Friday, November 12, 2010

it goes on…..

I can see it in their faces every time I visit.  When will it be their time?  When will one of them die or become disabled?  When will their lives change forever, and not for good?

The events of this week, and really, the last few years, underscore how cruel it can be for those given the gift of a long life.  My parents have been given that gift.

Attending funeral after funeral and hearing about friend after friend being incapacitated by something out of their control can weigh heavily on ones mind.  They talk about “good” deaths and “bad” deaths, hoping for the first and dreading the other.

I’m sure they feel like one of them may be the next ping pong ball to drop, with fewer in the basket to choose from each day.  It’s inevitable,  sort of like God’s lottery tapping anyone of age and telling them their life is over. 

Conversations in my life tend to focus on my kids or work.  My parents conversations sometimes tend to focus on who died, who used to be there, who will be next. 

Luckily my folks have the stock market and sports and family, something to do everyday.  And, they have each other. 

Mom and Dad are invested in the market.  They follow it like anyone would follow a football game.  There are winners and losers.  There’s something to track, something to do.  My mother knows more about football than I do, and I think I know a little.

They do the best they can.  They are optimistic.  They stay active.  They work at being relevant.  They’re good at it. 

But, this week was different.  Like a child in the middle of the night, I could sense the fear, the not knowing, the being out of control, the loss of someone like them who was relevant, the stranding of another without her partner, the change of life, forever.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

honor our heroes….

Nothing in my life will ever measure up to the sacrifice of Sgt. Neil Duncan. 

I met Neil at a conference at last March.  In speaking with him, you’d never know he gave up two legs, and years of his life in rehabilitation as a result of his defense of this country.  He moves briskly.  His halting walk tells something of his tale, but not nearly all of it. 

He doesn’t want to thought of as handicapped.  He won’t park in those special spaces.  He refuses to give up on being normal.  He won’t give in.  He climbs mountains and runs marathons on prosthetic legs. 

Neil is anything but normal.  He is more.  He refuses to be the victim.  He will be the victor.  Take a look at  his video at

After that meeting, our company, Handy Living made a decision to support the Wounded Warriors Project.  It was really no decision at all.  It was our duty.

We may all have differing opinions on war and its cost.  But, we cannot do anything but support our veterans. 

On this Veterans Day, take a moment to reflect on how these heroes have made our lives possible. 

Thank you. 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

a good man….


“Hello Thomas!”

That was the greeting I got every time my Uncle Marvin would see me.  My Aunt Ruth would say “There’s Thomas Charles Erdman,” and then would go on to tell the story of how I would call myself  Thomas Charles Erdman to anyone who cared, really anyone at all who would listen.

Uncle Marvin suffered a devastating stroke last night.

I’m not sure how to describe a man as good as Uncle Marvin, and the impact he’s had on our family. 

Acting as sort of the family historians, Uncle Marvin and Aunt Ruth would get the family together at reunions, organize games, make sure there were eggs and spoons for the egg race, or bags for the three legged race.  And, there were always prizes. 

Our last reunion was last year, the one he and Aunt Ruth said would be our last.  We didn’t know how prophetic that statement would be.  The above picture is my niece Mariah with Uncle Marvin from the reunion.

There was always laughter when they were around and they gave great parties.  They had a pool table in their basement.  And, they lived near a ball field.  There was always a softball game or pool game played.  

Uncle Marvin was always positive, always encouraging, always interested.  He never made you feel small.  Even as a child, he treated me with the respect you would expect to treat an adult.  He never talked down to me.

Uncle Marvin and Aunt Ruth spent winters with my folks in Lake Havasu, Arizona.   They were always there for my folks.  They’ve been friends and relatives for nearly 60 years.

It doesn’t look good for Uncle Marvin.  We will pray for you.   

Sunday, November 7, 2010

role models…

I visit my folks at least once a week.  They’re in their upper 80’s now, with my dad being 89 and my mom a month away from 87. 

