Sunday, September 11, 2011

Have we honored 9/11?


I didn’t listen to the morning news as I drove to work on Sept. 11, 2001. The annual fundraising golf tournament for the John C. Lincoln children’s programs was set for the next day in Anthem, Ariz. There would be a lot to accomplish on this cool, clear Tuesday in order to prepare for Wednesday. I needed time to think.

Oblivious to what had occurred in New York City and Washington D.C., I arrived at the office early. Our office coordinator met me at the door, breathless: “It’s been crazy already…we’ve received tons of calls…there are tons more to pick up on voice mail…mostly, people want to donate blood. What do I say? We don’t take blood! Should we call….”

“Whoa, whoa whoa. Why are all these people suddenly calling to donate blood?” I interrupted.

“Oh…you don’t know.”

She quietly took my hand and led me into our TV room to see the news. As I gaped at the TV, trying to comprehend what I was seeing, the North Tower imploded and a gigantic column of dust rose where the North Tower had been.

Our hospital had a decision to make. It might have seemed small compared to the events of 9/11, but it was gigantic to us. We had been planning the annual golf tournament for more than a year. Would we hold the tournament, or would we cancel it in the wake of 9/11? What would be our logic, our justification for a decision either way? If we cancelled it, how would we tell people? If we didn’t cancel it, would anyone show up?

Most poignant of the questions our team faced: had our liability insurance been completed? It was being coordinated by a woman whose office was in the North Tower. Someone found the paperwork – was it possible that this woman’s last professional act was to fax us our liability insurance?

Finally, our CEO made the decision, “This tournament is for the kids. I’m not giving it to terrorists.” He took a tremendous amount of flak during and after the tournament, but this was merely one of tens of thousands decisions made by individuals trying their hardest to do the right thing for America on 9/11.

The tournament was held underneath the gray and eerily silent skies of Sept. 12, 2001. Nearly everyone who had registered came – not to play golf, but to be with each other and to do something positive in the wake of tragedy.

Although I’d always been a hard worker, my career had mostly been a sideshow to my personal pursuits. Given the choice to pursue rock climbing or a career that might impact people’s lives, I chose rock climbing. So much more interesting, I thought. But, now I knew of a woman who might very well have died after accomplishing an ordinary daily work task – making sure we had the necessary insurance to hold a golf tournament to help children.

In fact, most of the people who died on 9/11 became American heroes not because they had committed to risk their lives by joining the military or the police corps or the fire department. They became heroes because they were stockbrokers and secretaries and lawyers and insurance coordinators and all kinds of ordinary people who decided to show up for work that day and perform everyday tasks.

In Rudy Guiliano’s first speech of 9/11, he said that while we didn’t yet know the number of people who died, we knew it would be, “more than we can bear.” It was in that moment, I decided to change course and give my career everything I had.

Ten years later, and it's Sept. 11, 2011.

Ten years later, and I completed a second degree and earned a position as a director at an excellent health care organization, where I have the opportunity to impact people’s lives positively.

Ten years later, and my son graduated from Chapman University in May, moved to Chicago and began work in his chosen career and passion – theater.

Ten years later, and our nation has brought the perpetrators, chief among them Osama bin Laden, to justice.

Ten years later, and magnificent tributes to those who died on 9/11 have been built.

Ten years later, and let me ask you this: Do you feel good about what we as individuals and as a nation have accomplished since 9/11?

Ok, I’ll answer first: I don’t.

Please, don’t misunderstand – I’m extraordinarily grateful to all those who helped me achieve my personal goals, I’m proud of my son, I’m glad our nation brought the perpetrators to justice and I believe we are all honored by the hard work of creative Americans who designed and built beautiful memorials to those who died.

But, let’s turn our frame of reference about 9/11 toward our economy: the recession, the sputtering recovery, the collapse of the housing market – especially here in Arizona, the lack of capital for growth, the number of jobs lost since 2007.

Ten years later, and our economy is as eerily fragile as the silent, gray skies on Sept. 12, 2001. Have we, as individuals and as a nation, fully honored the hardworking lives of those who became heroes on 9/11 with the economy we currently live in?

I argue that we have not. I also believe that together we can fix it.

Just as we focused the last 10 years on bringing the perpetrators to justice, let’s decide now to commit everything we have in us for the next 10 years toward bringing the American economy back to its fullest potential.

