I know I’ve been away for a little while, and I’m sure that many readers are on the edge of their seats, wondering if I’m still alive. What could’ve happened to him? Where could he have gone?
Well, I’m here to tell you that I’m alive and doing just fine. I have been rather busy lately, too busy even to manage my own blog. I’ve begun taking some online classes to bolster my views of the world, and to have a chance to interact with more traditional-aged college students. Somehow, I find their take on the world to be most inspiring. Perhaps this is because I’ve considered myself a “non-traditional student” all my life, particularly during my own college years.

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There’s No Left Turn, and No Turning Back..!
Well, it’s been just over a month since my surgery and I’m finally getting back to this blog. I haven’t forgotten; rather, I discovered many more adaptations to my “new life” that I could never have foreseen. These things took up more of my time than I’d expected.

So, no, I haven’t forgotten. In fact, there are many thoughts I’ve been wanting to share here since being unencumbered of my useless lower left arm.

The logistical sorts of things were easy to foresee, so I won’t make much mention of them here. Those unexpected things, however, are definitely noteworthy. I’m presenting them here as best I can, so read on, if you dare.

First of all, I was surprised to learn that amputations can be done on an outpatient basis. I remember thinking “Gee, anyone can walk into a hospital in the morning knowing that, when they leave later that day, they literally won’t be in one piece anymore.” Only a crazy person would do that, I believe, so I chose to spend the night where they could keep a close eye on me. Who knows what trouble I could cause, right?

Interestingly, I was actually looking forward to the surgery – shedding half of the dead weight that had been dangling from my left shoulder for over two years was a most liberating thought. As it turned out, I was right. That night, after the amputation, I felt so good for the first time in such a long time that I couldn’t sleep. I think I was truly afraid that I’d wake up only to learn that it was all a dream.

What’s more, after spending so long trying to describe to others what it’s like to suddenly have to do things with one hand, I was now in the opposite position. The feeling of freedom and liberation and just plain joy was overwhelming at first. But how to explain this to others? Then, with a little visual cue from Sophie, the answer became clear: I felt not unlike a dog who would just been left outside to play after waiting inside all day. I had so much energy and felt so light on my feet that I was almost ready to begin running in circles!

At any rate, it felt so good just to be alive for the first time in a long, long time that just existing was enough for me. Soon, of course, the real world reasserted itself and began to jockey for position in line to get a piece of that energy. And, even though I felt out of the picture for such a long time, I nonetheless felt ready to rejoin the world.

Dealing with some of those unforeseeable circumstances I’d mentioned earlier, such as being able to stand up straight and actually see the world from an upright position again was a surprise. Over time, I realized, the pain I’d been in had caused me to slump forward with my chin almost touching my chest. I thought back on all the long walks I’d taken with Kami and Sophie and realized how much more of my feet I saw then of the scenery around us.

Also, since I could stand upright again, I regained my full height once again; I literally was unencumbered of a weight that had been around my neck for longer than I cared to remember.

In the time that passed since the surgery, my sutures have healed and, I don’t know why, but my new semi-arm looks absolutely beautiful to me. It’s the picture of the freedom I’ve earned after much suffering and, for reasons I will point out later, a visible reminder of opportunities that now exist with a never could have before. How does it feel? Think of the happiest thing that has ever happened to you, and how you smiled and even left when you discovered it. That’s me!

 

This post is a rather short and sweet explanation for why I’ve taken a hiatus over the last few weeks. First, some background details:

In August, 2012, during a training ride on my bike in Superior, Colorado, I was involved in an accident. As I rode downhill at a pretty good clip, a driver, apparently mesmerized by his GPS, cell phone, tablet, Bluetooth, laptop, desktop, and everything else, was too busy to watch where he was going. He pulled his car out directly in front of me and stopped. I was suddenly faced with the decision to steer my bike in front of him – and into oncoming traffic – or to steer my bike behind his Jeep Grand Cherokee. I chose to ride behind him.

I probably would’ve crashed into the bushes and possibly sustained some broken bones and some pretty awful road rash. However, that did not happen. At the last second, the driver saw me coming and, evidently in a panic, backed up his Jeep to get out of my way. Of course, he backed directly into my path and the last thing I remember is hitting the front left side of his car.

