Thoughts on Freedom

Mother Earth from Space

Freedom on Mother Earth

We’re celebrating our National Independence Day here in the United States of America today. It’s a great day both in our national history and in our contemporary celebrations and festivities. The fact that’s it’s also a day off work for many US Citizens is a real plus!!

The founding fathers (and I really think we ought to mention the founding mothers as well. We know they were there and had a lot to do with how things turned out. Might as well acknowledge and appreciate their many, valuable contributions too!) wrote in the Declaration of Independence that we are all created equal and that we have all been given certain unalienable rights among which are “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Pretty powerful stuff. Powerful then. Still powerful – and relevant – today. In this post, I want to focus on the second right, Liberty or, as I will use it, Freedom.

What really makes a person ‘free’? Ask yourself, “How do I view ‘Freedom’?” I can only speak for myself, so I’ll share my take on two possible ways of looking at freedom.

Is it freedom from something? For example, some people speak of freedom from oppression, injustice, and other such undesirable, confining or restricting behaviors. The problem I have with looking at freedom in that context is that my freedom itself is then dependent on the actions of another, of someone or groups of people outside of myself. As if they control or create my freedom or lack of freedom. As if they are responsible for my experiencing freedom – or not. That, to me, is viewing freedom from the “lack” side. I don’t actually have freedom or I can’t create experiences of freedom unless these other, external forces (people, events, etc.) allow me to have it. That viewpoint creates in me a sense that if I can just expel this undesirable element (e.g. injustice) from my experience, then I will be free.

I prefer to move in the direction of what I do want rather than fight against what I do not want. I want to control my own experiences of freedom. I want to create my experiences of freedom in ways that include what I like rather than exclude what I dislike. I prefer to view it as freedom to do something. I am free to respect people and treat them as equals. I am free to be kind to my neighbors or, for that matter, to anyone I meet along my path. I am free to interpret my experiences of life in ways that please me and add value to the growing consciousness of humanity. I am free to believe that we are evolving and moving towards a world where we can choose peace and cooperation. I am free to expect that we will find sustainable ways to share the planet’s resources effectively so that all have enough to meet their needs.

We are, each of us, independent individuals, living separate, and yet, connected lives. In the USA, we celebrate our national independence today. I suggest that we broaden it to include our larger human family and yes, even the animals, all living things and Mother Earth herself and call it Interdependence Day. We survive individually on this planet; we thrive when we act together on this planet. Thriving together sounds much better to me!

“Freedom to” is more empowering and gives an open, inclusive context that allows each person to choose how they will add to the collective experiences that we all share. On this day that the USA honors and celebrates its Freedom, I offer the idea that all people everywhere can celebrate our creator-given right of human freedom to make a difference, to move in a direction of positive growth and to support and encourage others in respectful ways as they do the best they can to be the free people they are and are meant to be!

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Think Positive

Complaint Free World

A Complaint Free World Logo and Wristband

Several years ago, I ran across a website that caught my attention. It is “A Complaint Free World” (http://www.acomplaintfreeworld.org/). There is a book by Will Bowen titled, A Complaint Free World, that goes along with the site and the ideas and the mission. I got the book, read it and decided that this would be good for me, so I decided to give it a try. The essential part is going 21 days in a row without complaining.

The theory is that it takes 21 days to form a habit, so if you can refrain from complaining for 21 days straight, you will have formed a good habit. I said, “That sounds good. OK, I’ll do it!!” They recommend that you use a wristband, supplied when you buy the book, that says “A Complaint Free World” on it and every time you forget and complain about something, you switch it from one wrist to the other. “No problem,” I thought, “I don’t complain that much anyway. I’ll do my 21 days quickly and be on my way!” Oh, how wrong I was!!

Not an hour later I was switching the wristband to the other side! Then a few minutes later, I thought, “Oh, since I just switched it, it’s no big deal if I complain again now.” After a few good minutes of complaining I was ready to start again, a bit humbler this time! This would not be as easy as I had imagined. But it was immediately apparent that I would become very aware of my existing habit of complaining! And I figured that had to be a good thing, so I stuck with it and started making if further and further towards the 21 day goal.

Once I reached a week, I thought I was really doing well and I actually held out hope that I could make it to 21. I WAS doing well, but getting to 21 days in a row without a single complaint is (or at least was for me) a very significant challenge. I made it to 7 or 8 days several times, but then would get caught up in the heat of the moment about something and before I knew it – out came the complaint. Switch the wristband; start over. Ugh.

