“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” – Albert Einstein
(A Favorite I Wrote In 2015 To Jason As He Turns A Year Older Today – It Seems The Message Has More Meaning Each Year He Grows)
“As human beings we all want to be happy and free from misery… we have learned that the key to happiness is inner peace. The greatest obstacles to inner peace are disturbing emotions such as anger, attachment, fear and suspicion, while love and compassion and a sense of universal responsibility are the sources of peace and happiness.” – Dalai Lama
Jason because I’m your Dad, I’m going to leave this for you to think about because it took me a lot longer to put into consistent practice. The easiest decisions we make for ourselves are either the most obvious or convenient. Oftentimes the hardest decisions are the ones that are best for ourselves because of not only what we gain from them, but the things and people that we give up or are left by the rode side on the way to the destination we want to move towards. We are strengthened if we exercise kindness for ourselves and find the inner peace that are the most important and basic components that will get us towards where we hope to end up. I think the answer doesn’t really change to the questions that continue to confront us in either our minds or God’s eyes and His role I believe is solely to give us additional clarity and strength to make those difficult decisions. Also the results don’t change other than to grow more problematic when we end up delaying them for the sake of ease, convenience, or avoidance of the inevitable confrontation. You are the only one who can provide the greatest gifts to and for YOU as you get older because the situations and circumstances are fading from my and Mom’s control but never our support.
Read this again: “In reflecting on the times of my life, it occurs to me that the difficult, arduous experiences always pass, or at least wane to a tolerable level. On the other hand, thankfully, the positive, uplifting aspects of my life’s journey seem to hold strong and steady throughout, as long as I appreciate and nurture them.” What we think we lose while we are young coupled with the importance we apply to them will fade in time sooner when you’re younger, and the other things that fill those gaps will make us question why we didn’t act sooner!
I’m no genius but I can tell you that there has not been one thing I’ve lost in the past, including my parents, where that void wasn’t eventually filled somehow and somewhere to give me something that would allow me to continue to see a future full of optimism. I’m not just talking about the addition of you and Christian in my life, but all things including what I surprisingly discovered along the way while recovering from an injury where I didn’t expect to learn so much from. It’s funny how things just worked out that way from the most unorthodox circumstances and with it, the peace I was seeking slowly settled within my soul where it could be best served.
(I saw a documentary today about Coach Valvano and it seemed more than appropriate to re-post these thoughts I shared before about this marvelous man and his legacy.)
“When you have a dream and you love each other and keep believing in a dream, you can accomplish miracles!” – Jim Valvano talking about the 1983 North Carolina Championship Basketball Team
It’s no secret that I’m a diehard fan of Coach “V” as one would surmise from my repeated use of the quotes from and references to him. Maybe one would think it’s because I was witness to the sports miracle that was accomplished when he led his 1983 NC State basketball team on the most unlikely and magical run to the NCAA tournament finals where they upset a vastly more talented Houston team (two future NBA hall of gamers) in the greatest upset in tournament history.
Now come on, it’s just sports which certainly produces so many amazing storylines and admittedly, this one is certainly more memorable by how it remains as part of our sport’s culture to this day as an inspiration to underdogs and afterthoughts in not just sports, but all areas of society. But sports moments are just that, snapshots of a particular portal of competitive endeavors that we get reminded of, generally when the appropriate circumstances warrants its introduction into our psyche in some manner and degree.
Still in its overall affect, did it inspire me to change the way I approach life? Well, I am certain it did in the lessons I’ve used to guide and motivate my children when challenged and by extension, what I’m authoring now. Or, did it help to improve the treatment of something like cancer for countless patients afflicted with the disease? Well we know it did by the growth and contributions of the “Jimmy V Foundation” that he created after his life was ruthlessly assaulted, and before it was taken, by cancer. But here’s what has to be recognized: had that 1983 sports storyline not been created, it’s likely the birth of the “legend” and fame of “Coach V” would not have emerged to give birth to his organization when it was established and its astronautical growth thereafter. That foundation came about too late to save his life or my parents lives, but in a miraculous twist to his legacy, the byproduct of its research and the evolution of cancer treatment saved his daughter’s life when she was diagnosed with breast cancer years later.
I ponder this quote by Thurl Bailey, a player from that 1983 team, in reflecting back on his former coach as one of the most beautiful expressions of praise that any man could ever hope to be described or remembered for by those who reflect upon their knowledge of that existence. “Everything he accomplished and everything he was as a person is the essence of the man!”. If only I should be so fortunate to be honored with similar accounting of my days here in my particular universe but hey, I’m still making a conscious effort and I’m constantly an evolving work in progress.
