Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Day Fades into Night

Go DJ. I hear Lil Wayne with a side of Crazy Train. The caboose is running down the tracks as a trio of dancers are breaking their backs. Where's the pole? It's over there I know. Shining like silver, she slides then grinds. The stage is set, the boys are ready, let's smoke a little smoke before the weight gets heavy. Drop it low and rise up high. Shake it for everyone and make them cry. The crowd is chanting, she's panting, and this whole place is about to get a dismantling.

Out the back door, or through the front, I watch the headlights as they fog out a blunt. Deep breaths are followed by loud sighs. There are so many people witnessing all of these goodbyes. Take a seat on the curb as he searches for your herb. Hands by your side because in a minute we will ride. What are you talking about you ask? I don't know, but let us take off that mask. Run this town in a floral gown. If I couldn't swim I'd probably drown. These waters are so deep that we sow and we reap. I work this ground and hit up the town. I'm a night rider not a backbiter.

Tomorrow will exist and I'll continue to resist. I'm going to walk all the way. You can guarantee that I'm here to stay. Forever. Don't you ever say never. Double negatives are the way to go, it makes a perfect positive. Of this I know. I can see the lighting strike as the thunder rolls. There is a trembling I feel, and it's epicenter is far below. I got this. I know that you do. Back to the stage. This is all about the brew. Drink it in swallows. Inside I'm feeling hollow. Bored out. Let down. Drop it one more time before I start to frown.

On the bench I need to rest. The crew is inside and they are doing their best. I hear the rumbles and now the mumbles. Turn up the bass and I'll make my case. Hear me out. There's no need to shout. I'll end up in the Hall of Fame even they think I'm lame. I don't care. Don't you dare. This is the start of the magician's art. Smile before you walk that very long mile. It's a beaten path and the Devil will stumble on his very own wrath.

How did that mountain get so tall? It's peak is under my feet and I'm about to fall. It's a long way down to that barren ground. Grab my hand. I mean my wrist. Every story always has a twist. Give me a push so I can go for a swing. I hear the Angels as they start to sing. The ashes smolder as a couple of strangers console her. The song replays and the patrons are here to stay. Down the pole she goes. The stage lights up bright as the day fades into night.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Southbound Plane

I am traveling somewhere tonight, lost aboard a southbound flight. I can see the clouds around me and the sun shining down. My feet are high above the ground and the wind is blowing hard. Listen closely, because it does not make a sound. I am not sure where I will land, or what I will do once I get there. Somewhere along the way I started not to care. When I touch down I hit the ground running. I pass the cars and trucks, and even an old buzzard that is sunning. I have not shaved in over a week, and my future is still a little bleak. I trip and I fall, and now I have to pick the pavement from my teeth. My mouth is bloody, and I have been beaten to a pulp. I look down and my old holey blue jeans are now all muddy.

There is a sign up ahead. I squint to read it, but like the rest of my body, my eyes are all but dead. Where did you come from? Where did you go? That was a reference to Cotton-Eyed Joe. I found myself in Savannah and thought I saw Huck Finn. It is likely that I was mistaken, so I will have to look again. I am standing by a lighthouse whose light has burned out. On the sea is a ship whose compass has lost its route. Out amongst the waves is a horizon that is burning red. I want to wake up again, but this time in my own bed.

I dig my toes into the sand and feel the texture of my hands. I lay down and I then I am fast asleep. When I wake up I am standing in the yard. The Gambler is two steps away as he shuffles my cards. I am out of money, but still have a little bit of time. I have heard all of those lines, and have now made them mine. Come Pick Me Up and listen to some Ryan Adams. In the distance I see lonely eyes that are crying in the rain. Each drop to the ground leaves a stain, and there in that dirt they will remain.

Above me the sky is blue, but around me everything is black. Darkness has quickly befallen, and then my phone rings with a call. There is no voice on the other end, but this is not where the message begins. Over on the cliff a train is smoking its way into the abyss. I hear it coming, but I do not know where it is going. There are words dancing in my mind, and when strung together they make a rhyme. Out one ear and into the other. Give me some toast with a dollop of apple butter.

I think I am going to sit right here and have myself another beer. My knuckles have turned white because I am holding this frosty glass so tight. The walls of the night start to close in on me, and the cold is starting to make me freeze. There is a man in the moon who is lighting a spoon, and all around is a cosmic breeze. The porch lights are on but the person inside is gone. There are shadows moving on the walls, and out of the corner of my eye I see a reflection of someone who is tall.

