Tuesday, November 24, 2009

An Ankfulness of Thankfulness

I'm over "an attitude of gratitude" as the Thanksgiving catchphrase. Help me spread "an ankfulness of thankfulness" as the new cliche, won't you?

It’s 4:30 on a busy afternoon, but I’m between meetings, so I duck into the church to steal reallocate some wi-fi and get some work done. The wi-fi I steal reallocate is down the hall from the Children’s Wing, so I grab a seat in the big, comfy chair (which, for me, is the slightly-smaller-than-comfortable, comfy chair). I glance across the way and see a large cartoon turkey in front of the words “WE ARE THANKFUL!” On the turkey’s many-colored feathers, kids have written the things they’re thankful for. It looks like this:

“I’m thankful for my brother and sisters,” says one feather. “I’m thankful for candy,” another honestly asserts. “Blue,” says another – creatively, yet somewhat cryptically. “I’m thankful for my bike,” “I’m thankful for my family,” and, hilariously, “Ester, Dad, Tron and Mom.” (I can only guess who Tron is, but bravo for naming your child/pet/whatever “Tron.”)

One of the cool things about kids is that gratitude comes so easily to them. If you ask a kid what he’s thankful for, he’s got a list as long as his arm, because everything is special. Dinner at McDonald’s is the Coolest. Thing. Ever! A trip to the park is an adventure in the making. A hug can mean the world.

But too often, we adults let things get in the way of that enjoyment. I, specifically, allow all kinds of distractions to get in the way. Lately, one major distraction has been regret about things that I’ve done and haven’t done that have led me to hurt others.

So, even though I’m not adding my own feather to the turkey on the wall at church, I am, right here and now, sharing that what I’m most thankful for this year is the forgiveness that is so freely given by family and friends, who love me in spite of the things I’ve done or not done. I hope that I am as forgiving and loving as the parents and brother God gave me and the tons of awesome family and friends that I’ve met along the way.

I’m still working on the whole “forgiving myself” thing; that’ll take some time. But I guess I’ll need something to be thankful for next year, right?

This post is part of the "Indy Tweetsgiving 2009: Change the World with Gratitude" collection of blog posts aimed at two things: (1) celebrating what we're thankful for and (2) raising money for worthy causes.

You want to learn more, and therefore you will click here.

And if you want to make a donation to support a dormitory/orphanage, library, school, cafeteria and additional classrooms for a school in Tanzania and future change makers and social entrepreneurs in less fortunate conditions, you can DONATE NOW BY CLICKING HERE.

Bottom line:
  • Be thankful for something.
  • Donate at any time here or by using the fancy widget below.
  • There will be a tweetup (that is, a meet-up of Twitter folks) on Tuesday, November 24, at Scotty's Brewhouse downtown from 5:00 to 9:00pm. You can make a cash donation in person AND Scotty's Brewhouse will be donating 10% of sales that evening to the cause.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Running on Empty

Is an individual's leadership a renewable resource?

This has been a crazy few weeks, with events at church, and stuff going on with Freewheelin' Bikes and stuff going on with Motus Dance Theatre, and just life in general. I feel like I've been on a treadmill, playing catch-up while also balancing work and all the other things going on.

I recently made the decision to end my term on both Freewheelin's and Motus's boards of directors at the end of December. This will be the first time in almost five years that I won't be on the board of directors of a community not-for-profit. And while it was a difficult decision, it was clearly the right one. 

Lately, I've felt like my ability to contribute to the two organizations has been compromised -- time-wise, certainly money-wise, and enthusiasm-wise. I've found it harder and harder to sit through board meetings as I've lost touch with the original reason I decided to support the orgs, and I've felt increasingly out of phase with the rest of the board members, like they knew something I didn't, or their vision for the future was different from my own.

But all this has really led me to wonder: Is leadership like a fossil fuel? Do we, as individuals, ever run out of leadership? Or is it always in us, just differently focused at different times in our lives and in different circumstances? 

