Feeling Disconnected

In the midst of this pandemic isolation, have you found yourself feeling a bit over connected? I know how strange that must sound. After all, we have been staying quarantined, social distancing, and in general, disconnecting from each other socially. So how could I possibly feel over connected?

Through this ordeal, the one area we didn’t disconnect, was the internet. The internet, with email and social media, and then Zoom or whatever virtual meeting program you were using, has if anything, kept me electronically connected while I physically and emotionally disconnected. While I was still working, not that I ever really stopped, I often resented the fact that I was bombarded with emails and texts from clients and coworkers who could find me anywhere and everywhere. There was no escaping them. I had developed a habit, no, a calling, that made it impossible for me to not check those connections constantly. Hours, often minutes, wouldn’t go by without me checking my email and texts for that next question, request, or demand of my attention. When I finally entered my pseudo retirement phase, I concentrated on slowing that down. Hell, I had actually got to the point where I could go several hours without looking, and sometimes even pass my 24 hour rule, without replying.

And then COVID-19 dropped on us and we went into physical separation and a renewed internet connection. Our disconnect physically meant that the internet via, in my case, Zoom became the replacement. Where I had finally accomplished the art of slowing down and only agreeing to meetings in my volunteer career that fit into my schedule, I was now at the mercy of the internet meeting. During my first trip up North, don’t worry, we were quarantining in our cottage, my schedule was peppered with Zoom meetings with co-volunteers, committee meetings and client sessions. In a normal time, I would have just said no. I know some of you who know me well, are snickering, but I had actually begun to to use the word. But, and it’s a big but, these were and still are, not normal times. COVID-19 was not only isolating us individually, it was shutting down businesses and my retirement career has been helping small businesses find their way.

My requests for assistance ramped up exponentially, and with it, my inability to stay away from that electronic connection. I was back in my old rut. If you needed me, I was accessible 24 -7. Schedules didn’t matter. I would get the Zoom meeting request, time and link and I had to try to pretend I hadn’t seen it. Something had to give. Enter my family for an electronic intervention. I was asked, point blank, if I was enjoying my volunteering? I reminded them that it gave me a sense of purpose and that I enjoyed being able to help clients navigate the business start-up environment. So they asked, why was I so stressed and at times so apparently angry? I had no answer. I subconsciously wasn’t hearing myself complain. It seems while I thought I was learning to use the word no, I was not saying no to the right requests. I had somehow gone from mentoring my clients, to agreeing to two committee chair positions and membership in a third. This, not my client requests, was the cause of all those emails and Zoom meeting demands. I was over connected and all to the wrong purpose fulfilling activities.

I am on my second trip North to our cottage, but it will be different this time. We are still hiding in isolation and social distancing if we have to venture out, but I stepped away from those committee obligations, well at least one, and have a week without work. I left an ominous away message on my email account and refused all requests for Zoom meetings. If I have a Zoom session this week, it will be because I chose it and it will be to socialize with friends I am missing physically. I am finally feeling disconnected.

I will continue to miss the physical interaction and if and when this pandemic lifts, I will be the first one out socializing with friends and even strangers. But going forward, I am definitely focusing more energy on disconnecting from the demand side of this electronic hook. I will use the internet to enjoy the connections I choose and avoid the temptation to be on call 24-7. I will enjoy the moments I feel disconnected and savor the moments to reconnect to life and the things that truly matter.

Adventures in Coronavirus Quarantine, or how my past gave me hope for the future

I am entering week three of social distancing. The isolation can get a bit overwhelming at times but it also brings out the opportunity to do things you always thought about but never followed through on. We have all been finding time to do some of the things we never found time to do before coronavirus, or Covid-19 as it has come to be known. I still find it interesting that its original designation had to be changed. In the meantime, the “safer at home” rules have created an opportunity for binge watching TV and in my case some nostalgic surfing.

Earlier tonight we enjoyed our third “stay at home virtual get together”. If anything good has come out of this pandemic, it might be that baby boomers have gotten comfortable with live streaming and that we figured out that we could get together with friends for whom the distance between us, had gotten in the way. After spending a night reminiscing with a friend from Arkansas for whom I hold many fond work memories, I found myself longing for just a little more nostalgia.

