Find a Need and Fill It

I know this is just a 25 mile per hour speed limit sign.  And it is my sign, because I am the reason my street has this sign.  That makes me very happy and proud. Let me explain.

I live in Los Angeles, California, the second largest city in the United States.  It is a huge place with thousands of busy streets filled with millions of cars.

My neighborhood in LA is located between two very busy streets – Wilshire and Olympic Boulevards.

Every day hundreds of cars (yes hundreds) use our street as a cut-through from Wilshire to Olympic and from Olympic to Wilshire. The traffic is non-stop from early morning until early evening. People rushing to and from work use our street to avoid traffic signals at major intersections. And for whatever reason, many of the people in those cars speed up and down our street, sometimes dangerously fast.

For many months my neighbors and I have felt powerless to do anything to help keep our street safe. Some of my neighbors scream at passing cars. I want you to know that does not work. But I certainly understand as we’ve all felt frustrated.

So one day in late April this year, I took action. I wrote a letter and got 29 of my neighbors to sign it. We sent our official request to the traffic manager of our community asking for speed limit signs and speed bumps.

He is a very kind man but after a lengthy conversation we were informed that city codes prevent us from having speed bumps on our street. But he said we could have speed limit signs installed at each end of the street. Which caused me to wonder why the signs were not already there. (?)

Of course this was not everything we wanted but it was what we could get. And we would not have gotten the signs had we not alerted the city official with the power to do something.

While these two signs may not stop everyone from speeding up and down our narrow street, maybe they will help remind visitors they are in a neighborhood with young families, children, pets, and older people.

Getting the signs is a small example of what can happen when people work together to be the positive change we want to see. If these signs get some people to slow down, and that reduction in speed prevents accidents, we’ve made a positive difference.

You and I cannot change the whole world but we can look to our part of the world for ways to help make our neighborhoods safer, cleaner, kinder, and more respectful.

I encourage you to be the positive change you want to see.  Find a need and help get that need filled. It sure feels good to do so.


Care About The Wake We Leave

When I was young, I often went out on the boat with my dad. He liked to fish, and I enjoyed being with him. I adored the chill of the early morning air and the sunlight dancing on the water. I was in awe of my dad’s skill as he took aim, casting the lure between the branches of a long-dead tree, now partly submerged in the water near shore.

To reach the magical spot I enjoyed, we first had to cross a big lake. My father made certain my life jacket was on tight. Then he pushed the boat away from the dock. Once we were safely clear, he put the motor in high gear and we were off, speeding toward our destination.

I did not enjoy facing into the strong wind created by the high speed. Holding on tight, I looked backward, observing the effect the boat had on the water as we raced over the calm surface. Spray shot up over the bow, wetting us. Buoys jerked up and down as we sped by. A flock of ducks quickly took flight, their tranquil morning disturbed by our waves. When we were closer to land, our boat’s wake crashed hard against the shore.

After what seemed an eternity, we arrived. My dad slowed the boat down and turned the noisy, smelly, water-churning engine off. He moved up front to an electric trolling motor that silently propelled us the rest of the way, leaving only a small ripple as evidence of our passing.

As we moved slowly, without upsetting the wildlife, I delighted when dragonflies landed on the boat. Fish swam close by, undisturbed by our presence. Once, a bird came and sat for a brief moment on the steering wheel.

When it came time to head back, I became disappointed. Too soon we were off again, zooming across the lake, our wake disturbing the water and everything on it as we went by.

Many years later, during an especially hard period, it dawned on me: I am like a boat. I too leave a wake as I travel through life. Today, I choose to move at a slower, more purposeful pace, although I have not always selected the right speed and direction—in the form of responsible behavior—that represented me well to myself and the world.

There was a time when I behaved as a fast boat, churning up waves of drama and chaos that crashed hard over me and others. Many of the people I knew in that “former life” will confirm it.

Running late, I aggressively honked at the cars in front of me or became impatient with pedestrians crossing the street. When I had loud parties, I ignored the impact on my neighbors. The plastic cup I carelessly threw in the gutter became part of a swirling mass of trash in the Pacific Ocean. Lying caused people to distrust me.

