"Life always gives us exactly the teacher we need at every moment. This includes every mosquito, every misfortune, every red light, every traffic jam, every obnoxious supervisor (or employee), every illness, every loss, every moment of joy or depression, every addiction, every piece of garbage, every breath. Every moment is the guru." -- Charlotte Joko Beck

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Don't let time slip away!

As we go through life, we encounter people who leave remarkable impressions on us. Nothing is better in life than meeting friendly, warm-hearted people.

But life goes on and sometimes we lose touch with these kindred souls.

Many years ago, my wife and I had the wonderful opportunity to meet a young, talented musician on Maryland's Eastern Shore. As warm and friendly off stage as he was gifted on stage, we hit it off immediately with Michael Tracey White whose band was performing in local night clubs in Ocean City.

Although we were only in town for a few days, from the first night we met, we wound up hanging out with Michael every night. And, of course, dancing the night away to his swing and rockabilly tunes. At the time, he had just put out an song dedicated to the recently deceased Dale Earnhardt and donated the proceeds to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. That was the kind of person he was.

Funny brief side bar, my wife, Bonnie, actually met Michael first. He was performing poolside at the hotel and she was soaking her sore foot in the cool pool water at the hotel while I was working at a convention in town. Her foot had been bothering her for days, but apparently not enough to keep from dancing. Turns out her foot was broken from tripping in a field nearly two weeks prior, but didn't know it. Michael teased her fiercely about it when he found out.

While we maintained contact for a few years, unfortunately, we ultimately lost contact as  work and other obligations in life made it inconvenient to stay in touch.

Earlier this week we learned that Michael Tracey White had died. While we are extremely  saddened by this news, we are mortified to find that his death was 10 years ago!

How could it have been 10 years?

That's what made us realize that it had been more than 13 since we'd last seen each other!  What a tragedy that we let this kind and caring friend simply drift out of our lives.

Michael died at the horribly young age of only 39 from a ruptured blood vessel in his throat. I cant even imagine the horror.

We spent Thursday evening reading decade-old tributes to Michael and were not surprised to find so many people who's lives he had made such a positive impact on. Friends and fellow musicians even gathered five years later to remember Michael in a tribute show. Want to know more about Michael? Read this article about that tribute event.

Yesterday, we happened to see a Facebook post from the daughter of another inspiring man that we met about eight years ago. She had just finished restoring and adding to a mural her father had painted in Hawaii. Her father was Ron Artis, an incredible artist who painted more than 900 murals around Hawaii and across the States.

On our first and only visit to Hawaii in 2008, my wife and I were drawn to some amazing blues music coming from a smallish home and studio on the North Shore of Oahu.  We entered between displays of beautifully handpainted surfboards and found Ron and his 11 children having a jam session in a room full of dozens of instruments. Afterward we chatted with Ron and several of the kids for hours about how his whole family believed in the power and beauty of music and art. We were immediately enamored by this deeply religious, extraordinarily talented and loving family.

Over the years, we thought of them often and had sporadic contact with his elder children via social media. Somehow, we missed the notice of Ron's death -- back in 2011!

How could we have been so oblivious?

Our encounter with both of these individuals were brief but exceptionally memorable. We had every good intention of staying in contact and continuing to build on those budding friendships, but somehow time got away from us. We don't know where those relationship could have gone, if we'd ever become lifelong friends. But the saddest part is that, because we let the opportunities slip away, we never had the chance to find out.

I have known way too many people, especially those who had advanced into senior leadership positions, who let their job and "responsibilities" supersede maintaining relationships and personal friendships. There was suddenly no time for casual get togethers. They'd miss important milestones or occasions in the lives of their friends. And ultimately lost touch.

We had always sworn not to let that happen to us. This week we realized that we failed.

Take a lesson from this.

Don't let everyday life get in the way of what life is really all about. 
Spend time with the wonderful people in your life, and appreciate every moment we get to share with them.  

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Pure at Heart: Lessons from The Wolfman

Many people know what a fan I am of the old classic “horror” movies, but of course, those of us most familiar with them know that they weren’t horror at all. They were love stories. Stories of drama, tragedy, and heroism. Tales of loneliness and abandonment, and hope and salvation. But we’ll get into that more deeply another time.

For now, on the occasion of what would have been Lon Chaney Jr.’s 110th birthday, I’d like to briefly honor this iconic actor with a brief recap of what I learned from him.
Son of silent film superstar, Lon Chaney Sr., who was known as the man of 1000 faces for his amazingly creative make-up techniques, Lon Jr. followed in his father’s footsteps. He was the only actor to have ever portrayed all four of the traditional iconic movie “monsters” of the 1930s and 40s. He played Dracula in Son of Dracula, the Frankenstein monster in Ghost of Frankenstein, and wrapped up in bandages to be the Mummy in the final three movies of that series.
But the role he is most popular for is the Wolfman. 

 Chaney was the ONLY actor to portray this role in any movie of that era. Because of the pathos he brought to the character, Universal Studios and the fans wouldn’t even consider another actor for role.

The persona of Larry Talbot is a warm, likeable tradesman unaffected by being the son of an aristocrat. Trying to save the life of a young woman being attacked by a wolf, Talbot is bitten and ultimately falls victim to the curse of the werewolf.
“Even a man who is pure at heart
and says his prayer by night,
May become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms
and the Autumn moon is bright.”

On each and every night of the full moon, no matter what he does to prevent it, Talbot transforms into an uncontrollable half-man, half-beast with a vicious instinct to kill. Each and every time, his remorse is palpable. His human self is mortified and horrified by his ferocity and savagery in his werewolf form. He spends his every human moment seeking a cure, or even his own death so as to put an end to the horror.    
I grew up watching these movies on late night TV as a kid in the 60s. While I loved all the monsters, the Wolfman held a special attraction.  As a matter of fact, my first Halloween memory is as a four year old insisting to my mother and father that I wanted to dress as the Wolfman and that it wasn’t too scary for me.  I put the costume on, ran down the hall to scare my mother and in doing so ran past the mirror and scared my own self.

What drew me to the Wolfman was Larry Talbot’s honesty, gentleness and sense of responsibility. He reinforced the same lessons that I was learning from my father – to always strive to do whatever is right.

Talbot was a tradesman who was good with his hands, and able to do many things. And he was always seeking to learn something new. Again, these lessons were exactly what I was learning from dad. By the way, my dad had a bit of a resemblance to Chaney in body shape and facial structure – at least to my child’s eyes. Chaney and my father represented all the good things a man should be.
Fortunately, my father was not a werewolf.  After all, I had seen him during a full moon and although we Italian men are perpetually in need of a shave, dad never got hairier or grew fangs and bit people’s jugular veins. I was comforted by the knowledge that there were no wolves in Brooklyn, so dad would likely never get bitten by one.  
Instead of being afraid of the Wolfman, I felt sorry for him. Had he not been bitten, he too could have had a happy family like ours.
So I learned compassion for those less fortunate, and I also learned the importance of trust.
Of course I knew the Wolfman wasn’t real. I read about it in Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. To become the Wolfman, Chaney sat through nine grueling hours of having someone glue real yak hair onto his face. That is dedication! Yet another lesson about devoting yourself to whatever you are passionate about.  
So Happy Birthday, Mr. Chaney. And thank you for teaching me some of the most important lessons I learned in life.