They’re pretty remarkable people, mentally very sharp.   I can have more pointed, nuanced discussions with them than most people I’m around.  We talk a lot of politics.  We talk about the Catholic Church and its problems.  We talk about abortion.  We talk about my work.  We talk about everything. 

My mom always has root beer.  I love root beer, and she knows it.  Normally, she has some diet form of whatever’s on sale.  But, last week, she bought something special, IBC.  She said she wanted to make sure I’d come visit.  It was a bribe.

She just got a cat.  His name is Thomas (after me).  My dad doesn’t like cats, at least not that he’ll admit to, and for sure, not in the house.   She’s been sneaking him in a little bit at a time.  Pretty soon, I’m guessing he’ll be a full time resident. 

Thomas trolls the neighborhood at night.  I’m wondering if my mom thinks I do the same thing.

Dad’s almost blind.  He can see light and dark, mostly shadows.  He’s fought cancer a few times.  And, we’ve almost lost him once or twice.

The other week, my mom asked if I could give her a ride to the body shop to pick up her car.  She got rear-ended by somebody while she was pulling into her driveway.  It wasn’t serious.

Since my dad can’t see, I told him that the damage to the front of mom’s car wasn’t too bad, and that the body shop did a nice job.  He was in on the joke in a second and started teasing my mom about old people driving and having their drivers licenses taken away.  He said he was going to have to start driving her around for her safety.

He doesn’t like it when you talk about how well he’s handling things, and his positive outlook on things, like he’s Nelson Mandela or something.   He asks, “What choice do I have?  These are the facts and there really isn’t an option.”

He chooses to be happy.  They choose to be happy.  The only option, in their minds, is to make the best of it.  Live the life that’s been dealt at the best of your ability. 

A lot of people say that in words.  They do it in deeds.  

not so smart….

I pay for HBO for one show, Bill Maher’s Real Time.  It’s appointment TV for me.

Maher is whip smart.  He is quick with the acerbic quip, the remark that makes you recoil, a little snarky and not so cute.  He’s also liberal with a capital L, small L, sideways L, and upside down L.  He doesn’t pretend to be objective.

He’s not afraid to bring on opposing viewpoints, people who are smart, people who are willing to put themselves out there.  With a panel of three people from all walks of life, his lively panel discussions often get a little raucous and a more than a little blue.  Sailors would feel very comfortable at this table.

Last night, Maher had Bill O’Reilly as a guest, yes, that Bill O’Reilly.  Determined not to be the lamb led to slaughter, O’Reilly stood up and made Maher look intolerant.  While Maher was offering cynical comments, O’Reilly offered legitimate (I’m not kidding) comment on several topics.  I was stunned at the effectiveness of O’Reilly and how small Maher looked. 

I don’t know if this is how Maher intended this to look.  In the past, there has always been room for other perspectives and intelligent discussion.  He seems to have lost that ability. 

I think he should relook at this show and see how he can get his “mojo” back.  I felt like I was watching Keith Olbermann.  He’s better than that.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

lessons learned…..

I’m 52. 

I remember how my parents have always said how life races by.  I think I first heard it when I was 16.  I think my dad had a sore shoulder that day.  He was 52 when he said it.  He’s 89 now.

A lot has happened since that day I first heard my dad say that.  And, of course, I really didn’t understand what he was saying.  I was in high school, needing a bridle to hold me back from getting into whatever life I was going to live.  I was too involved in me to really think about old people stuff.

For some reason, I recently started to think about how those thirty something years have past, what I’ve done and what I didn’t do.  I think it might have something to do with seeing people my age looking old, or sometimes dying.

It’s taken me this long to figure out a few things.  The biggest is that I’m just renting my space here on earth.  You can’t really own anything.  So, to make that the emphasis of your life is really fruitless.  Your life is a collection of experiences and relationships, not a collection of things. 

Eventually, somebody’s going to have to go through all of that stuff and decide how to distribute or dispose of it.  They’re not going to sit there and think what a wonderful guy I was because I had so much, but what I was doing with all of that crap.