And let’s not wait for the government to fix our economy for us. Let’s stop blaming everything on our elected leaders. For starters, we elected them. And, after all, this is America.

As individuals and as a nation, let’s start instead by committing a singular focus toward creating intelligent, productive work. Like the tens of thousands of individual decisions made on 9/11, let’s make the tens of thousands of individual decisions we need to make right now to create meaningful, valuable and creative work that will drive our lives, our families and our nation forward.

For those who died on 9/11. For our children. For our country. In the words of Todd Beamer, “Let’s roll.”

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Precious Memory

Dad remembers me now.

One scorching hot day in June, Mom needed to stop by my house to…well, never mind why. So she bundled Dad into her car and brought him with her. Ever the gentleman – even in his dementia – Dad held the front door for my mom. After she walked in, he stepped in after her, looked at me, furrowed his brow and said, “You look like a Krecker.”

“That’s because I am a Krecker, Dad. I’m your daughter. Beth.”

Could it be because I used my childhood nickname? The furrowed brow relaxed into a thoughtful squint, then a smile suddenly lit up his face like a thousand-watt light bulb.

“Oh…of course!” he said. He reached out with both arms and hugged me hard – hard as if I were the prodigal daughter.

And there it was. My Dad remembered me. After nearly a year of being just the nice lady who takes him to church on Sundays, he remembered who I was. My name. My face. Me. Judging by the way he hugged me, it was apparent he also realized there had been a long hiatus since the last time he remembered seeing me. Never mind that I saw him every week.

That was in June. Now it’s January. He is in hospice care. He can't walk anymore and doesn’t talk much, either. And when he does, he can only talk in grunts or, at best, whispers. Every so often, he’ll spill out a complete sentence in giant gulps like he’s trying to suck down the last drop of water on earth. But whenever I visit, he sees me, instantly recognizes me and then whatever room he is in lights up with his thousand-watt smile, and he says, “Oh…you’re here! How wonderful!”

No matter how hard I try, I can’t remember why my mother needed to stop by that hot day in June. But, it doesn’t really matter. Because the day is nigh when my father will no longer be on this earth. And when I visit to comfort him in his last days, he knows that his daughter is comforting him.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Hearts of Champions


I was wrong. Really wrong. Ok, it's hard for me to admit just how wrong I was. But here it is: I take back everything I said about the Suns when D'Antoni left. Yes, I was sad. Bitter. Disappointed. Disengaged. And when nothing came together for the Suns for the last three years: Justified. But with Alvin Gentry at the helm, the Suns ignited into a fiery ball of flames--to the tune of a 4-0 sweep against their nemesis, the San Antonio Spurs.

And as amazing a player as Nash is, his game tonight was incomprehensible. To think: Nash played in an NBA playoff against some of the best players in the world with one eye swollen shut. And fired his team to a 107-101 victory.

The Suns, indeed, mean business this year.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Memory Lost and Memory Gained

When I stop by my parent’s house to pick up my Dad for church on Sundays, I always greet him by saying, “Hi, Dad!”

And he always says, “Hi, honey!”

I don’t let this simple greeting fool me though. I know perfectly well he has no idea who I am. In his world, I am not his daughter and have become, instead, the nice lady who helps him go to church. And yet, for some reason, it doesn’t seem odd to him that a stranger calls him, “Dad.”

As we drive to church, we chat—usually the same conversation, one that starts with, “Where were you born?”

I answer, “East Orange, New Jersey.”

He says, “Really, that’s where we’re from!”

And so the conversation goes.

We drive the exact same route each time. Routine helps him remember things. Or at least I can hope. And we always pass the intersection of 64th St. and Shea Blvd. in North Scottsdale. One Sunday he pointed north of the intersection, and said, “That’s where our first house in Arizona is, just right up there on Cholla Street.”

How exciting! I’d seen the old house, and it didn’t look much different than it had when I was a kid. I was certain that if I showed it to him, it would help his memory. Maybe, just maybe, he would even remember me.

“Really!” I said. “Would you like to see it again? We can drive past it right after Mass!”

“Um…ok,” he answered. His tentativeness only added fire to my enthusiasm. I could barely wait for Mass to be over.