I was slowly getting control of my tongue. In the book they made a distinction between thinking a thought and saying something about it. So, they weren’t trying to get me to never have a thought of complaint; but they did want to help me curb my tendency to share that opinion with the world. And, I had to (sometimes reluctantly) admit that I did feel better not complaining out loud about “whatever”.

Months passed. I made it to 14 days! It felt awesome, and a bit like a modern day miracle! I was sure I could do it now. But I slipped again and had to start over. Darn wristband… (Oops, I guess that’s a complaint too, isn’t it? 🙂  ) Weeks and then months went by; I had trouble even getting back to 14 days, much less 21. I think I may have made it to 18 days once before I caught myself complaining out loud about something. And then it happened. The wristband broke. Obviously from excessive use!! I had a decision to make.

Replacing it with another wristband would have been easy enough, but I thought about where I was on the way towards my goal and decided that I no longer needed that reminder. I had clearly formed a new, good habit of not complaining as much about things and considering the effects of my words on others – and myself – before speaking them. I was ready to move on.

Where I found myself at that point (more than a year after I had begun my “rehab”) was indeed an improved version of myself, but it wasn’t as satisfying as I thought it might be. I had, for the most part, eliminated an unwanted item from my expressions, but I hadn’t really gotten rid of thinking the complaining thoughts in my head. “There must be more to do… what is it?”

It took me years to integrate an obvious answer to that question that had welled up within me. I needed to replace the complaining thoughts with something that felt better to me. Instead of looking at the complaints for what they were – in other words, negative feeling thoughts that I did not like or want – I needed to replace those with better feeling thoughts about the topic at hand. You know the old saying, “What you see is what you get.”

Well, whether I was thinking about complaining itself or about NOT complaining, the result was the same. I was still thinking about the things that gave rise to my urge to complain. I was focused on the very things I did not like and was forcing myself to control my urge to report what I was seeing. I was seeing things to complain about and feeling the urge to complain and, though now unspoken, I was still ever on the lookout for those complaint-inducing things so that I could control my tongue. Quite a bit of unnecessary effort there! And as alluded to earlier, not really very satisfying at all.

Much better and entirely more satisfying is finding some positive things about the situation (person, event, problem, circumstance, etc.) that I could focus on instead. Even if there were ten things to observe and nine of them were negative, if I could find a way to focus on the one positive aspect, I felt better inside. I started to care more about how I felt and as I reached for (and sometimes I really had to stretch!) something positive to look at, I discovered that, more often than not, I was able to find that good thing and focus on it in a way that relieved some of the urge to complain. You know the old saying, “What you see is what you get.”

Now I started to see good things in people and situations that used to aggravate me. For example, I found my attitude towards nasty traffic could sometimes be a way for me to listen to more of my favorite music or catch more of a program I enjoy on the radio or a CD. People that I used to find difficult to be with became much easier to be around and interact with since I started observing and reporting the things that I liked about our relationship or the circumstances we were in together.

Looking for the silver lining, the positive aspects, of whatever I am experiencing, even if it at first appears mostly negative, allows me to find more and more of those positive things. It has made a huge difference in how I feel. More consistently now, I feel much better, much happier, much more satisfied inside.  Looking for – and expecting – the GOOD seems to attract, like a strong magnet, more of those good feeling thoughts, people and experiences into my life.

No complaints here! 🙂

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Roger

Cameron and Roger

My son, Cameron, and our dog, Roger, relaxing on the deck!

I have a gym membership! His name is Roger. He has four legs, mostly black fur and he has an uncanny knack for getting me up and out every day!! Whatever notions I used to have about “sleeping in” have long since vanished in favor of getting up and greeting the day with my four legged trainer and social ambassador!

When we first got Roger I was about 20 pounds heavier than I am now and I knew a handful of my neighbors, mostly the ones in our block. We got Roger near the end of July in 2007 and we didn’t have a fenced in back yard. So, for each and every one of his outdoor needs each day, it was on with the leash and out we go. That particular summer it was hot, as in VERY hot and humid. It was one of the Cincinnati area summers of record setting heat indexes.

