Monday, December 27, 2010

YouTube video for Haiti uplifts, inspires

A friend just sent me this video titled "We are the World 25 for Haiti."

It seems to have been created by ordinary people with a song in their soul and humanity in their heart.

This one really moved me.

Turn up your sound and click here to take it all in.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Wirelessness has birds chirping

This picture, sent to me by my son-in-law, says a lot about the age we find ourselves living in. Click anywhere on the photo to see more clearly what the birds are saying.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

So you want to be a journalist?

Dream of working for the New York Times, reputedly the world's best newspaper?

Turn your sound up and get the real skinny on what it takes to get there. Click on this link.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sentimentalizing the trough where Jesus was born

We all know the words to that timeless Christmas song.

It goes something like this.

"Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,

"The little Lord Jesus lay down his sweet head..."

But how many of us have given a second thought, or even a real first thought, to what that manger some 2000+ years ago was really like?

Mike Lowery, pastor of Impact Community Church in Rock Hill, S.C., reminded everyone yesterday in his sermon that we've sentimentalized the trough (where Jesus came screaming and crying into the world) as a manger. (That's Mike's picture with this blog post.)

"Jesus came into this world in the stench of animals. He was born in a trough where animals were fed," Lowery boldly proclaimed.

Next time you hear that classic Christmas song, ask those singing it to define a manger.

Bet they'll be scratching their heads.

But why was the Son of God born in a trough--of all lowly and filthy things?

And why did he come as a baby?

Why not ride into the world on a thunderbolt or announce his grand coming in the clouds or glide down to earth off the arch of a rainbow?

God, incarnate in Jesus Christ, became a tender, helpless baby born in an animal trough, according to Lowery, because he wanted to be like a humble servant. He wanted to get as close as he could to ordinary people. And that meant becoming a human being and living on earth among lowly shepherds.

No thunderbolts or loud booms announcing his arrival in the world.

No singing or rejoicing of angels.

Jesus planned his "debut" this way, and, as it turned out, humility defined his entire 33 years of living.

He was born (in the most unlikely of circumstances) in a smelly animal trough, walked softly and wisely among us for a short time, and died horribly and painfully on an old rugged cross.

"Away in a manger, no crib for a bed, the little Lord Jesus, lay down his sweet head..."

Click here to hear this beautiful song.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Elizabeth Edwards, the Tin Man and yours truly

What do Elizabeth Edwards, the Tin Man (from the Wizard of Oz) and yours truly have in common?

We've all confronted our own mortality.

Elizabeth with her breast cancer (and sad to say it finally did her in a couple days ago.)

The Tin Man with his hollow chest cavity and long, fervent wish to find a heart.

And me with my weak, out-of-rhythm beating heart.

Let's see: If I only had a healthy heart I could stay young and chipper.

As the Tin Man sang it: "I'd be tender. I'd be gentle. And awful sentimental. . .regarding love and art. I'd be friends with the sparrows and the boy who shoots the arrows, if I only had a heart."

Oh, but to be strong and healthy once again.

If I only had a healthy heart...

You already have one? You're lucky and blessed.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The path to righteousness can take many turns...

Religion might be the touchiest subject ever.

But that’s what we’ve been wrestling with recently in one of my courses at Winthrop University.

The students in that class—88% of them Christian, 71% of them female, 56% of them black and 87% of them under the age of 26—read and discussed an article titled “Religious Diversity” that asserts, “In our complex world, we cannot affirm conscientiously one particular religious perspective and merely ignore the others.”

Furthermore, according to the article, being a Christian does not mean that you commit yourself to the view that all other religions are completely wrong.

Reminds me of Joe, an old grizzled mountain man I had a brief but memorable conversation with about 10 years ago in east Tennessee.

I can still see Joe in my mind’s eye in that rocking chair one Wednesday evening on the porch of an assisted living home where he lived out his last days.

That particular evening, he wore overalls, a clean collared shirt and a white ball cap emblazoned with bright orange “UT” letters.

Sickly and weak but in good spirits, Joe seemed to be waiting to be picked up.

“Who you waitin’ for tonight, Joe?” I asked him.

“For the church van or car,” Joe said, spitting a chew of ‘baccer.

I asked him which church he’d be visiting that evening.

“It don’t make no difference, Larry,” he responded, not missing a beat. “I’ll just hop on the first van that comes by. We’re all trying to get to the same place.”

The words “We’re all trying to get to the same place” still resonate.

Joe truly understood the notion of religious diversity or the idea that no single religion or faith is THE WAY AND THE ONLY WAY TO SALVATION OR ETERNAL LIFE.

Some people in my own family don’t quite yet buy into that notion.

“Your grandmother would be turning over in her grave if she knew you had jined the Baptists,” one of my parents counseled me when I began attending worship services at a Baptist church in Tennessee.

(And I’m quoting her correctly; she said “jined,” not “joined.”)

Well, I guess old thought patterns and traditions are hard to let go of, especially when it comes to our relationship with God. We are shaped from an early age by our parents, our friends, mentors, the media, the culture…you name it.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean, in my opinion, that one person’s truth or faith is THE ONLY PATH TO RIGHTEOUSNESS AND SUPERNATURAL GRACE.

Tell that to my elderly aunt.

This past summer, I visited a freewill Baptist church near where my parents live in Tennessee.

The service struck me as extraordinary. For one thing, people packed themselves into that sanctuary. Every pew, every seat (and then some) had someone in it. In fact, the pews were overflowing with people—so much so, that they had to cart in extra chairs, which they sat up in the aisles, for people to crowd into.

When the minister spoke, people truly seemed to be listening (and even taking notes.)

He had something to say, and he said it well.

No nodding or dozing off in that church. No doodling or clock watching.

The congregation obviously loved and respected their minister very much, and I could see why.

They guy was and is good. He has them in the palms of his hands. He’s authentic and has a gift for getting the message across so that everyone understands and appreciates it and can apply it do their daily lives.

Later, when I reported at our Sunday lunch at my parents’ home what I had experienced, and how inspired I had been by that minister and his flock, my aunt listened carefully.

Then she said this: “Well, that’s all fine and well, but there’s only one thing wrong.”

“What’s that?” I wondered.