So in my mind it’s about the collective and enduring power of the man who turned out to be more than just a basketball coach beyond that victory in 1983. It’s exponentially about his words, the way he lived, the people he touched and inspired, and his final acts before he died that profoundly separated himself to be among the upper echelon of immensely extraordinary humans that I’ve witnessed in my lifetime.
Now back to “Coach V’s” influence; you have to remember that he was diagnosed with terminal cancer leading to an abundance of tumors that spread throughout his body but still his final goal remained to his dying day, as reflected in a note he wrote to himself that was accidentally found by his wife in the pocket of his dry cleaning was, to “beat cancer”! He did that, maybe not in his own individual quest but for the thousands of others he impacted through the man he was, whose lives he affected during his lifetime, and whose lives he SAVED through the work of the “V Foundation” including his daughter as noted above. I mean it’s one thing to give birth to a child but what greater accomplishment can be achieved by a parent than being personally responsible for saving his/her physical life and in a way, gifting them with another?
What a legacy (or maybe that’s just me)! I can say I was blessed to watch that championship game and the ones that were televised during that magical run when I was so much younger and not insulated from its impact, due to the abundance of information available these days that leads to an overindulgence of stimulation that can negate our awareness of what’s happening right in front of our eyes. But goodness gracious sakes alive, I’m so much older and I needed someone like “Coach V” back then and still need my memory of him morphing into something greater than that one tournament to keep my eyes on the prizes that continue to happen in front of these eyes! Otherwise I might have gone crazy or emotionally diluted by too many of the things introduced in my life that could have overwhelmed that vision.
I may f’ing hate cancer for taking both my parents but my hope and faith in life’s possibilities, probabilities, and likelihoods is still strong by how they fought it, and through “Coach V’s” efforts that have carried on well beyond each of their passings, because I’m still here to better my existence to honor them. It’s because of my hope and faith in most things that I still battle to garner every ounce I can from the things that feed my optimism for each day I have been given while I step over or around the pratfalls that produce disillusion and negativity because, they too often introduce themselves to try to steal life’s basic, simple, elegance that I choose to believe in.
So God gave me another day to persevere in how I want to live it and I thank Him because it allows me to build on “the essence of the man” I want to be. A work in progress? Yep, but my destiny at least has a better direction from those that have and continue to inspire me like my parents, “Coach V”, and anyone who makes a contribution towards whatever remarkable conclusion I systematically strive to achieve.
So I’ll end with one last quote because it’s a favorite and one I use as a reminder of how I want to see what’s ahead of me: “We will never have a perfect world, but it’s not romantic or naive to work toward a better one.” – Steven Pinker
“From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life.” – Arthur Ashe
I’m not a big fan of cliches. They are used too frequently without thought and just products of repetitive statements we use during complex situations that certainly require something of more value and sentiment to the recipient.
I was thinking of one in particular. “I’m here for you” or “I’m there for you”. I get the basic gist of it – a simple offering of support and maybe a little more but what should it mean? I guess I could devote a great deal of analysis to these statements but my evaluation is centered around what I’ve meant when saying it in the past compared to now, and what it’s meant when offered in my direction.
Thinking of when I used to say it, I pretty much meant it literally. I’d be “here” for someone but they’d have to generally come to where I was if they needed something important. I was “there” for someone but not really. I was usually at a safe distance so that I would be unable or unwilling to get “there”. Not always and maybe not intentionally but in thinking back, too frequently.
In addition, I find little comfort when someone says “I’m there for you” when going through tough times. I really don’t need a congregation of people at where I’m at since I already know how I got “there” and don’t like where “there” is at. I may not expect the answers but it won’t help me to have company “there”. What is needed is a temporary escape from “there” and maybe another mind and set of eyes to show me a possible way to get out of “there” because a cascade of thoughts and emotions sometimes complicates the recognition of the simplest and most logical solutions.
I know, this sounds like a bad comedy bit but here’s the point. Now when I say “I’m here for you”, it means that when called upon, I will be “there with you.” I understand that trying to provide a quick solution to a complex dilemma generally leads down a more complex path or at times, proving to be more destructive. I do know that taking someone from where they may be (figuratively and/or literally), slowing things down, maybe mixing a genuine hug and reason to smile, and letting them be heard so that they can hear themselves on the outside of their mind provides a good starting point to get out of “there”. This then challenges the best parts of myself by seeing what that person (not me) is capable of doing and offering small guidance about what might be done to slowly take their initial steps somewhere else. Importantly they will know that if needed, I will support and help them up (not carry) when they stumble and fall. More importantly I will reinforce them on the best direction because it’s their obligation to “make it happen” for themselves.