Am I all out of leadership? Am I all out of leadership for now? Or is it just time to focus on other things for a while? I mean, I'll still be showing leadership at church (as the chair of Member Care, leading us through this whole discussion), so I hope I'm not completely leadership-dry. 

But what do you think? Do you think leadership comes and goes? Is it "once a leader, always a leader" or do we have a finite quantity within us? Or is that even the right vocabulary to use in talking about leadership?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Publically Conversing: Spirit & Place and Me

This afternoon, St. Luke's hosted the closing event for the Spirit & Place Festival, a ten-day series of events designed to encourage collaborations and other programmatic intersections of the arts, humanities, and religion. The 2009 theme for Spirit & Place was "Inspiring Places."

Today's public conversation, heralded as the climax of this year's festival, sounded great in concept: bring together two nationally known public leaders -- former four-term mayor of Indianapolis Bill Hudnut and current mayor of Braddock, PA, John Fetterman -- and have noted Indiana author Scott Russell Sanders lead them in a discussion about "place." Then, engage in a "sonic exploration of space" with a half dozen local choirs performing sacred music in a variety of settings.

Unfortunately, the pay-off was only about 50% -- from my perspective, the conversation part was "meh," but the musical part was really very good. (Full disclosure: I was an active participant in the musical part.)

Mayor Hudnut is smart and articulate, and he did a lot of good for the City of Indianapolis, but I found him to be arrogant and dismissive, prone to oneupsmanship and name-dropping. Mayor Fetterman is innovative and committed, and the people of Braddock are lucky to have him, but I found him to be surly and inaccessible (although, to be fair, if I had to share the stage with Mayor Hudnut, I might shut down noticeably, too).

But I did learn a lot today. Want to hear it? Here it goes:
  • Events with three VIPs never run on time, especially when two of the three VIPs like to hear themselves talk.
  • I would not be interested in dinner or drinks or coffee or whatever with any of the three men engaged in this afternoon's public conversation.
  • As I get older I have a much lower tolerance for pomposity than I used to.
  • As I get older I have a much lower tolerance for surliness than I used to.
  • As I get older I have a much lower tolerance for arrogance than I used to.
  • If you've told a joke more than 1,000 times over the last 40 years, you still have to tell it right if you want people to laugh.
  • If you're trying to be folksy, you are not actually folksy.
  • Neither Mayor Fetterman nor Mayor Hudnut thinks highly of Facebook or Twitter, and they shared their opinions freely and derisively, despite the repeated mentions of a "Twitter section" at the event.
  • I am either far less smart than I think I am or far more smart than I think I am, and I will probably never, ever stopping asking, "How did I get myself into this?"

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Squeeee! a little bit -- a celebratory update in two acts


Yeah, so. Remember this? Well, excitement is brewing. More later, as I'm able, which may or may not be ever. But still.

Therefore, Squeeeee! the first.


Also, remember this? I came in 41st out of the Top 50 Blogs in Indiana! Here's the proof:


I actually came in tied for 40th with the awesome, strategic, entrepreneurial Lorraine Ball, but because of the scoring, she got 40th, and I got 41st. Regardless, I'm very much like Mike Wazowski in Monsters, Inc: "I'm on a MAGAZINE COVER!"

Therefore, Squeeeee! the second.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Couple of pics: Owen & Madelynn

I visited with my awesome nephew, Owen, and my awesome niece, Madelynn, on Halloween.

Owen was a dinosaur:

Madelynn was a jack-o-lantern:

And here's a freebie of Owen playing ball, if by "playing ball," you mean "mercilessly, yet adorably, gnawing on the ball."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"I like Pablo Neruda."

8:36 on a Tuesday night. I've been moving stuff into my self-storage unit, and I feel like I've earned a treat. Fortunately, my go-to treat, Mr. Gyros, is right around the corner.

The place is deserted when I walk in, just me, the Greek-American lady behind the counter whom I've nicknamed The Daughter-In-Law, and the two Hispanic kitchen workers whom, it strikes me with some shame, I have never even given nicknames. 