“They’re freewillers!” she blurted.

Her mind is set and that’s just the way it is and will always be.

I suspect my beloved aunt is not alone in that respect.

However, I digress.

Here’s a summary of how students in the above-mentioned college course responded to a survey of their religious beliefs and faiths. (17 students were in class that particular day and completed the survey).

Key findings:

•77% of them said they had already had a religious initiation ceremony such as a baptism, christening, circumcision, confirmation or bar mitzvah.

•88% said that when they died, they expected to have a religious funeral or service.

•53% reported that they attend religious services once a week, while 24% said they rarely or hardly ever attend such services.

•47% said that they, as human beings, had “definitely not” developed from earlier species of animals, while 30% said that they “probably” or “definitely” developed from such species.

•94% said that there is definitely a personal God, while only 6% said there is no such thing.

•71% said that they think it’s essential to have an established church or synagogue to regularly attend or be a member of for them to be walking the right path with God.

•Only 20% reported having read the entire Bible, and almost a quarter of the class (22%) said they rarely or never read the Bible.

The survey also asked them to rank what is more important—our faith, or our actions—when it comes to living a Godly life. 63% said faith; 32% said our actions.

•41% of those responding to the survey said they believed in capital punishment, while 24% gave it a thumbs down, and 35% couldn’t make up their minds.

•Likewise, 50% of those responding to the survey believed in a woman’s right to have an abortion, while 28% said no, and 22% couldn’t make up their minds.

Draw your own conclusions on what all this means or what it says about our millennial generation of college students and what they believe in.

I know one thing.

Religion will always be a ticklish, hypersensitive subject.

Let the conversation continue.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Lady Antebellum

"It's a quarter after one and I'm a little drunk and I need you now."

(Line from Lady Antebellum's beautiful country and western song.)

Click here to take it in.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Quote of the week

“One time this guy insisted on small talk while he was drawing me. Doesn’t sound too odd until you remember that I am butt naked, holding poses, and the last thing I want to do is tell you why I chose Mass Communication as a major.”

Source: Student quoted in article (about models at Winthrop getting paid for posing for artists). Article written by Jessica Pickens appeared in The Johnsonian (student newspaper at Winthrop University) on Nov. 18, 2010.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hint fiction

A few days ago I heard an intriguing program on NPR about a genre of writing called "hint fiction."

Hint fiction is a story of 25 words or fewer that suggests a larger, more complex story.

Here are a few examples:

1. He had told her it was a treat, yeah, but it was her own damned fault for assuming the gooey middle would be marshmallow.—By Robert Swartwood

2. Before he could say that he had a bad taste in his mouth the poison went straight to his heart. (unknown author)

3. The blood, he later learned, wasn’t so much the issue as was the Band-Aid. (unknown author)

4. All I know about the Borders—the grandmother, the father, mother, Ellie the oldest, Josh and Jack the twins, and Evelyn, the baby—is that one after another they shared their bathwater.—by Randall Brown

5. As he lay there coughing and flush with fever, Jesse thought back to better, more hopeful days—before the outbreak found its way through humankind—and he smiled one last time.--by Steven Seighman

Okay, I'll give it a try:

6. Numbed and aggravated by what he had heard and angry at himself for getting into this situation, he forced himself to remain sitting there in the conference room.

7. Certified blue-blood members of the power structure, they boisterously claimed, as they always did, that they believed in freedom of expression, but when push came to shove it was quite a different story.

8. As he held her head back so that she could vomit more freely and easily--if that's possible--he thought about what it was really like to love, unconditionally, another person.

9. He had trusted and loved her, but she had never, ever believed that in her heart--even when he ravished her and satisfied her completely as no man had ever done with her in bed; instead, she despised him.

10. He looked at the dog, and it stared unflinchingly back at him for the longest time, as if dog and man were locked together in some sort of gauzy dream.

Hint fiction.

Do you dig it? Can you write it?

Michael Jackson gets a car seat

Never let it be said that a dog can't see the world in style (and safety).

I've blogged about my beloved bichon, Michael Jackson, before.

Here's a recent photo of him in his brand new car seat.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Augmented reality magazines

They've been out for awhile, but seem to have been lost in the digital mismash of everything new and exciting.

But augmented reality magazines, which reveal all their magic when you put your smart phone over them (and have a free app downloaded to your phone) have a lot to offer.

Click on this link for a look see.

This dog is a curious creature

A journalist/editor friend of mine in the mountains of N.C. knows I'm always on the lookout for an interesting picture of a dog.

The "meth lab" definitely gets my attention.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

My quote of the week...

“I don’t vote. Here’s my stand on politics-it’s like a steer. A point here, a point there, and a lot of bull in the middle.”

Source: Twenty-four-year-old man in Troy, N.C., who was interviewed on Nov. 2, 2010 (Election Day), by Winthrop University mass communication major Maribea Isles.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

For the love of a dog

These photos, sent to me by my long-time friend and former Winthrop University colleague Zeta Sistare, say a lot about the deep affection (and connection) between humans and dogs.

Thanks for sharing, Zeta.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Oh how Jenny Sanford suffers

Just in case you can't read the small print, here's the context of Ms. Sanford's quote:

Response from former S.C. first lady Jenny Sanford, when questioned by a journalist about how much she was paid by the University of South Carolina for her 45-minute speech at USC the evening of Oct. 27. Later, the public learned that USC paid her $15,000 for that speech.

Source: “Speech at USC nets Jenny Sanford $15,000,” The (Rock Hill) Herald, Oct. 29, 2010, p. 6A.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Wish I were as good as my dog Roadie was

Shannon Robinson, my daughter-in-law in Tennessee, sent these nuggets of wisdom to me. They speak to the virtues of being a dog.

Would that people were as good as our four-legged friends!

Roadie, this post's for you. (Roadie, my beloved sheltie, went to dog heaven a few months ago.)

•A dog is the only thing on earth

 that loves you more than he loves himself. .

-Josh Billings

•The reason a dog has so many friends is that

 he wags his tail instead of his tongue.


•There is no psychiatrist in the world

like a puppy licking your face.

-Ben Williams

•The average dog is a nicer person

 than the average person.

