. I worked part time as an independent contractor for them for the next five years.
The action I took in my kairos time moved me from optometry into IT and management.
It showed me that I could do many things that I had not been formally trained for. That I could learn just about anything I set my mind to. It started me on a path that has so far also embraced four years in HR and transformation and three years on my own as a development tutor – growing people and growing businesses. By drawing on my understanding and knowledge of both human needs and business needs I help people and businesses to be as productive as possible whilst enjoying themselves.
Be aware of your own kairos time. Don’t let it slip by unnoticed.
Wednesday, 15 October 2008
Gavin poses a question at the end, which I think anyone who has travelled out of SA for any length of time will identify with.
Towards the end of the 5 weeks we spent away last year, we began thinking of the things we missed about home.
For me it was the colourfulness of our lives here. There is never a dull moment!
When really crazy things happen I maintain my sanity and sense of humour by thinking, “only in Africa”.
Yes, we enjoyed the highly efficient public transport system in Holland and Denmark but it was also very expensive. A bus ride of 13km cost ~R30!
We saw some seriously armed police at all airports except in England and we experienced bureaucracy just as frustrating as here.
The sense of history, the old cities and the beautiful countryside were a lovely experience but I need to live with much more space around me.
And then it’s very difficult to beat our fabulous weather!
South Africa! What a place! A country of spirit, of beauty, of passion and a country of the people!
Gavin Mathews (working abroad) September 2007
Tuesday, 14 October 2008
The first time was a number of months after my then husband had moved out. I went through the house, cupboard by cupboard, over a number of weeks taking out things that belonged to him and setting them aside for him to collect. And finding other things I no longer used, needed or liked and readying them for charity. The more drawers, cupboards and shelves I finished the more energised I felt.
This has now become a pretty regular exercise once every year or so, with a super big one each time we move house. At those times the charity shops or struggling child care centres really do well with curtains and furniture joining the bric a brac.
With some encouragement my children have also picked up on the habit. They get a good feeling when they donate clothing, toys and books that they've out grown. Even my daughter who has a tendency towards hoarding, would periodically part with a few more of her (twenty odd) teddies saying, "I still love them all but they would be so loved by little girls with no toys".
The other day this topic of decluttering came up with a person who is a self confessed hoarder. They repeated the oft raised concern that once they throw something out they are going to find they do actually need it. I was asked if that ever happens to me. I have to admit that it has once or twice. I have a theory that it's in the throwing out that we stir up the energy that causes us to need that item again. If we leave it alone it won't be needed - possibly 'cause we forget it's there?!
So I have come up with a new variant for people struggling to part company. Anything that hasn't been needed, wanted or loved in the last twelve months can go out into a box in a garage or storeroom, carefully labelled so it does not get forgotten. Put the date on. Then in six months dispose of the contents to charity, recycle dump etc. That way if you have needed anything in the intervening period it will still have been available to you.
Tuesday, 7 October 2008
Empty nest syndrome. It doesn’t just start when the children leave home, it starts much earlier. And for those who don’t have children what would your nest be like without your life partner? Or for those who are married to their jobs, what would your life be like without that job?
My children are still teenagers but because I separated, and later divorced, when they were small, and then they elected in later years to live with their Dad and are now both at boarding schools, I have had plenty of opportunity to suffer from empty nest syndrome already.
When I first separated I made myself make plans to fill the time when the children were away, doing things I enjoy. Thank goodness, I already had friendships, hobbies and interests. Thank goodness, I knew what was joyful to me.
When the children later began spending more weekday time at their father it was difficult and uncomfortable. I had to redefine my role as a mother, but it wasn’t my only role. I already had other activities and purpose that I could now focus more time on.
People often ask “Don’t you miss the children when they are away at school?” Yes, I do a little but I am already used to not being with them all the time. For the most part, I am just excited seeing them grow into amazing independent people. They are finding their own strengths, their own needs, and being challenged to live to their own values, which were first developed at home. They do this in a safe environment with the knowledge that Mom or Dad is only a phone call away.
Recently one of the Headway members told me that her husband, who has just sustained a brain injury, had still been working full time. Looking at the membership form, I enquired whether I had the age right, as he is in his seventies. She said “oh yes, he couldn’t retire because he has nothing else to do.”
We set ourselves up during our younger years for how we will cope later when the children leave home or we retire. We make choices as to how much we live our own lives or how much we define ourselves by others’ needs: our roles of parent, spouse, employee or business owner.
Do you define yourself in terms of your job?
Do you spend all your leisure time either serving your family or accompanying them on their choice of activity? What would you do if those roles were no longer required?
Do you know what brings you joy, regardless of external circumstances?
