Monday, November 15, 2010

Slow Down. Feel. Practice. Pt 1

Crouching next to the fire, Pappy Conpelo held a cup of coffee in his left hand. "The sad news is we are trapped by the very technology that was invented to liberate us. Video games become tomorrow's killing machines. On the whole the consequences of our actions no longer touch our muscle let alone our olfactory systems. At best, we are emotionally distant. We connect only on a temporary basis, and when we do we have no idea where the trajectory of our ill-conceived practices will take us. The samurai faced similar conditions, and they were not alone in history. You think we would learn. But then again, our schools rarely test for anything more than a regurgitation of names and dates and places. We study only to get a grade. But the real tests are not about achieving a score. Once you've made your mark, once you've obtained that desired income level and you own that certain car or have that dream home - then what? You think life is about success? Ha!"
(from The Life and Times of Pappy Conpelo)

Friday morning. October 1, 2010. San Francisco.

It's almost noon and time to board Flight 930. Again.

First boarding was yesterday. But four hours after settling into Seat 24H, an unsolved "mechanical" meant a few hundred of us headed off to overnight stays - sans baggage - courtesy of the airline. Security requires international flights retain already loaded luggage. We've returned now, our little neighborhood. Same folks. Same seats. Same clothes. What to do for the next twenty-four hours between in-flight movies, meals, snoozes, walking the aisles galley to galley, airport coffee shops, people watching and duty-free gazing?

My destination: Cairo via London. The mission: deliver a second round of leadership training at Alcatel-Lucent's new management school, dubbed "University", in the Mid East Africa region. My host, Mohamed El-Haw, is waiting. I'll meet him in time to shake off some of the jetlag and serve those assembled.

Mohamed is an intern, a candidate apprenticing for certification as a Samurai Game® facilitator. He will be the first Egyptian so certified. We met in 2006 in Amersfort, Ntherlands, then a year later at Ain El Sokhna, Egypt; both occasions for the AIESEC International President's Meeting. He, as part of the Egyptian contingency. I was the "external" leadership trainer for AIESEC's annual week-long event with 90 nations represented.

Recruited by Alcatel-Lucent, Mohamed El-Haw is now their Employee Learning Manager, MEA Region. Studious and Type-A, he sometimes gets ahead of himself. I relate. Last month he told me that he wanted me to bring three of the books about samurai or aikido for his study regarding the simulation. But he failed to get back to me about which three. And, in all fairness, I failed to call him back and ask.

Now on the way to the Gate 96, I stop at Pacific Gateway News for some hopeful shopping. Not one book about the samurai or a martial art. I do, however, find two of my otherwise favorite non-fictions: My Stoke of Insight (Jill Bolte Taylor) and Tuesdays With Morrie (Mitch Albom). Not only will these do - They Are Perfect!

A Saturday Morning. Summer 2006. Glendon Way, Petaluma.

It's a warm sunny day and I'm home from China. I stand out back of my tiny recently rented house. My last place (ten years on Daniel Drive) has been sold by the trust that owned it. I got word three weeks ago that I had to move. The pressing China trip gave me only forty-eight hours to scramble and locate another. Transitioning from 2,300 square feet of living space to 788 has been interesting, with two young sons under roof, each needing his own space, manage ongoing work, outfit the office into this cracker box.

This morning I hang laundry on a clothesline. A luxury not afforded on Daniel Drive. Luxury? Absolutely! Because I can linger in fresh air and meditate while dropping into a repetitive practice of pulling, stretching, hanging, clothes-pinning - each shirt, each pair of socks, every towel and every washcloth. ("The secret to a happy life," said Marcus Aurelius, "is all within yourself - in your way of thinking.") I slow my pace to attend item by item. My mind slows and attends thought by thought. Luxury. I won't use a dryer. Luxury. I recall (and somewhat relive) being a youngster, when backyard clotheslines were the drying technology-of-the-day. In those days our family clothesline was also the place dad stretched onto cloth strips of venison flesh, freshly cut to make jerky - the hardened dry nourishment we carried on our hunts.

My son Nick is rousting from bed. I ask him outside to introduce him to the clothesline; something he and a gazillion of his American generation have never witnessed. The wires and clothespins greet him as the screen door slaps shut. "Cool Dad. But, how does it work?"

I respond that yes, it is cool but - well - it actually doesn't do any 'work', though it is both effective and efficient at getting the job done. Nick cocks an eyebrow and speechlessly looks on. It will take a while for him to understand my meaning.

Friday mid-afternoon. Returning to October 1, 2010. Aboard UA flight 930

We've been airborne for some time, and arcing north over Midwestern US. Am taking in Tuesdays With Morrie a couple or three pages at a time. I've read it before. But you never know what was missed or forgotten. It's definitely worth reading again, before it becomes part of Mohamed's library. I'm on page 38.

One afternoon, I [Mitch] am complaining (to Morrie) about the confusion of my age, what is expected of me versus what I want for myself.

'Have I told you about the tension of opposites?' [Morrie] says.

The tension of opposites?

'Life is a series of pulls back and forth. You want to do one thing, but you are bound to do something else. Something hurts you, yet you know it shouldn't. You take certain things for granted, even when you know you should never take anything for granted.'

'A tension of opposites, like a pull on a rubber band. And most of us live somewhere in the middle.'

Sounds like a wrestling match, I say.

'A wrestling match." He laughs. "Yes, you could describe life that way.'

So which side wins, I ask?

'Which side wins?'

He smiles at me, the crinkled eyes, the crooked teeth.

'Love wins. Love always wins.'

My eyes close. I drift back a week to my own September 25.

Saturday Morning. September 25, 2010. One week and a small lake ago.

I went fishing today. I have tons of things on my "to do" list. But today I went fishing.

Actually, I went watching and laughing. Granddaughters, Ava (she's 5) and Leia (she's 3) did the fishing. Well, actually, they did line tangling - which is just as much fun as fishing, maybe more. Grandson, Jack (he's 1), came too. He did mud balling.

Line Tangling. Swirling fishing poles in water, and stirring up weeds, branches and gunk, making wonderful messes. Followed by jumping up and down, and screaming "I got a bite!"

Mud Balling. Scurrying to the edge of the lake on legs new to walking. Find the biggest, most available patch of brown goo; plop down, roll around and become - well - a mud ball. Done repeatedly and with mindful practice (must be so to him, cuz he's one big giant smile) equals: mud balling.

Doesn't take a lot to have a great time. Pick up a stick along side a trail and it becomes anything you want it to be. Three poles, a few feet of mono-filament line - magic happens. Walk to a patch of abundantly water-soaked earth with plenty of weeds - Pure anti-bath! Add sandwiches, and, voila! Gravity and creativity do all the rest. You save some dinero otherwise spent on some have-to-have-had expensive micro-chipped-obsoleted-internetted-camerated-and-touchscreen-covered gizmo and you have some self-generated entertainment and amusement. And guess what - it will be remembered and loved forever. What could be better?

I imagine hearing someone's say that he has to check on some important email. And as I do images of Sir Kenneth Robinson float by as he (Sir Ken) admonishes us that something's killing creativity in our children. Google search "TED Talks and Kenneth Robinson" and watch something that will grab you good. But don't you dare do the viewing in lieu of Line Tangling and Mud Balling. Take time to do 'em both.

Friday evening. October 1, 2010. Still aboard UA #930

Somewhere over the Labrador Sea, off the coast of Greenland.

Just finished the in-flight film selection, "One Week". Netflick it. Not an action movie - so prepare to go slow. Canadian production. Young man. Discovers he doesn't have much time left. Decides to spend a week motorcycling across country. A quest to understand his life. Touching. My whimsical self-talk (given what I'm to be delivering in Egypt in a few days plus the book I'm reading that sits nearby), "Synchronistic - Eh? And me reading Tuesdays With Morrie, a few pages at a time. Eh." I'm now at page 84. Morrie is making a point about living to the fullest, and using his own soon-to-be-completed life as the example.