-Andy Rooney

•Anybody who doesn't know what soap tastes like

 never washed a dog.

- Franklin P. Jones

•If your dog is fat,

 you aren't getting enough exercise



If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous,

 he will not bite you;

 that is the principal difference between a dog and a man.

-Mark Twain

•Dogs are not our whole life,

 but they make our lives whole.

-Roger Caras

•If you think dogs can't count,

try putting three dog biscuits in your pocket

 and then give him only two of them.

-Phil Pastoret

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Free hugs

Wonder what would happen if a person meandered about our campus holding up a sign that said "Free Hugs"?

Several months ago I blogged about this video, and now I've stumbled upon it again.

When I watched and listened to it, I thought about something I read today--something to the effect that notwithstanding all the technology we now have--that presumably connects us to one another at warp speed--we are the most disconnected human beings in human history.

We don't like to physically touch each other or converse (in person); instead we prefer to chat electronically or on our cell phones. We keep our digital distance.

And to give or offer someone, a total stranger, a free hug?

Preposterous, it would seem, in 2010.

Would make a great Christmas present

I don't work for Apple, but I sure like the looks of the MacBook Air.

Click on this link for a video of what this powerful little puppy can do.

I have a MacBook, and I love it.

Now if I only had a MacBook Air... (Weighs a bit over 2 pounds; thinnest end of it is about one-tenth of an inch thick; can go for 5 hours without a battery recharge.)

And it oozes with power and speed!

My granddaughter Lucy's first Halloween

She's now nine months old, is a heavy sack of potatoes and is getting acquainted with her first pumpkins.

Happy Halloween, Lucy!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Another interesting quote

Call me a collector of quotes, but I thought this one, from today's edition of The Johnsonian (Winthrop's student newspaper), warrants a blog post.

Here's what a member of the Winthrop Cheerleading Squad said:

"There were times when we failed to meet the standards of Winthrop University's fans and students because they said we sucked or the members were overweight. So now that we have smaller women on the team and a more experienced coach, I wonder what they will say this season."


Wonder what they'll say.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Quote of the week

Noticed this crime blotter item from the Oct. 6-12, 2010, edition of Charlotte's Creative Loafing magazine:

An 80-year-old woman called police after being threatened in her apartment complex. She told officers the known suspect approached her and stated:

"I will whoop your old ass."

(You can't make this stuff up.)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Dog and Man/Man and Dog

A recent article in USA TODAY about the relationship between dogs and their masters seems to be right on target.

The article notes that a dog typically extends the life of its owner and also teaches us (humans) to live in the present and not take ourselves so seriously.

Plus, a person can read another person by looking at his or her dog.

And then this, from Cesar Milan of the Dog Whisperer TV show: "The dog is part of you, and you are part of the dog. . . If you're calm, the dog will be, and then you can do something together."

Speaking of dogs, I've got a good one. His name is Michael Jackson (got him as a puppy on the day MJ died in summer of 2009).

That's his picture (as a puppy) with this blog post. The other photo is of him today (about 17 months old.)

I call him Jackson.

He calls me, well, whatever.

He's smart, adores children and anyone else who plays with him.

And he's the best companion a guy could ever have.

Jackson, this blog post's for you.

I'm a part of you. You're a part of me.

Friday, October 1, 2010

My quote of the week (from a sad story)

Here's my quote of the week--from Mary Alcaro, childhood friend of Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi, 18, who last week jumped to his death off the George Washington Bridge after a secret video of his sexual encounter with a man was streamed online:

"I'm disillusioned that in a generation that prides itself on acceptance and tolerance, people can still be so closed-minded and downright hateful."

If you haven't read this sad tale, which made the front page of USA TODAY today, here's the link.

Clementi's roommate and his roommate's friend (both of whom are 18 years old) have been charged with invading Clementi's privacy. Prosecutors say those charged used a secretly planted web cam to transmit a live image of Clementi having sex.

It's possible hate crime and civil rights violations charges could be placed against the roommate and his friend, a young woman.

Moral of the story: Be very, very careful about what you stream on the Internet!

(Photo of Tyler Clementi, an accomplished violinist described by recently retired Ridgewood (N.J.) High School music director Ed Schmiedecke as "a terrific musician and a very promising, hardworking young man," accompanies this blog post.)

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Timbs chatting with his students in MCOM 377

Here's a little podcast that I created of me talking and singing (well, sort of singing along with Sheryl Crow). Just exploring the power of the Internet to enhance communication.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Magic and power of the Internet/Dog and man speak

I'm an old guy. Not used to all this modern technology. But I never cease to be amazed at the power of the Internet.

Tonight, for example, my dog Michael Jackson and I created a video message that I zapped to students enrolled in my course in Community and Civic Journalism. (I just did the talking; Jackson pushed the buttons on my MacBook.)

Have a listen and look by clicking here.

Whaddya think?

The wave of the future (or even of the present) as an effective, quick way for professors to communicate with their students?

Hey bro

This blog post is for my one and only little brother--Eddie Timbs.

Here's a rare photo of him.

Little brother, can't wait till we get a chance to hit the links again.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I'm slow but I'm happy...

An interesting article by Judith Graham in yesterday's Charlotte Observer focused on how folks in their "golden years" (which I guess I'm on the front end of) may be slower mentally and physically, and yet more content and happy than ever.

The writer quoted a 68-year-old man from Florida saying this: "I've noticed a distinct change from when I was younger. Then, I was quicker to anger, more defensive, much more anxious. Now, I have a greater sense of inner peace. I don't feel the need to prove anything to anyone."

So why is it that older folks often say they feel happier and more stable and better adapted than at any other time in their lives--even as their cognitive and physical abilities diminish?

An expert on aging explains that as we grow older and understand that our time is short, our priorities shift. Instead of tackling tough new challenges--such as trying to move up the ladder at our job or impress others in our profession--we put our energies and time into those things, places or people that we're closest to.

Food for thought for all of us in our "golden years."

Men who lack adult supervision

Les Forest, an old USAF buddy of mine, sent me these hilarious photos. If you're a guy, you can relate. And if you're a woman, you probably can see the "guyness" in them. Enjoy.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Google Gravity

Just learned about Google Gravity from my students. Click here and notice the strange effects.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

People from India are smart and politically ambitious

In mid or late-October, eight students from India will be visiting Winthrop University.