The next thing I remember is lying on the pavement, thinking that it really should be painfully hot, given the heat of the day. Of course, I was in shock, and had I been able to feel the pain of what had really happened to me, I probably would’ve croaked right there. But it wasn’t meant to be, I suppose.

My injuries were many, and very severe. The paramedics arrived and did their thing, then carted me off to Boulder Community Hospital. By the time evening came around, I was pretty doped up and not feeling a thing. My only recollection of the time is a surreal memory of two men in dark flight suits and helmets loading me into a helicopter for a quick flight to the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora. Happily, I have no recollection of that flight whatsoever, nor of anything else for the next two weeks.

At the time of the accident, I had been in strongest shape of my life. In an instant, I was nearly dead. One surgery followed another. Rebuilding my broken jaw and my shattered hand were among them. My punctured lungs and broken neck bones, of course, required considerable attention as well. Still on morphine, I was feeling no pain. It thankfully postponed the physical agony I’d soon have to live with for the next two years.

Thankfully, the excellent physical condition I was in kept me from dying at the scene of the accident. However, it didn’t come without a cost: I sustained what’s known as a brachial plexus injury, meaning that the nerve in my left shoulder – the point of impact with the vehicle – was stretched beyond its breaking point, to where it could never heal.

In plain English, it meant that I could no longer use my left arm again. Eventually, after some negotiation with hospital staff, I was discharged from the hospital. I could barely walk, but I had to prove it to those in charge so they’d know I could take care of myself at home. So, I took what may have been the most painful walk of my life. With the assistance of a physical therapist, a young woman who I could tell even then really cared about my well-being, I successfully navigated one lap around the courtyard in front of the hospital.

Since being discharged, I’ve yet to feel any sensation in that arm other than pain; numbness in it was the best I could hope for, since it muffled the pain, even if only briefly. All I remember is that everything hurt more than I’d ever known, and each day seemed to last forever. Suddenly, I felt stuck in my own body, with no possible escape the pain, ever. In a very real sense, I was.

Friends and family all rose to the occasion to help my wife, Kami, get through it all. She, by the way, didn’t find out about the accident until hours later when, using the information on my Wrist ID, someone from the hospital telephoned her. All she knew up to then was that I was not home, and she had no idea what may have happened.

The ordeal she was about to experience from all of this was different, though no less serious. What she experienced with me as a result of my accident – my pain, my lack of mobility, my sudden inability to do even the simplest things, etc. – are things that no married couple should ever have to endure.

But enough of those dramatic days. Over time, I’ve come to see there remains much to be thankful for, and there always has been. I have long since adapted to my condition, and have spent the last few months working my way out from under the nagging feeling that I was at the mercy of the world. Opening or closing doors, for example, or getting into and out of the car on my way to appointments with every imaginable kind of doctor, etc. are no longer the daunting challenges they once were.

Certain things, however, are gone for good. Tucking a dress shirt into my slacks? Tying my shoes? Tying a tie? That, and so many other things, are a thing of the past. By necessity, I’ve revamped many aspects of my appearance. Friends who knew me before the accident may not have immediately recognized me.

Adaptation has become my middle name, and I can do things now with only my right hand that I would never have imagined possible. Zipping zippers, for example, and buttoning buttons, and so much more. If you still live in a two-handed world – as I once did – and have ever wondered just how much you rely on them both to get things done, tie one hand behind your back and get on with life as usual. It’s really the best, and only, way I can think of explaining it. Incidentally, I’ve grown so used to just using my right hand that, if my left hand were to suddenly start working, it would just be in the way. Interesting, eh?

For the record, Sophie, my four-legged service doggie/friend, has been a Silent Angel to Kami and I both. She clearly watches out for us and I, after all this downtime following my crash, feel naked without her. Happily, between Kami, family and friends, and Sophie, I’ve had no shortage of love and positive energy sent my way, and I am grateful for every bit of it.

Alas, the end of this painful chapter is in sight. Just yesterday, I attended a Preoperative Procedure at the same hospital where they’d put me back together after the crash, like Humpty Dumpty, as they’ve reportedly said. Essentially, a nurse briefed me on an upcoming surgery next Tuesday, at which time my left arm will be amputated from the elbow down.