"Mitch," he said, laughing along, "even I don't know what 'spiritualdevelopment' really means. But I do know we're deficient in some way.We are too involved in materialistic things, and they don't satisfy us.The loving relationships we have, the universe around us, we take thesethings for granted."

He nodded toward the window with the sunshine streaming in. "You

see that? You can go out there, outside, anytime. You can run up and

down the block and go crazy. I can't do that. I can't go out. I can't run.

I can't be out there without fear of getting sick. But you know what?

I appreciate that window more than you do."

Appreciate it?

"Yes. I look out that window every day. I notice the change in the trees,

how strong the wind is blowing. It's as if I can see time actually passing

through that windowpane . Because I know my time is almost done,

I am drawn to nature like I'm seeing it for the first time."

I lean back and drift back - eyes closed - again to one week prior.

Back to Saturday. September 25. But, now it's a late post-fishing afternoon.

After all the fishing, mud balling, and line tangling I arrive home.

It's time for something on the never ending "to do" list: mow the lawn with a recently sharpened push mower. Push what? Push mower. Had it since long before moving to and then from the cracker box house on Glendon Way.

I'm in my front yard twenty minutes later. Job almost done. A faint voice over my left shoulder cuts above the clacking blades, "Hello. Excuse me. Hello? Helloooo!" I turn. There, across the street in neighbor Lynda's yard, stand five teenage girls - waving and grinning and curiously looking on. I stop.

Me: "Hi"

They, all together: "Hello"

"What are you doing?" asks the one who first spoke.

I look at the push mower and then back at them, "Mowing the lawn." They stare, somewhat aghast. Then turn to each other and start giggling. Then back at me. One sheepishly asks, "Can we come over and see?"


They skip across the street. Staring down at the ground at this antique contraption, they are totally baffled. No gas engine. No electric motor. No throttle. No powered wheels. What the heck?!?

"How does it work?" queries one.

"Well, you just --- ah, push it. Want to give it a try?"

In unison they jump up and down. "YES!" (no kidding this actually happened exactly the way I'm writing it) "OK," I say, "But (they are all barefoot) gotta keep your toes out of the way."

One grabs the handles and shoves. But mower budges not. Again she shoves. Still it stands - not one inch give. And then again; more of the same.

"Let me do it", demands another. Same. Then another. Then another. All the same. Finally, one gal gets it going. She's an instant heroine. Away she goes. Everyone else stands in awe and watches. Now they all suddenly want another go at it. I turn to the one who first managed to move it (she's now laughing like crazy) and ask, "Did you ever read the Adventures of Tom Sawyer?"

"Yes! We just read it as a summer assignment before starting the school year."

"So," I inquire, "who are you today? Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn? And whadaya think - should I charge you for mowing my lawn?"

They complete my work. All are laughing. Truly, a novel experience.

Push mowers. Cut the grass. Get good cardio workout. Create low carbon footprint. Meet neighbors. Look foolish? Maybe. Recall the genius of Mark Twain? Absolutely! What fun.

Saturday afternoon. October 2, 2010.

A soft morning landing and a nine-hour layover at London's Heathrow are now complete.

I'm aboard Egypt Air Flight 778. Fully loaded, we've been airborne for some time. Tuesdays With Morrie rests in the seat pouch. My microwaved meal has been delivered. The high tech touch screen video display on the seatback forward of me has at least fifteen options to chose from. I think, "Different airline, different films, I'll eat and watch."

I reach for the earbuds. They fall to the floor. This being the last seat in the very rear of the aircraft, up against both window and rear bulkhead I'm stuck - too jammed in to move - no wiggle room to find them. What now? So I open my window cover and my jaw drops, because there below me ---

(Continued in November's newsletter)

©Lance Giroux, October 2010

Slow Down. Feel. Practice.

Papi set the cup down on a flat rock, shivered and extended his weathered hands above the flames. He turned and looked squarely thorough me. His piercing eyes alone could have spoken everything, but he wanted to ensure that he would be heard. His voice rose above a low whisper and he continued, "We have two sides of the brain, you know. Those who attend to only one side lose big time. We exercise neither our critical self nor our feeling self. And as for the body here in this country - it's become soft; almost a lost cause."

(from The Life and Times of Papi Conpelo)

[Continuing from October. Where were we?]

Saturday afternoon. October 2, 2010.

A soft morning landing and a nine-hour layover at London's Heathrow are now complete.

I'm aboard Egypt Air Flight 778. Fully loaded, we've been airborne for some time. Tuesdays With Morrie rests in the seat pouch. A microwaved meal has been delivered. The high tech touch screen video display on the seatback forward of me has at least fifteen options to chose from. I think, "Different airline, different films, I'll eat and watch a movie."

I reach for the earbuds. They fall to the floor. This being the last seat in the very rear of the aircraft, up against both window and rear bulkhead I'm stuck - too jammed in to move - no wiggle room to find them. What now? So I open my window cover and my jaw drops. There below me extends the broad expanse of the Italian Alps. The sun, dropping fast somewhere over my right shoulder, paints its way through clouds sending deep shadows to who knows where. All right here.

The scene is stunning. I've flown countless times above the Sierra Nevada. What's to be seen there is magnificent. But I've never witnessed anything this rough or steep, dropping so far and so fast. I sit transfixed above terrain I may never see again.

By 6:20 p.m. Flight 778 is 2,400 kilometers from Cairo and flying southeast over the Dolomite Mountains. We're due north of Venice and west northwest of Trieste. The Croatian coastline and the beaches stretch out below. Our route will take us to Pula, then Zadar, then Dubrovnik.

Cloud covered patterns float faintly over the Italian boot out my window. The jagged pattern of islands west of Krk appear. "You know," I tell myself, "I could be watching the in-flight movie right now. But why?" How many moments ago did the earbuds fall to my, "Aggghrrrh!". Yet, had that not happened all of this would have gone unseen and unfelt.

Saturday afternoon. November 6, 2010.

Sunny Oakland, California. Am arriving home from a week being with family of my friend, Mac. His life halted sixteen days ago. No one saw that coming.

Rain was falling hard when I left Seattle a few hours ago. That's behind me now, but it will catch me again tomorrow. The predictable weather patterns at this time of year inform this.

Mac's going gave us all pause: we who are family and friends.

How much time do you have? To look everyday and notice what's there and what's passed you by? Knowing this, how much time do you spend actively noticing? And then taking time to consider what all of this is teaching you? Ant then taking effective action on what you have noticed? Can you read the patterns of your practices? How about the patterns of our collective practices?

Tuesday. November 2, 2010.

U.S. mid-term election day. My vote has been cast.

Wednesday. November 3, 2010.

The elections are over; the ballots counted. Those elected speak. From both sides of the aisle we hear today. "What the American people want now is for us to roll up our sleeves and get to work." Wow! How many times have we heard that after an election? Isn't that what the public servants were supposed to be doing since the last election, i.e. get to work?

Thursday. November 4, 2010.

Lots of news today! Our print and electronic media is on the job to inform us that the 2012 election is already in progress and well underway. Oh well -- so much for getting to work.

A dose of cynicism grips me. The lyrics of "Patterns" (Simon and Garfunkle) come to mind. These words trumpet our continuing politics here. Don't remember? Never heard? Try Another cynical thought floats by - sometimes, we really do live inside The Truman Show.

Saturday evening. October 2, 2010.

Egypt Air Flight 778 has entered Yugoslavian airspace. Sunlight splits the western sky above Italy. Below the world is gray. We are over Korcula and on track for Titograd. Someone has paid me to write this, but they don't know it. What I mean is: I wouldn't be sitting here today had not someone footed the bill. Would I? What about you, where would you be today if someone had paid different prices in your regard?

