Friday, September 16, 2005

Dear Jessica,

You wore the color of royalty when you were born -- a skin-tone of burnished red, a head of dark hair, dark blue eyes, and a healthy glow of vitality. You squeezed my finger so tightly as you lay on my stomach; and you looked at the room around you as if you were taking it all in . . . maybe to tell your mother later that this was not a room fit for your birth, or maybe to just tell me that the world was way too loud and rambunctious for you to be born into. Either way, your entrance into this temporal world was one that I would never forget.
You were perfect to me. I counted your toes and your fingers; I ran my fingers through your black hair; I marvelled at the fact that your joints were plugged together like a Mister Potato Head; and later, I wondered how someone so beautiful could be so unhappy . . . until I discovered that you were beset by colic.
In spite of colic, I had the joy of nursing you and seeing your eyes light up with mischevious smiles (as you obviously thought how wonderful it would be to just "bite" down instead of smiling so innocently), and the wonder of the stars of the universe as I walked you up and down the dirt road in front of our home in an effort to calm you into a sleep.
By 6 months, the colic was gone, and your demeanor had changed. All of a sudden you were a happy baby -- crawling after your big brother, standing on your head, and at 10 months singing all of the lyrics to "You Are My Sunshine."
Even after 20 years, you are still my sunshine.
When I was a young girl of 9, I took a small walk into the woods by myself. It was 1970, and the world was changing so radically. My friend Kathy was gone to church, and Jan had moved away to Columbus, GA. The Vietnam war raged, and the social world of the United States was at odds with itself.
It was just me, a beautiful sunshiney fall day, and the woods. As I walked through the piney woods, what I noticed was that the sun streamed through the pine-boughs and puddled on the woods-floor like water. In between the puddles were shadows. The shadows invited me to dance. In my dance with the woods, I realized that I was different than my friends somehow. I connected with the world as it was then, and realized that I could not change the flow of time; but, I also realized that I could impact that flow by simply "being": being myself, living my life, recognizing my potential, sympathizing with others . . . making a difference.
I have never forgotten that day in my life. Some would say it was an epiphany or a paradigm-shift. For me, it was but a prelude to my life as a mother. The flow of life impacts all that it touches: father, mother, brother, sister, colleague, ideals, but most of all daughters and sons.
My daughter at 20 years old dances in the light-pools, sings the songs of joy, and fills my life . . . and she reminds me that each day is a chance for all of us to make an impact; each smile a chance to uplift; each moment of humor a chance to invite laughter into the world.
Welcome to the world at 20, Baby Girl!
Thank you for sharing your eternal beauty ~
I love you,
Mom