Hopefully, this will be the last accident-related procedure I’ll have to endure. Aside from the procedure’s obvious gruesomeness, however, the removal of that damned dead weight that’s been hanging from my shoulder since the accident will be an amazing relief.

Thankfully, I did not lose the use of my dominant, right hand, and it’s made adapting to life as a one-handed person much easier. This firsthand knowledge of learning to live with only one hand, however, makes me feel confident that I’d have adapted no matter which arm I’d have lost. When you think about it, people in this situation have no choice, right?

There is, however, a lighter side to all this which has created many funny moments. For example, when people ask “How are you?” I typically respond “I’m all right, thank you.” Most people don’t get the joke, of course, though it’s something that often makes Kami and I smile. “Can I give you a hand with that?” and “I love to help you now but my hand is full…” Perhaps it’s a reminder to us both that even though I’m living in a different body now, I’m still the same person underneath. And, following the amputation, I literally may be able to give someone a hand… and part of an arm, too!

At any rate, while I haven’t spent much time on a bicycle since the accident, I still plan to resume my training and, eventually, competing again. I don’t feel I’m getting ahead of myself, as I believe the excellent physical fitness that save my life two years ago will also help me heal that much faster today. Actually, I know it will, and that knowledge gives me all the power I need to keep going.

There will come a day, I’m sure, when I’ll be out on the road once again, riding with teammates with whom I’d once raced only two years ago. But I have found many new doors to open that I’d thought had once been closed, and I’ve found myself in many wonderful, new places I couldn’t have conceived of before the accident.

In the weeks and months ahead, I will update this blog as things unfold. For now, I will leave you with this tongue-in-cheek thought:

Amputation truly is one quick way to lose weight fast..!

Be Back ASAP. In the meantime, check out these links:

http://books.simonandschuster.com/This-Changes-Everything/Naomi-Klein/9781451697384

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The future of our planet is in OUR hands:

It’s time we clean it up for those who will inherit it…

Lately, I’ve made it a point to acknowledge the spoils of humankind’s most simple discoveries which I’ve enjoyed but left unappreciated all my life. I’m not talking about drive-through banking, or instant coffee makers, or hot and fresh, home delivery pizza either.

While those things have their place, what I’m referring to goes back much, much farther, to the people who really made it all happen.

So, perhaps I was placating my conscience a bit when as I stepped out of a particularly long, hot shower and stated “I love indoor plumbing.”

I’ve said it other times too, such as after stepping out of the bathroom, flush with relief. While life does not revolve around the bathroom, it may well be the only place in which we find ourselves with a little extra time to think about things.

Given the setting, I’m sometimes compelled to think what on earth I would do if I still lived back in the days of the Cowboys and Indians, for whom no luxuries like indoor plumbing existed.

If digging a hole was the only viable option then, my romantic notion of how people lived in the old days was shattered.

But it probably shouldn’t be, considering that tools of the sort dentists used to extract teeth back then are suspiciously similar to those hanging above my workbench.

Knowing this, it’s not a stretch for me to imagine that, like me, some of history’s greatest innovators have also done their best thinking in the bathroom. There, creative and uncensored minds are free to entertain thoughts that couldn’t otherwise be safely shared with the public at large.

My thoughts tend to be guided by the seasons, as experiences I’ve had then often bring them to mind. Now, for example, it’s mid-August, and it seems as if “back to school” this and “back to school” that is everywhere. But I like to think of fun things, and thinking of anything related to going back to school, for me, has little to no entertainment value at all.

Fast forward to springtime, however, and the feel of everything begins changing for the better. Yes, poison ivy begins blooming again, and so do dandelions. But the sweet smell of freedom begins to fill the air once again; school is nearly out, and summer break is about to begin.

Granted, it’s been over thirty years since grade school. Even so, each May the anticipation of another marvelous summer vacation still creeps into my mind, for its then my truly fun, real world education occurred. English? Math? Reading? Boring! Amusement park rides, barbecuing, bicycles, and the like were my idea of homework.

So, whether you are referring to indoor plumbing or roller coasters, you’ll find they all had – and still have– one thing in common. That is, their reliance on the simplest, yet most important discoveries of our earliest ancestors.