Another time zone. Another time. Two and a half hours behind is London. What remains of sunlight is blue on a far horizon. Names once legends in books are within view. Delphi to the west, and to the southeast lies Marathon. I find myself wondering, "What would the Oracle say of our world today, the way we live and respond?" I think of the original marathoner - Pheidippides - the Athenian herald who was sent running one hundred fifty miles over two days to Sparta when the Persians landed at Marathon, and then ran another twenty-five miles to Athens to announce a Greek victory. Who goes the distance today? Not the distance of running, rather the distance of practiced conviction and perseverance? Where would we be today without the GPS and the mobile phone, the iPad and our Facebook - and "You've Got Mail" ??. If we lost electricity for two days nation wide? If we had to communicate beyond the exchange of data? If we truly had to rely on our senses? We walk a fragile line - yet we don't respect how fragile the line is. We take tomorrow for granted.

A Friday evening. January 1975.

I'm sitting in the top floor meeting room at the Travelodge in Honolulu attending a seminar. It's almost midnight. Art Theisen, a large robust man with round nose, receding hairline and deep voice, is telling a story with great feeling. He talks of himself being a young brash pilot at the end of World War II ferrying aircraft across Europe: C-47's - the military version of the DC-3. Most of his planes were empty of passengers. But on occasions, he says, a person of importance would hop a ride.

On the morning of this particular story he gets word that two passengers will be his responsibility as he ferries a plane inbound to Athens. They are Helen Keller and Polly Thompson. He greets them as they board. Then he moves forward, goes through his pre-flight checklist, taxies and takes off. The flight will last many hours, taking an entire day.

Somewhere in mid-flight Art needs to relieve himself, so he walks the rear of the aircraft where a toilet is located. On his way back to the cockpit he passes his guests, glances down to consider what a pitiful life Helen Keller must live - not being able to see or hear or talk. Then he gets back to the controls and settles in for a non-eventful remainder of the flight.

Some hours later while he's sitting somewhat bored, Art feels the pressure of a touch on his right shoulder. When he turns to see what the pressure is he finds Polly Thompson.

"Hello", he offers.

"Hi", she responds. Then she continues, "Helen, is enjoying the trip. She just asked me to come forward to let you know. She also asked me to say how wonderful it must be to see Athens, and that the city must be golden right now in the rays of the setting sun."

Theisen sits is aghast. He doesn't know what to say He turns his face forward to look out the front of the aircraft. There below him in plain sight as it has been for many minutes (had he been paying attention), sits Athens ablaze in the light of a setting sun.

In the seminar I sit, listening to Art Thiesen finish his story. He says, "It took a blind, deaf and mute person, to communicate to this arrogant all-seeing pilot, in a way that I could see the beauty of what was there all along and in a way that I could hear."

What am I doing with the equipment (talents, eyes, ears, legs, feet, brain, voice, etc.) that is mine to use on this journey?

Saturday evening. October 2, 2010. A short while later. Egypt Air flight 778.

My face is against the plexiglass. Below, the coastline of Greece defines the Aegean Sea. Athens' lights glow brightly outside my window. On this course Cairo is not long off. I sit quietly staring. "You know," I say to myself again, "I could be watching the in-flight movie right now." A whisper offers, "But why?"

"Who are you without your toys? Are you paying attention? Do you care for and take care of yourself -really? When all becomes silent, can you tolerate the sound of your own thoughts?" I sat speechless. Holding me in his steely gaze, Papi persisted, "I asked you a question. Where is your answer? We have become addicted to toys and outcomes. Discipline and integrity, imagination and artistry, service and seeing what is there to be seen - we better watch out or these will become lost or totally compromised. And if that happens-we're screwed."

(from The Life and Times of Papi Conpelo)

©Lance Giroux, November 2010

Monday, August 09, 2010

Perseverance (Pt II)

Perseverance (continued)

It's been a long time comin'
It's goin' to be a Long Time Gone.
And it appears to be a long,Appears to be a long,Appears to be a long
Time, yes, a long, long, long ,long time before the dawn.
-David Crosby (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)

The written Japanese symbol for perseverance is formed by two kanji. One represents a knife and across its left side rests a line, indicating that it is a bladewhich cuts, i.e. a dagger. Beneath this knife stands a heart. The message? Thisheart, no matter how deeply penetrated by this dagger, will not stop beating.

(CONTINUING FROM JULY’S NEWSLETTER, the first half of which can be found

July 3, 2010
Driving west on California’s Highway 880. It is 8:00 a.m. Pacific Daylight Timeand somewhere near Dixon, California. The sun is strong. The air, already warm, is beginning to dance its mirage. Last night I slept at son Nick’s apartment in Sacramento following a live stage performance of Shakespeare’s As You Like It curiously set in the 1960’s of an Orange County, California, forest, and with music. Music? (Nick, now quite the accomplished musician – piano, trumpet, xylophone, sousaphone, guitar, base, accordion - led the orchestra) Music is not the Shakespearian norm. But original songs written by Bare Naked Ladies, save one actual 60’s tune – My Green Tambourine – grace the stage. Wow – what a fun production, anything but ordinary - and great music. “That Shakespeare,” I ponder, “How long have his tales persevered?” More importantly, why have they persevered? And Nick? Wanted to quit the first day he tried trumpet as a young boy in the Petaluma youth band. But an understanding bandleader told him, “Give it another day, and let’s see what happens.” What kept Nick going for one more day?

This morning Highway 880 is my path home. Looking north I gaze across an expanse of field, hundreds acres or more of green whatever. What is that stuff, strawberries?And there smack in the midst of the field stands one man. Completely alone. At first I thought it was a scarecrow, but, nope – it’s a human being. No truck. No cart.No tractor. No bicycle. Nothing there but him. Not one other human being as far asmy eyes take me. He has a hoe in his hands and he’s working the field. He has onevery long day ahead of him. No matter what direction he turns or where he goes, the end of his work is a far off. There are no trees. There is no shade. Anyonewho’s traveled the Sacramento Valley this time of year knows that soon the air will be very hot. I wonder, “What keeps him going?”

My camera sits aside me. I should stop and take his picture, but I don’t. Something draws me on. I keep driving. I stare at him in the rear view mirrorand then, he’s gone - yet his image and that of the field remains. A thoughtreturns and whispers, “Take a picture!” I reply, “I did. It’s already inside me.”

Ten miles down the road other images appear – again inside me. Certain peoplewho inspire me. Each is dear to my life, each in his or her own way stands alonemidst their own vast expanses of projects, challenges, problems and issues. Land developer, retired school administrator, owner of a conglomerate of companies,a single mom raising two boys, a banker sans bank, a fire captain, a fellow whorents out audio/visual equipment for events, a builder of fine homes, an opsperson working in a financial planner’s office, a professor, a martial artist, a stategovernment employee, a general manager, a mechanic, a great grandmother, afellow in the tool and dye business. Each and every one of these people, over thepast three years has been slammed by the economy or health problems or by peoplewho once loved them. Each has had long moments of doubt and fear, or grief withlittle relief in sight. Yet, to a person, they move forward towards a good tomorrow. I wonder, as each face drifts through my mental workshop, “What keeps them going?”

July 4, 2010.
It’s another election day in Poland! How many will they have? And it is just two weeks now since I sat with Marta at Coffee Karma as the last election ground to ahalt. The margin is again slim, but Komorowski has been elected. I imagine howwe here in the U.S. would be if we had lost a president, a first lady, the two maincontenders for the presidency, the entire top echelon of the military leadership, aformer beloved president, many beloved clergy, and many members of congress –and then endure two unscheduled, but required, national elections within fifty-sixdays, complete with political rhetoric and in the midst of a global recession and withenormous political pressures on multiple surrounding borders. What would keep usgoing? The economy? Business as usual? There’s something more important thanthat. And could we, would we, engage in such an undertaking with the composure I witnessed in Krakow and Warsaw in April?