Enter any one of a host of cable TV apps. I am a child of the sixties. For those of my readers too young to remember those times, think the birth of Star Trek, Bonanza and I Spy. Think the birth of technicolor! The creation of color TV. It was an era of innovation for the baby boomers. We had cut our teeth on Gun Smoke, Have Gun Will Travel and Lassie, all presented in stunning black and white. Suddenly our world exploded with color and our movies gave us something breathtaking, something called Living Technicolor. It was as if God had recreated creation for us right there on the big screen.

I was eleven years old in 1962. I was impressionable and yes naive. Girls were just entering my sphere of awareness and I admit, I had begun writing notes to many of them. This might in fact have been the moment I fantasied myself as a writer. At the very least I was pouring my poetic self into those notes. For you in the world of texting, tweeting and Instagram, I can only express pity for the joy you missed out on in the creation of writing a note and then finding a way to secretly pass it through what was then our crude version of the internet. It was, back then, the friend to friend to friend net. And we never signed a privacy agreement, ever.

It was at this time that a movie came along that to this day remains one of my favorites. I am sure it was not for the acting, though it starred Jimmie Stewart and Maureen O’Hara. It wasn’t for the plot, after all they all followed pretty much the same story line, Jimmie the easy going dad with the mixed up kids trying to define the perfect family. It wasn’t necessarily the acting. What it actually turned out to be was the setting and the girl. The setting was always somewhere you had never been and only imagined you might one day be, and all brought to you in the splendor of “living technicolor”, somehow brighter and clearer than your actual life. The movies took me to a Hollywood Eden and beckoned me to follow. And then there was the girl. She was always the perfect girl, the one you knew one day you would eventually meet, fall in love with and then magically end up with in one of those perfect movie scenes. She was cute, borderline beautiful or as beautiful as an eleven year old could envision, and somehow available if only you knew the right lines. You had to compete with Fabian or Paul Anka but then they were no match for the charm you were imagining you could muster.

My movie was Mr Hobbs Takes a Vacation. I probably had seen it half a dozen times already and each and every time I fell for the daughter. In my defense, she was only a couple years older than me and she checked all the boxes, cute, sophisticated and looking for her true love, aka, me. The fact that Jimmie Stewart was her dad only enhanced the relationship. Who wouldn’t want Jimmie Stewart as your dad?

So I have definitely digressed, but you needed the background, whether you wanted it or not. I had just ended our virtual get together, I had enjoyed a scotch or two, and I was waxing nostalgic. When my wife suggested we find a good movie with which to end our evening, who was I to let the opportunity pass me by. She had never heard of the movie, deprived childhood I suspect, and she trusted my opinion. After all, she loved Jimmie Stewart and I convinced her it was a classic. To my sheer delight, two phenomena occurred, it turned out she loved the movie and my memory and expectations were not disappointed. My wife enjoyed the nostalgia that only a Jimmie Stewart movie can bring and my crush was still as idyllic as I remembered her to be.

There is a point here. Coronavirus has forced us into isolation. You would be lying if you weren’t longing for at least a bit of the old normal. I needed an escape. We all need an escape. For me, tonight was all about that escape. The virtual get together gave me a sense of being with my friends even if it was only virtual. Mr Hobbs took me back to a time when life was simple. No work to stress about. No virus for me to worry about. No crashing market and no isolation. Just a moment in time when an eleven year old could imagine a life beyond their everyday existence and a future where the boy meets the girl of his dreams and spends a lifetime getting to woo her. And all in living technicolor.

Body and Soul

Body, Mind, Heart and Soul, these were the words that piqued my interest today. I am currently going through a healing process and it has become clear to me how intertwined and dependent these four terms can be.

Let’s start with body. When we are not feeling well, when we have gone through a trauma, when our body needs to be healed, we go to a doctor. They diagnose the problem, assign a regimen of medication, maybe therapy or in some cases, a surgery. The medication assists our body in healing itself. Therapy or surgery, actually repair the damage and begin the process of healing. This is a physical process and in most cases the first place our system looks for the fix. But what if this is not the only issue or possible only a symptom of the real problem.