Do you enjoy your own company?
What interests or excites you, without depending on others?
When you live your life through your children you do them a disservice. The poet and philosopher Kahlil Gibran says in The Prophet,
“…..And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
…..You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.”
The role of a parent is to prepare children for adulthood; for taking their place as contributing members of society, for living the life they were born to live.
And you were born to live your own life. Being a parent or life partner or employee is only one role in a life which has many simultaneous and consecutive roles. If you limit yourself to one role and that one goes away, the adjustment is huge. Adjustment will always be needed but the amount and the difficulty is reduced if your focus was more diverse to begin with.
We often forget our most important role – “Carer of Self”.
When we fulfil that role well we have a person with the capacity to fill many other roles superbly.
How do you insure against empty nest syndrome?
o Don’t lose sight of what is important to you,
of who you are as an individual,
of what you contribute to society.
o Keep up a variety of friendships
o Have a number of interests that bring meaning, enjoyment and fulfilment outside of family and work
o Make leisure time for yourself
Wishing you a day with “me” time in it.
Monday, 22 September 2008
Here is a video we all need to watch.
It is beautiful if you are a fan of ballet. It is even more beautiful if you want to see what the human spirit can overcome.
Isn't that amazing?
As humans we all have so much resilience, so much creativity, so much strength within ourselves.
What these two people have done - creatively using their talents regardless of limitations - was no doubt not easy. They may have had many down days, many questions such as "why me?" "what if things had been different?". They are human just like you and me.
What is perhaps different is that they have found a way to move beyond the frustrations, anger and doubts, to draw on the inner strength we all have and produce something beautiful regardless.
I called my company CanBeeDone to help me to remember to keep looking for ways to make things happen. I hope these two beautiful dancers will help you find ways in your life that it can be done.
PS if anyone knows more about who they are please let me know.
Friday, 1 February 2008
A few weeks ago I had a “to do” list that I slotted in between appointments. Now I have a “to do” list that’s marked “PC”, “phone” or “think”. Next to all “phone” tasks are the numbers. When the power goes off I do “phone” and “think”. “PC” work is measured in two hour blocks!
What does this indicate? Adjustment to change - sudden, externally imposed change.
It hasn’t been comfortable and it still isn’t, but it’s getting much easier.
Human beings don’t enjoy too much change and we especially don’t enjoy sudden change, and change on which we haven’t been consulted!
The initial response is usually anger, resistance, denial. If the change doesn’t back off then we eventually realise we can’t keep banging our heads against a brick wall and we begin to make adjustments - to look for the most positive way forward.
If we look back on other changes that we have been through – starting school, finishing school, having children, using fax machines and computers, cell phones, e-mail, internet, petrol rationing in the 70’s, water shortages in the 80’s ... we see that life moved on, we got used to it and we have to think hard to remember how it used to be.
I in no way condone Eskom and the Governments’ lack of planning, action, leadership and communication. But I need to accept the reality of limited power for the near to mid term and adjust myself to best manage the situation and continue to enjoy my life.
Leo and myself have made a few changes at home and in our patterns and are planning others. I thought to share them with you.
o Battery powered clocks
o Charging my cell phone more frequently
o Keeping a spare cell phone battery charged
o Getting a car charger attachment
o Ordering a laptop
o Not procrastinating when the power is on
o Solar powered battery & inverter so I can choose to run some things
o Choosing my driving routes so as to cross the main roads rather than drive along them
o Allowing more time between appointments
o Listening to educational or thought provoking CD’s in the car
o Keeping a book in the cubbyhole for other waiting periods
o Sitting outside to do things in the early evening – there is plenty of light out there
o Exercising, meditating, reading when the powers down
o Permanently placing candles and oil lamps around the house
o Having a gas appliance handy for cooking
o A cheap LED, stick on, battery powered light above the hob to see what I am cooking
If you have some suggestions of your own to reduce reliance on electricity or ease our lives please post them here, to help us all get creative.
Saturday, 12 January 2008
A week ago I was invited to be a guest on Radio 702’s Saturday health and wellness slot. However I only received the message very late so when I replied the producer had already found another guest.The topic was New Year resolutions. I wasn’t crazy about the topic as I don’t believe in them.
We can choose to change at anytime of the year. But it will only happen when we are ready. If we are changing because of a negative situation the heat has to be great enough to make us move. If the reason is more positive we have to be sufficiently excited about the new vision to overcome the inertia of staying put.
When you are ready to change you may be scared to death, but you will feel somewhere inside that “now is the time” or “enough is enough”.
Then what do you do?