My sister has a Great Pyrenees dog named Patti Cakes. She weighs about 90 pounds. About a week after we got Roger, my sister asked if we could watch Patti while she went on vacation. OK, sure – no problem. The vacation was 10 days. For whatever reason, I decided to give each dog their own walks. And I was already getting in the habit of walking Roger once early in the morning and then in the late afternoon after I got home from work. So, now I found myself taking four walks a day, two with Roger and two with Patti.

It was so hot and sticky, I don’t know what I was thinking. I’m the kind of person that starts sweating just thinking about the heat! By the end of the second afternoon walk each day, I would just be dripping with sweat. But I kept it up. After several days, I noticed that I needed to tighten my belt a notch. Hmmm… maybe it’s not all that bad. So, I found the first silver lining in this self-imposed regimen of heat walking, I mean dog walking! After all, the dogs were so wonderful; they deserved to get their walks, right?

I kept telling myself that they needed their walks and I kept providing them, for the 10 day vacation and then just with Roger every day after that (and, well, really to this day, June 30, 2013!). By the end of August 2007, I had dropped 15 pounds and lost a couple inches off my waistline. The pounds just melted and dripped right off of me! I never put the weight back on! OK, I put maybe 5 back on and would re-lose that again – kind of seasonal gain/loss events.

Now I’m at the point where I’ve lost another 5 – 10 pounds, a couple more inches off the waistline and I feel better than I have in years! I had always wanted to drop some of that extra, unnecessary weight and inches, but I guess I just didn’t have the right motivation. Thanks to my trainer and great friend, Roger, I have had all the inspiration I needed to keep up with my daily workouts! And at this point he simply won’t let me not take him on walks. He insists. And, since I love him, I take him, even on days when I would prefer not to. Even in weather that isn’t perfect.

So, rain or shine, snow or wind, we are out there a couple times a day, Roger and I, doing what we do. Sounds kind of like the old commercials for the dependability of the US Postal Service delivery, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” Yep, that’s it, and WE don’t take Sundays off!! 🙂

I mentioned earlier that Roger was not just my trainer but also my social ambassador. Having walked the neighborhood twice a day for the past 6 years I have met, as you can probably imagine, a LOT of people that live within a couple miles of our house. At first it was other dogs owners / walkers. But it has steadily branched out into spontaneous conversations with neighbors working in their yards or coming or going or talking a walk and we share a few very enjoyable moments together.

I decided early on that if I’m going to be out there walking Roger, I’m going to make a point of being friendly to everyone I meet and wave to cars as they drive by. I think people stared at me sideways for  a while. They might have been wondering, “Do I know that guy?” But with patience and a friendly smile, they have come around and now if I forget to wave (or if I have my hands full – remember what dogs “doo” on walks!), they wave to me first!!  Nice! Always makes me smile! Even bigger when they start it!

Not long ago, a guy was out walking and stopped to introduce himself. He identified himself as “the guy that drives the green Honda Element.” I said, “Oh yeah, of course! I know where you live; I’ve seen your car there many times. Now I know who you are!” I had waved to him for years when he would pass me in his car. But I had never seen him in his yard and so had not actually “met” him yet. Turns out we have mutual friends in the neighborhood and now we’re connected.

Roger loves to go up and say hi to people. Sometimes he simply won’t let me go past a house if he sees someone out in the yard or driveway without at least going up and saying hello. So, he has provided dozens and dozens of opportunities for me to get to know my neighbors and spread some good cheer. He wouldn’t have it any other way!

I think gym memberships are great. And I just love participating in social networking. My descriptions of those two things might add a different dimension to what most people think of. I highly recommend giving my version a try. Chances are you’ll smile often, connect with nature & people and enjoy the benefits of regular exercise in a really fun and personally meaningful way!

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Game Day Home Delivery

Pat and Siblings

Pat with his Brothers and Sisters at Game Day Home Delivery (Missing 1 Other Brother)

Game Day Home Delivery – what a simple idea! For people that can’t make it to a Cincinnati Reds ball game anymore, how about taking the game to them? My initial definition (open to evolving!) is: Bringing an “as realistic as possible” experience of being at a Reds ball game into the homes of those that can no longer get to the ball park.