In 2003 when the film Touching the Void came onto the big screen George Leonardcalled to tell me that I had to see it, saying, “It’s the most powerful story of thehuman spirit I have ever seen.” I went that night to the theater. A true story.Simon Yates and Joe Simpson climb Peru’s Siula Grande. On the way down, Simpson falls and breaks his leg. Yate’s decides to risk bringing him back alive bylowering him. But then one disaster becomes another. Yate’s is forced to make afateful decision. He cuts the rope, sending Simpson to certain death. And then?Nah – why spoil it for you? Leonard was right - “It’s the most powerful story of the human spirit I have ever seen.” Rent it. See it yourself. You’ll find yourselfasking, “What kept them going?”

June 22, 2010 (reflecting back now some weeks)
Seat 37 A is mine, right next to a window on this Boeing 767. Not my requestedseat. I wanted the aisle. Yet, here I’m assigned. The gate agent informed mean hour ago, “Nothing can be done to change assigned seats.” (and she didn’teven add “sorry about that”) I surrender into my space and look through thein-flight magazine. It’s going to be a long twelve-hour flight from Frankfurtaboard today’s totally full plane. What films will I watch to occupy my journey?

Now airborne I reach to turn on the video system, and wouldn’t you know it -- ofthe hundreds of seats on this aircraft, two have malfunctioning video systems - 37 Aand 37 B. Up the aisle a passenger’s screen lights up. Morgan Freeman greets Matt Damon. The story of Nelson Mandela’s election to office (another election!) unfolds into the recent Invictus. What kept Mandela going? In prison. After the election? Hmmm.
Words my sixth-grade teacher required us to memorize float intomy consciousness.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as a pit from pole to pole,
I thanks 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.
I close my eyes.
Seat 37 A. Such a minor inconvenience. Certainly it is not a night that is coveringme nor is it a pit from pole to pole. But I have had those kinds of nights, and I haveventured deep into the pits. You too?

July 19, 2010.
Seattle. I arrived home from Egypt two days ago. Yet, here I am driving up I-5 through crowded traffic to Montlake Boulevard where sits the University of Washington Medical Center. I need to spend time with my friend John Pace before I hop a flight back home. Too many time zones the past few weeks, and I miss my exit. I call John, “Sorry. I got lost. I’ll be right there.” He’s waiting patiently for me. Not as a patient, but as a visitor himself. And who is John visiting? Her name is Rashmi. She, a doctor and his bride of many decades, is now a patient. He’s been visiting her daily from morning until late at night for over four weeks now, while she’s been here in a mostly non-conscious state surrounded by tubes and probes andmachines and attendants. Things look bleak.

After a while, John and I walk from her room to the coffee shop to spend an hour alone together. What do you talk of at a time like this? Things? Life? Memories?Love? Rashmi. Yep. All of that, and aircraft, too. John’s an engineer and a private pilot. We’ve done some flying together. He’s tired, but far from being too tired to talk of planes. How much hope is there in the world? Who knows? How much love is there in John for Rashmi? More than can fill this hospital, that’s for sure.

Somewhere in the midst of our conversation he offers, “You know, hospitals are interesting places to study people. In the morning you can read hope and good wishes in the way they carry their bodies. By evening their energy is drained, and you can see that too. When I first brought Rashmi me here I would read and work sudoku to pass the time. But that got old and boring. Doing nothing takes a lot of energy. Now my days are full. I have all day, every day, seven days a week, to wish good things, to pour ‘white light’ on all these people – the sick, the nurses, the doctors, the workers. They don’t know I’m doing that, but that’s what I do.” I look in his eyes. He’s tired. But not too tired to love. He tells me that of his favorite quotes is from Winston Churchill “Never give in--never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense.” What keeps John Pace going?

July 22, 2010.
It’s early morning. Petaluma is at sixty degrees Fahrenheit with fog, odd for late July. I’m home watering new grass that was but seed five weeks ago when an airplane took me from Vienna to Warsaw and Karma Coffee on ul. Zbawiciela. I fumble in my pocket for my phone. Gotta call Ray and Bettsy. Ray’s cell phone prompt speaks, “At the tone please leave your message.” I’ve been trying to reach Ray Crawford almost daily and getting the same thing. It’s an important time to check in with him. He’s a West Point class/company mate and best friend of mine.A groomsman at my wedding in ‘72. Not long after that the first born of both our broods popped into the world – exactly twenty days apart. Hilary, theirs. A July baby, she grew through some tough times as a young woman and became, by her early thirties, a great mom and a nurse. Peter, mine. A June baby, he grew through some wild times with Russian friends, studying everything Russian, including Stolichnaya, to become by his early thirties, a great dad and a financial adviser. Ray and Bettsy and I have stayed in contact across continents no matter what – including pain. The past ten days are cloud covered. Not the physical airborne Petaluma fogkind.

Ray didn’t answer so I call Bettsy. Their house phone rings. “Hi Betts.” “Hey, Lance, how are you?” “OK -- but that’s my question for you, ya know.” Long pause. She talks. I listen. And of what does she talk speak? Hanging in there. Pain. Loving your kids. Dealing with disappointment. Anger. Loving the guy or gal in your life (Rays pecifically) even if you don’t at times agree with them. Loving life itself even when you don’t like what it has to offer. Listening. Seeing the best in others. Trusting.Coping.

Twelve months ago this past week Ray and Bettsy lost Hilary. A former boyfriend took her life, and then he decided to make it his own last day too. The kind of “shots fired” horror story you see as “live breaking news” on CNN. A young nurse from McLean, Virginia, that you’ll never know or meet. Swat teams. Police barriers.Cordoned off streets. Ambulances. Twenty-four-hour standoff. Life support system. Hostage negotiating team. Horrible. Sad. Surreal. On CSI it’s fiction. But fiction this wasn’t. When it’s real like this, we find ourselves (at least I did on July 14, 2009) saying, “This can’t be true!”

Bettsy continues. “You know what?” “What?” I ask. “Hilary was someone who really could hang in there.” “Tell me.” “She wanted to be a nurse and in her early thirties finally made it through nursing school, and then she failed the stateboard exams. I may have stopped right there, and so would many others. But she wouldn’t give up. She took the boards again and failed, and again and failed, and again. She hung with it - kept taking the test.” Then she added, “I still have her entire voicemail on my mobile phone after he last test.” “What did she say?” I queried. “Just two words: ‘I passed.’ And then hung up.” Sweet.

Ray Crawford and Bettsy Reckmeyer. They were so much unlike each other when they met in 1970. They still are. They started as friends. They became lovers. They got married. They’ve had some incredibly good times. They’ve had some unbelievable bad times. The past twelve months have been a rough go, and the crappy economy doesn’t even come close. What keeps them going?

What keeps you going? In the face of the adversity? It’s worth remembering what that is from time to time.I’m not talking about the keeping going that is blindly obsessive, or the keepinggoing that is some memorized motivational jargon. Rather, the stuff that’s truly inthere. The Constructive Why upon which you stake your existence.

Sometimes from sorrow, for no reason,you sing. For no reason, you acceptthe way of being lost, cutting loose from all else and electing a world where you go where you want to.

Arbitrary, a sound comes, a reminder that a steady center is holding all else. If you listen, that sound will tell you where it is and you can slide your way past trouble.

Certain twisted monsters always bar the path -- but that's when you get going best, glad to be lost,learning how real it ishere on earth, again and again.