This is a lot of words but a simple point I hope you recognize. By who you are, you have the best potential to be difference makers. By virtue of how you were raised and the nature of your character, personality, compassion, morality, and fundamental beliefs, you can provide so much of the best part of who you are to others. I’m not just talking about the obvious targets like girlfriends or family but also friends and acquaintances who are reluctant to demonstrate the hidden cracks on their hearts and souls.
How often do we ask “what’s wrong” and get a response like “I’m fine” or “okay” (save that discussion for another day) and settle for it when we know things are absolutely the opposite. I won’t ask “what you are waiting for” but more “why are you waiting”? You are no longer the “innocents” of my generation but increasingly responsible and accountable for your generation. If you want a perfect world, time to start perfecting the world around you and see if it can be expanded a bit at a time through your own acts of kindness based on your own goodness.
I’ll end with the words of a U2 song. “A broken (or injured) heart is an open heart” so if you recognize it, maybe that’s the time you could really be “there” to help it heal – this is separate and apart from romantic relationships but on a more profound scale. Simple gestures might just lead to small miracles. Either way, I’ve been “here for you”, will be “there with you”, and help you get away from “there”, and always will! It’s not hard to find me, you know?
So think about what you say to someone and the actual real meaning behind it and then, give more meaning afterwards to what you just said because one day you may be the one person they need to rely on! It may be a heavier burden than anticipated but sometimes, affirmations that evidence your character may also call upon untempered accountability so that the perfect world you’re looking for might reveal itself beyond your horizons.
After watching my dad love me, I hoped one day I’d love my own child too;
When I asked for a child, He decided to give me two;
When I held my sons the first time, I still can’t hold them enough;
I once helped them take their first steps, now they’re faster than me;
When I prayed they’d be healthy, the Lord decided to make them athletes too;
I prayed that they’d be safe, now they stick up for others;
I wanted them to be kind, and now they’re full of compassion;
I hoped that they’d listen to me, now I listen to them;
I shared with them my thoughts, now they think for themselves;
I gave them my best guidance, now they’ve learned to lead others;
I’ve taught them about life, now they know how beautiful it can be;
They’ve changed the world I lived in, now they’re changing their own;
I’ve seen them grow older every day, now it seems they’ve grown up too fast;
And though they know I love them, I doubt they’ll ever know how much;
I was able to give them life, they were able to give me the best of everything;
I see why I wanted to be like my dad, I only wished he was here to see how I did;
I’ve been blessed with two sons, but the miracle was the father they made me;
God rewarded my wish to be a dad like mine, and I know one day my sons will be even better ones. – Joe Dico
(I wrote the following about Christian almost exactly four years ago when he was 13 years-old and seemed worth revisiting on his birthday. Now as he turns 17 and one year away from starting his baseball career at the University of Washington, it almost seems too profetic after I saw what was emerging from him way back when this dream seemed so far down the road!
“Keep on beginning and failing. Each time you fail, start all over again, and you will grow stronger until you have accomplished a purpose … not the one you began with perhaps, but one you’ll be glad to remember.”
Failure doesn’t occur until the moment you stop trying. Even worse is if you never risk making any attempt or effort at all because it may damage what is only our ego and/or vanity – sadly that only means we’re too timid to test our courage and determination. Such a mindset is the most tragic because it serves as a better measure of our character and future direction but then again, if there was never an attempt for success, there’s no failure to compare it to and I suppose there’s a false security in that for those who choose such an approach.
I guess for many people, there’s some safety and resulting comfort in never exploring beyond the limited aspirations they’ve set forth because there’s too much uncertainty in the unknown. That’s probably a blissful and comfortable existence but for me, I just have an overwhelming desire to satisfy my curiosity, especially about things that challenge the fulfillment of what I want.
As I often do, I look back at everything good and bad that’s occurred in my life and the one essential part of the equation leading to the results of all those things has been one ingredient – ME. Did you know in high school I only applied to one college, USC, and that was for a couple of reasons. It’s the only place I wanted to go and, my family didn’t have a lot of money for me to fill out too many college applications. My grades were decent but I’m pretty sure I was accepted because I wrote a “kick-ass” application letter about why they should accept me and as you know, they did. However countering that, I also thought I’d be in love forever so that among other things canceled out my plans for USC at the time with the hope I would go there at a later time. Interesting choice on my part at the time and we all know where that thought led me but then again, I would not have found Mom and I have no regrets about the alternative outcome.