I am back on my plane on a southbound flight. Wherever it takes me, I hope that it is right. The images burned in my mind were so scary in plain sight. I look out from my seat and can see the sun as its rays shine down. My feet are now even higher off of the tear-stained ground. Where did you come from? Where did you go? I do not want to know. After the plane touches down, I hit the ground running. I pass the cars and trucks, and a motorcycle that is humming. I trip and I fall, and now I have to pick the pavement from my teeth. My mouth is bloody and I have been beaten to a pulp. I look down and my old holey blue jeans are all muddy. Take me away from here. I want to go somewhere that is far, yet near.

It Is Not About How You Start, but How You Finish

There is a story that I recall from the first time that I ever stepped foot onto a basketball court. I was a timid kid, probably no older than five or six, and I was intimidated by the setting. Before the start of the game the coach pulled us to the side and told us who would be starting. I was still learning the rules, and I did not quite understand why there were five boys on my team that would get to play from the start. My duty, according to the coach, was to take a seat on the bench and support the boys on the court. My chair was at the very end of the bench, and if I had my choice, I would have preferred to hide under it.

I ended up getting to play in that game, albeit a grand total of approximately one minute. However, I remember the emotions that were flowing through my body, and how I refused to remove my hands from the pockets in my shorts. By the way, it is very hard to play a game of basketball without the use of your hands. I learned that very quickly after the fact. The other lesson I learned was from the coach after the game. I think he picked up on my curiosity as to who starts and who comes in off of the bench. I will never forget what he told me. "I just want you to remember that it isn't all about who starts the game, but it's also who finishes it," he said.

My coach's words of advice I still carry with me today. Actually, I apply them to everything that I do. Later on as I grew out of my timid nature and into a more confident basketball player, I earned my place as a starter. Even though I began the game on the court, I also recognized the importance of finishing the game on the court. I realized that how one finishes is equal to, if not more important, than how one begins. A bad start does not always have to result in a bad finish.

There were times that I would look up at the scoreboard early in the game and see my team on the losing end. That was discouraging, and I would be lying if I said that there were not times I wanted to give up. Then, those words of wisdom from my very first game came floating back into my thoughts. Start strong, but always finish stronger. Even in defeat, if I walked off of the court at the end of the game and knew that I had given my very best effort, I was a champion inside. I learned to measure myself not by what was accomplished in the first few minutes, but what was accomplished as the final buzzer sounded.

Now, I find myself applying that same philosophy to my everyday life. Every person that I have ever encountered has a story about some issue that they have faced in their younger years. Some people had problems that were more daunting than others, but they were individual issues none-the-less that impacted their life negatively. A few of these people had even given up hope because they had gone through trials that had so severely influenced them as a person, that they felt beyond defeated. Their spirits were beaten down so low, that no positive light could be seen. In other words, they started off the game of life on a very sour note. Some had come from a horrible home-life, others had felt the sting of a love lost, and a few had taken a wrong path that led to all sorts of personal issues. The beautiful beginning to the story that they longed for did not happen, and the book of their life appeared to be more of a horror tale that makes us cringe. Then, like always, the little boy that I once was remembered exactly what my coach had said. I thought about myself and the people I know. It is not about how, who, or where we start, so much as how we finish.

Some of the greatest of stories ever told are those that have begun in dismal fashion. One of my favorite quotes comes from my all-time favorite athlete, Michael Jordan. He speaks of how many times in his life that he has failed. However, his failures are what ultimately led to his great success later on. I think of someone like Abraham Lincoln, whose life got off to a rather gloomy beginning, and turned even darker before he became a shining light in a divided nation. I think of the Martin Luther King Jr.'s, the Muhammad Ali's, the Benjamin Franklin's, the Jackie Robinson's, the Steve Jobs', and every woman in history that worked hard to overcome oppression.

Sometimes we get caught in the stories that have glamorous beginnings. How real are they? How inspiring are they? Again, it is not always about how we start, but rather how we finish. To me, that is where the beauty lies and fairytales become reality. I see Michael Jordan, beaten back by the flu, hitting the game-winner to clinch an NBA title. I see oppressed women finally earn the right to vote after years of being viewed as possessions by men. I feel Muhammad Ali's larger-than-life presence as he stands up against an opponent much larger than his next boxing competition. I see Abraham Lincoln sacrifice his well-being, his life, to unite a country that had fallen apart. His life defined by greatness, not the failures he had experienced in his earlier years.