As we drove back after Mass, Dad talked the whole time about the house. In fragmented sentences, missing all kinds of verbs, he managed to tell me about how he and my Mom built it, how he had planted lots of trees, built a corral and bought two horses for the family to ride. He remembered both horses, Penny Patch and Big Red. He even described how Big Red would buck off everyone except my mother. And me. Except he didn’t remember that second part.

We reached the intersection of 64th St. and Shea Blvd and turned north, then right on Cholla. A few houses down, I stopped and said, “Look, there it is!”

Dad looked at me, puzzled.

I went on, “See, Dad! See the same u-shaped windows, the same u-shaped driveway, even, the same creosote bushes—only they’re much bigger now! And see, all the trees in the back! Look how tall that eucalyptus you planted is now!”

He looked at me again, even more puzzled, and said, “How do you know all that?”

I’ve learned not to embarrass him by pointing out what he doesn’t remember. If I do, he only clams up. If I let him think his memory is normal, he oddly remembers more—at least sometimes he does. So, I said, “Well…you told me all about it.”

“Oh,” he said.

But my ploy didn’t work. We sat in the car and I continued to point out memories, but he could not connect the house in front of us with the house he built with my Mom. The house where I learned how to ride Big Red so he wouldn’t buck me off like he did everyone else. The house that he and my Mom rebuilt after a devastating tornado. The house where we held a party for me and all my friends when we graduated from high school, my parents serving champagne in a nod to our budding adulthood.

We stared at the house for a while longer, then he said, “We should get home. Sue is waiting for me.”

I turned my truck around, and we headed on our way. We were both quiet for some time, then he said, “I have a job now.”

“Really?”

I felt so weary then. I was still lost in the sadness of the memory of our old house, and I didn’t think I had the emotional energy to hear about something else he wasn’t going to remember.

Nonetheless, I replied, “What do you do?”

“I go to a place where there are a lot of people who aren’t as capable as they once were.”

I note how he says all this in a complete and complex sentence. This is big.

“And they need a lot of help,” he continued. “So, I help them.”

“How do you help them, Dad?”

“Well, I help them play cards. They don’t always remember the rules and they do silly things. So, I say, ‘Joe, you can’t do that.’ And Joe laughs and does what I tell him. And sometimes I help walk them to places in the center. Like the TV room when it’s movie time. It’s good work, and it’s rewarding work. And although I don’t get paid for this work, I’m glad that I can do this for them. It’s important work, even more important than what I once did as a CEO.”

“That’s wonderful, Dad. Really, that’s really wonderful. You’re right, it is important work and I’m glad you get to do this, too.”

And I am glad. Beyond glad. Because one of the many blessings of my dad’s new life has been the John C. Lincoln Adult Day Health Care Center. I’m not quite sure who said what to who and how it all came about, but somehow the people at this center have given my Dad purpose. The kind of purpose we all need: Work that makes us feel like we’re moving the world forward.

His life may seem sad to others—so many memories and abilities lost forever—but to my father, his life is rich in the memories he still holds and in the new memories he gains each day, not the least of which is the nice lady who helps him go to church on Sunday.

And my life is richer for experiencing his new life with him.


Saturday, February 06, 2010

The Kindness of Strangers

On my way to my parent’s house this Sunday, I called my mom to tell her I was picking Dad up a little earlier because it had been very crowded at Mass lately. She said, “Ok…but just so you know, we’re having a rough morning.”

My voice lowered and I said, “Ok, Mom…what am I in for?”

She replied, “It’s just going to be a rough day.”

He seemed confused when I arrived. He hasn’t known who I was for some time, other than that I’m the nice lady who helps him at church. But today, I’m not sure he remembered even that. And as oddly as his brain works now, he’s usually able to complete a thought, but as we drove to church, he could only speak in short phrases losing his train of thought midway through each try at forming a sentence.

As successful as we’d become with the rituals of the Catholic Church, I sensed that today would be a good day to sit with the older handicapped people and ask the Eucharistic minister to bring the Eucharist to us. Given his confusion, the idea of navigating the pews and the lines of people during Communion, holding people up so that I can show Dad how to take the Eucharistic—it all seemed like it would be too hard on both of us, not to mention everyone else.

Little did I know that Communion would be the least of my worries. On this particular Sunday, he couldn’t remember anything about the Mass.