My oldest brother, Pat, was the first recipient of a Game Day Home Delivery (before we called it that!), when he could no longer make it to Great American Ball Park to watch his beloved Cincinnati Reds in person. Pat passed on in May 2013 after dealing with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) for about three years. You can read more about him and that initial Game Day Home Delivery (GDHD) in my earlier blog posted at https://jdrichter57.wordpress.com/2013/06/18/brother-pat/

After I realized how very much Pat and the whole family enjoyed the GDHD, it dawned on me! There must be other fans out there, every bit as much of a life-long fan as Pat was, every bit as committed, every bit as involved, every bit as disappointed to no longer be able to attend, in person, something that has meant so much and brought so much enjoyment over the years. Wouldn’t those fans love having a game day delivery of a ballpark-like experience right at home with their family and friends?

If you’re like me, you already know the answer! The next question, and the one I’m currently working on is, “So, how can we make it happen for more of those very deserving fans?” Before I get to a couple of my initial thoughts on that, I’d like to give the context in which I have been viewing this idea.

The Cincinnati Reds are the oldest team in baseball. That means something – and it should!! They got it all started. In terms of sports and fun, they helped shape our country and added so much to what we now enjoy as our “national pastime”. Their leadership has been clear from the very beginning. And it continues now both on and off the field. The Reds Community Fund http://cincinnati.reds.mlb.com/cin/community/rcf.isp
has started many programs aimed at helping groups within our community. Programs such as the Urban Youth Academy http://cincinnati.reds.mlb.com/cin/community/uya.jsp
and the Rookie Success League http://cincinnati.reds.mlb.com/cin/community/rcf_rookie_success.jsp
and the Miracle League Field http://mlb.mlb.com/cin/community/miracle_league.jsp
are just a few examples of their outstanding leadership in our community. With programs like these and their long-term commitment to giving back to the community that they proudly call home, the Reds have set the bar high indeed.

Having grown up in the area, I am very proud of our Reds team and the tremendous organization that is behind the game we see on the field. Through their outreach programs, and many other organizations connected in some way to them, the Reds affect far more than just the game of baseball – they impact our lives, and – often – touch our hearts. Who among us would not be moved when we witnessed the creation and dedication of the “Joe Nuxhall Miracle League Fields” http://www.nuxhallmiracleleague.org
in Fairfield, Ohio?  Helping individuals with disabilities to play baseball, regardless of their abilities (part of The Miracle League’s Mission) touches all of us. It makes sense in our hearts. It makes us feel good knowing that there are caring, loving, and imaginative people out there willing to go to great lengths to make someone’s life better, richer, full of hope and inclusion.

I applaud every program the Reds have in place or have influenced to be in place or have inspired in some way. It is all great stuff. It is part of the collective intangibles that make an organization such as the Reds “real”. They are accessible. They are inclusive. They are leaders. They are part of the fabric of our lives in Cincinnati.

I have a challenge for the Reds. Most of the programs (as in some of the examples above) that they sponsor or support are aimed at the youth of our area. Awesome! Much Needed! Thank you!! Paying it forward with the next generation really makes sense, and we all understand the value of providing opportunities for our children to help them grow up into responsible, caring citizens and adults who are happy to be part of their community wherever their life journey may lead them.

What about the other end of the spectrum? What about those who have spent much of their lives supporting, encouraging, attending, instructing, playing, watching, giving in one way or another to the game of baseball, and in particular in this context, to the Cincinnati Reds? My brother, Pat, was one such individual. Fiercely loyal and unapologetically enthused for all things baseball and Reds, he passed along his love of the game to so many people, I couldn’t begin to count them. From coaching softball teams or teams his children were on, to playing on many leagues over the years, to attending Reds games (or any games his kids or people he knew were playing in) to chatting baseball with friends or for that matter anyone he met along the way, Pat embodied what a true baseball fan is.

And when he could no longer get to the ball park, to watch the team he loved, even just “one more time”, what could be done to quench that thirst, to ease that longing, to give back and honor a man who had given so much to the rest of us? That is the real-life crucible in which Game Day Home Delivery was born.

My challenge to the Reds? Let’s make Game Day Home Delivery one of the regular programs offered by the Reds Organization. The Reds are already leaders in baseball and in the community. Here is another opportunity for them to raise the bar a notch higher. Every team in baseball will want to follow the Reds’ example when they see the real and heart-warming benefits of giving back to those who have helped you become who you are. Such elders in our community deserve the recognition, gratitude and enjoyment that a Game Day Home Delivery would provide. Surely no one would prefer for our wise mentors and benefactors to slowly slide off the radar and become invisible to us. Game Day Home Delivery is a way to continue to include them and keep them relevant to all of us, in spite of their inability to attend games at this point in their remarkable lives.