Monday, July 04, 2005

My Independence Day Hero

As I think about my life and the heroes that inhabit it, I can currently think of only one person that I, as an adult, have found to epitomize my idea of the true cultural ideal of a hero. His name is Carl Bell. He is currently the Vice President of Administration at Universal Tax Systems; however, he is much more than that. He served two tours of duty in Vietnam as an Army Ranger, and he currently holds the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. I came to know him when I assumed the Randstad management role on-site at Universal Tax Systems some three and-one-half years ago. He was then, and continues to be, a rock of rationality, common-sense, and compassion when confronted with employee issues. However, he balanced that with a great sense of humor and a depth of psychological understanding that far out-distanced the requirements of the job. His on-the-job training was beyond that of the traditional requirements of his role. He learned this through his experiences as a military man; and that did not stop as he became a civilian.
Carl Bell stands out amongst other heroes in my life: policemen and women, firemen and women, 911 operators, teachers, social workers, and the numerous volunteers in our community who make things happen. Why is this?
Believe me, as an American existing in this part of the 21st Century, I know that I am spoiled. I can choose to get a meal in 30 seconds or less in a drive-through; have an instant message with a friend hundreds or thousands of miles away in a nano-second; or simply take for granted my right to vote. I can also depend upon my teachers, police officers, firemen/women, and social workers to be there at my beck and call. But I believe that I truly live in a delusional world when it comes to recognizing the sacrifice that is given 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, 365 days per year by those who have given, and continue to give, the ultimate sacrifice for me to enjoy the luxuries of my life. Those are the men and women who give of themselves to defend our country in the armed services; the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, and Reserves. These men and women put their lives on the line for the sake of America: It's beliefs, values, morals, and politics. They defend us from those who seek to take away that which is valuable: Our freedom.
But, freedom is not free. For those of us who do not pursue a tour or career in the military; we have an obligation to uphold the freedom of our country; for us and for those who serve it. Our obligation is one that requires action. We must vote, have a voice in our politics, and most importantly we must support our troops in spite of a political/cultural environment that does not support the conflict or war that may be current in our time. It is very important that we step back from the politics and remember that we are privileged to have citizens who are willing to give of themselves for our country -- in spite of the current political support that might be given to our troops at the time.
To be a citizen is very different from simply being an American. A citizen has a duty to his/her country. For many that duty lies in patriotism: the love of country, the support of troops, the act of voting, and the rearing of children to love their country to name a few. However for some, citizenship means giving of their mortal selves: To put oneself out in the world of danger for the sake of one's country and countrymen/women.
We can all live our lives day-to-day, managing our money and counting our blessings; but, do we realize that each and every day that we exist, there are men and women who are out in the world (yes, the entire world) protecting our borders and the American Democratic way?
Carl Bell gives of himself everyday . . . he coaches and counsels employees; he provides insight into the work-flow; but most of all, he holds his shoulders upright, remembers his fallen comrades as well as those who, like he, survived a war that no one wanted to remember. Every step, every conversation, every thought is not considered without the very things that make himewho he is: a soldier, a comrade, a leader, a volunteer, a husband, a father, an American.
He is my hero.
God Bless our troops; God Bless America.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

The Burdens We Bear

I awakened this past Monday morning with what I thought was a "crick" in my neck and upper shoulders. For most of the morning I had to turn my upper body in lieu of turning my head to observe something or speak with someone. Aggravating, I thought, but a little naproxen sodium should relieve it. And it did -- until the next morning, when it would return with a vengeance.
Very early this morning after struggling with insomnia along with the constant "crick", it dawned on me that this pain was a physical manifestation of the burdens that I have been bearing throughout the last several months. Let me state here that I don't dig ditches for a living, so I'm not talking about physical pain associated with day-to-day physical labor. This physical pain is associated with the burdens of the psyche.
There isn't a one of us that does not experience stress in our lives, be it good or bad stress. In fact, each day we experience both. I am currently overjoyed at my recent promotion that puts me in a position that I have sought for almost eight months. However at the same time, I am struggling with numerous personal situations that are having a profound impact on my life.
I have two children who are now young adults. Both are in college, and both are in that place in their lives where they are ready to fly the coop. Of course that is a natural transition, and a joyous one, but from a mother's perspective, it is not without its complex mix of sadness, fear, and a great sense of pride and accomplishment. They are great people who will make the best decisions for themselves as those situations occur, but in their process of leaving, I also transition with them. And I'm not very sure about where that transition will lead.
My mother died two and-a-half years ago, and I miss her constantly. Now more than ever before. With my brother and me, she experienced (and survived) what I am now confronted with. So, I talk to her a lot -- when I cannot sleep, when I'm driving to work, and when I become afraid of what life is dealing me. But, I miss the sound of her voice and her laughter, her directness, and mostly the opportunity to see her. Sometimes when I go out to lunch with my two close friends from work, a passing woman in her 60s will catch my eye. There will be something about her that strongly reminds me of my mother. I find myself overwhelmed with emotion, and the experience will stay with me for hours.
The German poet and philosopher, Goethe, once wrote: "That which does not kill us makes us stronger." Although this is true, it is much deeper than its powerful statement. What lies between those lines is not only the attainment of strength from the survival of those experiences. It is how we bear those burdens, and what we learn from the experience.
And that, my friend, is life in a nutshell.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