Do I feel like quitting now and then? Oh, yea. Then someone or something showsup to remind me: small actions coupled with good reasons really do matter. Thesereasons and actions create stories, sometimes legends, that sustain us.

July 23, 2010.
My body is tired but vibrantly pulsing and alive. I lie flat face up on the Two Rock aikido dojo mat. It’s 7:30 pm. Different people, most younger than me, have been throwing me around this room for well over an hour. Time for class to end. Richard, my sensei and friend, tells us, “Lay down. Take a full breath, and as you let it out close your eyes and feel your body relax into the floor.” The twenty-some of us here this evening take this moment to reflect. Soon we will leave and go our separateways – to be alone or with family or lovers. Richard holds a piece of paper and,as he often does, begins to read a poem. Tonight’s meditation? William Stafford’s Cutting Loose.

My eyes are closed. My breath is slow. A soft voice deep within whispers, “Perseverance. The heart cut by a dagger, yet it continues to beat.”

© Lance Giroux July 2010

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


It's been a long time comin'It's goin' to be a Long Time Gone.And it appears to be a long,Appears to be a long,Appears to be a longTime, yes, a long, long, long ,long time before the dawn.-David Crosby (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)


Do you ever feel like quitting?

The written Japanese symbol for perseverance is formed by two kanji. One represents a knife and across its left side rests a line, indicating that it is a blade which cuts, i.e. a dagger. Beneath this knife stands a heart. The message? This heart, no matter how deeply penetrated by this dagger, will not stop beating. This is perseverance.

June 7, 2010.
It is the day after mid-term elections here in the U.S. I've known my friend John since we were both 18. Today he is an attorney and senior partner of a Santa Cruz law firm. He has sought appointment to the superior court bench before. But appointments, for one reason or another, have eluded him. And so eighteen months ago John undertook, from my perspective, a most un-John thing and decided to enter the election and run for judge.

When he entered the race I thought, "He must be nuts." But he's not nuts. What approach did he decide on as the best way to bid for office? Just be the self that he is. Then, work diligently, tell the truth softly and clearly. Meet as many people as possible. Tell them who he is and promise to be honest. [Being honest is not a hard promise because I don't know a more honest person than John.] Go to a lot of meetings. Shake a lot of hands. Lick a lot of envelopes [He did - I know - I licked a few along side of him and Peg, his bride]. Paste a lot of stamps. Ask his friends for their support knowing that whatever each would say (yes or no) he would gladly accept their answer - and continue on. And then at the end of every long day along the campaign trail, let the chips fall where they may, then get up and do it again until election day. And then - let the chips fall where they may.
Election day approached and I heard that his opponents began to ratchet up the rhetoric. "He's too quiet." "He won't be tough on crime." When the voices of negative campaigning grew louder, what did John do? He relaxed under the pressure. He stayed positive, pointed to his record as a long-time civil litigator and with his share of before-the-bench-criminal-law too. He spoke clearly from his years ago experience as a public defender squarely grounding because he knows both sides of the system. He stated facts that show him to be someone who understands the law and who sincerely believes in a person's innocence until proven otherwise before an impartial judge and a jury of peers.
His opponents criticized him more for being too nice a guy. And John? He continued to quietly point to his record, said he would be fair, then licked more envelopes and pasted on more stamps. He walked county streets and neighborhoods. He knocked door-to-door, shook hands, introduced himself to average persons. He asked for donations and support, knowing that both "yes" and "no" were valid options. He told his story and went to more meetings, spoke his mind and listened to more people. Though I did not hear what I'm about to write, I have a mind to believe that he probably never once told anyone, "You'll be sorry if you vote for one of my opponents." Why? In my experience he doesn't lay guilt trips on people. Think about that for a moment - a man running for judge who doesn't evoke guilt trips.
Today, June 7, the election is over. I call John to say hi because for more than one reason this is a special day. This day, thirty-eight years ago, was our last day as roommates. Then we stood near each other in Michie Stadium and tossed high our white hats, ending a four year walk, run, dodge, jump and crawl through a maze known as West Point. But today I can't get a hold of him, and have to leave a message. He is wiped out, drained and tired - but not defeated. Elected by a huge margin, 53% of the vote going to him, 23% to the nearest competitor. But wait - I find out that all the votes won't be counted for some days because of some kind of election anomaly. Will John Gallagher finally sit on the beach or will he have to wade through a November run-off? The law of averages says, he's won. But you never know until the vote is actually counted. One might wonder, what keeps him going?
June 21, 2010.
At 7:18 p.m. I sit on a wood chair at Coffee Karma on the circle at ul. Zbawiciela, Warsaw, Poland. Three years have passed since Marta Bruske and I shared our last in-person conversation. Then it was in Ustron, on the Wisla River not far from the point at which Poland, Austria and Slovakia confluence. Then, Marta was president of AIESEC Poland. Along with Zolt Toth (Hungary's president) and Ivan Melay (Slovakia's president) Marta was responsible for bringing me to Eastern Europe and introducing embodied education to hundreds of young leaders through the play of the Samurai Game®. She's recently completed an internship in London. A vibrant city, she admits, but a place of aloneness in a sea of people. Now home, she is happy to be working with a few visionaries, growing a small business and faced with a lot of challenges.
Who knows when our paths will again cross. We seize a moment and meet. Our conversation unfolds into a meandering of memories. Stories from the Netherlands to the Red Sea to a crazy train ride through Katowice. We both want to know, "What have you been up to?" "What do you hear from Gabitza?" "Do you remember Irina Rusueva?" "Yes!" "How is she?" Eventually we arrive at today's news. We are less than forty-eight hours on the other side of an election here in Poland thrust upon this nation because one man's hand pulled back an aircraft throttle rather than push forward on it. As a result of that one move, two months ago, a Soviet-era Tupolev jet surrounded by fog clipped a tree, flipped upside down and slammed to Earth just outside Smolensk, Russia. Poland's president Lech Kaczynski and ninety-five others perished instantly.
Today, Kaczynski's twin brother a former Prime Minister, Jaroslaw, and Bronislaw Komorowski, the acting president and parliamentary speaker, have each narrowly missed achieving a majority vote. They and the country must now endure a runoff in fourteen days. Poland's future remains undecided by a very slim margin. How odd it feels to be here, given that just fifty-six days ago I witnessed firsthand the aftermath of the Smolensk tragedy, the resultant state funeral in Krakow, where I stood for hours along side hundreds of thousands of mourners. April feels like last night.
Marta is curious as to my feelings for Poland now after many visits. I let her know that my overwhelming learning over the past three years regarding this place is that no matter what the country and it's people have endured, Poland seems to never quit. Wiped off the map by numerous conquerors over the centuries. Completely devastated during World War II, e.g. Warsaw left with only 4% of its buildings higher than a few inches off the ground. Then absorbed into the Soviet Union. But this nation and these people keep coming back. Always Poland. Always Polish. Always returning to be free. Something in the spirit here and over the generations of time just will not quit. These people persevere.
July 3, 2010
Driving west on California's Highway 880. It is 8:00 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time and somewhere near Dixon, California. The sun is strong. The air, already warm, is beginning to dance its mirage. Last night I slept at ....