I also wanted to go to law school and while there, I honestly wasn’t at the top of my class because I knew the real prize was the bar exam and balancing working full-time, a (very) active social life, and a girlfriend who would be my wife, stretched my resources rather thin during the four years I was there. However after graduating, that’s when I shifted gears to study for the exam and passed it the first time around when 60-70% of others didn’t with some never passing even after multiple attempts. To this day I’m not sure how that happened because as I’ve mentioned before, I found out that my father had terminal cancer the night before the exam began and it would have been understandable had I been too distracted to pass. Maybe divine intervention since he passed a month afterward or I was lucky but then again, I doubt it!
The next major goal occurred after Jason was born. I was determined to invest in being a decent Dad while choosing a profession that challenges that intention so I looked for a job close to home, even though the best jobs were in LA and OC. I didn’t know “squat” about South Bay law firms but sent about 20 letters and resumes to the most interesting ones and I guess based on the way it was written, my future boss called me and after what I assume was an impressive enough interview to BS my way into getting hired, got a job at one of the best firms in So Cal, and later became a partner which is supposed to be every lawyers dream. It was not as big of a deal after a while but at least I did it which few could say. And I got to be a bigger part of not only Jason’s life but thankfully, yours! Maybe I was lucky but doubt it!
Christian, we’re alike in so many ways and maybe it’s in large part due to the time we’ve spent together since my injury and there is no precise value that could measure how grateful I am about the moments that has led us to the relationship that we now share. Some people are afraid to walk beyond what they can see because of fear of the unknown. Me, I just have to know and then respond accordingly and I see you building your confidence each day that reflects a similar approach.
Some don’t want to run in bare feet on a gravel path towards the places they want to get to because they’re afraid of falling, the cuts and bruises they’ll suffer, the dirt, etc. That’s just not a justifiable reason for me not to get there. I carry the bloodstains and scratches like a badge of honor because it means I didn’t give up even though things weren’t as smooth as I hoped for and made me more confident about the next journey ahead. I guess it’s just not within us to quit or sit still when there’s something that we feel is worth having.
It took a tortuous path that led to my injury but I guess it was just me testing a different kind of curiosity but so began a different journey that I mapped out. Was everything as smooth as I hoped for – of course not but at least I didn’t just imagine what was out there because I had to find out. I like obstacles because I enjoy the challenge of overcoming them, especially when I know the rarity of others being able to do it. Even just falling short doesn’t feel as disappointing if I at least exhausted all I had for things to result the way they did and in the end, I took something from it.
What’s pretty cool is that even though I had varying amounts of support (sometimes not a lot compared to you), all of the above were accomplished because of ME and I needed no greater incentive than what I created and demanded. Ownership of my life without excuses has made it easier to accept my shortcomings (along with accomplishments) without deflecting responsibility.
If something can’t be done, make sure that you are the one to determine what it is, with every avenue explored to make that determination. Remember that those who say you can’t do something generally never had the courage or confidence to try themselves, or just stopped pushing themselves without realizing how close they were had they kept trying a few more times. When you do it, they’ll probably say you were lucky but I doubt it since you’re already showing that you understand that there is little reason for doubt when it comes to YOU!
(Marine Sergeant Joe Dicochea, Korean War veteran, and my dad – Original Posted Memorial Day, 2015)
“Just give me tomorrow.” – unidentified Korean War Marine soldier
Jason, I think you’ll like this given your admiration of the Marine Corp.
I was watching a Military Channel documentary “Against the Odds” about a company of Marines who fought in one of more iconic battles in the history of the Corp at the Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War or “police action” as it was officially referred to. I guess this was to avoid the stigma of the conflict that ended just years before called “WWII”. I’m not sure that the soldiers in the field during the later action felt any different than the ones who were part of the earlier one. However if that description made it more palatable to the politicians and public at the time, so be it but again, I’m sure the consequences and emotions associated with the battles faced by both “boots on the ground” were vastly similar regardless of it’s presentation to the masses.