I now admit it because I was not genuinely proud, happier, or more peaceful for acting thoughtlessly. Life did not become easier or less stressful as a result of racing along without caring about the consequences of my actions. Life was most difficult when I behaved as if I were entitled to do as I pleased.

Over the course of my life there have been many times I did not care about the wake my behavior created. The truth is that although I may live in a free country, I am not entitled to behave as I please! I am not free to do what I want without regard to the consequences of my actions. Action without accountability is not free. There are always consequences!

The more I allowed myself to push the boundaries of what is morally, ethically, and socially acceptable, the higher the level of negative payback I received. It was eventual and inevitable.

Extensive personal freedom requires me to operate at the highest levels of personal integrity. Doing so maintains my positive advantage within systems that often allow and encourage pushing acceptable boundaries to intolerable and ridiculous extremes. The notion it is suitable to act without caring about short- and long-term consequences is completely egotistical, motivated by the impatience, immaturity, and thoughtlessness of my self-centered ego.

Finally it dawned on me that I could not possibly be the only person who gets hurt, stressed, angry, abused, bullied, or ostracized. Other people also feel pain and deal with negative “life stuff.” That open-hearted aha moment was what it took for me to stop seeing myself as separate and alone and to start seeing myself as one part of our Earth family.

Yes, there was a time when I did not have the level of awareness necessary to recognize how my actions impacted other living beings. Today I realize caring about the wake I leave is what makes me feel fantastic about me. The gratification I receive from working hard to do the best thing for all concerned is more satisfying than another person’s praise. Assuming accountability for my behavior results in my loving and respecting myself.

Doing the right thing is the right thing to do, because people of honorable character always finish first, even when we do not win the race.

When we have an argument with a friend, we apologize. Real friends care more for friendship than pride.

If we see someone struggling to open a door, we stop and offer to help. Helping others makes our life richer.

Smiling when we pass people on the street, at work, at the bus stop, or anywhere else makes our heart sing. When we send our heart out front to greet the world, it makes us content and others feel seen.

When we notice a car waiting to turn on to a crowded street, and we are in the position to let the person in, we do so. The time we spend allowing someone to go ahead of us is time well spent.

Our self-love and respect come from leading with our heart to care about our behavior. From being respectful of our neighbors, to being on time, to being a positive example of what to value and how to behave, we strive to be our best. We listen attentively and readily share our feelings. We speak to others with respect. We assume responsibility for healing our emotional baggage. We refuse to jump to conclusions about other people or speak of them unkindly. We do not accept hearsay as fact. We appreciate how good it feels to properly dispose of trash and lessen our impact on the environment.

At the end of each day, as the last thoughts filter through before sleep, we want to remember we did our best to be a representative of the finest humanity has to offer. Today we want to remember we made the world a better place for our being alive. Today we want to remember we were appreciative of the gift of life.

In gratitude for the gift of each day, we lead with our heart to create a living legacy of which we are proud. There is nothing naïve, submissive, or weak about supporting the ascendancy of our peaceful, courteous, patient, and responsible heart. True power is choosing to stop rushing through life without paying attention to our actions. Real courage is slowing down to keep our heart open to care about the wake we leave.

Little Eyes Are Always Watching

The aroma of warm gingerbread cookies swirled deliciously around my granny. She was an excellent playmate, thrilling storyteller, and creative tailor of special items to outfit the fantasies of children.

When we skinned our knees, her gentle hugs were comforting. Spilled milk seemed to go unnoticed. There was never an angry, blaming word for a broken dish.

Granny was satisfied with life. Her glass overflowed. She accepted people as they were, laughed easily, and greeted each person with a smile. She did her best to enjoy every day to the fullest. Each of her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren were convinced we were her favorite. She loved and was deeply loved. Yet her life was not easy.

She wanted to attend school but had to stop at the fifth grade because her family needed her to work. Granny was not wealthy, lost her teeth early, and lived with heart disease. She also faced the unimaginable grief of having to bury her five year-old son.

Despite adversity, she did not dwell on or run from the disappointments of life; she courageously faced hardship by grieving, accepting, forgiving, and moving on. She made mistakes. But instead of living with regret, she made the effort to make a better choice the next time she faced a similar situation.