(to be continued)

©Lance Giroux, July 2010

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Remembrances for a Memorial Day 2010

With his back stiff against the dry adobe wall, Papi Conpelo lowered his tired body to the earth. He raised his exhausted knees to his chest, sat and rested. His eyes steadied into a faraway stare. Shimmering mirages caused by the day's heat still hung over the deserted roads but even the mirages and their effects were beginning to relax and dissipate. "Well mi hijo, words are powerful things." he offered to the curious lad dropping down beside him, "Some people use them to heal long-standing wars, wars of ideas, wars of money and power, wars whose reasons for being have long died yet the wars continue. That's not easy, but when words heal they bring others together. Those people who do this, they know the way of being human. They serve a great good. However, some people use words to divide in an effort to serve ideologies blurred by time. They have lost touch with the true origin of their beliefs, and to survive they invent a continuing string of reasons to keep the ideology alive. They think they know, but maybe they're just guessing. Maybe it's because they have win or control or just mess with people. Maybe it's because they feel alone and this cures to their loneliness for a while. Maybe they are just lost. And some people," he paused and sighed, "- well some people don't use words at all. They are used by the words of others. Que triste."
(excerpt from the Life and Times of Papi Conpelo)

May 31, 2010 @ 6 a. m. PDT. I wake at sunrise, the sky's light slowly changing. It is Memorial Day, a day to remember those who served and who now are gone. I worked in my yard yesterday, beginning to plant seed for a new lawn needed to cover barren ground out back. This morning I will continue a short while. I decide this planting will be my morning meditation.

One hour later. Midst my task - digging earth, scattering fertilizer and seed - I hear the bell-in-tower-across-town as it tolls "seven". Palm trees, plum trees, citrus trees and Japanese maple grace my yard. The leaves and fronds are green, yet as with people, shades differ. The sounding bell reminds me I have only a short time to do what I am here for before visiting the memorial park as I did one year ago today.

Memorialize - me·mo·ri·ize - verb [trans.]
Preserve the memory of; commemorate:
the novel memorialized their childhood summers.

I think of my dad.

Robert O. Giroux. Born September 21, 1921. Graduated Prescott High School. Then attended Tempe Normal School, now called Arizona State University. Dropped out to join the Army in December 1941 after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Enlisted as a horse soldier, but graduated Officer Candidate School (OCS) and entered into the Army of the U.S. as combat engineer assigned to the 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division. Saw combat in two very historic battles: Kasserine Pass in North Africa (1943) and the Casino in Italy (1944). Received the Purple Heart for wounds suffered in combat. Honorably and medically discharged. Rehabilitated and learned to walk again. Worked as disk jockey for KYCA Radio, Prescott. Met his sweetheart, Caroline, before shipping out to Africa and Europe for the fight. Married her on his return. Together they traded labor for rent of a chicken coop in Tucson. They cleaned out the chicken manure, rebuilt walls, scrubbed floors, and converted it into their first home.

May 28, 2010 - The Memorial Day weekend begins. I receive email from dear friend, a former colleague and decorated retired US Army Special Forces Lieutenant Colonel, who saw combat in SE Asia.

My friend, a patriotic American and perhaps feeling especially sensitive at time of the year, is passing this email long to me (and others) - email that someone has likewise passed along to him. The title: "I'LL BET YOU DIDN'T SEE THIS IN THE NEWSPAPER OR ON THE 6 O'CLOCK NEWS." It contains the story is of Navy SEAL Mike Monsoor, a petty officer second class. Monsoor posthumously received the Congressional Medal of Honor (CMH) for falling onto a grenade in Iraq, thus saving others from certain death. The words are powerfully stirring. Yet, as I read the details a feeling of skepticism swells inside of me. I begin to wonder and question the motivation behind the email's initial dispatch. No, I'm not questioning my friend. He is above reproach. Rather I am questioning whomever it was that initially sent this piece out. My wonder grows as I take in the last few lines from the originating author (whose name is nowhere to be found). The email ends with this:

"This should be front-page news! Instead of the garbage we listen to and see every day. Here's a good idea! Since the mainstream media won't make this news then we choose to make it news by forwarding it. I am proud of all the branches of our military. If you are proud too, please pass this e-mail on. If not, then delete this e-mail. But rest assured, that the fine men and women of our military will continue to serve and protect your freedom and right to do so! GOD BLESS AND KEEP OUR TROOPS SAFE."

My guilt button has been poked.

If delete this email, then the author's words imply that I am not proud of the military, and I'll feel like scum. "What's the deal here?" I wonder. The honorable men and women who I served with when I was in the Army were quiet types and did not have the need to lay this kind of trip on anyone. So I go back and read the email again -- this time more slowly. The specifics and buzzwords continue to grab my attention. They float to the surface like so much unnecessary stuff in a punchbowl.

The email says that Monsoor died September 29th, 2009, and was awarded the CMS "last week." It indicates that his military specialty and rank was "Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD), Second Class". It says that his funeral was honored by the attendance of "Every Navy Seal - 45 to be exact - that Mike Monsoor saved that day." According to the email those forty-five men attended his funeral and removed their gold trident SEAL pins from their uniforms and slapped them hard onto the rosewood casket embedding each as the casket passed by. The email takes a step further and includes a picture of a trident-covered coffin. It further declared, "It was said, that you could hear each of the 45 slaps from across the cemetery! By the time the rosewood casket reached the grave site, it looked as though it had a gold inlay from the 45 trident pins that lined the top!"

My skepticism gets the better of me and I do some research which produces the following:
  • Yes, Monsoor gave his life, but it was September 26, 2006 (not 2009 as the email declared).
  • Yes, Monsoor was a Petty Officer, Second Class - but not EOD.
  • Yes, Monsoor's action saved the lives of his fellow SEALS by falling on a grenade, but the number he saved was three, not forty-five.
  • On April 8, 2008, Monsoor was posthumously awarded the CMH - not "last week."
  • The coffin pictured in the email is actually believed to be that of Navy SEAL James Suh who died in Afghanistan in 2005.

So I craft a message back to my old colleague and friend. Time to inform him of the above and ask if he has any idea why someone would distribute such an email to us (him and me and others) with the need to change the story and fill it with inaccuracies and embellishments. Mike Monsoor certainly should be honored. Anyone who falls on a grenade or takes a bullet for his or her fellow human being is a hero. If, however, someone deliberately used Mike Monsoor's story & death, and monkey-ed with it, then that person has dishonored Monsoor and made mockery of all those who have served. That person has likewise dishonored those who have fathered and mothered, brother-ed and sister-ed, uncle-ed and aunt-ed and cousin-ed those who for generations have worn uniforms here and around the world.

I conclude my note back to my friend with:

This weekend and on Memorial Day I'm remembering you and those who gave their lives, and am wishing you and all of your comrades (and mine), living and passed, all the best and thanking you for the great service you gave to our country and to me and my children and grandchildren. When I swore in July 1, 1968, I thought that I would be fighting in a war. But I never had to step into combat or harms way. We both know that for this I am fortunate. Thank you for what you gave.

If I have made any mistakes in my research then I accept responsibility for that, and I'll do a better job next time, and I sincerely apologize. If you feel it is worth passing my message back up the same chain through whoever passed it on to you so it reaches its source and then that source can know that someone is watching - and then stand corrected, then please do. I wish people would stop using the death of our brave soldiers, sailors, airmen/women, marines, coastguardsmen, etc., to create divisiveness in our country by inaccurately implying certain people are not respectful of our military men and women, or the notion that we do in fact need a strong military to keep our country and our people safe from those who wish us ill.

May 31, 2010. It is now 11:45a.m. PDT. I walk away from the cemetery overlooking Petaluma. This year's Memorial Day services are complete. Around me stand a few hundred people: moms and dads, grandparents and kids, brothers and sisters, old friends and comrades and once-upon-a-time neighbors. Different races, different religions, different ages - every color of skin. The Stars and Stripes is not the only flag adorning the sky. Wow! Flowers are laid. Taps is played. I ask myself what have we learned -really? As the few hundred of us there begin our walks home Bob Dylan's "Blowing in the Wind" fills the air.

Memorial - me·mo·ri·al - noun
1 something, esp. a structure, established to remind people of a person or event
· [as adj.] intended to commemorate someone or something:
2 chiefly historical a statement of facts, esp. as the basis of a petition

Memories of my father return.
My thought-byte obituary of my father continues.