This fact is hardly visible, however, next to the bright glare of fresh, new school clothes and shiny new shoes, and school supplies, all of which are big-ticket items for retailers. It’s no wonder, then, that few people think to pay homage to the humble origins from which all of these things were made possible.

During the frenzied back-to-school spending orgies, for instance, who is likely to remember that written communications originated when early man first scribbled things on walls within the safe confines of some hole in a cave they happened to call home?

This, of course, they could not have done without the benefit of firelight, something they’d learned from the people in the cave next door. Then, man eventually learned from others that not only could they keep warm and cook food with it, but that it could also be a source of light.

Where, you may be wondering, were women were all this are going on? Well, they were there, but they were called “man,” too. Anyway, inventing all this stuff didn’t come easy for man, and it didn’t happen overnight. But without it, where would we be? Speechless, in the dark, and eating raw food, I suppose.

That was then; but how about life in more modern times? Where would we be had buttons, zippers, and shoelaces not been invented yet? Or clothes, for that matter? We’d be standing bare chested and barefoot, with our pants around our ankles.

All of these things – and so much more – we owe to our human ancestors, for whom the invention of the shovel was a major innovation, too, because it sure beat the hell out of digging a latrine barehanded. It ushered in, I suppose, a brand and grand new day, during which man – albeit while squatting over a hole – now had a great deal more time to think about what to do next.

But does any of this show up on billboards or television commercials to remind us of how thankful we should be for the accomplishments of our forefathers and mothers? I doubt it. Consider how primitive we may now think of things as having been at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Then, pull-chain toilets with overhead tanks were the latest and greatest. Or, unlike today’s fancy pants with zippers or even Velcro, new and novel button-fly trousers and suspenders were once all the rage.

So, it seems we’ve come full circle and find ourselves back where we began; in the bathroom. And even though our business in there remains largely the same, we can find dramatic changes in the way we actually do business.

In many public restrooms today, we only need to step away from the toilet after we’re finished before the thing automatically flushes. The sink, hand soap, and paper towel dispenser are likely automated, too.

There is an old adage that claims some of our greatest thinking occurs in the bathroom. If it’s true, I imagine all this extra free time will make ours a much greater introspective society than ever. In fact, it shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that my inspiration for this blog entry first came to me in the bathroom.

Greatest thinking, huh? Now, if only I can get my desk and my laptop in there, my writing just may become better than ever. Maybe someday, it’ll even be possible for me to automate that, too. It sounds a whole lot better than scratching on cave walls by firelight.

I have always supported the concept of free thought and freethinking. Recently, however, after considerable research on the subject, I’ve been introduced to some ideas that really resonate with me.

From grade school on up, were taught to believe that America is a free country, and our freedoms are the reason why. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of this, and freedom of that.

It makes sense, then, to believe that freedom of thought and freedom of expression are among them. These freedoms certainly have their place for me, and for many of us. But to what extent are we really free?
Take freedom of speech, for example. Such a freedom cannot truly exist without the freedom to disagree with another’s speech, too. But it’s only natural that, no matter the subject in question, more people will agree with one view over another.

Eventually, a majority will develop, creating a society that subsequently creates an overall, self-serving environment. And by society, I’m referring to all the people, everybody, as a whole.

But, given that society can’t – and shouldn’t – be all things to all people, how could our freedoms be equal to every person in every way? Or could it be that a freedom is only worthy of being a freedom if it is in agreement – or not too far in disagreement – from the beliefs of the majority?

Take the implied Freedom of Thought. Some thoughts are important, even essential to the safe operation of our society. We stop at red lights, get to school or work on time, and obey the rituals reinforced by airport security agents.

But those thoughts are objectively measured, black-or-white, yes-or-no by definition. But what about abstract thinking? What dynamic can govern that? Well, it seems that the degree of abstraction to which we refer is the answer.

Those who think “outside of the box” are generally applauded for their ingenuity and even their willingness to take a risk in resolving some puzzling dilemma. “What a great person he/she is; I wish I could think “outside of the box” like that.” Yay for that person!