I already knew that Indians are smart, and maybe you did too, but you may not be aware that:

•32.5% of Indian Americans have bachelor's degrees, while only 17.5% of the U.S. population have these degrees

•the median household income of Indian Americans is $90,528, compared to $52,029 for the U.S. population

•nearly 38% of Indian Americans held advanced degrees in 2008, compared with 10.2% for the U.S. population

•6 Indian American candidates are running for the U.S. House of Representatives this year

•Nikki Haley, who was born Nimrata Randhawa, is the Republican nominee for governor of South Carolina. (I didn't know Nikki was of Indian ancestry. Ms. Haley's photo accompanies this blog post.)

•Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana, is an Indian American

For more info. about one of our nation's most affluent, educated immigrant groups, read this article in USA TODAY.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Speaking out on behalf of hurting veterans and others

Here's a speech I wrote and gave at the Mountain Home Veterans Adminstration Medical Center in Johnson City, Tenn., on Sept. 10, 2010.

The occasion was the last day of Suicide Awareness/Prevention Week.

“Savoring Every Minute of the Life You Have Right Now: How To Defeat and Get Beyond Those Forces That Try To Tear You Down”

Life is short. Almost like the blink of an eye, it’s over.

Consider this:

If you live to be 85, that’s 31,025 days.

Or 745,000 hours.

Or 45 million minutes.

So if you’re 44 years old, that means you have roughly 22 million minutes left to be alive—IF you reach the ripe old age of 85.

But, as we know, none of us has the promise of even one more minute.

The past is gone. The future is uncertain. All we have for sure is the here and now.

So how, exactly, to SAVOR every minute of the life you have right now?

Notice how that word SAVOR rhymes with FAVOR?

Because a person who “SAVORS” something quote “derives or receives pleasure from it.”

A person who savors every minute of life enjoys life.

But again, how exactly to savor every minute of the life we have now?

It can be tough.

Because we don’t EVEN REALLY have 45 million minutes to savor.

The average person sleeps about one-third of the day. Or, over the course of a lifetime, for about 15 million minutes.

Well, you might say, that still leaves us 30 million minutes to savor.

Not really.
We have to work about 35 years.

Based on a workday of 8 hours, and factoring in time for vacations weekends off, that comes to about 4 million minutes that we’re slaving away at some job.

That leaves us 26 million free minutes to savor, right?


Think about all the unpleasant things that we have to deal with throughout life.

Things like paying bills, or standing in lines, or doing our taxes, or going to the doctor or dentist, or attending funerals, or fussing and arguing with people who drive us crazy, or taking out the trash, or pulling weeds or cleaning up messes or visiting jails or being stranded in traffic.

These things suck our energy and consume millions of minutes of our time. We don’t usually savor doing them. They’re just part of life.

So now, ballpark estimate, subtracting for all the unpleasantness that most of us have to endure in life, we have only about 15 million minutes, if that many, that we can savor.

That means we better make the most of the precious savorable time that we have.

So back to the first part of the title of my address:

“Savoring Every Minute of the Life You Have Right Now”

That’s a big challenge—even for the most fortunate of us.

And if you’re not so fortunate, or if you’re in a shaky situation, imagine what a struggle it can be to try to get pleasure from life.

Wonder what it’s like right now for those 33 miners trapped almost a half mile beneath a desert in Chile?

Rescue workers drilled a borehole extending down to where the miners are stuck, and they’ve been able to send oxygen, food, water, clothing, medicine and letters from loved ones down that hole.

They’re cautioning it’s going to be a long, difficult chore, maybe taking till Christmas, to bore and grind the shaft wide enough so that the trapped miners can get out.

Meanwhile, a half-mile under the surface of the earth, the miners hang on for dear life.

It’s gets hot down there, almost 100 degrees. And it’s desolate and lonely—what could be more awful than being entombed 2,200 feet under ground?

And then there’s the constant threat of another cave-in that could doom the entire rescue operation and kill all 33 of them.

Those poor, beleaguered miners are hanging on by the thinnest of threads. Today, as I speak they’ve been holed up in that deep copper and gold mine shaft for 35 days—without a bathroom, without being able to touch their wives or family members, without seeing or being able to feel the sunshine.

And yet they keep hoping and praying.

No one has ever been stuck for that long, so far beneath the earth. And some naysayers contend that it will be a long shot, at best, to save them.

Still, the trapped men hang on. Incredibly, some just a few days ago were reported laughing and joking and singing with their family members--via a phone connection strung down through that half-mile deep borehole.

It would be a stretch to say that these desperate souls are “savoring every minute” of their lives down in that wretched, stinking, dusty, black hell pit. But they ARE living and making do. So if they’re not exactly right now “savoring every minute of their lives,” I’d say they’re faring the best they can under dire circumstances.

And that’s something.

Savor every minute of the life we have now, folks, even if it’s not a perfectly happy or completely safe and comfortable life full of sunshine and rainbows and hugs. We have to do this to realize our full humanity.

One person who did this at the very end of his fairly short time on earth was 50-year-old Arland D. Williams Jr.

Never heard of Mr. Williams?

Flash back to January 13, 1982, to Washington, D.C.

If you’ve been to D.C. in the winter, you know how brutally cold it can get.

On this particular January day, it was freezing in our nation’s capital. The wind howled and a fierce snowstorm pounded the city.

At the airport, pilots tried to decide whether to take off or stay put.

Passengers had boarded their planes, and many of the big jets were idling or taxiing on the runway.

Meanwhile the snow continued to fall heavily, the wind blew ferociously, cutting to your bones, and the jets started to accumulate ice on their wings.

What to do if you were a pilot that icy, snowy, windy day?

Take off?

Scrub or delay the flight and send your fidgety passengers back to the terminal?

One pilot—of flight Air Florida 90 bound from D.C. to Fort Lauderdale--decided fatefully to gamble with the lives of his 74 passengers and three fellow crewmen.

As the snow, and wind and ice thrashed against Air Florida flight 90, a Boeing 737 jet, the pilot was cleared for takeoff.