I explained it all loudly, so he could hear me, and in great detail. People turned and watched. “Dad, put down the song sheet and turn around and shake this nice lady’s hand now.” “Dad, hold my hand so we can say the Our Father together.” “Dad, move your foot so I can put down the kneeler.” “It’s time to kneel now, Dad. See? See how everyone is kneeling? “Let’s make the sign of the cross, Dad. Watch me and do exactly what I do.”

The hospitality minister was having a rough morning, too—challenged juggling all the needs in our area—but he finally managed to tag two Eucharistic ministers for us.

Communion was over, the music had stopped and the congregation, about 1,200 people, kneeled in quiet prayer. As the two ministers headed our way bearing a gold-rimmed chalice and a shiny silver bowl, I noticed that the lady behind me was signaling me—a lovely woman in her late 60s with bright eyes, a stylish haircut and a crisp red suit.

“Do you need Communion brought to you, too?” I whispered, trying not to disrupt the congregation’s prayerful moment.

She shook her head silently, held my eyes for a moment, then signaled for me to continue. I leaned over to the minister, and whispered to Dad, “Watch me and do exactly what I do.”

He didn’t seem to understand. Dad would hate to call attention to himself, but I knew he would hate to mess up the Body and Blood of Christ even more. So, I said it again, loudly, and many people turned toward us, their silence disturbed. I pretended not to notice, took the bread and then the wine, and he followed my lead. His hands shook when he took the chalice, so all three of us helped him. The ministers moved on, the music began and the congregation turned away, rising in song.

The lady in red tapped my shoulder. I turned around and she said, “Is that your dad?”

I could only nod to her in response.

She looked into my eyes, the brown irises of her own as big as the earth and wet with tears, and she said, “You’re a good daughter.”

I rarely cry. And I never cry in public.

Tears spat out of my eyes. She reached over and hugged me. My chest heaved. I dropped my forehead onto her shoulder and sobbed for a few moments, then said, “It’s so hard.”

We turned away from each other and joined the church in the closing song. In the crowds after Mass was over, I lost her. But in that moment, we bonded. As though the lady in red were a close friend or relative—someone who knew me and loved me deeply.

As only two people can bond when a stranger reaches out to another during a fragile moment.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Tale of Two Churches and My New World View

A Presbyterian since 1969—when he converted from Catholicism in order to join a church with my Mom—my Dad suddenly decided in 2008 that he wanted to go back to the Roman Catholic Church. The only Catholic left in both our immediate and extended families, he looked to me, his eldest daughter, for help.

It was a warm September afternoon when we had our first conversation while enjoying lunch on the sunny patio of an Italian restaurant in Paradise Valley.

I said, “Have you asked Mom?”

“Um. No.”

“You better ask her, Dad. I think that’s a conversation you should have with Mom, not me.”

Meaning: This wasn’t a conversation I particularly wanted to have with my mother. I could only imagine how she might feel about her husband going back to the Catholic Church.

As adamant as he had been about his conversion to the Presbyterian Church, Dad became equally adamant about going back to the Catholic Church. Perhaps because his mother was Catholic. Perhaps because he had been an altar boy and had strong memories of the Catholic Church—memories he thought he might be able to hold onto. I didn’t really understand why.

But for many months, every time I saw him, and as soon as my mother was out of earshot, he asked if I would take him. And I kept answering, “Have you talked to Mom, yet?”

“Um. No.”

In July of this past summer, my Mom and I concluded we needed to take stronger measures to slow down my Dad’s decline. I told her about his request to go back to the Catholic Church. As we talked more about it, we agreed that going to the Catholic Church—rich in ritual and repetitive activity and 2,000 years of tradition—might help his motor ability and his memory. And he wanted it so badly, it seemed wrong to say no.

Most Sundays since then, I drive to my parent’s house, pick my Dad up and bring him to 10:30 Mass at St. Patrick’s Catholic Community in Scottsdale, where my son and I have been parishioners since 1996.

We Catholics joke about our rituals—how being Catholic is like riding a bike; you never forget when to sit, or stand, or kneel, or how to make the sign of the cross. But Dad can’t remember any of the rituals from one week to the next. So, I quietly show him what to do and he repeats after me. Otherwise, he looks and acts normal to me and to everyone else in the congregation.