But what that special person, the one who “thought outside the box,” did was risky, indeed. The real risk that person took was in potentially offending society – the majority of society, that is – by thinking “too far outside of the box.”

All of us have comfort zones that vary in size and even in scope. Whether we’re kids or adults, parents and/or working professionals, black or white, male or female, etc., it doesn’t matter. We’re first and foremost human beings, and going outside of our comfort zones create exactly the opposite – discomfort.

This is never more true when it comes to thinking. Comfort zones which contain our thoughts and actions must be safe, comfortable, places.

It’s likely, then, that the things with which we are most comfortable are things that we have always done, things that we always do, and perhaps things we always plan to do.

Recently, I have referred to myself as a “dissenter.” It best describes how I thought and acted as a kid, and it’s also how I behave today.

But whether you knew me then, or whether you know me now – to even those closest to me, I’m called a “person who loves conflict,” and I “love being the bad guy.”

These statements have never been made in a good or a positive way, and rightly so. People have said it as if the way I act – which is governed by my thoughts – is somehow bad, or wrong. For most of my life, I embraced the idea that I truly was bad, or wrong, and that I’m the one who must change.
Though I always knew my place in the world would be different, I have not always been able to put my finger on why. All I’ve known is that I have stood largely alone amongst – but not against – the rest of the world.

So, I quickly learned to stifle my behaviors and remarks, because the way I spoke and acted drew negative attention – punishment – to me.

Thinking is one thing – behaving is another, and I have always had to conform to someone else’s idea as to what “good behavior” really is. Over the last few weeks, I have become joyfully aware of the presence of others who may also think “too far outside of the box” sometimes.

Interestingly, I find it ironic that many of the contributions most appreciated and celebrated by society today exist the form of creative arts such as art and literature.

These creators, however, have been – and continue to be – others who think in ways that are inconsistent with societal norms. In other words, these people are dissenters as well.

Dissenting thinkers have had to deal with the challenges of existing in a society that does not think – or behave – the way they do. Dissenters who openly share their thoughts require society at large to step outside of their comfort zones in order to understand them.

Is it fair to ask if I’m the one who is misunderstood? Yes, I think so. Most people live a familiar, routine, and predictable lifestyle. I am largely the opposite and, given my behavioral inconsistency, am far more difficult to understand. Familiarity and predictability certainly have their merits for me, but they do not define who I am.

Since the majority of people seem to operate most comfortably within such a structured world, it stands to reason that the possibility of operating in any other way is, at the least, discomforting to the same people.

My world does not involve structure as such and, though I understand the accepted view of the world outside my front door, operating positively and productively within that world takes me far beyond my comfort zone.

Unfortunately, that’s the very world I was made to believe I’d have to join, sooner or later. All along, though, I’ve tried to function in a world in which I’ve been uncomfortable. But that’s changing now, and changing fast.
In a society that calls itself “free,” I’ve not always found much freedom. And, as long as the world exists as I know it today, that’s unlikely to change.

Interestingly, the topic of religion repeatedly pops up when it comes to my having to defend the idea that I am a freethinking individual. Perhaps this is because, in one way or another, religion pervades every aspect of society.

But what about those of us who don’t believe in religion? To ask such a question, I’m quickly learning, is to go against much of society.

How is it possible, though, that all of those aforementioned things that are so highly celebrated can be found within the hallowed walls of libraries, museums, and the like? Don’t the masterpieces there originate in the minds of people whose thoughts and behaviors are unconventional and even oppositional?

In an American culture that holds religion in such high regard, how can such sacrilegious deviance and nonconformity be tolerated without creating widespread social panic, lest it unleash the wrath of the gods?

Well, in a society that requires conformity, double standards and hypocrisy are not difficult to find. It’s simply not possible for everyone to conform equally, and creative places such as art and literature, become excellent examples of nonconformist, “deviant” expression.

My belief is that there are many, not-yet identified “deviants and nonconformists” lurking in the shadows among us. These are the ones who can both “fit in,” and accept the conventions of society while also having an appreciation for its subjective elements. While these renegades remain unseen, their influence can be felt, so the seemingly hypocritical presence of such creative expression is allowed to slide.