Another thing I’ve learned, albeit with a much greater struggle, is that people are going to see things in a different way than I do.  And, that no matter how wrong I think another person is, I won’t be able to change their mind if they don’t want it changed.  This past election cycle only reinforced that.

I’ve set my path on doing things and seeing things and experiencing things.  I’m trying to learn and understand as much as I can.

Professionally, I’ve spent the last five years rethinking how furniture is made, and designing ideas and products that haven’t been done that way before, not Nobel Prize winning stuff, but personally satisfying. 

I’m no longer looking to be important, or be the big guy with the big car and the big house and have my picture taken.  I’ve had all of those things.  And, you know what?  I’m still 52.  I still only wear one pair of pants at a time.  And, a fish fry is still my favorite meal.

Really, my value is my contribution to the people around me.  My value is the ability to help others in whatever way that is. 

So, as I sit here thinking about all of this, I’ve decided my life really should be measured like they measure hockey players, get a plus when you’re on the ice while your team scores, and get a minus when the other team scores, pretty simple.

Those scoring methods were instituted to give credit to all of those who help the team, not just the goal scorers, but the ones who do the dirty work of playing defense and passing, the ones the fans don’t recognize, but the ones who make it possible to win.

Maybe the next thing is learning how to skate.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

a little disappointed….

If you know me, you know I love to talk about politics.  And, I do it with passion. I’ve been politically oriented since as long as I can remember.

In my family, our dinner table consisted of talking about the things you weren’t supposed to talk about:  religion, politics and sex.  

So, when it comes to politics, I’ve been doing it most of my life.  Here’s where the disappointment comes.

I’ve come to identify with the Tea Party movement, not the whacko, I am not a witch faction, but the one that says that government is taking over too much of our lives, and the one that thinks we need to be honest with our people about spending and the deficit, social services, and what can be done.

My view of the Tea Party consists of more libertarian thought.  The Patriot Act is a bad thing, not a patriotic thing, because it gives government the authority to intrude in my life without my consent. 

Government should work for us, not the other way around.  We need to tell the truth about Social Security, and we need to raise the retirement age.  We need to rethink about our role in world matters and not be so quick to shoot at others.  We need to get out of social engineering and not worry who marries who and what gender they are.  We need to stop demonizing people of different religions.  We need to firmly stand for keeping religion out of our government and government out of our religion.  We need to back off and think about what the real role of government is.  We need to stop looking at government to fix everything.     

So, you’d think I’d be excited to discuss my positions with Tea Partiers.  Guess again.  Many of these people think that since people are noticing them, they need to express their opinions, all their opinions.  There seems to be no nuance, no empathy for another position, no ability to think rationally, but to move into emotional blather once somebody disagrees on a point.

And when it gets loud, it’s ruined  for everyone.  Like the drunk at the party who thinks he’s funny, they look stupid.

I’m very concerned a legitimate movement will implode under the weight of all of the “Jerry Springer” crowd, while thinking people try to quietly move the agenda forward with diplomacy and tact.   I don’t want to be part of a mob, but a movement.

I understand there is a whole new group of people wanting to be part of something.  Just like a party, when the loudmouths show up, so do the police. 

Let’s keep it civil and organized.   

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

it’s over, finally!

It came to me last night.  The election is over….finally.

I think there is a lot to be learned from the past few weeks and months.  I’m hoping we don’t forget how derisive and caustic the political environment has been.  I’m hoping we don’t forget the $4 billion spending as estimated by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Here is what I’ve learned.  We need to discuss and argue about ideas, not each other.  While the inclusion of people who have never engaged in political discourse is good, the sophistication of debate has degraded to stepping on heads and shouting down people with other ideas.  That is not good.

I’m tired of listening to people chide and abuse the opponent.  Advance your truth.  Respect your opponent’s truth.   Bring your own ideas and let them shine.

This country is built on better ideas.  The brightest light, not the loudest voice should lead our discourse.  I’m hoping the new group in charge understands that.  I’m rooting for them.