Monday, February 16, 2015

A Small and Connected World

My Connectedness Map. The numbers circled in red
link to the events listed below in chronological order

 The world just got smaller for me. Not surprising since I'm one of the those people who is drawn to finding or making a connection with nearly everyone I meet. But a series of events occurred recently that affirmed my conviction that we are all connected.

I'm going to take you on a journey of connections and intersections that begins 33 years ago and slowly begins to weave into a tapestry of people, situations and meaning. After you've read this story and viewed the map, you tell me if you think it is just a coincidence or if there is something else going on here.
The journey begins back in Lincoln, NE, where my wife Georgette intersected with a woman named Elinor Kerrey, a professor at the University of Nebraska. And the journey continued last week when I intersected with Elinor's son, Bob Kerrey, at a fitness center in Omaha.  Here is the sequence of connections and intersections that occurred between 1973 and 2015.


1. 1973- Georgette meets Elinor Kerrey when she becomes Elinor's graduate assistant at the University of Nebraska. Elinor has 5 children and becomes a mentor and major influence in Georgette's life. Among Elinor's children are Jessie, Bob and Nancy. Georgette helps out at Nancy's wedding and meets the family. She also obtains several recipes from Elinor, a Food and Nutrition professor, that remain in her recipe box to this day. Georgette considers Elinor Kerrey as one of the most influential women in her life.
2.  1985- Bob Kerrey and Dean Rasmussen open a fitness center in Lincoln. Dean is married to Bob's sister, Jessie. They open a 2nd center in Omaha in 1990 which is named Prairie Life Fitness and eventually build 8 more facilities in 3 states. Bob  was a Navy Seal in Vietnam, received the Medal of Honor in 1970 and  served as the Governor of Nebraska from 1983-87.
3. 1991- Charles McClendon and Justine Rudiger are inducted into the National Honor Society and graduate from Bryan High School in Omaha. They go on to attend the University of Nebraska in Lincoln and share an apartment during part of their time in college.
Charles, first row, second from the right.
Justin, back row, third from the right.
4. 1994- I'm living in Omaha and I read an article in the paper written by now US Senator, Bob Kerrey, eulogizing his friend, Lewis Puller, Jr., who committed suicide in May of 1994. Puller and Bob Kerrey became friends while recovering from their battle wounds at the Navy Hospital in Philadelphia. Puller later won an Pulitzer prize for his autobiography "Fortunate Son". I lost a brother-in-law to suicide late in 1993 and was touched by Sen. Kerrey's words as he wrote of his friend. I write the senator a letter thanking him for his tribute and several weeks later I receive a very thoughtful hand-written letter on the official stationary of Śen. Kerry. I still have the letter.

5. 1995- I finish my Master's degree and take a job in Lincoln where I meet and begin a relationship with Georgette. In the course of getting to know each her, she shares her story of Elinor Kerrey's influence on her life back in the 70's and I eat the first of many recipes that came from the kitchen of Elinor Kerrey.
6. 1999- I take a job at the Gallup Organization, based in Lincoln, where I meet Charles McClendon during my last interview. Charles and I become good friends and colleagues and work together for the next 12 years.
7. 2003- Georgette and I move to Omaha when Gallup relocates their headquarters to the riverfront.  The home we purchase just happens to be located a couple of blocks north of Bryan High School. When we sit outside on on our deck, we look across a slight valley  directly at Bryan High School.

8. 2005- I begin mentoring at Bryan High School, something I still continue to this day. I  discover the National Honor Society photo on a wall in the commons area of the school and see Charles McClendon, my friend and co-worker, in the first row of the picture. I laugh.

9. 2007-I teach a leadership seminar at Gallup in Omaha that includes some of the leaders from Prairie Life Fitness, including Jennifer Rasmussen, daughter of Jessie Rasmussen and granddaughter of Elinor Kerrey. We connect and I share with her the story of her grandmother's influence in Georgette's life. She, like Georgette, has fond memories of Elinor.