And since I’ve been going to our church for 14 years, and have been involved in nearly every ministry, a lot of people know me and want to meet my dad. They start conversations with him as though he were a regular dad. He smiles his charming smile and shakes their hand and laughs at their jokes—and most walk away having no idea that he has dementia.

One Sunday in November, I picked him up, we climbed into my truck, snapped in our seat belts and headed down the driveway. As soon as we reached the road, he said, “So, where were you born?”

My heart stopped.

Minutes later, or so it seemed, I answered, “East Orange, New Jersey.”

He said, “Really! That’s where we’re from. Small world!”

I said, “Really! Where in East Orange?”

And he launched into the history of his life in New Jersey. He flashed his charming smile at me as he talked about meeting my Mom in high school and wooing her in college, having his first daughter (that would be me) at a Catholic hospital in Montclair, New Jersey, living in a tiny apartment in East Orange, then moving to a house in Cedar Grove and having more children (my siblings).

A few weeks before, my sister-in-law shared with me that my Dad had told her all about the nice lady who helps him go to church on Sunday. I understood how he might not remember who I was when I wasn't in the room. It never dawned on me that he could no longer connect that same nice lady with his eldest daughter sitting right next to him in her truck.

But on this cool November morning, I listened to every word my Dad said and interjected questions at appropriate moments as though I were a stranger making conversation with the nice gentleman who I helped go to church every Sunday. And throughout our conversation, my mind could not stop churning around what would become my new world view—my Dad has absolutely no idea who I am.


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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Memory Lost

Before we start Christmas dinner, each member of my family takes a turn at giving thanks for something in their life. There are a lot of us, generally between 15 and 20 at holiday dinners, so this process takes a while and the food gets cold, but it makes us happy.

When his turn came a year ago, my father said, “I’m thankful that each day I wake up and I remember my name.” We chuckled. Uncomfortably.

My dad is a charming man and a warm man, but he has never been demonstrative. Since that Christmas, however, whenever he gave me a goodbye hug, he hugged hard. Really hard. And held on as though he'd never let go.

I didn’t completely understand then. He was healthy; it’s not as though he was dying and had to worry about whether or not this was the last time he would see me. He didn’t have Alzheimer’s disease, just a brain injury that left him a little spacy. Well, he was always a little spacy, so what’s a little spacier?

I’m thankful that I never pulled away or was irritated by his sudden demonstrativeness. Because now I realize that he wasn’t holding on to me—he was holding on to his memory of me. Before any of the rest of us understood, he knew. He knew he was losing his memory.


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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Momentum

Author's Note: The post below was originally written last July. At the time, I didn't have the heart to publish it. I completed the post, gave it an editing pass, let my mouse hover over the "PUBLISH" button, then stopped. Angry. Angry at myself for giving up so soon. My dad hadn't given up; how could I.

Our unwillingness to give up set in motion a flurry of activity focused on arresting my father's dementia, and preserving his memory and physical ability to function in the world. Little did I know that six months after writing this post, I would be thankful that my dad didn't remember what I did for a living, but at least remembered who I was.

He hasn't given up yet. And neither have I. But our goal now is to preserve his dignity and give him what joy we can within his capability for comprehension.

And surrender to the knowledge that no matter what we do, each day he will decline.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

July 24, 2009

We want to feel like we’re moving forward. We want to grow in love, grow in knowledge, strength, intelligence, fitness and happiness. And we want to see those we love grow, too.

We want—no, we expect things to look forward to in our lives and in the lives of our friends and family—the next relationship, the next job, the next award, the next wedding, the next graduation, the new house, the new promotion, the new dress, the new friend.

My dad will not move forward anymore. There will be no more growth or new or next. With luck, and a lot of time and attention, maybe we can keep him from sliding so deep into dementia that he no longer knows where he is or who we are.

Maybe.

I watched a friend of mine take care of his elderly dad for years. He would bring him every Tuesday night to Bible class and every Sunday to church. His dad had been a nuclear physicist and had been one of the best and the brightest when this science was in its infancy. He was a sweet dear old man whose brain was afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease. And all I knew was the sweet dear old man. I never knew the brilliant scientist my friend knew as his dad.

And this is part of life. Right? People grow old and sweet and mindless. And aren’t we supposed to accept it gracefully?

Sure.