We all have a story. Let’s allow them to continue to write theirs and become part of ours. Do you support the idea of Game Day Home Delivery? I welcome your comments and feedback! I know this blog entry was a bit long. Thanks for reading!

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Brother Pat

Brother Pat

My brother, Pat, at the Game Day Home Delivery Aug 25, 2012

My brother, Pat, was a real fan of baseball and, in particular, of the Cincinnati Reds! You know the type, pretty fanatical about their team, ALWAYS watching or listening to their games. In fact, I don’t know of any that Pat missed in the last 40 years or so! But I am sure going to miss him. He passed on a few weeks ago (May 2013) after about a three year experience of ALS, better known to many as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. It is a particularly nasty, and currently incurable, disease and was extremely painful for him down the final stretch. He told us at our family Christmas gathering (Dec 2012) that he was ready to die. And while it was quite surreal to have that conversation with Pat and all of us, my brothers and sisters, circled around him, it was a good thing he prepared us then.

His actual passing on May 29th was quick and, all things considered, a huge blessing. And while we all miss him so much, we are also sincerely grateful that he is no longer in such pain. Knowing he is fine now – and really, really happy to be out of that body – makes it easier for those of us that are still here.

That is enough background and context so that the following story will make sense.

At the beginning of last summer, Pat was still able, albeit in a wheelchair, to get to Great American Ball Park to enjoy a Reds home game. He had a great time, in spite of the logistics! We hoped that we could get him to one more game later in the season, but by August, it was basically unrealistic. For one, the Reds were in contention to win their division, so the crowds were bigger, plus it was HOT. Those of you who know Cincinnati in the summer, especially July and August, know how humid and sticky it can get. And the logistics would have been trickier since his condition had worsened somewhat over those two months. So, instead of taking Pat out to the ballgame, we did the next best thing. We “took the ballgame to him!”

My brothers and sisters and I (and some other family members) packed up “the works” and headed to Pat’s house on Saturday, August 25th to watch the Reds take on their division arch rival, the St. Louis Cardinals. It was a late afternoon game that started at 4:05 PM. Pat knew we were coming, but we had a few surprises in store for him. When his wife opened the door, in we came all dressed up in Reds apparel, toting concessions: Peanuts, Cracker Jacks, Hot Dogs, Brats and Metts! My sister even brought cupcakes decorated on top to look like baseballs with red stitching! The fun and laughter started and our game was underway!

Some of Pat’s children (my nieces) were already there when we got there or joined later when they could. We had a packed house, just like a sellout at the ball park! We even printed out realistic-looking tickets customized for their living room, so everyone had their own “seat”. Having air conditioning was a big plus on a hot August day and being able to enjoy simple conversations during the game made it very special indeed.

We tuned in the game on the TV and enjoyed watching together. During commercials, we turned the sound down and played a trivia quiz game, one question per inning, that we made up starring Pat. Questions were things like, how old was Pat when he went to his first Reds ball game? And who was Pat’s favorite player from the Big Red Machine era? We gave out prizes (Reds baseball cards) for correct answers. We stood for the national anthem and sung our “Pat-customized” version of “Take me out to the Ball Game” during the seventh inning stretch. We ate ourselves silly and laughed and talked and had a great time. To make for a perfect story, the Reds won that day!!

When we were leaving, it was clear that we had made a difference. Pat thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It was, for him, much better than going to the ball park. He had the best of all worlds – being with so many of his family members, enjoying good food and fun, being in a place that was very comfortable, watching his beloved Reds win a game – it didn’t get much better than that. We all went home happy, so glad that we had made the effort to put together an experience Pat was sure to enjoy and certain to remember.

In fact, over four months later, back at Pat’s house for our family Christmas gathering, one of his daughters, pulled me aside to tell me something. With tears in her eyes, she thanked me for putting together that special day for her dad. She said he talks about it all the time and how much fun it was. Wiping a tear from my own eye, I realized it wasn’t just an event that happened one time, it was a memory with good feelings that Pat and his family enjoyed over and over. It helped him get through some rough days when other things weren’t so happy. Yes, we really did make a difference.

Ever since we took the ball game to Pat, I had been thinking that if it meant so much to him, might it mean a lot to other people who can’t make it to the ball park any longer? After my niece’s comments about how long-lasting the positive effects were, I knew something more had to come from this. The idea of “Game Day Home Delivery” was born!

Check out my next blog entry to find out more!

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