10. 2014- I join Prairie Life Fitness Center in May and sign-up for personal training. My trainer, randomly assigned to me, is Justin Rudiger, who has been a trainer there for 16 years. We discover that we are both connected to Charles McClendon and have a connection to Bryan High School. The next time I am at Bryan for mentoring, I notice Justin in the back row of the National Honor Society photo, along with Charles. I take a picture of it with my I-phone and taunt Justin with it the next time I see him. While working out one morning, I also notice Justin training a couple who I think are Jessie and Dean Rasmussen (Dean being one of the owners of the company) so I  ask him about it. Yep, he is the personal trainer for the owner and his wife. I asked him to introduce me to Jessie when the time is right.
11. 2015- One morning while at the gym, I see Justin working with Jessie and introduce myself to her. I share Georgette's appreciation of her mother, Elinor, and the contribution she made to her life.  She seems appreciative of  hearing that and thanks me for taking the time to share that with her.
12. Last week while at the gym, I'm warming up by running around the track. As I circle the gym, I see Jessie working  out with Justin and give her a friendly wave. Later on, I see her talking to a man I  don't recognize at first, but then on a another lap, I recognize the man as her brother, Bob Kerrey.  When the time seems right, I approach Mr. Kerrey and introduce myself to him. I share the connection about his mother and Georgette, how much of an influence she was on her, and about the recipes. He tells me that he took organic chemistry from her and that she almost flunked him. I thank him for writing back to me in 1994- that I'm sure he got a lot of mail as a U.S. Senator, but he assured me that if the letter was handwritten, he wrote it himself. We have a 5 minute exchange about politics, the high suicide rate of our veterans and then I go back to running my laps. One more connection made.
I'm not surprised how genuine and down to earth Bob Kerrey was. He's lived an incredible life-Navy Seal, Congressional Medal of Honor and Purple Heart medals, governor and US Senator, served on the 9/11 Commission and as President of the New School in NYC. But standing there in the fitness center, we were just two guys sharing stories and making the world a smaller and more connected place.

So there you have it, a web of connections that spans the course of 33 years. To me, that is no coincidence. But I'm not sure if I'm ready to assign it to some sort of fate or destiny either. I do see it as a remarkable series of intersections especially when I consider that one of the common threads are the roles that the people played in each other's lives--difference makers, encouragers, friends, supporters, talented contributors to the world we all shared.

Whether this map is compete or will continue to evolve is not clear to me and remains to be seen. 

What is very clear to me is that it is indeed a small and very wonderfully connected world.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Move over, Thomas Edison.

I'm practicing dictating on my new iPhone 6. I'm wondering if it will be possible to develop some fluency using this technology. As a person who talks much more fluently than I think, expressing myself by manually writing or typing has always been a challenge for me.

It might have something to do with the fact that I'm a lousy typist.

Both of my parents were excellent typists--Dad was a Linotype operator and Mom could type faster than anyone I ever knew. In spite of that, I never took a typing class in high school.  I guess I thought I didn't need it. Besides my school schedule was packed full with band, orchestra, drama, all those artsy-fartsy subjects. Since I didn't even have time for a study hall there certainly wasn't any time for a typing class.

For much  of my life since college I've been able to get by without being a very good typist. As a band director, I got paid to rehearse music ensembles. As a counselor I got paid to listen and offer advice. As a seminar leader and consultant, I got paid to stand in front of groups and facilitate learning. Most of my jobs required little, if any, need for typing skills. And even when they did, I could get by with a two-finger, hunt and peck method.

But when I started blogging a couple of years ago, my inadequate typing skills came back to haunt me. Even if I had a really good idea for a blog story, the process of sitting down and typing it out taxed me rather than energized me. I had this fantasy that if I could just say what I was thinking and it would magically appear on the paper or screen then I would want to write, or should I say, speak more.

This last weekend my fantasy became a reality.

When I upgraded my iPhone this past weekend to the iPhone 6 and was reading up on the features of the phone, I discovered the dictation feature. It got me to thinking about my writing and if I could dictate in a coherent enough fashion to produce something that was halfway readable.

So what you're reading right now are words that are actually being typed out on my phone as I speak. I'm going to try a little experiment in the next several weeks. I'm going to try to write several blog posts by using the dictation feature on my iPhone instead of typing feature. My hope would be that I could become fluent enough about using this dictation feature that I might "write" more often and what I write will sound very close to what I speak.

So far my little experiment has shown me that there is a need to go back and edit, redo, tweak, tinker with, or otherwise fine-tune the words that are appearing on the screen. But in the short time that I've been experimenting, I've actually gotten a little better at it.

