Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Courage and Determination

I was hiding out in the stairwell alcove of the building next door to my office when I heard a familiar sound:

Scrape, Clunk. Rattle, scuff.

Scrape, Clunk. Rattle, scuff.

Scrape, Clunk. Rattle, scuff.

Slow, repetitive, predictable, I knew without looking the source of the noise.

It was The Old Man with the Walker.

I've seen him before, but I've heard him more times than I've seen him. Usually he comes through the halls of my office building about this time every day, but today, rainy and cold as it was, he was bypassing my office building and was instead bypassing the office building and traversing the sidewalk between the buildings.

Scrape, Clunk. Rattle, scuff.

The Scrape was his walker dragging as he ended the four-phase cycle of a step.

The Clunk was when he put the front wheels down to roll, and advance a few inches along his designated slow-speed highway.

The Rattle was when he picked up the front legs of the walker, and the crazy-wheels on those two legs wobbled momentarily in the air.

The scuff was when he moved one foot forward a few inches to take another step.

Scrape, Clunk. Rattle, scuff.

Have you ever seen an inch-worm? An inch-worm is Blazing Saddles compared to The Old Man with the Walker.

I first saw him today probably 30 yards up the sidewalk, inch-worming his way along. He was dressed in faded dungarees, sort-of-white sneakers, and a yellow rain-coat with a blue hood pulled over his head. It wasn't raining at the moment, but it was NorthWest Rain Forest raining for most of the day. Still, he chose to walk along the path instead of short-cutting through the building.

I've never talked to him. I've never stared at him as he passed by the door to my office ... instead I paid him the left-handed compliment of ignoring him as he made his painful way.

Today, it took maybe three minutes to traverse the maybe-thirty-yards to pass my non-observation point. He was hunched over, skinny-legged, and in his parka-hidden crooked posture I discerned a man of probably Methuselah-age. Or perhaps Methuselah's grandfather.

As he finally passed my observation point at a sub-snail pace, I watched him covertly. He couldn't see me, and in truth all I saw of him was his knobby hands clutching the handles of his walker.

His walker was not the elegant and expensive design which includes both a fold-down seat on which he could rest, and a wire basket in which he could carry his books.

Instead, he had the absolute cheapest, basic model ... a tubular aluminum frame, handles to grip, and small wobbly wheels in the front.

It was my impression that all that he could afford, and it was good enough because it enabled him to walk from place to place ... which he clearly could not do without some kind of mechanical aid.

Not looking to impress anybody, not asking for help, not trying to evoke any kind of sympathy from anyone, The Old Man with the Walker was just getting from Point "A" to Point "B" to go about his business.

He had a small, cheap pack hanging from his scrawny shoulders, so I could only assume that he was a Student at this University. God only knows what he thought he could learn in a College, that he had not already learned from the proverbial School of Hard Knocks. It was my thought that he had already been knocked about in life as much as anyone has, but here he is carrying his maximum load on his back just trying to get from one classroom to another in the ten minutes hiatus between classes.

Scrape, Clunk. Rattle, scuff.

As I watched him move to the West slower than the sun settling in for a well-deserved nights sleep, I thought a thought of actually engaging in a conversation.

I don't know what he would have said, because I don't now anything about The Old Man with the Walker. But I can imagine what I might have said, if I were a better person than I am, and (equally unlikely) he felt the need to apologize for his agonizing, slow but noisy way:

"Don't worry about it, Old Man. We all do the best we can. But I doubt that any of us could claim to do it with the Courage to confront and defeat our impediments so inevitably, and the determination to live our life with such grace as you."
But I didn't say that, and couldn't have said it, and in my mind I would have wished to express my admiration more perfectly.

Still a better man might have said something, and said it more precisely.

In the actual event, I only watched The Old Man with the Walker slowly wend his way toward home, or to his next class, or anyway he wanted to go. He had a better handle on his life than I do, and even though I can move faster and more quietly, I could never do so with the dignity that this Old Man with the Walker demonstrated.

There are people in our world who live every day with pain, and are 'handicapped' so that they cannot move and function with as much unconscious, unaware skill.

But none of us contain one small bit as much grace as The Old Man with the Walker.

Every time I hear that Scrape, Clunk. Rattle, scuff, I think about the pain he must overcome, every day and every way.

And I am humbled.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Blue Jacket

I have been informed that my son has been awarded early promotion and the "Blue Jacket" in the Navy.

Ben is a Master at Arms, stationed at the San Diego Naval Station in California.

You may be aware that early promotion is awarded for exemplary achievement, which is a very important thing to get because along with the rank comes more responsibility, more challenging duties, and a raise in pay.

The "Blue Jacket" is awarded quarterly in a command, so the recipient is referred to as "Blue Jacket of the Quarter". Recipients must perform extra duties, including off-duty study, so it's not just an 'atta-boy' which most service members can expect to receive. All recipients of that award in the command may then compete for "Blue Jacket of the Year", which (again) is awarded to only one member of that command in the year.

I'm very proud of my son for his achievement, not only because it proves what I've always known ... that he is an exceptional man with developing leadership potential ... but also because it indicates that his commander is impressed by his devotion to duty and willingness to make the extra effort to be the best in his chosen profession.

When Ben chose to join the Navy I was concerned, as any parent would be, for the safety of a child who chooses the military during time of war.

Ben is a man now. Happily married with five children (the last two, twins) he has proven that he has left the nest and making his own way in the world. I realized that long before his commander did, I guess, but it never hit me so emphatically as it has now.

He originally joined the navy because his career choice was in Law Enforcement, and he believed that a tour of duty as a Master at Arms would eventually lead to a career as a policeman. He told me that one factor in his decision was that he admired my (short and quite involuntary) term of military service. [Cringe! I never wanted him to join the military because of my influence.]

Now ... I'm not sure if he will complete his tour and then look for a compatible civilian career, or if he will consider this recognition as a clear sign that there is a viable and attractive career for him in the Military.

Not that it matters what I would wish for him to choose, but I have full confidence that whatever choice he makes, he will be successful.

And I'll always be proud of him, no matter what he does.

The Ultimate Marksman

News Release from USPSA:

History Channel Now Seeking The ultimate Marksmen For Its First Competition Show!­

If you are skilled with a pistol, rifle or any other firearm, you could win $100,000 in prizes on TV’s first marksmanship competition show. The History Channel and the producers of "The Ultimate Fighter" are looking for anyone with mind-blowing shooting skills and a big personality to take on exciting physical challenges with multiple guns and mystery projectile weapons.

In each episode, contenders will face team and elimina­tion challenges inspired by real events in history, from Wild West shootouts to modern-day sniper ­missions. Every challenge will reveal the weapons, technologies and tactics of a different era, while hi-speed cameras capture the skillful execution of each test. If you’re in good physical shape, have mastered a firearm and can adapt to new weapons and demanding physical situations, you could be America ’s first “Top Shot.”­

To apply, email ­with your name, city/state, phone number, a recent photo of yourself and a brief explanation of why you should be on the show. Deadline to apply is January 18, 2010. For more information, visit and click on “CASTING” or call 818-728-3729 TODAY!­

* Applicants must be at least 21 years of age, a resident or citizen of the United States