It’s not uncommon, however, for artists and writers to find themselves, and even their very lives, endangered when they make themselves known through their work. “Social suicide” is a term I’ve recently heard for it, and it’s an apt one. Becoming a pariah is a very real consequence of sharing our thoughts with others whom we believe are trustworthy, let alone the world at large.

This, in fact, is exactly what I am experiencing. But because I’ve limited this sharing of my thoughts with someone I believe I can trust, I’m still facing negative repercussions nonetheless.

For example, I feel that having dared to disclose my unconventional thoughts on society marks me as someone who goes against everything for which society stands. I’m treated as a stranger, a threat even, because of it.

It’s little more than a continuation of the consequences that thinking “too far outside of the box” can bring.
Sadly, I also believe it’s a reflection of society at large. Asking anyone to think outside of their comfort zone is to understandably put that person in an uncomfortable position.

This has always been a one-way street, however. While I can understand the conventions governing most societal thoughts and actions, the reverse has never been true. Therefore, I have to be the one to adapt to society, not the other way around. The fault is my own, it seems, because I’m “so hard” to understand.

It’s a form of social bullying, though. Viewed simply, I am always outnumbered by a majority that always believes it’s right if, for no other reason, than because it’s the majority.

Does this kind of thinking anger me? Frustrate me? Yes, it always has, but it doesn’t always have to. While I’m not certain why it has to be this way, I understand that I have a long, difficult road ahead.

Similarly, while the work of great painters, sculptors, and writers, etc. are celebrated, their thinking is historically unwelcome. Beheadings, hangings, stonings, and more have all been very real risks – and consequences – of those who have tried to get their message out after proving their greatness in clay, in ink, in oils, or in print, etc.

So why, as I asked before, is it that religion seems to have such a hold on the way people think? Why is it that people will fight to the death because they think that their creed, benevolent and all-loving as they’re convinced it is, inspires them to do so?

It’s quite obvious that religions cannot exist peaceably among each other. Therefore, it seems only natural that anyone who proclaims to not be a believer in any religion at all will also be drawn into the conflict as well. In fact, I may even find myself an easy mark, as I will likely stand alone in the crowd.

Hence, “social suicide” is the perfect term for making one’s dissenting opinions known. Not only do I risk becoming a pariah, and being shamed and dismissed as “crazy,” but I may also be knowingly diving headfirst into my own grave.

So, why risk joining the fray at all, especially if such dire consequences may be waiting? It’s a good question. My immediate, gut-level response is two-fold: First, I don’t think of actively participating in society in a freethinking way as “entering a fray.”

Society may well not agree, and my ability to absorb considerable conflict will be sorely tested. Yet, I don’t believe that anyone’s self-expression, particularly in a world where “free expression” is claimed to be so highly prized, should be a fight.

In this regard, I know I’m being naïve. But I can always hope, and Hope is something in which I dearly believe.

My second response is simple: A life in which I cannot be true to myself is not living at all.

Could this be what the so-called founding fathers were thinking when they wrote into the Constitution that we are all equal men, “granted certain, unalienable rights?”

Well, you tell me. Many of these men – our founding fathers – were slaveholders, so the thinking behind their words is in direct conflict with their actions.

The slaves, I’m sure, saw it as well, and the irony of the situation wasn’t lost on them. In other words, they knew it was bullshit.

Statements like this are fighting words, I’m sure, for anyone who bleeds red, white, and blue. But just because I can see oppression that is rooted in government and religion – that I also know in my heart is wrong – does not mean I should be written off as crazy, or as a powder keg just waiting to explode.

I am not a young, idealistic student activist, holding a burning draft card in one hand and a tie-dyed, peace sign flag in the other. I am not a revolutionary, planning to take my cause out onto the lawn outside a student union building somewhere, chanting and singing songs in perfect harmony with other dissenters who are likely “just going through a phase.”

That might’ve been me as an undergraduate 25 years ago, had I been more aware of my true, dissenting nature. However, that isn’t who I am now.

Rather, I am gearing up for the long haul, and I’m not looking to take up arms in defense of my ideals. Still, I don’t plan to make any concessions concerning my beliefs on right and wrong. I have had to do just that most of my life, and my figurative well has run dry. I have simply given all I can, and my ability (and willingness) to give any further is nonexistent.

