Daily Joys and Simple Pleasures

Daily Joys and Simple Pleasures

Secretary Gates Wishes the Army Happy 236th birthday

And so do I.  Like Secretary Gates I also want to honor the families who serve their country by staying at home and standing by their family member’s decision to serve in the Military.  Those families serve our country and deserve our thanks, as well.  I remember the last time I flew home from teaching back East and there was a young mother in tears.  Her military man was going to be home on a brief stateside duty – just a matter of days – and she’d traveled from the midwest with two small children in order to see him.  Her face was broken out with allergy spots.  Her eyes were racooned with dark circles.  Her children were crying.  She was crying.  And she had lost her cell phone.

The seven women who were waiting for their shuttle bus, along with me, saw our own opportunity to serve.  Search and rescue for the phone.  Food for mother and children. Water. Juice.  Comforting arms.  A toy appeared from somewhere.  The tears were staved.  The phone was located.  And mother understood that, while in the company of complete strangers, she was not alone.   We have the opportunity to honor those in service every day – by offering back what service we each can.



Enjoy the commemorative remarks that Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gate delivered earlier today in the Pentagon Courtyard.

Army 236th Birthday
As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Pentagon Courtyard, Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Secretary McHugh, thank you very much for that extremely kind introduction.  And thanks to Secretary Shinseki, General Dempsey, Sergeant Major Chandler, civilian and military officials, veterans, families, and all of the distinguished guests here today.  As an aside, General Dempsey, I’m sorry we’re making you redecorate yet another office after just a few months, not to mention relinquishing the leadership of your beloved Army, but you have my deepest thanks for answering the call, and I know you will be an exceptional Chairman for all our men and women who serve.


I will say as an aside among other things I told the NATO defense ministers last week, was that I was beginning to feel like a tenor in a very long and bad opera.  And in the last scene, a protracted death scene, and people keep waiting for me to go down for the count, and I keep coming back up to sing one more aria.  But thanks for the kind remarks gentlemen.

I am delighted to be here celebrating the 236th birthday of the United States Army.  One of the things I will miss most when I leave this post are occasions like this, where we have the opportunity to honor the remarkable soldiers, past and present, who have forged the most formidable army the world has ever seen.  And also of course, I’ll miss the cake – itself a pretty dramatic testimony to the Army’s can-do spirit and logistical prowess.


I know for many soldiers coming to the Pentagon after an assignment down range or with troop units can be quite a jarring, even bewildering, experience.  One of my personal heroes has always been Dwight Eisenhower, whose portrait hangs in my office next to George Marshall, two historical Army officers.  But even Eisenhower was occasionally defeated by this building.  Once, shortly after World War II, he made the mistake of trying to find his office by himself, and got very lost.  He later wrote:  “One had to give the building his grudging admiration; it had apparently been designed to confuse any enemy who might infiltrate it.”

Eisenhower’s example has been much on my mind lately.  Last week we marked the 67th anniversary of D-day—part of that day I spent with the 101st Airborne in Afghanistan—D-day, one of Eisenhower’s – and the U.S. Army’s – greatest triumphs.  One of the most deadly obstacles US soldiers faced as they pressed inland from the beaches of France were hedgerows so thick and tough that allied tanks would ride, not through, but right on top, losing traction and exposing their vulnerable underbellies to German fire.


Then a cavalry sergeant had a brilliant idea of fashioning iron bars, scavenged from German anti-landing craft fortifications, into tank-mounted hedgerow cutters.  Within 48 hours 1st Army Ordnance had crafted nearly 300 of the cutters, and rest of the story is Operation Cobra, the Army’s successful advance through France.  That victory was a demonstration of the great and abiding strengths of our Army –exceptional adaptability at all levels in the face of unpredictable circumstances, as well as the great trust and reliance placed in the ingenuity of soldiers of all ranks.