Inside that big jet, the 74 passengers, one of whom was Arland D. Williams Jr., buckled up and nervously glanced outside their windows.

But I’m sure many of them figured that soon they’d be out of this nasty weather and bound for sunny, warm Florida.

The pilot of that big jet took off, and yes, it got airborne.

But because it had so much snow and ice on its wings, it stayed in the air only 30 seconds before crashing into the icy Potomac River.

Can you imagine the screams from the terrified passengers as the aircraft roared, left the ground, but then lost lift and plummeted from the sky—nose-first—into that icy river?

I’ll never forget the footage of that jet crash on CNN.

There on the TV screen, it was as if some sort of real life heroic drama were being played out.

I could see part of a plane’s tail section sticking out of the Potomac River. And I also noticed a few passengers bobbing in the icy water--desperately clinging to the twisted wreckage of the jet.

Above them a rescue helicopter hovered.

I kept wondering: How long can those hurting, freezing people last?

The helicopter would lower a life line and one of the people in the water, a balding middle-aged man would grab it and pass it to one of his fellow passengers.

Again and again, the chopper would lower that life line with a flotation collar, and again and again, the balding middle-aged man would snatch the line.

But instead of wrapping it around himself, he’d pass it on to someone else. Then he’d help wrap the line around that person.

I wondered how much longer can any of them could last. Because it was freezing cold and wet and they were hurt badly… And why wasn’t that one guy, who kept getting hold of the lifeline, pulling HIMSELF to safety…?

Finally, the chopper had yanked all but one of the handful of surviving passengers out of the river.

That last guy, the last man treading the icy, cold water, the one who kept refusing the lifeline for himself but who grabbed it and gave it to others—was Arland Williams Jr.
Arland Williams Jr., who had saved so many that awful day in January 1982, perished in the Potomac River. Because when the helicopter made its last return trip to pick him up, he had drowned.

This is what a clergyman said about him:

“His heroism was not rash. Aware that his own strength was fading, he deliberately handed hope to someone else, and he did so repeatedly. On that cold and tragic day, Arland Williams Jr. exemplified one of the best attributes of human nature, specifically that some people are capable of doing anything for total strangers.”

You might be wondering: Why is he telling us this? What does it have to do with savoring every minute of the life you have now?

Well, the story of Arland Williams Jr.’s heroism goes to the heart of my message.

Remember what I said about not being promised another minute and we can only be sure about one thing—the here and now?

Mr. Williams understood that.

He’s freezing in that icy river. His hands and feet are numb and hypothermic blue from the cold. He’s got cuts and he’s bleeding. And he’s barely got enough energy to keep his own head above water.

And yet there he was—up to his last breaths—helping others—in this case total strangers to him.

He made the very most of what he could do in that icy cold, death river that afternoon. And I’m certain, that in his own way, he savored his last few minutes of living.

You know…I’m not trying to sermonize with you today, but I do believe noted preacher and book author Rick Warren said something recently that makes total sense.

Mr. Warren said this:

“Life is a series of problems: Either you’re in one now, you’re just coming out of one, or you’re getting ready to go into another one.

“The reason for this is that God is more interested in your character than your comfort.”

Warren says all of us have to work hard and diligently every day to escape our self-centeredness, our own problems, our own issues, our own pain.

Translation: We have to get outside of ourselves, beyond ourselves, and help others.
Lots of us have daily to-do lists, but if all we’re doing with those lists is helping or serving ourselves, we’re selfish.

Because it’s not about what we do for our selves, it’s what we do for others. That’s the true measure of character.

So in that regard, Arland Williams Jr. had it totally right.

He took the focus completely off himself that horrible day of the jet crash and gave his all to his fellow passengers—making the most of his last few minutes of life.

Sometimes, granted, it’s really hard to get outside of our selves. We get so caught up in the daily grind of JUST BEING that the thought of helping others seems kind of ridiculous.

A few days ago, for example, my heat pump went out at my condo in South Carolina. And not only did it quit working, water from the inside of the heat pump had flooded my living room and hall, soaking my new carpet.

So there, miserably, I was: Another semester had just gotten under way at the university where I teach. That means all kinds of meetings and workshops and students and other beginning-of-the-semester demands. And I’m dealing with a ruined, squishy wet carpet, an expired heat pump, and, worst of all, a swelteringly hot condo.

I frantically started peeling back the carpet to check the water—and it was a big mess!

Then I began moving and scooting and lifting furniture —a task made even harder and sweatier when you’re doing it in 95-degree temperatures.

And while I’m struggling with all this, I’m dreading the idea of having to spend thousands of dollars for a new heat pump.

“Why, God, is all this happening to me?” I wondered. “Why, and especially why at the beginning of a new school year, am I having to deal with all this? Am I being punished?”

I’m sure all of you, too, have been in bad situations —predicaments that have strained you emotionally, physically or mentally--and that make it hard to savor every minute of the life you have now.

But here’s what we have to do, folks, when bad stuff like that happens to us: We just have to suck it up and keep going…

We have to be like Nike: Just do it!

Get past it. And get on with savoring every minute—or at least as many minutes as it’s possible for us to savor—of our lives.

Figuring Out What It Is We’re Supposed To Be Savoring and Doing:

A downside is that many of us never quite figure out what we’re REALLY supposed to be about. We never really fully understand our true self.

Yes, we go about our daily tasks of eating and sleeping and doing laundry and working and talking on our cell phones and buying stuff and checking our email, but we never quite grasp what exactly it is we were put on this earth to do or be.

For sure, we were put here for a specific purpose, and I have to believe that unless we learn what that purpose is, we never can fully savor our life.

Joel Osteen, a popular televangelist, has stressed that all of us are unique children of God, meaning that we each have skills, talents or gifts that no one else in the universe possesses.

Osteen says that we were made to do certain things, and if we want to have a fulfilling life, we should find out what those things are and start doing them.

Sometimes, some of us know what they are, but we shy away from doing them for fear of failure.

How can we hope to even begin savoring every minute of our life if we withdraw or shy away from our purpose?

Yes, we might fail and make mistakes, even at things we are gifted at doing, but life is difficult. I think it was meant to be that way to test our resolve and keep us on our toes.