The Art of Gifting

I was lucky enough to come in contact with a very spiritual woman in my early 30's. She was a former high-school history teacher who found herself a widow much sooner than she thought. Although she struggled with the loss of her beloved, she held within her the wisdom, spirituality, and strength to know that she had been gifted with his presence for a brief time and that knowledge provided guidance for her to forge a new life. After a time, that new life opened a door for her to meet and then marry an Episcopal Priest, develop a contingent of friends, and become an integral component of the development of many people -- including me.
Pat Zeller saw the world as a place of abundance. It was an abundance of love, growth, food, shelter, and most of all everything that was spiritual. From her perspective and the knowledge that she gained from her life experiences the world and its wealth was a gift for all.
How can that be?
We are taught by society that we must work to gather material worth, and that there is never going to be enough materials to go around. Given that social mindset, we can never work enough to gain enough . . . and if we don't get what we want within a certain timeframe, we will never again have the opportunity to have it. The irony is that the world is absolutely brimming with more than we could ever hope for. We are simply looking in all the wrong places.
In the early 1990's there was an extreme drought in Africa and millions of people were dying of starvation. In an effort to bring this situation to the forefront, there were also many people who were protesting the situation by starving themselves to death as well. As Pat and I spoke about this dire circumstance, she so eloquently pointed out that the forced starvation of the protesters was doing nothing more than reducing them to the level of those who were dying for no apparent reason. She pointed out that humanity's only hope was to live its life to its fullest capabilities . . . enriching its existence, its hope for tomorrow. By doing so, the world in its entirety was lifted up above its struggles. This is the art of gifting in its finest.
I have recieved many a material gift: Christmas presents, birthday presents, Mother's Day presents, etc. The items that are given pale in comparison to the giver's desire to make me happy; to express to me their love. The giver gives not to monitor what the receiver does with the gift, but to give selflessly; to let the gift go when it is in your hands; to give to symbolize in materialist form the love they feel and the fulfillment that giving gives to their heart and soul. The sheer act of giving expands the identity of the giver.
That is why it is so very important to recognize the act of receiving. If gifting expands the giver, then the act of receiving gracefully and with compassion only expands the receiver exponentially. To receive a gift with acceptance is to accept the giver . . . with all of his/her foibles and fallacies. It is to understand that the thing that is given is but a token . . . it is an outward manifestation of that person's soul.
A gift is to be celebrated in both of it's forms: giving and receiving. And those gifts are not only of the material kind. They are also of the life kind: a smile from a colleague, an "I love you" from your child, an expression of concern from a parent or sibling, a pat on the back from your boss, an interaction between employer and employee, the sound of a mocking bird, the beauty of the sunrise or sunset, or simply the act of awakening in the morning.
We give and receive each and every day of our lives. It is only in the recognition of the art of giving and receiving that we increase our lives to a level in which we raise the world. If only one small bar at the time.