I didn’t know my friend’s dad when he was brilliant, but I did know the brilliant man who was my dad. Top of his class in high school. Princeton graduate. First salesman at IBM to demo a then little-known invention called a hard drive. Turned an insurance company around as its CEO. Midas touch with real estate and investments.

Truly brilliant.

In his own way my dad is a new man now. A brain injury has turned his brilliant mind into marbles rolling about in peanut butter. My mom and I talk to each other while he looks on, trying with all his might to comprehend our conversation. And every so often, for a blink of an eye, the marbles all line up, he tunes in and you can see his mind churning out a brilliant thought. But like a lucid moment in a dream, before it’s fully formed and he can say it out loud, the thought is gone. Then, his face twists into confusion, he shakes his head and mumbles. And that’s the end of the conversation.

What once was a lively and constant intellectual challenge—keeping up with my dad’s mind—has become a moment of sad realization.

We took my dad today to visit an adult day care center. A lovely place, filled with energetic happy people who are good at what they do and truly love caring for the elderly. I should be happy that we found such a lovely place with such wonderful people.

Forgive me if I’m not.

Today forced me to admit that I’ll never have the same relationship with my dad again. Never mind that I can’t rely on him for investment advice or to help me install a new faucet. No, this is what is tearing me up—I may never again be able to go to him for career advice because he can’t remember what exactly it is I do.

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Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Grit and Poetry


Hmmm. So what would make me start a blog entry with these two words?

Simple answer. Tim Tebow and Urban Meyer.

Hmmm. So how did those two names ever get connected with poetry?

Not so simple answer.

The story starts with my love affair with football. Which, in truth, I never really understood until two years ago when a friend took me to my first professional football game. At the Superbowl. Yup. The Pats and the Giants in Arizona.

As you might imagine, it was a first-time football experience on steroids.

Then there is my love affair with the Gators. Just this year, a girlfriend asked me, “How can you be a Gator. When. You. Never. Went. To. Florida.”

And she said it just like that.

Ok…so I guess we need to begin our story even farther back than Superbowl XLII.

Eleven years ago, I met Susan Fuchs at work. It was hard to miss Susan’s office for all the orange and blue paraphernalia, not to mention the various and sundry alligator replicas, decorating her workspace. Then, one morning in 2000, she came into the office with eyeglasses askew and a voice barely audible from having personally screamed the Gators men’s basketball team to victory during a crucial March Madness game.

On that day, I finally confessed my secret to her. I was jealous. Truly jealous. Truly, madly, deeply jealous.

I went to art school, not college. Our only sports team was a tennis team. A tennis team that actually took me in as a member. If you’d ever seen me play tennis, you’d know what a dismal statement that was. We didn’t even have a mascot. After all, what would we be? The Pratt Institute Paintbrushes?

I explained to Susan how fortunate she was for having experienced such a full college life—a life she could re-experience regularly through her passion for Gator sports. She answered, “Why don’t you come to our viewing of the final game of the NCAA tournament?”

How fun, I thought! So I went. The Gators gave me a blue t-shirt. Taught me the fight song. The game was thrilling. We were ahead. Then behind. Then ahead again.

Local NBC affiliate, 12 News, showed up to film those crazy Gators routing their team onto victory all the way west in Phoenix, AZ. We screamed. We yelled. We were ahead. Then behind. Then ahead again.

I vaguely remember a camera pointing my direction. We screamed. We yelled. We were ahead. Then behind. Then ahead again. Alas, in the end, we lost.

Channel 12 ran our story that night. And there was my face. Plastered all over the TV. Immortalized on the 10 p.m. news as the Gator poster child. And the Gator Nation welcomed me with open arms.

I’ve been a Gator ever since. Through good seasons and bad. I’ve got the beads. The alligator replicas. The name badge. The t-shirt. Even the blue and orange toenail polish.

But for the last three years, under the inspired coaching of Urban Meyer and the passionate leadership of Tim Tebow, being a Gator has been nothing short of magical. And I’ll remain eternally grateful to the Gators and Susan for having embraced me so that I could enjoy it as a member of the Gator Nation.

My language skills aren’t honed well enough to craft the poetry those of us in the Gator Nation experienced. Maybe Homer could have accomplished the feat. But since Homer never met Tim Tebow, I’ll let Pat Horan, editor of this video mashup of the 2008 season, tell his gritty version instead.