1. Paint a vision of what it will look like when the change has taken place. Put this, in words or pictures, down on paper – this is important – it is not enough to have it in your head. eg vibey office, R30K month salary, great view from window, variety in each day, love my boss, interesting clients…
2. Write down what things have to happen for the change. Eliminate anything that is not in your control – your change is your change, not dependant on someone else doing, thinking or feeling something. eg update my CV, read book on xxxx, practise yyyy skill, brainstorm my needs and possible jobs, apply to agencies, check Wed paper for ads, mail everyone I know to let them know what I am looking for…
3. If the order of happenings is relevant put them into order and start examining the first one. If order is not relevant pick the one that is the easiest to achieve a quick win on.
4. If the chosen task is large break it down into smaller bite size chunks – the idea is to set yourself up for as much success as possible to help make it easier to get started and build some momentum.
5. If you feel you can’t do whatever that task requires break it down into why and tackle the whys as small tasks of their own. Remember “it can be done”.
6. Pull in an encouraging friend or a professional to give you support along the way and help you be accountable to yourself.
7. Write up positive, present tense statements for yourself eg I have a fulfilling job in a great environment which pays me more money than my monthly expenses. (an affirmation)
8. Work through all that is required bit by bit until you reach your goal – keep your eye on the prize - don’t give up.
Somebody else is always doing what someone said could not be done. (Unknown)
Take daily action:
- See, feel, hear, taste your end result (the one you put on paper in the beginning).
- Read your affirmations.
- Do something towards one of your required tasks every day.
- Respond immediately to any positive feedback you receive. (someone tells you of a possible lead - call them immediately; you meet someone in the field you have been thinking about – it maybe a sign that you are on the right track)
Act boldly and unseen forces will come to your aid.
Dorothea Brande (American writer)
Monday, 7 January 2008
To begin here is a beautiful story that circulated on e-mail after Xmas.
Volunteering and making focussed donations are so rewarding. When our new supervising psychologist began at Headway he met with all the telephone lay counsellors. His question to us was "why do you do this?" Everyone had their own answers but they all boiled down to feeling good because we are helping make a difference, large or small, to one or more people.
I hope you find the story inspiring.
For the Man Who Hated Christmas
by Nancy W. Gavin
It's just a small, white envelope stuck among the branches of our Christmas tree. No name, no identification, no inscription. It has peeked through the branches of our tree for the past ten years or so.
It all began because my husband Mike hated Christmas--oh, not the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it--overspending... the frantic running around at the last minute to get a tie for Uncle Harry and the dusting powder for Grandma---the gifts given in desperation because you couldn't think of anything else.
Knowing he felt this way, I decided one year to bypass the usual shirts, sweaters, ties and so forth. I reached for something special just for Mike.
The inspiration came in an unusual way.Our son Kevin, who was 12 that year, was wrestling at the junior level at the school he attended; and shortly before Christmas, there was a non-league match against a team sponsored by an inner-city church. These youngsters, dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing holding them together, presented a sharp contrast to our boys in their spiffy blue and gold uniforms and sparkling new wrestling shoes. As the match began, I was alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling without headgear, a kind of light helmet designed to protect a wrestler's ears.
It was a luxury the ragtag team obviously could not afford. Well, we ended up walloping them. We took every weight class. And as each of their boys got up from the mat, he swaggered around in his tatters with false bravado, a kind of street pride that couldn't acknowledge defeat.
Mike, seated beside me, shook his head sadly, "I wish just one of them could have won," he said. "They have a lot of potential, but losing like this could take the heart right out of them." Mike loved kids - all kids - and he knew them, having coached little league football, baseball and lacrosse. That's when the idea for his present came.
That afternoon, I went to a local sporting goods store and bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes and sent them anonymously to the inner-city church. On Christmas Eve, I placed the envelope on the tree, the note inside telling Mike what I had done and that this was his gift from me. His smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year and in succeeding years.
For each Christmas, I followed the tradition--one year sending a group of mentally handicapped youngsters to a hockey game, another year a check to a pair of elderly brothers whose home had burned to the ground the week before Christmas, and on and on.
The envelope became the highlight of our Christmas. It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning and our children, ignoring their new toys, would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents.
As the children grew, the toys gave way to more practical presents, but the envelope never lost its allure.
The story doesn't end there.You see, we lost Mike last year due to dreaded cancer. When Christmas rolled around, I was still so wrapped in grief that I barely got the tree up. But Christmas Eve found me placing an envelope on the tree, and in the morning, it was joined by three more.
Each of our children, unbeknownst to the others, had placed an envelope on the tree for their dad. The tradition has grown and someday will expand even further with our grandchildren standing to take down the envelope.
Mike's spirit, like the Christmas spirit will always be with us.