Imagine that your life is a moving truck. You’ve got choices:

One: You stay put safely and securely on the side of the road and gaze longingly or curiously at the truck as it speeds by you.

Two: You stand, closed-minded and looking downward, not outward or upward, in the middle of the highway and let the truck run over and crush you.

Three: You take a bold chance and put yourself in the driver’s seat, thereby living your life to the fullest, going wherever you want, when you want, with whoever you want and however you want.

Yes, every now and then you’ll lose control and run off the road. (Sometimes that truck can seem to be driving you instead of the other way around!) You might even get lost or turned around.

But at least, if you’re in the driver’s seat, you’re exploring your options and taking control of your own life, picking up the pieces if you crash and getting back on the road and on your way to your destination.

Yes, it can be messy, ugly and disappointing as you travel that road, trying to do what you were born to do or even just trying to figure out your purpose in life.

But that’s the way a truly savorable, successful life seems often to be—messy, ugly, full of unexpected twists and turns, but ultimately worthwhile and uplifting.

•Albert Einstein, a German-American physicist who gave mankind the theory of relativity, was the leading scientific thinker of the 20th century. But did you know that he once failed an entrance examination to pursue study as an electrical engineer in Switzerland? They said he wasn’t smart enough!

Some folks discover their purpose in life against huge odds.

•Helen Keller became deaf and blind at age 1. But learning to communicate with sign language and by feeling people’s mouths as they spoke, she prevailed in a life of darkness and silence. She wrote 11 books, learned five languages and became an inspirational champion for people with disabilities all over the world.

•Abraham Lincoln was born in a primitive log cabin, and the love of his life, his mother, died when he was only 9 years old. He had less than two years of formal schooling, and the only book he had at home to read as a child was the Bible.

As a man, the tall, thin, gawky-looking Lincoln suffered from what was then called “melancholy” (today known as “clinical depression”). When he became interested in politics, he ran hard—but unsuccessfully—for office several times. But despite all that, Lincoln became our nation’s 16th president. Today, he’s regarded as one of the three greatest presidents in U.S. history.

•You may be too young to have ever heard of him, but Tom Dempsey was born without toes on his right foot. That didn’t stop him from making the most of what he had. He kicked field goals and extra points for the New Orleans Saints. And in 1970, he kicked the longest field goal—a 63-yarder--in the history of the National Football League. That record kick still stands today.

•And lastly, how could I give a talk at a Veterans Hospital in Tennessee without mentioning one of the Volunteer State’s true authentic heroes? His name was Alvin York and he might be the most unlikely of all the heroes I’ve mentioned here today—given his meager beginnings in Fentress County, Tennessee, where he was born in poverty in a two-room cabin. The third of 11 children, Alvin York during his youth was a Bible-believing pacifist—someone opposed to warfare or violence of any kind. He even registered for the draft for World War I as a conscientious objector. Being a fighting soldier was the last thing he wanted.

But Alvin York, who had resisted being involved in any sort of violence and who his mother once feared “would amount to nothing,” answered the call of duty.

He became our nation’s most decorated soldier of World War I, being awarded the Medal of Honor for disabling 32 German machine gunners, killing 28 German soldiers and capturing 132 others.

But who’d a thunk, who’d a dreamed that a poor, troubled, uneducated boy from backwoods Tennessee could have accomplished so much? Could have saved so many of the lives of his fellow soldiers?

Not that this business of finding your true calling and savoring every minute of the life you have now is easy.

Sometimes you do your best to discover your inner self or to figure out your purpose in life. You take classes. You read books. You color inside the lines, just like you’re supposed to. You pick the brains of your friends and family. You take a self-inventory of your talents and skills. You follow all the self-awareness steps and guidelines that seem to work for others.

And still, you’re at square one—just as befuddled as ever about your purpose and self identify.

Reminds me of a cartoon I recently saw depicting a dog stepping out of a shower.

“Dang,” the dog growls. “Three showers and I still smell like a dog!”

So if you search, study, focus, meditate, grapple and pray, and you’re still confused about your purpose, or frustrated about knowing what life change will make you savor being alive, take heart.

This whole searching for purpose, transforming your self and savoring life thing can take a while.

I’m reminded, in this regard, of a conversation between two stuffed animal characters—a rabbit and a skin horse—in the children’s book, “The Velveteen Rabbit.”

If you know that story, you might recall that the skin horse was wise, but old and bedraggled.

“What is REAL,” the rabbit asks the skin horse. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

Replies the skin horse: “Real isn’t how you are made. It’s a thing that happens to you. . .”

“Does it hurt?” the rabbit asks.

“Sometimes,” the skin horse responds. “But when you are REAL you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does Real happens all at once, like being wound up, or bit by bit?” the rabbit wonders.

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” the skin horse says. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or who have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby.”

So okay, let’s say somehow, by luck, serendipity, God’s grace and guidance or through your own hard work and introspection, you find your purpose in life and can began savoring every minute of why you’re here.

But then forces or people try to block or defeat you.

How Do You Defeat and Get Beyond Those Forces That Try To Tear You Down?

If you were here and heard me speak last year, you might recall some of my suggestions.

One tip I offered was to attach yourself to upbeat, positive, nurturing people—folks you can talk to or who care about you and will listen to you. And they don’t’ necessarily have to be mental or physical care professionals. Sometimes just a good friend or close, supportive family member can help get you past your depression or funk or whatever “down state” you’re in.

That said, sometimes our closest and most caring friends and family members do all they can for us, but we’re no better. Full disclosure here: With me, about 12 years ago, I had reached the end of my rope. Despite all the encouragement and support I received from friends and family, I still couldn’t shake the miserable, dark forces that crippled my life.

I was, it seemed, doomed to be clinically depressed for the rest of my days.

Those closest to me had wrapped their arms and hearts around me, but I still felt defeated and full of despair and sadness. I couldn’t work, couldn’t think, couldn’t write, couldn’t focus, couldn’t come up with even one reason to keep on living.

And at that point, when I’d just about given up on life, I came here—to Mountain Home VA Medical Center.

They put me in pajamas and therapy and kept me in this safe place and gave me medicine, which they made me take. And the nurses and doctors here and folks like good-hearted Doris Call of the professional mental health social worker staff worked with me to put me back on track.