Further, it wouldn’t be right for society to ask any further such sacrifice on my part, particularly because there are so many other, peaceful and productive means of conveying my thoughts.

We all have a preferred medium of social expression, and I am no exception. Some are painters, others are writers, still others are farmers, home builders, and photographers. The people whom I most respect, however, are able to state their message in an articulate, yet non-threatening way to those whose thinking most comfortably occurs “inside the box.”

In this way, those who might be willing to step outside their box to experience something new and different, even if only for an instant, might safely do so. And maybe, just maybe, the peaceful word of loving humanism will spread.

Life has taught me that it’s okay to be and to think differently, and to be willing to champion a good cause that others cannot or will not embrace. Everyone should be able to do so without fear of reprisal.

This, for me, is how I interpret the concept of life within a “free society” and, though I may be naïve, I nonetheless still cling to Hope, and I believe in Love.
No government or religion could ever change that.

Good morning? Yes, it is. It’s Sunday morning, not quite seven o’clock. The sky is turning pink over the open space behind our home as the sun begins its slow rise. I’ve been up since five or so, to let the dogs out and then to have breakfast. Kami’s still sleeping; she’s agreed to go in to work today to let one of her workers have the day off.

Despite Kami’s absence today, I’ll likely always remember Sunday mornings here in Colorado as my most favorite for a similar reason; it’s most everyone’s day off. Here, about ten miles east of Boulder, the town of Lafayette is still asleep.

There’s a conspicuous absence of traffic, and the noise and the fumes it brings, lending a strong sense of peacefulness outside. That will soon change as locals rise to attend church, go shopping, or do whatever it is they do on Sundays. For now, however, Mother Nature is still free to set the scene.

I have always felt close to the special feeling mornings bring, when everything is either still asleep or just beginning to stir. For many of my grade school years back in suburban Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I delivered the morning paper. In those days, kids my age still delivered newspapers, as we wanted to make some money yet we weren’t quite old enough to work at the corner store.

Though we didn’t work structured jobs, there was still an unofficial hierarchy to our work. Some kids, like me, delivered the morning newspaper while others delivered the evening newspaper. Delivering the morning newspaper brought with it certain responsibilities – such as timeliness – that were more than offset by the rewards.

For example, I was privy to the news of the day before almost anyone else, save those who wrote the stories. I read the headlines over breakfast, while everyone in the house was still asleep. On summer mornings, just as I was just finishing my work, the heat and humidity of the day began to take over. Only the 24-hour convenience stores were open for business at that early hour, so it was there I often went to buy gobs of what I now refer to as “…sugary garbage that 4 out of 5 dentists recommend for paying off their six-figure, dental school loans…”

But my introduction as a newspaper carrier had an inauspicious beginning. My first morning is one I’ll likely never forget. It was a cold, dark February morning when I stepped outside to the end of the driveway pick up the bundle of papers that the truck had dropped off earlier. I tried not to wake up everyone in the house, which was also still dark. I loaded up my newspaper bag, then headed off to a neighborhood several blocks away.

All along the way I wondered just what in the hell had I gotten myself into. It was easy to see why the kid who had done this route before me had quit. I came to know it not as “Holiday Tradition,” but “Holiday Attrition. It was simple; customers left a Christmas bonus for their carrier. And, like clockwork, many carriers quit their jobs just afterwards, as if they’d anxiously waited for their ten dollar bonus so they could retire in Boca Raton. The reality of it, however, was that some poor, unwary sucker like me got to cut his teeth in the cold blackness/ black coldness of January.

Those first few mornings of my first week I was woefully underdressed and mentally unprepared for the job. I was even a little scared. But the princely earnings were important enough to keep me going, so I rose to the challenge. Eventually, I developed a routine that adequately addressed every possible obstacle that might arise, and it became the foundation of the self-sufficiency I currently enjoy today.

Not all carriers, I noticed then, got that. Some, whose parents wanted them to “learn the value of a dollar,” drove them around their paper routes on days they felt it was too cold for their kid to go out alone. But I had three much younger siblings at home and parents who worked hard to make a living so, like most carriers, we were on our own to work things out. Given the autonomy I felt for the first time in my young life, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

I quickly learned to work smarter, not harder. By attaching my papers onto my bike’s spring-loaded rear rack, I put an end to the drudgery of walking my route forever, even in ice and snow. Not only was it easier, but more fun, and much faster, too. It left me with a great deal more time – and energy – to spend all that money I earned. It was almost too easy.