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Sunday, May 03, 2009

Dead White Knights in an Upside-Down World


In the year since I last posted an entry, the world stood on its head.

My beloved Suns missed the playoffs for the first time in five years, the D-Backs ended the 2008 season with a dismal .506 record, U of A was controversially awarded the last at-large berth in the NCAA tournament field and no one remembers what happened to the Coyotes.

All of this might paint a grim portrait of Arizona sports, but for the Arizona Cardinals and ASU Sundevils. The Cards made it all the way to the Superbowl for the first time in their 89-year history, and both the ASU men’s and women’s basketball teams reached the NCAA Tournament—ASU's women going all the way to the elite eight.

In business and politics, the first African-American in history was elected President of the United States, while stalwarts of the financial industry crashed and burned in balls of fiery flames taking the global economy with them.

In Arizona, housing prices plummeted and our beautiful state went from the fastest growing in the U.S. to negative growth and a $3 billion dollar deficit. No one’s certain whether or not we will have a state government after July 1.

On the home front, my neighbor’s yard, which he’d kept impeccably neat during eight years of residence, spontaneously sprouted a lush green carpet of weeds. They flowered and grew to more than 5’ tall choking his rose bushes which withered and browned. We suspect foreclosure.

Meanwhile, The-Man-Named-Bill (a.k.a. The Teenager) moved to California and into a dorm, started college, moved out of the dorm, signed a lease on a house, changed his major to theatre, got a job with South Coast Repertory and bought a refrigerator, range, washing machine, dryer, microwave and broom. His house now smells like socks.

A lot has happened in the world, and a lot has also happened to me.

About this time last year, I was working through the application and interview process to join the 2008-2009 Class of Valley Leadership. I felt nervous and excited, like a high school senior applying to her college of first choice.

It’s a good thing the windows were rolled up in my truck when I read my acceptance letter or I’m sure my neighbors would have called the police. I screamed. Loudly. Then I called my two friends who had written letters of recommendation, and we hollered some more.

Funny thing was, I had no idea why. I didn’t understand the program, and didn’t know what to expect. But on our first program day last Oct., we heard a talk by Bill Post, former CEO of Pinnacle West and Valley Leadership Man of the Year 2006.

“The white knight-style of leadership is dead forever,” he said, going on to describe coalitions formed by behind-the-scenes leaders (people few have heard of) that brought to Arizona important growth initiatives including all-day kindergarten and light rail.

I told my friend who had convinced me to apply to Valley Leadership that hearing Bill Post’s talk was a religious experience. She replied, “So, you drank the Kool-Aid. Good.”

Yesterday, after a class year marked by one inspiring speaker and amazing experience after another, we heard a talk by Dick Bowers, former city manager of Scottsdale, Ariz. Even though I went to high school in Scottsdale and lived in or near there most of my adult life, I’m embarrassed to admit that I’d never heard of Dick Bowers.

More accurately, I must not have been paying much attention. I can list from memory all of the mayors under whom Mr. Bowers served, including Herb Drinkwater, whose daughter went to the prom with my brother, and Sam Campana, who visited with my son’s Cub Scout troop and whose sister is one of my Valley Leadership classmates.

Then again, perhaps my apparent lack of attention to local politics isn’t entirely to blame. City manager of a small city in a not particularly notable state isn’t a position that we think of as breeding inspirational leaders. In Western culture—the culture of King David and Achilles and Lancelot and John Wayne—we’re more likely to look to sports coaches or Olympic athletes or presidents for inspiration. I’d wager a steep bet that I’m not alone in my obliviousness to the life and story of Mr. Bowers.

And Mr. Bowers prefers it this way. “Leadership’s not about being famous,” he said.

Quietly, behind the scenes of noisy council meetings and negative news reports and complaining citizens, Mr. Bowers engineered the transformation of Scottsdale from a potential future as a sleepy suburb of Phoenix into a hugely successful city.

His technique? Value-centric servant leadership. “It’s the bedrock of everything we did,” he said. His message, that every one of us can and needs to be a leader, comes not a moment too soon.

It seems the world is upside down and we need more leaders like Dick Bowers to help us stand on our feet again. According to Mr. Bowers, that means we need more leaders like you and me.

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