Wow, think about it. I could become prolific. The next John Grisham or Jon Katz. You'll see me driving on the freeway on my way home from work talking to myself as I come up with my next novel or short story or blog post. Or you'll  see me talking to myself while having my lunch at Whole Foods as I dictate the next piece of creative work in between bites of my salad bar.

There is the possibility that I'll get tired of hearing my own voice or that having to dictate accurately enough so that this piece of technology can get my words right may detract from my voice, my writers voice, that is. I may end up sounding like that robot on the television show "Lost in Space."

I just turned 62 and so far I've never tired of my own voice. As for my writers voice, I'd like to think that I write as I think or as I speak. Time will tell.

In the meantime, this will be kind of fun. And it will give people something to talk about. "What the heck is going on in the office next-door. Sounds like he's talking to himself again." I might end up getting an early retirement offer after all. 

Or a referral to the employee assistance program.

Wish me luck. And stay tuned.

Writer's note: Approx. 90% of the above post was dictated. The other 10% was manually typed or edited.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Going Home

"Home is where you always return,
no matter how long you've been gone."

I was sitting in another hospital room with my friend Al last week as doctors and nurses and aides came in and out, temporarily interrupting our conversation. It was during those moments that I allowed myself to take a different look at the surroundings...a maze of machines and wires, tubes, bags, a white board with names and numbers-- things I didn't understand.

What I did understand was that my dear friend was very sick and that he wasn't getting better.

It's been a tough road for Al recently. He got through his first big rounds of chemotherapy last summer without a lot of complications but has been experiencing significant challenges with breathing and fluid build-up around his right lung. The last 90 days have been a series of  trips in and out of the ICU and Critical Care as he and his doctors have wrestled with the effects of the cancer.

Mercifully, he was able to be home at Thanksgiving and Christmas and was also able to be present and active during the annual holiday open house he and his wife, Michaela host annually. Georgette and I joined them for dinner and a movie in November as well.

But January has been hard, really hard.

It wasn't that long ago, last May in fact, when after our weekly Saturday morning breakfast, Al mentioned he was going in for a bronchoscopy, that there a mass on his right lung.

It wasn't that long ago that we sat in his hospital room and talked of doing a bike ride next spring, down in Louisiana where the terrain is flat and the rides are only 40 miles a day.

It wasn't that long ago that we were all hoping for a couple of more years,  a couple more diner and movie nights, a couple of more springtimes.

I was there at his home shortly after Christmas when he shared with me that their daughter was pregnant and that they were going to be grandparents for the first time. I saw the tears in his eyes as he told me how excited they were and I felt the uncertainty that surrounded their joy.

So as I sat there just a few days ago and visited with Al, I could tell that something had changed. We had a few private moments where the conversation went beyond the events of the day to the reality of his future. He just wanted to go home.

Then the e-mail from Michaela that arrived a day ago letting all of us know that he was going to be transported by ambulance on Friday, to their home in the small Iowa town just outside on Omaha where he wants to spend the time he has left with family and friends.  I felt a deep sadness reading that note, telling me what I was afraid of hearing, that the fight was nearly over. And part of me said a prayer of gratitude that he will get to go home, to the place he loves, to be with the people he loves and who love him back.

I hope to see him again, maybe this weekend. I have a few things I want to say, things I think he knows, yet things I want to say just one more time.

My dear friend Al is going home and for that, I am truly grateful.



What do you do
when the things you can talk about
become less and less?

When we pretend
that what we can't talk about
 isn't really happening,
or doesn't really matter,
or it isn't really real.

What do you do
when the superficial trumps the significant,
when the mundane crowds out the relevant,
or the easy replaces the meaningful?

When it is easier to talk about others
than to others.

When getting through the moments
replaces savoring the moments.

What do you do
when you start to become invisible
or irrelevant
or optional?

When they are moving on without you
and you begin to wonder
 if you ever really mattered much at all.

What do you do,
besides what you already know
when what you know no longer works
the way it used to?

To be invisible
or irrevelant
or optional
is not a state that I have known,
or so I thought.

I find myself wondering
 if who I thought I was
and who I mattered to
was more of an illusion
that I ever could have imagined.

 Do we slowly cease
to matter,
to be heard, to be seen?

Do we slowly become invisible
irrelevant and

Was it just an illusion
all along?