And gradually, “bit by bit,” to steal a phrase from the Rabbit in the book “The Velveteen Rabbit,” this old downcast Vietnam era veteran got better, stronger, got back to where I could enjoy life again. I regained my confidence and sense of worth and my desire to live life, and for that, I’ll always be hugely indebted to this medical center and its caring professional staff.

Bottom life: I’m an example of a person who almost waited too late to seek professional help. But when I did go after that help, when I got beyond my fear of the stigma of being hospitalized with fellow depressed and hurting veterans, I finally started taking baby steps toward recovery.

Don’t be like me. Don’t wait so long to pursue help—outside your circle of family and friends—if you require it.

Because if you’re not your strongest, most healthy self, there’s no way you can defeat those demons that try to tear you down. And if you can’t defeat the demons, there’s no way you can savor every minute of the life you have now.

Another tip I offered last year, and that I’ll repeat now, is to get yourself a dog.

They’re not called man’s best friend for nothing. All a dog wants is to be petted, loved and wanted. They’re great and loyal listeners, too. They never argue, complain or interrupt.

Is some irritating or negative person or bothersome thing or problem weighing heavily on your mind, preventing you from being at your best? Get your dog and take him for a good long walk and talk it over or THINK it over with him. You’ll both feel better and stronger. He’ll wag his tail and do his business and you’ll feel better for it. Don’t ask me why but you will. Dogs innately infuse us with positivity and happiness. They make us want to wag OUR tails.

And if you don’t have a dog, attach yourself to a close friend or confidante—especially if you’re going through a tough time.

Because we as humans, even when we’re healthy and strong, are not hard wired to be alone. If we’re in a desperate situation, we need even more NOT to isolate.

Maybe you’ve read the novel “Robinson Crusoe” —about a man shipwrecked and stranded on an island. For 25 years, the poor guy’s only companions in that godforsaken place are his parrot, his dog and a tame goat. He battles loneliness and mental illness, giving up all hope of ever seeing or talking to another human being.

But then one day, out of the blue, he notices that he isn’t alone after all. Bloodthirsty cannibals lurk on a nearby beach. They build fires and roast their fellow cannibals and devour them.

Robinson Crusoe, the shipwrecked Englishman stranded there for 25 years, rescues one of the savages just before he’s about to be eaten.

Crusoe names his new cannibal companion “Friday.”

Friday becomes not only Crusoe’s first human companion in a quarter century. He turns into the best friend, helpmate and protector that a man could ever have.

Folks, when our backs are against the wall, when we’re up against big odds, we shouldn’t be going it alone. We need a “Friday” to walk with and boost us, to talk to us and be a good listener.

So dependent are we on human contact and support, particularly when we’re in dire straits, that some people have done just about anything to make sure they’re not going it alone.

Remember the movie “Cast Away”?

It’s about “Chuck,” a Fed Ex employee stranded on an uninhabited island after his plane crashes on a flight over the South Pacific.

With not another soul on the island to interact with, Chuck befriends a blood-splattered Wilson Sporting Goods volleyball.

He names the ball “Wilson” and for four years Chuck has regular conversations and arguments with Wilson—his one and only friend.

When Wilson washes overboard from a raft, Chuck almost goes out of his mind..

Because now he has absolutely no one to talk to.

Ladies and gentlemen, hopefully none of us will get as desperate and lonely as Chuck and befriend a volleyball. And we won’t be like Robinson Crusoe and take up with a cannibal.

But again, we’re hard wired in this world not to be alone. We need regular human contact, even when we’re doing well. And when we’re in a bad way, we require it even more.

Lastly, I know that last year I mentioned exercise as a way to combat depression and help keep us healthy—mentally and physically.

Whenever any forces try to tear us down, exercise can be one big part of a healthier lifestyle and help us think more clearly and correctly.

Two experts on physical fitness have recently written that if we’ll quit eating crap and that if we exercise six days a week—YES, SIX DAYS A WEEK--we’ll optimize our day-to-day living and feel better and stronger.

They refer to it as feeling “functionally younger.”

And while exercise or anything else that we do CANNOT reverse the process of aging, it can limit age-related disease and age-related decline.

Exercise—again six days a week—is a key to overcoming the signal inside your body that says you should be starting to die.

That’s because our bodies want us dead. Our bodies are sinister. They want to start decaying.

Every year, we get a little slower, a little fatter, a little less sexual, and not as quick or sharp in our mind as we used to be. Plus our muscle mass and coordination gradually declines.

Exercise helps slow that process down. It changes our blood chemistry and helps us age better and more gracefully.

Age is not something we can avoid, but decay IS something we can avoid.

No excuse, ladies and gentlemen, for any of us NOT to exercise on a regular basis if we truly want to feel better and act better physically and mentally.

And no procrastination! If we want to work on improving our liveds and defeating the forces that try to tear us down—we need to jump right away into the deep end of the pool or hit the jogging or walking trails or begin stretching our muscles on the treadmill or in the weight room. We need to move our butts, our legs and our arms—SIX DAYS A WEEK. The blood needs to be gushing through our hearts at a good pace.

See you at the gym folks!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Want to avoid rotting? Then don't NOT exercise!

I've come across a really interesting book titled "Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit and Sexy Until You're 80 and Beyond."

The book is by Chris Crowley and Dr. Russ Greenfield--two folks recently interviewed on WFAE 90.7 FM radio station in Charlotte.

To hear the podcast of their interview, click on this link and then scroll down to the "Younger Next Year" show that was rebroadcast on Sept. 2, 2010. Listen to the podcast by clicking on the "Listen" icon in the gray bar.

The authors assert that while exercise cannot guarantee that our life will be extended, it can make the quality of our life radically different.

They stress that if we’ll quit eating crap and that if we exercise six days a week, we’ll optimize our day-to-day living and we’ll feel better and stronger.

They refer to it as feeling “functionally younger.”

And again, while exercise or anything else that we do CANNOT reverse the process of aging, it can limit age-related disease and age-related decline.

Exercise—again SIX DAYS A WEEK—is a key means to overcome the signal inside your body that says you should be starting to die.