The stories that we love the most, like basketball games, are those where the underdog overcomes the cards that are so heavily stacked against them. The love stories that move us are not always rooted in fiction, but instead, the realities of life that we face each day. The inspirational stories of businesses are not those that began with grand success. Instead, they are the stories that had a happy-ever-after ending because an entrepreneur never gave up and always believed in his or her product. An ending that is very much possible if you believe what my coach told me the first time I ever stepped onto a basketball court. It really is not all about the start, but most importantly, the finish. The greatest people in history, the most inspiring stories, and the moments that have the most profound impact on our lives are those where barriers were broken and obstacles were overcome. We can never go back and start over, but we sure as hell can finish strong with a beautiful ending. An ending that is worthy of all the great stories that ultimately become legendary and classics by those who read them.

Monday, November 10, 2014

A Letter to Danny Jett

Dear Danny,

I am not sure when you will get this in your life, but I hope that it is sooner rather than later. I want you to know that life for you is going to have its difficult moments, just like everyone has their difficult moments. I promise you though, you will make it through them. You will survive, and you will be all the more thankful that you got to encounter them. Always remember that each moment that you live is but a page in the book of your life. Every book has both climactic and anti-climactic parts. Some will be more thrilling than others, but do your best to read thoroughly and enjoy the ride.

You will see great things in the smallest county in the great state of Kentucky. You will get the opportunity to be raised by great parents, and will have a grandfather who will teach you a lot of lessons about life. You will learn the value of the land, and you will understand the gentleness of a small town country farm. The country music that you will be introduced to will always provide comfort when you get down. Those songs will also be the music of your greatest memories. Make sure that you keep them close by at all times. They can, and will, take you right back to a specific place whenever you need it.

There are going to be a lot of people who pass through your life. Some of these people will be with you forever, others will only be around for a short period of time. Make sure that you cherish every second you spend with them, and remember everything that they teach you. They will help guide you along a path that at times will be scary and intimidating. Have faith that everything will work out for the best, and always make decisions that you feel are right in your heart. Allow your soul to be a guiding light, and make sure that you nurture it. Love yourself.

Value your education, and allow it to enlighten you. Never give up hope, and whatever you do, always be passionate about it. Appreciate the arts, and do your best to see the good in other people. Remember that kindness goes a lot further than being rude. If you do not respect yourself, others will not respect you. Learn to read, and allow the material to expand your mind. Never get caught trying to fit into a box. Do your best to think outside of it. Keep it simple.

Basketball is going to be a big part of your life, so enjoy each time you play. Basketball will later cause you a lot of heartache, but what you learn will make you stronger in the years to come. There are going to be those who will make fun of you and mock you every opportunity that they get. Allow them, but do not believe what they say about you. Smile, even when you feel you are nearing tears. Allow yourself to cry, and never be ashamed to do so.

When the opportunity arises, make sure that you pick a spot on the map and go. Feel each moment, and live each moment as well. Do not be afraid to love. Always make sure that you spend time alone and in thought. At the end of every day make sure you reflect on it, and always focus on the positives. Respect others, even if their beliefs are different than your own. Stand up for yourself. Inner strength will always be more important than physical strength. The same goes for inner beauty, as outer beauty will fade in time.

When you get a job, always make sure that you give your best effort. If you fall down, always get back up and stand proud. Never be ashamed to make a mistake, and do not allow failures to define you. Go for drives. Allow the road to lead you where it may, but make sure that you pay attention to the detail that surrounds you. You will see God's hand in everything around you. Watch the sunrise. Watch the sunset. Do it while holding her hand.

Go to concerts. Go to parties. Do not be a wallflower, but never try to be the center of attention. The right people will always find their way to you. Exercise. The feeling you will get will be euphoric. Feel your heartbeat, and listen to each breath. Appreciate the life inside of you. Make sure that you spend time with your family as much as possible. Give your friends the very best of you.

Always remember that you are never alone, even when it feels that way. An illness will provide a label, but keep in mind, it is just a label. Do not buy into stereotypes. Eat well, and if you can, always eat in good company. Laugh. Laughter will make you happy and lift your spirits. There will be people who do not understand you, others who will not like you, and others who will not care one way or the other. Keep your head up.

If you get a chance, write down your thoughts each day. Spend time going fishing, camping, hiking, and all of the outdoor things that you love. Go swimming late at night in the lake under the stars. Try your best to be a good role model. Never forget where you came from. Write letters. They mean a lot more and come from the heart. Sing to the radio. Sing to her. Dance with her. Every single night before sleep. Dance even when you know that you have two left feet.