Monday, June 06, 2005

A Life of Living and Loving

I have lived an average life. I grew up in the 1960's and 1970's when the world was radically changing. I saw my role as a potential woman as one of the utmost potential . . . never believing that anything could stop me. I burned my bra as a pre-teen, I saw my teenage years as those years that I could push the envelope to its utmost limits. I was invincible.
But what did I really learn from the cultural climax of those years? Part of what I learned was from my family. My Mom and Dad grew up in the late 30's and early 40's, and they knew what it meant to be stretched financially. They both had families-of-origin that had multiple children . . . my mother was a twin and so was her brother and sister. Life was not easy for either of my parents. But they provided for me and my brother an almost idyllic childhood. Considering the culture in which I grew up, what really created this wonder that I remember?
What really happened was this: My parents trusted my brother and me. They gave us the tools to be successful young people and young adults. Then they watched over us. Did they really micro-manage us? Absolutely not. We were allowed to make our mistakes and somehow manage the small portions of our lives that existed as children. We somehow knew that we were but shadows that lived beneath the sight-line of the adults in our world; but we also knew that we had to live our lives and suffer our consequences. Sometimes that was not easy.
I cannot say that everything in my life was perfect. The boy next door tied me to a tree in my front yard, and I was petrified until my parents came home from the movies on that day. But, that situation did not stop me from being who I was. What I knew was that he was a jerk; and so did my parents. I was not a lesser person for his actions.
What I know that is perfect is this: All the kids in the neighborhood re-inacted "Little Red Riding Hood" for the 8mm camera. We were all stars: And I loved every minute of being the "Big Bad Wolf." We built multi-livel tree-houses together and my mother popped Jiffy-Pop Popcorn to commemorate the moment. We simply loved our lives.
But what do those memories really mean now? The meaning is truly profound. I could not possibly be the person I am now without my past. And what my past gave me was this: The ability to seize upon the moment. To recognize the value of each individual and to know that those strengths are the very things that make us who we are.
How lucky I am . . . I have lived a life knowing the best of times and the worst of times. And I have lived through those things with friends and loved-ones who have been there through them all. And I have learned that there is absolutely nothing as paramount as those relationships that are life-long. For Kathy Ball and Jan Rohner; Thank you for being there throughout my life and making life a better place to be. For Mom, Dad, and Cliff: How can I ever say how much you all have meant to me?? You have taught me to be more than I ever thought I could be, and each of you has supported me in my own internal growth. To my children: you have taught me to love unconditionally and to choose my battles wisely. Each day my heart grows bigger with the capacity love . . . all because I have loved you.
I have had the best of all worlds: A family who educated me, loved me, and supported me; an absolutely perfect group of friends who lived my life with me and made it memorable; and, as an adult, two children who have continued to remind me that life is wondrous, difficult, and to be celebrated.
Thank God that I am here to celebrate their lives, successes, failure, loves, joys, and sadness . . . this is what living is all about.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Farewell To Amy

Some things are difficult to write about . . . or talk about . . . or think about. But my psychology background tells me that getting it out in the open is the best way to deal with it. So, hang on because here we go!
Amy came on board at work as a Randstad temporary in the Technical Support Department during my first hiring season as an on-site manager with this client. She brought with her a maturity that isn't often seen in a just-graduated college student. She ended up being hired on as a permanent employee with the client, and quickly ascended to the level of a Technical Support Supervisor. No surprise.
She seemed to make the fast adjustment to supervisor . . . she knew how to run the required reports, how to measure the successes and failures of her team, and how to lead them to improvement. What she brought to the table was incredibly more than that: She brought the innate ability to lead by example, to model integrity, and to strive for the balance of an individual's capability vs. the company's goals. In essence, she brought with her the wisdom of someone twice her age.
Thus, it comes as no surprise that a young woman of her caliber is moving forward and onward in her career. Amy, whose maiden last name is Armijo (which I love because of it's Native American strength) will now be leaving us in two weeks. Selfishly, I am deeply saddened by this; but I also celebrate her. She is joining a couple who seek to broaden the individual's horizons and to comb the globe in an effort to make the world a better place. I know of no-one else who could fit in better in this environment than Amy.
When Amy was hired as a permanent employee, the then-manager had a two-dimensional, full-scale replica of Amy made. This image of Amy was affectionately named "Tudy" for her two-dimensional qualities, and she greeted anyone who dared to enter the Technical Support environs. Tudy went missing several months ago, and all of us in the Customer Care Department (of which Tech Support is a sub-department) fretted over what could have happened to her. Tudy came home today, and Amy announced her resignation.
I don't know about anyone else, but I will visit Tudy often. I will talk to her and await her quick laughter and easy way with her self. I will ask her to take me to lunch and swerve the SUV while I attempt to put on my lip-liner on the way back to work. Most of all, I will look into her eyes for the wisdom and genuiness that I have come to covet.
So long, Amy. You will truly be missed.