- - - married his sweetheart, Caroline. Together they moved into a run-down chicken coop in Tucson, cleaned it out and made it their home. He went back to college and graduated the University of Arizona's school of mines. Worked decades as a mining engineer - mostly for Kennecott Copper Company's in the Ray Mine. Probable best Army buddy: a soldier named Mike Bellinski (sic). Probably best civilian buddies: two mine employees, Wally Taylor and Melvin Hawman. His four favorite songs: (1) Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, (2) Deep Purple, (3) Show Me The Way To Go Home,(4) Old Soldiers Never Die They Just Fade Away. Succumbed and died October 15, 1981 to injuries sustained in combat thirty-seven years earlier, injuries that included massive scarring - some of which were magnified by pre-existing conditions sustained during childhood. None of his scars could be physically seen, yet all of his scars were felt and observed.

May 31, 2010. 3:45pm. I finish a meeting and conversation with my friend and long-time Petaluma resident, Randy Cheek. I'm sitting alone at Peet's Coffee shop. I pick up a newspaper, open it and read a story that has unfolded this past month regarding two individuals running for the US Senate. If elected each will have a strong voice regarding how our nation's treasure will be spent, and how young Americans will fare when sent into harms way. These office seekers are from opposing political parties. Over the past few days both of these men have had to find ways to excuse remarks they have made regarding their individual military service. One, a Democrat, said that he served in Viet Nam. Fact - he did not. The other, a Republican, said he once received a specific prestigious military award. Fact - he did not. Each uses or implies the words "I misspoke" as his excuse.

Question. Why did they embellish their record with these untruths?

These two guys lied. They would be better served, and so would we, if they would just fess up and use exact language on themselves; then drop out of their respective Senate races, and save us the future bother, time, energy and money.

Remember this: we are all subject to influence of words.
What words influence you? Who speaks or once spoke them? For the sake of what purpose were these words spoken, honestly?
How is that influence benefiting you and others?
What is that influence costing you and others?
Who and what are you influencing by your words?
For how long and for the sake of what purpose?

Writing on his experiences as a lawyer

"I had learnt to find out the better side of human nature and to enter men's hearts. I realized that the true function of a lawyer was to unite parties riven asunder. The lesson was so indelibly burnt into me that a large p[art of my time during the twenty years of my practice as a lawyer was occupied in bringing about private compromises of hundreds of cases. I lost nothing thereby - not even money, certainly not my soul"
- Mohandas K. Gandhi, The Story of My Experiments with Truth, p 134. (1927)

©Lance Giroux, May 2010

Friday, May 07, 2010

17 Days in April- Reflections on Life's Fragileness

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.

For want of a shoe the horse was lost.

For want of a horse the rider was lost.

For want of a rider the battle was lost.

For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.

And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

Though we may want to live in the illusions of certainty and perpetual strength, the guarantees of relationships and fortunes lasting forever, we actually live quite temporarily on the fragile edge of life - and more than we sometimes acknowledge. We can demand entitlement, but entitlement, as with certainty and guarantee, is an illusion. The reality is, life is fragile. It changes in a moment with simple decisions. It's as fragile as the thin crust that covers the molten raw energy churning just below the earth's surface. Life's simple preciousness and profoundness happens each day, and often without predictability.

April 7, 2010. I leave Petaluma on schedule. The plan: fly to the Netherlands to deliver the Samurai Game® (April 10-11) for The Avalon Group, then proceed to Poland April 12 - 19 to deliver it three times there for clients of Aiki Management.

April 10, 2010. It is 8:00 pm in Utrecht. I've been here two days. Like the buses and trains I've taken into the city to see the sights, everything has proceeded neatly, as predicted. I walk into my hotel room now that today's work is complete. The class began this morning and has fully occupied my attention. It's over for the evening. The people are on their way home or back to their hotel rooms following a richly rewarding experience regarding the vividness of life played out through our workshop. Per usual most of them "died" during the play - all symbolic of course - kind of like being "red flagged" during a soccer match. Tomorrow we will reconvene to talk and share our lessons learned. I sit at my desk, open my laptop, and begin to read today's news, about which until this moment I am unaware:

Polish president among 96 killed in plane crash

SMOLENSK, Russia, April 10 (Reuters) - Poland's President Lech Kaczynski, its central bank head and the country's military chief were among 96 people killed when their plane crashed in thick fog on its approach to a Russian airport on Saturday.

The president's wife and several other high-ranking government officials were also aboard the Tupolev Tu-154 that plunged into a forest about two km (1.3 miles) from the airport in the western Russian city of Smolensk.

"The political consequences will be long-term and possibly will change the entire future landscape of Polish politics," said Jacek Wasilewski, professor at the Higher School of Social Psychology in Warsaw.

Polish government spokesman Pawel Gras said the country would hold elections after the death of Kaczynski, who was 60 and had been president since 2005.

"In line with the constitution, we will have to hold an early presidential poll," Gras said. "For now, the speaker of the lower house of parliament, Bronislaw Komorowski, is automatically ... the acting president."

Russian television showed the smouldering fuselage and fragments of the plane scattered in a forest. A Reuters reporter saw a broken wing some distance from the rest of the aircraft.

Russia's Emergencies Ministry said 96 people were aboard the government plane, including 88 members of a Polish delegation en route to commemorate Poles killed in mass murders in the town of Katyn under orders from Soviet leader Josef Stalin in 1940.

Twenty minutes later. I open my email account to find a message waiting from my colleague, Pawel Olesiak in Krakow, Poland. I am to travel there day-after-tomorrow to conduct three similar programs with him. I read his words:

Hi Lance, I'm very sorry to tell that, because of today tragedy of Poland: death of Polish president and 86 government people and Polish national deep mourning we have decided to cancel the Samurai game in this week. Any way we are waiting for you. On Monday we'll inform all of participants. Very, very sad Pawel

April 12, 2010. I arrive Krakow. The weather is forecast to be partly sunny looks to turn otherwise. I take a bus to the RELAX Pensjonat B&B, unpack and walk to the "Any Time" restaurant and I enjoy dinner. I take along a book, "Horse Soldiers", a true accounting of life's unpredictability in midst of intensity and change.

April 13, 2010. It is 10:00 a.m. Pawel Bernas, long-time friend and partner of Pawel Olesiak, arrives at the RELAX. "All work has been cancelled," he says. "Life is hard. But we are still alive. Let's enjoy what little time we have together."

April 14, 2010. Krakow. The past two days have been low key. We visited historic places, ancient fields and fortresses warred over for a thousand years. There is deep mourning. Conversations are quiet. All theaters are closed. Sports events cancelled. Regardless, we do train a lot of aikido. Poland is an interesting place: young people stand up on crowded busses to offer their seats to older folks; the cemeteries are full of flowers even on non-holidays; the economy is surprisingly vibrant and I'm told it's because Poland was a bit behind the rest of the world when financial crisis hit, so they came back quicker; people of all ages appear in great physical shape - biking, roller-blading, walking and running throughout the parks; cars are racy and small and efficient; mass transit is everywhere available; people freely offer help when and where needed; towns are a blend of the very new and the very old.

Today there is sadness. Except for movies of historical significance, TV stations are broadcasting almost nothing but news of the tragedy and aftermath. Reporters, news anchors, weather forecasters - all wear black - black suits, black ties, black dresses, black bows, black stockings. The clear message, though non-verbal: stop, reflect, and think. On Saturday, three days from now, the largest gathering of world leaders to visit Poland in the last few hundred years will descend on Warsaw. On Sunday their delegations will migrate to Krakow. A great sense of togetherness abounds amongst the Polish people not only with their countrymen, but also with the world at large. The wind seems to whisper, "We are not alone." And, there is excitement that the president of Poland's firm ally, the US, is guaranteed to be here.