Granny was not afraid of death. She was focused on doing her best, each day, to live in ways she would honestly be pleased to remember. Eighty-five years of doing her finest added up. When she passed away, crowds of people came to pay their respects.

During her memorial service, her spirit was alive in the shared memories of family, friends, and acquaintances. She was praised for creating a life of joy and serenity. People were deeply moved by her humility, kindness, and friendship. Her compassion, trustworthiness, and faith were inspirational.

Each person with whom Granny spent time was touched by her open heart. Though decades have passed since her death, my memories of her have aged well.

When my other grandmother passed away, she did not leave the same memories. Her attitude was negative, her glass always half empty. Nothing was good enough. Life had been too hard.

She placed value on things. My memory of her surrounding herself with fine objects is especially vivid because I was not allowed to sit on the furniture in my grandmother’s living room. I learned not to take it personally. Thinking back, I do not remember anybody ever sitting in her living room.

My grandmother also supported judgmental television evangelists. She sent them money and was especially generous with those who desired to change gay people into God-fearing heterosexuals. At the time, and knowing I am gay from age five, I took this personally. Later, I wondered if she may have felt differently had she known about me.

My grandmother’s lifetime of self-centeredness caused her heart to close. Instead of facing life’s hardships and challenges head on, she attempted to medicate them away. She was constantly ailing and focused on her suffering. As a result, her off putting demeanor kept other people at a distance. At her funeral, people struggled to find positive things to say. It was awkward and embarrassing.

Today, I realize how fortunate I was to know both of my grandmothers. While they were two different people, each taught me by her own example.

One grandmother modeled how to create a life filled with anger, resentment, and loneliness. She did not connect the dots between investing adversely in life and receiving the undesirable in return. She spent her life looking outward for accountability and change. When it did not come, she resorted to blame and increased efforts to control others.

The other grandmother was a positive role model who showed me how life works best. Granny understood she did get back what she put out in the world. She recognized part of loving herself was doing the work necessary to intentionally change any of her behavior that did not feel good to her or to others. She accepted that the greatest legacy we can ever leave is choosing how well we live.

How do you want to be remembered?

I don’t mean when you pass away and remain in the memories of those you leave behind. Nor am I talking about any intelligence, position, wealth, beauty, or power you may have over others. At the end of each day, how do you honestly, with your heart, want to remember about how you are choosing to live?

I believe this is a very important question because it’s your life, and your legacy is your choice.

A Tiny Visitor Taught Me A Big Lesson

Photo by Christian Spencer

A gentle thud caught my attention. This sound was curiously familiar.  As a bird lover, I know immediately when one has been temporarily blinded by the sun’s reflection, causing it to crash heavily into one of the many windows in my home. I rated this sound similar, yet lighter, reminiscent of one human finger placing a single sharp rap on a pane of glass.

I hurried to the kitchen window that wrapped itself around the right back corner of my house, offering a magnificent view of the tree-filled backyard. Scanning the bushes and grass close to the house, I saw nothing out of the ordinary. I rushed down the steps and reached the bottom just as one of my dogs, Charlie, who had been roused from a nap by the sound, arrived there. We headed in the same direction, stopping at the hydrangea bushes lining the flower bed beneath the window. There, on a single leaf, lay a hummingbird. I scooped up the tiny bird before Charlie could get the notion to do it himself, and headed back up the stairs into the safety of the house. Charlie remained for some time, sniffing for the source of the odd smell that lingered in the air.

Once inside, I opened my hand. Cradled there was one of the most spectacular beauties of Mother Nature, tiny and still. The bird’s eyes were shut. It was stunned by the impact, but it was still alive. I saw it breathing, and with one finger pressed lightly against its chest, I felt the rapid beating of its heart.

Braving the likelihood of having to refuse another invitation to tour my aging neighbor’s beer bottle collection, I ran next door to get witnesses to this event. On the doorbell’s second ring, Marie, the old man’s wife, slowly opened the door. Through the screen, she motioned for me to come inside.

“Thanks, Marie, but no. I want you to come outside to see what I have in my hands.”

“Robert, come here and see what Regina’s got,” Marie hollered back over her shoulder into the cavernous hallways of the house.

Soon Robert appeared, smiling from ear to ear, ready with his invitation for the tour. But Marie spoke up before he could.