Mostly, live the life that you dream. Strive for that farm house and piece of land that you have always wanted. Never look back with regret, but look to the future with promise. Take time to go sit by your loved one's graves. It is okay to reminisce. It is okay to be strong. It is also okay to be vulnerable. The people who mean the most will never leave. Whenever you get the opportunity, read this letter. Even if it takes you the rest of your life, always know that I will forever be your biggest ally and best friend.



Simplicity is Beautiful

Simplicity is beautiful. If you do not believe me, just take a drive down some old country road sometime and look around you. That is what I do. That is what I enjoy. I like to see the rolling hills as they lay out before me. I like to see the black planks of the fence rows. I like to see the tobacco barns and fields of hay. I like to see the trees that have withstood the tests of time. I like to do all of that while listening to old country songs that remind me of my childhood. It all comes down to simplicity. There is no drama on a late evening drive. All you have is your hands on the steering wheel, a breeze blowing in through the crack in your window, and a desolate road that few people travel.

The other night I stopped by the bridge that overlooks the Licking River. The water, wherever it may be traveling, was about as tranquil as you could imagine. I think people sometimes miss the little things that make this life great. That river is not just a river, it is the earth's life blood. It winds its way through the hills and deep into the woods to an unknown place. It nourishes the ground that farmers in these parts have relied on for a very long time. It carries on, and I just stood there watching and listening. The place is serene. The horizon was a purplish-pink, and the clouds provided a barrier to Heaven. I believe that. It is too majestic for that not to be the case.

I could have stayed there longer, but that country road had other destinations for me to see. There was a covered bridge that most people likely drive by without giving it a second thought. Then there was the old pool hall that my grandfather ran when I was little. Although it is no longer there, I parked my truck in the lot and got out. When I closed my eyes I could hear the crack of the balls during a Sunday night pool tournament. I could smell the cheeseburgers on the grill as my grandmother and mother cooked them one after the other. On the jukebox was Johnny Cash, then Conway Twitty, and Merle Haggard was next on deck.

I could have stayed longer, but that country road had other destinations for me to see. I drove down that one-lane path and found myself on top of a hill that was all too familiar. I could see for miles, but what I saw was not houses and concrete. I could see the treetops of the valleys, the sun as it kissed the day goodnight, and the birds that really were circled in flight. I did not only feel peace, I saw it. Yes, you can see peace. I had stood in this very spot many times before, and every time I could not help but feel the breathless feeling it gave me. Simplicity is beautiful.

After a few minutes I jumped back in my truck and put it in drive. The country songs were no longer playing through a fifty-cent jukebox, but instead a modern day Bluetooth-capable iPhone. Same songs, same setting, different time. The further that I drove, the more in touch I became with all that I find good in this world. You see, there are times it is too easy to get distracted with trying to move up and achieve big things. Bigger houses, a nicer car, a higher position at work, more popularity, and whatever else you think may satisfy something deep within you. I do not think it works like that.

Satisfaction to me is simplicity in the beautiful things that surround me. Satisfaction comes on a country drive. Satisfaction is found in the memory of my grandfather who was, and always will be, my hero. Satisfaction is found by sitting on the tailgate of your truck on a hot summer night drinking beer. While your drinking that beer, make sure that you listen to those old country songs you used to play on that fifty-cent jukebox. Satisfaction is laying out under the stars with no city lights around. There is no traffic. The only noise you hear are crickets and bullfrogs. Those are the things that leave the soul satisfied. If you disagree, you probably have never experienced it.

I feel wealthy when I walk across the ridge. The same ridge I walked on with my grandfather as a little boy. I feel wealthy when I see the sun dip below the horizon as the summer eases to a close. I feel wealthy when I see the leaves of the trees change colors to welcome the arrival of fall. Against your skin you can feel the late October wind as it gently blows through. I feel wealthy when I recount the feeling of dancing late into the night with nothing but the moon and stars above. A small country town gives so much. A big city likes to take.

On my drive back, I again stop by that river. I look over the bridge railing and the river has once again changed. It is always moving, and it never stays the same. Yet it does. I smile because my heart is smiling. My soul is rich, and it did not cost me a dime. The little things that we so often take for granted are all around us as we look for happiness in all the wrong places. The best spark to ignite a flame is not found in a bar, nor is it found by trying to be who you are not. It is found right in front of you. If you do not believe me, just do the following: Take a drive down a country road and put on a slow country song. Now, roll down your window. After you have driven for a while, find a good spot to park. It is preferable if it is a gravel lot. Get out and look at the sky that blankets you. Scan the horizon and listen to nature. Once you have done that, close your eyes and think about the moments in your life where you really felt alive. It is highly likely that you will automatically be taken right back in time. It is likely that those moments happened in a spot just like this.