I get my regular order (a #1 and a #96 -- gyros platter with fries and drink, side of feta cheese) and, ignoring NCIS on the mounted TV, sit down with my book to decompress and focus on me for a bit.

I'm about a third of the way through my gyros -- which, in accordance with the directions on the door, I pronounce "yee-ros" -- when he walks in. Except he doesn't really walk in; rather, he does what I've recently learned is called "the pimp limp." A young African-American man, early 20s, I guess, wearing what I estimate to be $300 jeans, an elaborately embroidered black and gold oversized jacket, and what I can only assume are shoes that cost as much as my car payment.

After some discussion with The Daughter-In-Law, he orders: a #1 like me, but instead of feta, he opts for a #78 -- chili-cheese fries. (Did you know "chili-cheese fries" in Spanish is pronounced "chili-cheese fries"? At least, that's how The Daughter-In-Law rattled it off to the kitchen staff, mixed in with other actual Spanish.)

He waits patiently for his order, gets his drink, and takes his tray to sit down. Right across from me at my table. At. My. Table.

And if that's not weird enough, he says -- honest to God, he says this -- "I like Pablo Neruda."

What the whatnow?

"I'm sorry?" I say, through a mouthful of fries, Diet Pepsi, and astonishment.

"I like Pablo Neruda. You look like a guy who would know who that is."

Come on.

"Oh, right. One Hundred Years of Solitude." 

"Naw, man. That's Gabriel García Márquez." His eyes narrow and then widen with his growing, knowing smile. "But you know that, don't you?"

Of course, I do know that. But I'll be damned if I can remember anything Neruda produced. For some reason, I do not want to disappoint this young man who believes that I know about the Chilean author whose work he professes to like.

"Whatchu readin'?" he asks, mercifully changing the subject.

When I show him Answering Your Call, he asks if I'm a preacher. 

"Uh, no," I reply with a smile. I get that a lot.

"A, um, whatchacallit, a rabbi?"


"I know you're not a priest, though."

"How do you know that?"

"I can just tell. So why are you reading that book about call for?"

"Because I believe that everybody has a spark of God in them, and we're here to fulfill a special purpose that God wants us to discover. Our job is to line up all the gifts God gave us, figure out what we're supposed to do with them, and then do it. I'm learning about how people do that."

"What's your call, then?" 

"I dunno. That's why I'm reading the book."

He laughs, sticks out his enormous right hand for me to shake, and introduces himself: Jamarcus Shawn Headley IV. When he says "the Fourth" it appears to be with great pride in his heritage. I'm reminded of "The Lion King" for some reason.

I tell him my name, and he says I'm the first Scott whose hand he ever shook. 

"Scott," he says. "What do you think my call might be?"

"Hard for me to say, having just met you. But I bet part of you already knows," I reply. "There are probably some areas of your life or activities that really flow for you. Those might be clues to your call. But really, it's different for everybody. And you might have different calls throughout your life. At least, that's what I think."

"Huh. Never thought of myself like that before, like God has something special in mind, just for me. Glad I sat down here."

We talk a little more about call and God and life, and we finish our meal. As he's preparing his tray for the trashcan, he looks at me -- with what, in any other person, I would call a twinkle in his eye, but Jamarcus Shawn Headley the Fourth clearly does not twinkle -- and he revisits the beginning of our conversation.

"Scott," he says, "do you know one damn thing about Pablo Neruda?"

"I do not," I confess. "Other than the fact that he was a writer. From Chile, I think, but I could be wrong."

"No, you got that, you got that. He wrote this one book called Twenty Poems of Love and a Song of Despair. It's good. Wanna hear one?"

I nod, and he recites, from memory:
The truth is in the prologue. Death to the romantic fool,
to the expert in solitary confinement,
I'm the same as the teacher from Colombia,
the rotarian from Philadelphia, the merchant
from Paysandu who save his silver
to come here. We all arrive by different streets,
by unequal languages, at Silence.
"Pretty good, huh?" he asks, meaning the poem.

"Yeah," I say, meaning his reciting of it.