Over the years, I must’ve put hundreds of miles on that bike and, though I didn’t know it then, early morning bike rides became a lifelong tradition. They were – and still are – a quiet, even sacred time that belonged only to me.

It was the one place I could count on to be left alone, with only my thoughts for company. That peaceful environment I enjoyed six mornings a week allowed me to discover an esoteric and introspective side of myself I never knew I had.

Besides the usual kinds of thoughts guys my age had, e.g. girls, the mall, and Pac-Man, for the first time, I had thoughts that went way beyond that. Issues such as my future and what I would do and where I might go once I was old enough were often among them. Alone on my bike, I could wonder about whatever I wanted, however I wanted, something I couldn’t always do at home.

Summer vacation in particular brought even better opportunities to ponder my future. I had a favorite overlook, where I’d sit and watch the sunrise, and just think. I recall wondering on more than one occasion “What if this is as good as it gets?” as Jack Nicholson asked in the movie of the same name.

But I really did. I wondered how, things could ever get any better than they already were at that moment. Despite all the model airplanes, rockets, and trains, record albums, black light posters, and junk food my newspaper carrier’ s income afforded me, I recognized that time I spent alone, immersed in thought, was priceless.

What I took most from that experience was that things ultimately had little value to me. In fact, the desire to have things was strongest for me when I was a kid. After being in a position where I could buy for myself anything I wanted, I exhausted my Christmas list as it were, only to find that things weren’t at all what I wanted. It was possibly one of the first basic adult values I developed as a kid, and it’s one I retain today.

Further, I came to see other kids my age through a newer, different lens. While I wasn’t the model of maturity, I noticed the majority of other kids didn’t see things the way I did. In time, I began to feel increasingly estranged from most of them, and the autonomy I developed from having a newspaper route was likely the reason; I didn’t require much from anyone –an allowance, a ride somewhere, or even parents’ permission for many things.

My buddy Dave, who lived about a block away and also delivered the morning paper, also shared this privilege. We were largely inseparable throughout the naïveté of our early teen years. I inherited his paper route when the time came for him to finally relinquish it in favor of a “real” job, then college.
Even though this now meant I could just about roll out of bed and begin delivering papers, I nonetheless felt a sense of loss from the absence of my first paper route. My new responsibilities, I suppose, weren’t nearly as challenging and, therefore, the rewards didn’t feel nearly as great.

Unfortunately, newspaper carriers today are rapidly becoming extinct. Many folks get their news online, and hard-copy newspapers are disappearing – or changing their formats – to keep up. Newspapers that are still delivered by hand are usually wrapped in a plastic sleeve and tossed out a car window.

As they pile up like so much litter, the dry, yellowing pages indicate just how unwelcome they are. After all, it’s far easier to log in to a PC and peruse the headlines than it is to go to the front door, open it, bend over and pick up the paper, and fumble through the pages over breakfast in the kitchen, right?

This thought makes me all the more grateful for my experience delivering the morning paper. It was a phase of life that brought me immense personal growth and carried with it many healthy habits I still observe today. I came to see my customers as friends, at least to the extent a person can befriend somebody by visiting their front step for a few seconds every morning, six days a week. In turn, I’d like to believe I made a similarly positive impact on their lives as well, if for no other reason than to show that not all teenagers are unmotivated slackers.

All that took place over thirty years ago. Even still, when I’m out on my bike early in the morning in the middle of nowhere, I find myself wondering about my old customers, where they might be, and how many of them may still even be alive. I wonder if they ever had any idea about the wonderful contribution they made to my life just by being there, and I wonder if they ever wondered about me, as well.

Though I’ll never know for sure, it’d be nice to somehow let them know they cross my mind from time to time. It was an immensely valuable experience for me, one that I wouldn’t trade for anything. Sadly, young people today are largely missing out on overcoming the challenges, and enjoying the benefits, of delivering the morning paper.