The ground wars following 9/11 placed even heavier responsibilities on young leaders.  From the earliest days in Iraq and Afghanistan, our soldiers down range have been adjusting and improvising in response to the complex and evolving challenges on the ground – often using new technologies to share real-time tactical lessons with their comrades.  At various stages the mission has required our soldiers to be scholars, teachers, policemen, farmers, bankers, engineers, social workers, and of course, warriors – often all at the same time.  And they have always risen to the challenge.  It is this dynamism and flexibility that allowed us to pull Iraq back from the brink of chaos in 2007 and, over the past year, to roll back the Taliban from their strongholds in Afghanistan.


I’d like to take a moment to thank the Army families that have so steadfastly stood by their soldiers and one another throughout the fight.  One of the most rewarding – and important – parts of my job has been the troop talks and town halls where I have the chance to hear honestly how things are going, no power-points.  This direct engagement with soldiers on the battlefield, their families at home, and civilians employed around the world has helped shape my views and the priorities of the service and the department, and I believe it is a critical responsibility of all leaders.

The Army’s challenge now is to learn the right lessons from the past decade.  This doesn’t mean assuming the next war will be similar to the last, a common and dangerous mistake, but rather making sure the diverse experiences and agility of today’s young soldiers are institutionalized, so our Army stands at the ready for conflicts both foreseen and unforeseeable.  This includes welcoming and embracing in peacetime the ingenuity, creativity, and innovative spirit of younger officers and NCOs so central to our success in combat.  This is a challenge the Army has met countless times before in our history, and, under the leadership of General Odierno, I have no doubt it will do so again.

It has been the honor of my life to lead and to serve our men and women in uniform, and I will keep you and them in my prayers everyday for the rest of my life.  Here’s to another 236 years.

Happy Birthday!



The Day I Flew with the Birds…

My friend, Ellen, writes a Blog at Braveheart Women’s web site called ELLENOUTLOUD. This morning she wrote about almost going parasailing.  I relived the time that I did.

I was a guest of two dear friends.  We were enjoying lunch on the beach in Puerto Vallarta.  We lunched, chatted and watched as humanity in all shapes and sizes haltered up, took a running jump at the end of a pull-boat and went whooshing up in the air like a human kite.

“I’ve always wanted to do that,” said Brad, the more whimsical of the duo.  “Not me,” declared Craig.  I remember hims saying something about proportionate odds and car wrecks but I can’t pull it out of my memory with any precision.

Always ready to support the dream of a friend I encouraged Brad.  “You should DO it if you’ve always wanted to.”  Then came the phrase familiar from grade school.


“I will if you will.”

My objections were numerous.  The most practical being that I was rather heavy at the time, out of shape and not fond of heights.  Then Brad levied the stickler.  The one thing that always trumps any level of my apprehension or fear.  He quoted my own poetry to me.
“Choose with no regret.  When we’re back home thinking about this holiday – will you be sorry that you didn’t do this?”  Not only did I go but I went first.  It wasn’t for bravado’s sake – I just didn’t want to sit through HIS flight anticipating my own.

Never mind the instructions were all in Spanish.  Gestures helped.  With little grasp of what was before me I understood that that I was supposed to run like a bat out of hades when they signaled, “GO!”   I did.


The loft was exhilarating. The breathlessness of nothing substantial under me was other-worldly.  Looking side to side at expanded bird wings was amazing.  They were no longer surprised to fly among wingless birds.  I was inspired to sing the Bruce Cockburn lyrics, “The only diamonds in the world that mean anything to me, are conjured up by wind and sunlight sparkling on the sea.”

As with many sublime experiences in life – this one was a contradiction.  Because in the midst of all the wonder and beauty, I was petrified.  Held in place by a very old seat mechanism and lines that began looking thinner the higher I got – I had crossed my arms in front of me and held the two lines in taut certainty.  For more than ten minutes.


Did you ever, as a youngster, pull that physiological muscle trick of standing in a doorway pressing your arms as hard as you could against the door frame?  And then, minutes later, step out of the frame and have your arms simply rise on their own out of sheer over use?  Holding parasails reins crossed arms with all your might for ten minutes is a lot like that.

So when the boat circled back to shore and the ground crew was ready for me to reach one of the lines and pull it in so I would be directed down to the landing strip on the beach…I had no strength left in either of my arms to pull.  I’d used all my  muscle juice hanging on for dear life.  I had no pull left.  None.