“Look,” she said, pointing to the little mass of metallic green feathers.

“Well, would you look at that,” Robert replied. Surprise spread over his face as he saw the tiny bird. He had probably come to greet me with thoughts of familiar things – a tour, the weather, how high the grass was growing and when he’d get around to cutting it. What he found as he opened the screen door to join us on the porch was most likely not in the realm of his imagination. I watched his face as he stepped out into the beautiful spring day. Wrinkles he had borne like badges of honor for all he’d seen during his 85 years of life seemed to smooth out in awe of what he now witnessed.

I told them the story and answered their questions as best I could. When they were satisfied, we all fell silent—a new occurrence in the six years we had known each other.

The bird remained still, its eyes closed as both Marie and Robert took turns gently and lovingly stroking its tiny body. Touching the bird allowed each of us to know for sure what we were experiencing was real. It was so soft and downy, small and helpless, yet its powerful heartbeat was proof of its tenacity to survive.

After a few more minutes, I told my neighbors goodbye. I felt such a love connection with them for sharing the experience with me. But now, something called me to be alone with the little bird. I returned to my front porch and got comfortable in one of the chairs.

I was reluctant to leave it alone, fearing it would perish to a wandering cat. It was beautiful, small, vulnerable—and yet displayed a magnificently strong design in such a petite package. I was torn between wanting to keep it and praying for its full recovery.

It was a male Ruby-throated, the widest ranging of all North American hummingbirds. I remember as a child growing up in South Texas, they were constant visitors throughout the spring and fall. The tiny bird was common in Central Alabama, too. I often watched three or four competing at my feeder. Almost invisible, they dove, and darted, and dive-bombed, and somehow miraculously avoided colliding with each other. Cheeping and clicking, they delivered strong protests to others who tried to compete for a spot to rest or feed. I thought them civilized representatives of a natural world with often cruel and uncaring aspects. They are two-inch-long powerhouses of fierce independence. Hummingbirds are always ready to courageously defend their territory, but in a way in which the birds never seem to get hurt. I thought how wonderful it would be if humans, too, could find ways to settle differences without hurting one another.

Sitting on the porch holding the bird, I was content. Rescuing birds, squirrels, mice, and other creatures from nature’s harsh realities is one of the things I do. It’s a common occurrence for me to make a box for a family of robins upended from their nest by a thunderstorm, or find a new home for the mice I might discover while spring cleaning. This, however, seemed a different and more enlightening connection to the natural world.

I had witnessed hummingbirds so many times but never had been this close. Their wings beat so fast they often seemed more fantasy than real. A blur of color flitting from here to there so quickly my eyes could not follow. Nevertheless, here one was, real and still in the palm of my hand. I was able to see up close how its little clawed feet curled slightly and to study the perfectly uniform feathers that covered its small body. The vibrant, iridescent colors of its wings and throat were truly amazing.

We sat together for several more minutes. With each moment, I wondered if it was going to make it. Tenderly I stroked its chest, watched, and waited.

Suddenly it woke up. Flipping up from its side, it sprang to life. It hesitated for a split-second, seeming to gather its bearings. Then it was off, propelled rapidly upward by its awakening. As it cleared the porch, it made a half-circle and returned to where I was sitting. It hovered in front of me, about two feet from my chair, and remained for what seemed a full minute. Never taking its eyes off me, it stayed back, yet was close enough that I could feel a slight breeze from the rapid beating of its wings. As it looked at me, I thought surely it was saying thanks for plucking it off the leaf and keeping it safe for the past half-hour.

I will never know exactly what the little bird was thinking as it made one final circle above my head and flew away. Later I found some tiny feathers on the porch that must have fallen from its wing or tail. They weren’t green like its body, or red like its throat, but white and black and gray. Today I still have those feathers in a very special bowl.

Holding the hummingbird was a miracle. It was an opportunity that taught me to appreciate the things I love, to cherish each moment, and to courageously get back up when life throws a punch. It was an awesome privilege to be given thirty unforgettable minutes when time stood still and I held the most exquisite creature in my hands, to feel its warmth, and to marvel at its magnificence. That little bird taught me to pay very close attention to life, because often the best gifts really do come in the smallest packages.