"Well," he says. "I think in this poem, Silence is a symbol for Death. But on this evening, Silence is what I need to think about my call and go through in my head what we just talked about. Good night, First Scott I Ever Shook Hands With."

"Good night, Jamarcus Shawn Headley the Fourth," I say. "Be well, keep reading, and listen hard."

His hand dwarfs mine again in a parting handshake, and he heads off into the Indianapolis evening.

Monday, November 09, 2009

She really was quite beautiful.

He was driving downtown for, of all things, a co-worker's organ recital. Like, a recital on a church organ. He supposed it was an important church organ, or his co-worker was an important organist, or maybe it was the anniversary of some important composer's birth and/or death or whatever.

He fed the first available parking meter and started walking the three blocks to the cathedral. It was exactly 12:06; four minutes until the recital was to start.

Half dreading the concert, half welcoming the retreat from the everyday, completely lost in his thoughts and walking on autopilot, he actually didn't hear her the first time she spoke to him.

"I'd like your wallet, please," is what she said the second time, the time he heard her. He had no idea what she said the first time.

"Mmmmmm, not today, thank you," was his reply. A couple years living in Chicago had taught him the most effective brush-off for the homeless ("Mmmmmm, not today...") and his parents had raised him right ("...thank you").

He kept walking.

"I said, I'd like your wallet, please," she repeated, making him think that's probably what she had said the first time, the time he hadn't heard her. And to further emphasize her point, she raised her right hand, the one with the gun.

He'd never seen a gun being held threateningly like that. Hilariously, so mindful was he of the recital's 12:10 starting time, that it was only then -- when she made with the gun-pointing -- that he stopped walking. The downtown traffic stopped and started with the changing reds and greens, and a couple other pedestrians walked past them on the sidewalk, but it was as though they were the only two people in the world. 

Just them. Them, and the gun.

He looked at her, really looked. She was quite beautiful.

He guessed she had not stayed anywhere with a shower for at least the last couple days, but she was quite beautiful. Her curly auburn hair was unruly, and her clothes were wrinkled and torn, but she was quite beautiful. Tears and snot and smeared make-up streaked her face, and her knuckles were scabbed and bruised, but she was quite beautiful.

"But I need my wallet. And there's not very much in it, anyway," he said as he pulled it from his pocket and showed her its contents.

Her mouth fell open. He wondered if she was surprised that her approach might be working, or surprised that he had objected at all in the first place, or surprised at how little really was in the wallet: a few bills (all ones), a couple credit cards, a library card, and a driver's license.

He took out all the cash -- seven one-dollar bills -- and handed it to her. "I'm sorry it's not more," he said. "But it's the best I can do right now. Maybe it'll help? But I really do need the rest of this."

"Yeah," she said.

"Yeah," he replied, echoing her tone almost exactly. "I need to go now."

He turned and walked toward the cathedral; she turned and walked the other way.

She really was quite beautiful, he thought.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009


Hey, readers! As you may know, I'm one of the founding board members of Freewheelin' Community Bikes, an Indianapolis bike shop where kids learn about bicycle repair and maintenance and, in the process, earn a bike of their own. I'd like to invite you to join me at my table at our breakfast event for Freewheelin’, scheduled for Thursday, November 19, 2009, from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. at Tabernacle Presbyterian Church, 418 E. 34th Street (34th and Central).

This is a free breakfast for you to learn more about Freewheelin'...and, yes, it is a fundraiser! The Freewheelin’ leadership will make a request from the podium. But you have no obligation to donate. No one will personally ask you. We simply wish to make you aware of the inspiring work being done at Freewheelin’ as we use bicycles to bring out the best in people and our community.

The program will start promptly at 7:30 and you have my guarantee that we will finish by 8:30.

I very much hope that you will join me. If you're interested in learning more about Freewheelin' firsthand after watching the video below, please let me know that you will attend the free breakfast. And if you can't attend the breakfast but would like to make a donation to support the organization's great work with great kids, shoot me an email at SSSemester@yahoo.com, and I'll tell you how to do that, too!

If you're reading this on Facebook, click here to watch the awesome video!