All In A Day's Work, AKA: A Hard Day's Night

A colleague of mine sent a very generous email to me today in which he stated that he had come close to understanding why I do what I do for a living. You see, I work for Randstad North America; specifically for the division of Randstad NA called Inhouse Services. Randstad is what most people call a "temp service". We are the 4th largest staffing agency in the world, with our true home office in Amsterdam and our North American office on good old Windy Hill Road in Smyrna, GA. The bulk of Randstad's placement services do tend to be of the temporary nature; however, we also place temporary-to-hire and direct hire positions. We can also act as a headhunter if necessary. We pride ourselves on a culture of "to know, serve, and trust".
But, that's neither here nor there. This colleague of mine originally worked as a temporary through Randstad, and I was his manager. After working as a temporary for almost 9 months, he was hired on in a permanent position with the client. Since that time, he has been promoted to a position of Team Leader within the Technical Support Department; thus, he has assumed a role in which he coaches and develops all of the employees, both permanent and temporary, to success.
When I started with Randstad as an Agent in the local Randstad branch office five years ago, the primary focus was on selling to our clients. I never really thought that I was good at selling anything to anyone, but I somehow struggled through and met the required sales goals. What kept me going through that time was the continuous opportunity that I had to interact with people and to provide some type of possible solution to their employment needs. Every once in a while, I was really lucky and was able to play a pivotal role in the applicant's attainment of the "perfect" job.
It was only after I was promoted to the "on-site/Inhouse Services" world (which means that one agent is working to hire people for only one client -- and in an office at the client's facility at that) that I had the true opportunity to be a part of not only the recruiting and hiring process, but also the coaching and development side as well. Randstad's ideal philosophy is that those of us in the field hire the right people for the right job.
This is the ideal, but not the reality. The reality is that it takes all kinds of people to make the world go 'round, and I don't always have the perfect match for the positions with this client. But what I have found is that no matter the type of employee, I have always come away from that professional relationship a changed person: More knowledgeable about the nature of people, more compassionate about the day-to-day struggles that we all have with life and work, and much more aware of how tenuous our own professional roles are and how quickly our lives could be changed by losing a job.
I consider myself a person who is "gifted" each and every day by the professional relationships that I have . . . and when there is a day when I'm feeling really low about my job, I remember that in the fall of each year, I get the opportunity to meet and hire new employees, provide guidance, and once again learn something new from each of them.
What more could I ask for?

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Living in the Moment

When you think about it, living in the moment is not something that us Western Civilization people do very well. We love to live in the past, and we constantly dream of our future aspirations. The moment seems to be something that truly escapes us. We look to our past architecture as a beacon from where we evolved -- a ziggaraut to our history; and, we look to evolving techology as north-star that plots our destiny. Christ died for our sins, was resurrected, and it awaiting the second coming. But, what about now? What about the moment in which we live? In our current state of being, it seems so trite to talk about living in the moment. That kind of talk evokes an Eastern metaphysical philosophy that pales in comparison to the in-your-face Western culture in which we currently live. But is the in-your-face Western style an actual step-above the metaphysical element of the Eastern views? When I think about my own life, I recognize the conflict that exists between the somewhat selfish, instant-gratification-style of the current Western ethos and the meditative, synergistic style of the Eastern path. I know that in my reality I want what I want now, but I also live my life knowing that what I want for my future takes time, patience, and growth. I guess I want to know how I can bridge the two ways of thinking. Can the two be reconciled? The financial, social reality of the world in which we live certainly doesn't help to close that gap. I have a dear friend/colleague, Tracie, who is remodeling her new home. This project is on a strict time-line, and she and her newlywed husband are working their 40-60 hours per week on their "real" jobs plus an additional 30 hours or more per week to see this project to its fruition. In a way, they have brought their past and future goals into the level playing field of the present. In a Zen-like fashion, they have taken their present goals and made them very "real" in the Eastern effort to enhance their future. They are living in this moment . . . and no other. What they do right now is all that matters, and they know that if they live long enough to see it through, it will benefit them in ways that are unknoweable to an instant-gratification society. And, if for some reason they and this project do not reach its plotted point, then it was the individual moments of effort that made the project successful, and not the project's finality. What a pinnacle! What a lesson for all of us. In actuality, all of us live in the moment. Just not all of us can recognize that the moment is all we have. See it for what it is, and celebrate it. This moment is all you have.