That’s because, according to these two authors, our bodies want us dead. Our bodies are sinister. They want to start decaying.

Every year, according to the authors of this book, we get a little slower, a little fatter, a little less sexual, and not as quick or sharp in our mind as we used to be. Plus our muscle mass and coordination declines a little bit every year.

Exercise helps really slow that process down. It changes our blood chemistry and helps us age optimally well.

Age is not something we can avoid, but decay IS something we can avoid.

No excuse, ladies and gentlemen, for any of us NOT to exercise on a regular basis if we truly want to feel better and act better physically and mentally.

I'm on my way to the West (fitness and wellness) Center right now!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Life (and freedom) precious

Visited one of my former students today who's serving a life sentence in a medium security prison in South Carolina.

At best, it's a dreary, somber, bleak place--what with all the razor wire lining the top of the fences, the stone-faced guards and the long faces of the inmates.

Some of them have been there a long time.

We shook hands, hugged and conversed in a a room about the size of a high school cafeteria. I counted 47 small tables, each with four chairs, set up in that room. Families (wives and parents of inmates) got to spend some precious time with their loved ones.

The former student I visited, who graduated from Winthrop in 1986, has been incarcerated in South Carolina, at first at a maximum security prison in Columbia and now in Kershaw County where he was recently transferred, for 20+ years. He's now 47 years old and is a leader in the prison ministry, I'm told. He's also earned a master's degree while behind bars.

He comes up for parole next year and I am hoping for the best for him.

At Winthrop, I remember him as a hard-working, focused young man.

I send him a Christmas card every year.

Today, however, was my first visit with him.

Life gets complicated and takes dramatic turns--sometimes for the worse.

We make mistakes or incur errors of judgment.

I think this guy has paid his debt to society.

I wish him the best.

And I cherish my freedom.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Little Lucy pays me a visit

Last week Lucy, my first grandchild, came for a visit in Rock Hill. We had a great time. She's a lively, curious, always moving 18-pound sack of potatoes!

(Her mother, Dorothy, snapped this photo.)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The elephant and the dog

I'm always looking for a good dog story. My friend and colleague Jamie Low has sent me one--about an odd couple elephant and canine.

This is an amazing piece--about Bella the dog and Taura the elephant. It touches the heart.

Click on the video and enjoy.

(And thanks, much, Jamie!)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

All-day retreat at Winthrop University

Early this week, faculty leaders at Winthrop University convened all day to "re-imagine higher education," among other charges.

We learned that higher education, the business we're in, needs to be more permeable, lighter and more fluid.

Also, an administrator reminded us that the world we're in demands that we change, and we must respond to changes in our world with "guarded flexibility."

But what changes are essential?

That's a key question.

We also, as professors, need to have goals and objectives for our students that are clear, attainable and assessible.

We heard a ton about assessment and accreditation and re-accreditation.

A colleague of mine remarked (quietly) that we are being "assessed to death."

A group of faculty had been charged earlier this year with ascertaining what all Winthrop University graduates should possess. This is what that faculty group came up with after looking at all the academic programs at our university, as well as programs at other universities:

1. Winthrop graduates should have critical thinking skills.
2. Winthrop graduates should value multiple perspectives--the interconnectedness of the world--(in their work and as they search for truth and meaning)
3. Winthrop graduates should be effective communicators
4. Winthrop graduates should be socially responsible.

Twas an enlightening retreat. Some intellectual fire. Some mind-numbing stats. Much discussion on how to do what we do better or more effectively.

And, as always, we had a delicious lunch.

Time to get started with a new school year--the 125th for Winthrop.

Wonder if they had retreats in those first 25 years?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Police brutality in South Carolina?

Look at this video; I hate to prejudge a law enforcement officer but what do you think?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Lane Kiffin and press conference

My colleague Guy Reel shared this interesting story with a link to video of reporters arguing over whether to take off camera statements from former Tennessee football coach Lane Kiffin when he quit to go to Southern Cal. The WBIR news director said since it was a press conference, they shouldn't agree to any off-camera comments; what's interesting, as Reel notes, is the other reporters are arguing with him.

Be sure to click on the youtube video accompanying the story.... it's 7-8 mins. but worth looking at and showing to anyone interested in journalism ethics.

By the way, SPJ is presenting the WBIR news director an ethics award at its national convention in Las Vegas coming up in a few weeks.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Woman fights off intruder who snuck into bed with her

This TV news report from Huntsville tells it all.

Hide your wife. Hide your husband!

And for a lighter and funnier take on the same news item, turn up your sound and enjoy this video.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Pseudo recession?

All the news outlets--CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, and major newspapers like USA TODAY, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times--keeping beating the drum that the U.S. is mired in a recession.

Furthermore, the news gurus say that while recovery from the current recession is happening, it's glacially slow, and most things (spending, wages, jobs, workers' benefits, pensions) will never reach pre-recession levels.

Here's what I think, based on the long checkout lines and crowded, busy parking lots I've experienced this summer at Wal-Mart and Lowe's stores in Tennessee and the Carolinas. I'm also basing my thoughts on what I've encountered in recent months at fast food outlets like McDonald's, Wendy's and Chick-Fil-A.)

We are in a pseudo-recession. A lot of people still have money and they're spending like crazy.

Don't believe me?

Visit any Wal-Mart or McDonald's or Lowe's.

The cash registers are zinging! Employees at restaurants and retail outlets seem stressed to the max, barely able to keep up with the never ending flow of anxious-to-spend-money customers.

What recession, really?!

Friday, June 25, 2010

The darker side of love

Fact or reality, the old saying goes, is stranger than fiction.


I've been doing a good bit of self-examination lately--about love, about romance, about relationships, about what matters in life.

I had a conversation yesterday with a woman, whose name we will not use in this blog post. But suffice it to say she's in her mid to late 70s. She's a widow. She had been married for at least 50 years, I'm sure.

Me: Did you ever once in your marriage contemplate leaving or divorcing him?

Her: I didn't contemplate divorcing him, but I did contemplate murdering him, not once, but many times!

And I had thought through all those years that she had been happily married.

Appearances can be deceiving.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Doggy humor

My cousin in Florida sent me this dog art. Worth a few giggles. Thanks to LW for these.