The instructions were still coming, joined by a chorus of others, all in Spanish, yelling, “Pull!  Pull?”  Funny how the mind translates easily when it’s your safety hanging in the balance (pardon the pun).  Now, instead of sparkling spin drifts I was observing the roof tops of the beach dwellings of P.V.  Satellite dishes, hopeful gardens, outdoor dining set ups, some folks sun bathing.  It even appeared some residents used their rooftops for extra storage.  Who would know without the benefit of a view like this?  The distraction of the rooftops actually did the trick.  I was able to pry loose my fingers frozen to the lines and, with both arms, pull the line that drew me back to the beach.  My feet came close toward the final descent to having more than a bird’s eye view of those roof tops.


I was grateful to have lost my translating capacity once both feet were on the ground.  I am positive many of the sentences, if not most, involved pleas to never fly with them again. I heard no one say in their best marketing voice, “We know you have many choices when you are making your para-sailing decision in P.V. – thank you for choosing us.”  Not one.

Later that day, after Brad had successfully taken his ride, we compared experiences.  Brad announced mine was better because it made a more interesting story.  He echoed Mark Twain and Lucille Ball’s sentiments by saying, essentially, that if you ARE going to have regret, it’s better to have it over something you DID rather than something you DIDN’T DO.   He declared he’d remember this for the rest of his life.

The memory turned out to be a short one.  Brad died less than two years later.  And while I know he did have some regrets, not one of them had anything to do with para sailing in Puerto Vallarta.  Not one.


Nesting in Home

For those feeling overwhelmed, or taken with the idea of experiencing a short sabbatical I can suggest an awesome destination for restoration and rejuvenation: home.  Not “home” with the HONEY-DO list and laundry and dishes, and dust under the sofa… No!  Home that serves as sanctuary and allows you to settle in and experience the sense of Nesting and Resting.  Here’s a little piece I made for a project for my friends at HOT OFF THE PRESS/ PAPER WISHES.  (  My long time friend, Paulette Jarvey, offers a lot of courtesy instruction at this site. All the materials featured in my collage below, with the exception of my musical heart and the acrylic wash, are from her company.)



I hope you get to enjoy a brief sabbatical today.  I’ve decided NOW is a good time for one for me.  I was sorting hundreds of small, original water colors for a design project I’m undertaking and…spilled my water cannister all over my art bench.  And my originals.  While they, my art bench, and my spirit dry off – I’m taking a short sabbatical.  Indeed I am!



Sabbatical.  It’s tossed around a lot.  What IS it?  What does it mean?

If you are Tawana -it might mean ducking out of the heat of the politics of Botswana.

If you are Eastern Oregon Pastor, Marc Mullins, it might mean taking a fully grant-funded musical journey to your roots in Ireland.  Taking time away from the thirty-plus years of ministerial service.

If you are Beyonce – the beauty with glorious vocal capacity – it  might mean getting clear on your priorities. She’s announced her intention to take a year Sabbatical to learn things that she’s wanted to know and tend to her precious priorities of family and friends.

What do these people have to do with you?  They are each, following the model of Sabbatical, taking time AWAY from that which is usual and expected in their lives and turning to something else.  To Learn and Study.  To establish a new or different pattern.  To simply rest.  What if you aren’t an internationally recognized political figure, a grant-funded minister or a celebrity?  Can you still enjoy a Sabbatical?  Absolutely!


To answer that question I’ll  borrow from LIVE WITH INTENTION,  my book on “rediscovering what we deeply know.”  Perhaps you cannot plan for a year, or months of Sabbatical, or even a week.  But, maybe you can seize Sabbatical moments…



Sabbath is defined as a period of rest.

Rest from that which is normal.

You can determine the length of that period.

To sabbatize is to enjoy a set aside time for doing something outside the ordinary. Taking a daily sabbatical can be your investment in rest, continued learning, calming your busy self. Take a short sabbatical today and see if you return to your ordinary tasks – renewed.



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