Now back to the “Frozen Chosin” and the company that eventually was known as “Bloody George” because of it’s casualty rate. Their role became famous within the grander story that makes every Marine proud to be part of that tradition. Just a quick breakdown of the story, the George Company of the 1st Division after landing on Inchon (another iconic battle) and fighting in Seoul drew, more by circumstances than choice, the responsibility of having to hold their ground serving as “Spartans” to fend off what seemed to be the inevitable annihilation of the entire division by an unexpected attack by a Chinese forces. The Chinese army vastly outnumbered them while the division battled unforgiving terrain and the most severe elements of the winter that struck during this engagement.
I was riveted in fascination by the story and interviews with the surviving members of that company. Since my father (your grandfather) was a Marine veteran of Korea who continually referred to ideals of his beloved Corp as I grew up, I look upon just about every Marine combat veteran with an abundance of respect and personal pride by just having that connection with my father as well as other family members who wore that uniform. J I know you carry that pride and still hold my father’s Marine emblem in your hand during each pre-game prayers and rituals. Interestingly, I was informed after my father’s death by a Marine Corp vet who knew my Dad that he was involved in that epic battle while he was still still only a teenager. I’ve never bothered to verify its accuracy nor do I question its veracity since it wouldn’t affect the “hero” I’ve always viewed him as during my whole life. Moreover given his character, it doesn’t surprise me that he didn’t share that information because as I’ve learned, it was an awful engagement to be a part of and it was a memory reserved for a different audience than someone who could never understand the basic and personal ferocity of war.
So back to the point (thank goodness). George Company, who continuously battled for months of fighting culminating in surviving and escaping from a relentless onslaught of attacks by the Chinese (who outnumbered them 10-1) and the environment at Chosin, were nearing the end of their organized march to the deliverance of their home base from this personal “hell”. At this juncture, a correspondent approached one of the beleaguered company and asked what probably sounded like a ridiculous question at the time considering all the Marine had been through. However his response gave a profound meaning to not just his or his comrade’s existence but served as a reminder to mine.
Paraphrasing the question to that soldier, he was asked “if I were God and I could give you anything for Christmas, what would you want?” A picture was taken of his face with the vacant stare often seen on those in combat, fatigued and almost indifferent to the death he’d witnessed, answering with this simple response: “just “give me tomorrow!”
It would take way too long to share my own history to fully capture how important those words came across to me when I first heard them and all the times I’ve repeated them in my head since then. I think of all those times when I probably exaggerated the despair over the pseudo and “faux” ordeals that I unnecessarily burdened myself with at the expense of valuable time lost and the damage it caused. As I sit where I’m at now in my life, I can only say that I’m so ashamed of myself and I apologize to my Creator for all those days I despised and destroyed, along with all those “tomorrows” whose future occurrence I dreaded – how’s that for honesty?
I understand now, and thankfully not too late given my close calls with mortality, that each day was my own personal gift with resources to invest as I saw fit and that the “tomorrows” were only a privilege with no assurance that they would ever begin. I was such an f’ing fool and I also apologize to those who continually attempted to point out the overwhelmingly numerical reasons why my life was better than the few I chose to focus on and torture myself with – again, how’s that for honesty?
So my point, especially to you Son. Never under-appreciate the simple, basic elegance of the days afforded to us since they pass out of our vision too quickly and thinking what’s ahead of us to replace it just may never be there. It shouldn’t take that particular Marine or some old guy who fell on his head leading to a massive brain bleed, with the odds numerically against them more than most others for getting another “tomorrow”, lead you to understand what is right here in front of us is the only time that we are guaranteed to make the best difference for ourselves and everything around us.
J remember what I told you: until the last sun sets on the days we are given, every tomorrow has the potential to be the best day of our lives with the odds dramatically in our favor based on what we do, how we live, and the hope we carry towards the next day and it matters not how it ultimately turns out.
So I dedicate this message to my father, the Marines, and all military veterans given that this is Memorial Day and it’s important to me that I do something even if it’s sharing this particular story and associated message. Referring to the Marine Corp credo of “semper fidelis”, I think it’s pertinent to the ideal of being “always faithful” to acting for the betterment of ourselves and those especially close to us.
In my case in thinking about the story above, if we try to practice with that faith and tragically are not “given tomorrow”, at least what is left behind for others is a memory and it should reflect the following: We did the best we could, despite any adversity we had to endure, and capitalized on every internal and external resource available to us to make a joyful difference in the only life that we’ve been given, regardless of whether our own expectations of perfection are met.
I’ll end with this quote because I’ve been waiting so long for the right opportunity and I think it relays such a strong message regardless of the particular religious beliefs that are individually adhered to.
“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.” – Marcus Aurelius