There is word regarding the cause of the April 10th fatal crash. Smolensk air traffic controllers had told the pilot to not land. The Polish president did not want to be late to the ceremonies commemorating the Katyn killings - an historic event they were arriving so as to receive an official apology from Russia for the killing of 22,000 Polish military officers some seventy years prior. Whether the Polish president ordered his pilot to disregard air traffic controllers to not land, or whether the pilot, feeling pressure from within, took it upon himself to land, I don't know today. But the plane crashed because a rushed decision was made in the midst of fog.

Other news - I hear that a volcano is erupting in Iceland.

April 15, 2010. Yesterday early evening I heard Ronn Owens' KGO Radio 810 morning show (Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose) streaming live over the Internet. This morning I turn on Gene Burns, also KGO, doing his evening show and discussing "issues of the day." I don't remember either of them saying much if anything regarding the historical significance of events consuming most of Europe the last few days. But, I listen because on Monday, the 19th I will travel home. I open my laptop for today's electronic copy:

(Reuters) - A volcanic eruption in Iceland, which has thrown up a 6-km (3.7 mile) high plume of ash and disrupted air traffic across northern Europe, has grown more intense, an expert said on Thursday.

The eruption under the Eyjafjallajokull glacier continued to spew large amounts of ash and smoke into the air and showed no signs of abating after 40 hours of activity, said Pall Einarsson, a geophysicist at the University of Iceland.

The cloud of ash from the eruption has hit air travel all over northern Europe, with flights grounded or diverted due to the risk of engine damage from sucking in particles of ash from the volcanic cloud.

"I guess that means my plane, too." Then I notice email from my travel agent informing me that my flight set for April 19th is cancelled and that the earliest flight available for my return to the US is now April 24, that is - if the skies allow.

April 17, 2010. I turn 60.

I decide to spend morning feeling the fullness of life as it pulses through the oldest parts of Krakow - a city now in full preparation for tomorrow's state funeral and burial honoring the country's president and first lady. I grab my camera (lest I forget what is here to be witnessed) and begin a long walk. Hundreds of thousands of people are arriving. Lines are forming to special locations where tickets are available for those who will want to view the ceremonies telecast from near the Wawel. Police are everywhere. Large tractor-trailer trucks are delivering thousands of folding chairs for attending dignitaries who will not be able to fit inside the cathedral. Everywhere stand people with cameras. We are witnessing the world watching us. This truly is, as we used to say in the 1970's, "A Happening."

The Olesiak family has invited me to celebrate my birthday at their home for traditional beet soup lunch (my favorite), and cake. "A birthday you won't ever forget," they say. I celebrate so I won't forget.

Late afternoon. We walk Krakow Centrum. The crowds are bigger. Candles everywhere, as are the country's flags draped in black ribbon. No one is rushing to get somewhere else. We are all simply and calmly just here. The atmosphere is thick with respect and patience. As night falls the thin layer of volcanic ash miles above has turned the sun into a brilliant orange ball.

It has been two days since an airplane passed overhead. I am reminded of the eerie silence the air over the US held during the week following 9/11. Obama's flight has been cancelled. The ash has made too risky an Air Force One flight over Europe. I think again: "My plane too."

April 18, 2010. Three or four aircraft from outside Poland make it into Krakow - one or two from Russia, one from Ukraine and another carrying the president of Georgia apparently flying from the US and through a half dozen other countries determined o arrive, albeit late for the funeral but in time for the burial. I watch a Russian plane come and go as I live amidst "The Happening" with 100,000 others standing, sitting and kneeling in the large grassy field know as "Blonia". It is a seven-hour-long moment.

I have been thinking for the past eight days - the loss of one-thing ushers in the advent of another. Surely unseen and unreported economic and political forces are shifting within as well as outside the Polish borders and establishments, again just as the raw lava is shifting beneath Iceland. Sad and stunned as this population is, there are tremendous opportunities and risks at stake here that perhaps we won't see unfold for months or years. But it's a sure bet because a void has been created. And something always moves to fill a void.

April 19, 2010. Pawel Olesiak, Pawel Bernas and their associate, Adam, need to drive to Warsaw for a meeting. I ride with them. Perhaps I can catch a flight because some flights are still showing "departure on schedule". It takes us five hours to get to Warsaw. Along the way the radio reports, "Yesterday in America the US president played golf. Yesterday at the Wawel we buried ours." I feel embarrassed. Someone should have had better foresight. The Warsaw airport, though open this morning, is now closed. I wait for the Pawel's to have their meeting. We drive back to Krakow.

April 20 & 21, 2010. I am in Krakow waiting for the calendar to turn to April 24. I go to the airport and ask to "stand by". That phrase has no meaning.

April 22, 2010. Word arrives just after midnight. A flight is available on April 23. How did that happen? Who knows? Who cares? It happened.

April 23, 2010. I'm in Krakow at 10 am - and then - I am in Frankfurt mid day and then San Francisco and it's 6:30pm. My bus drops me in Petaluma, CA. It is 8 pm.

April 24, 2010. Sonoma County, California. This afternoon my 60th birthday party is scheduled, held over because of the well-planned trip to Europe, a party almost cancelled because of events in Russia, Poland and Iceland that changed the trip. My mother - 85 years young, yet fragile and with my sister - arrived into Petaluma last night at the same time as me. We decide this morning to attend the annual Petaluma "Better and Egg Days" festivities before heading off to the big party.

The sun is shining at the parade, but mom is feeling cold. She walks to stand in the shade. She faints and falls. She is fortunate. Though she is knocked out cold, only one rib, one wrist and one thumb are broken and one eye blackened. It could have been worse. She won't make the party. Tonight a hospital is her home, but she is alive.

In the ER we discover the cause. In the rush to enjoy the ceremonies of the day, on her terms rather than as nature required, mom made a simple decision to not drink water. The result - dehydration and accompanying drop in blood pressure. Not terribly unlike a pilot's decision made fourteen days prior to ignore a different set nature's signals. The rest - simply a matter of gravity, distance to landing, number of passengers aboard and, of course, the arbitrariness and capriciousness of fate.

Certainty and perpetual strength are illusions, as are the promises (and fears) of long lasting relationships and fortunes. We walk temporarily on the edge of life. We can demand entitlement, and pout for it when it eludes us, yet as with certainty and guarantee, entitlement is as whimsical as fog. Life is fragile. It changes every moment. It's as delicate as the thin layer of land that covers the molten raw energy churning below Earth's crust and the thin layer of air that rides just above that crust. It's as subtle as the intricate motions of the hand responsible for caressing the flight controls of an aircraft descending for a safe homecoming, and the spoken and unspoken words and glances that influence the hand touching throttle and playing the ailerons. It's as delicate as the finger that reaches for a cup of water but yields upon hearing an inner voice that whispers, "wait 'till later." Life's simple preciousness and profoundness happens everyday, as do the players that make up its games. Rarely are either predictable or guaranteed.

Winter 1975.

It is a sunny Sunday Honolulu afternoon. Thirty some of us sit in a room overlooking the expanse of Waikiki's shoreline.A young brash rich fellow full of youth's vinegar and confidence asks,"If you knew you had only one day of life remaining what would you do with that day?"Then he adds, "We should take a few minutes to write our answers to that question."

Summer 1991.

It is a dark northern California night.The Milky Way stretches brilliantly across the black sky. A number of us are preparing to go to bed. A wise elderly athletic gentleman poses the following in preparation for how we will engage with him in a training session that will occupy our next day:"As you leave tonight reflect on the people who have made up your life. Before we see each other tomorrow, sit quietly and write a letter as though it would be the last thing you would ever get to write. This may serve our purpose tomorrow. Don't send the letter. Just write it.As you do, honestly consider who you will write to, what you will say and why."

©Lance Giroux, May 2010