We might need to consider the mind. The body often can’t heal completely without the healing of the mind. The mind may be causing us to deal with anxiety. “What if I can’t get better?” is the question we begin to want answered. If I want a complete recover, I need to be ready in my mind to deal with the process. Sometimes, there is no true physical issue. The phrase “all in your head” comes to mind. It is true that the perception of pain is in fact all in my head. The pain is real, but it is the mind that interprets the inputs coming from the source of that pain. At other times, the issue is not physical pain, but emotional stress, possibly to the point of depression. If the mind is to be healed, we may need the help of a professional or at least the ear of someone willing to listen and help us confront the source of that anxiety. Just as we can heal the body, so can we heal the mind.

Enter the heart. In this setting I am not talking about the heart as an organ. That would include it in the discussion of the body. I am referring to the heart as the repository of our emotions. If we have suffered a loss, we could be suffering from a broken heart. Not a heart that isn’t functioning but rather a heart that has suffered a loss too big to ignore. At times we may be walking around feeling like there is a figurative hole in our heart. The heart may be the hardest to heal. It unfortunately, at the very least, takes time. Sometimes it requires that we must find a reason to move on. We cannot replace what we lost but we can use the memories to help us find the strength to move on.

And then there is the soul. To talk about healing the soul, we must first understand what it is. The soul is the essence of who we are and who we are meant to be. It is not a physical organ. We don’t know where in the body it resides. We feel it rather than see it. We use the term, “nourish the soul”, but what do we feed the soul. I believe we feed it a dose of purpose, faith and positive thoughts. Stress, lack of faith in people or processes, hopelessness and negative thoughts or behaviors, diminish the soul.

I began this piece with the statement that these four concepts were intertwined. That to truly heal, the prescription must treat all four. To focus on one and ignore the rest, leaves us only partially healed and vulnerable to a relapse. If we are to heal the body, we must heal the mind, heart and soul as well. The prescription must include the medication or repair that the body needs, the help necessary to calm the mind and then restore it to full function, the time needed and a reason for the heart to carry on, and finally, attention to the soul to restore our purpose and provide the nourishment to strengthen us for the process. Just as the doctor will recommend a regiment of medication for the body, knowledge and understanding of the healing process, including the time needed and the ups and downs that will inevitably occur, will help to mend the mind. For the heart, the prescription must include a positive attitude, the opportunity to both face and deal with the healing and strong belief that the people around us truly care and hope for our complete healing. As to the soul, we need to want to heal. We must restore our soul to the strength it will need to regain who we were meant to be and the reason to heal.

I have, over the past several weeks, experienced healing of body, mind, heart and soul. The surgeon fixed the worn out knee while the nurses and physical therapists helped me regain my mobility. Through the early stages of the recover, I fought with the anxiety of sleepless nights, recovery that seemed too slow and the stress of fighting through the pain. The physical therapists were there to encourage me and to calm my anxiety when it would block my ability to heal. My heart was dealing with the loss of my independence and mobility, but my friends and family, and especially my wife were there to listen and remind me that they cared. Their concern reminded me I was never alone and that I could feed on that concern to find the strength to keep working toward my recovery. As to my soul, it never left me. I knew the road ahead when I had made the decision to have the surgery. Each and every person who became a part of the healing strengthened my soul to regain what I had been losing; the positive attitude that had existed before the pain had begun to diminish it.

At sometime, we all face the need to heal. When it is the body only, the process is faith in the diagnosis. But never lose sight of the other three; mind, heart and soul. Each can be dealt with alone or addressed as a group. But in any case, we don’t really need to nor do we accomplish the healing alone. Remember that the people around us are the prescription we need to complete the healing.

A Shout out to my Heroes

Surgeons can take us apart, fix the broken stuff and put us back together. Today, I am thankful to one such surgeon, Dr. Marcu of Sauk Prairie Hospital, and his surgical team. Thanks to them I have a new knee. The old arthritic knee is gone and with a determined amount of work on the new one, I should be able to regain those activities that were beginning to slip away. But, as grateful as I am for their skills, there is another entire team that is necessary to make their surgical prowess work. Without that team, I would have a new knee but one that would never accomplish what the original one had been able to do for all those years. The surgeon could take me apart and then reassemble me, but it was the physical therapists that would make that whole project work.

This is a shout out to those incredible hospital nurses and the physical therapists that have begun and will continue the effort needed for me to complete this journey. They are often the unsung heroes of the whole process. Worse yet, they often refer to themselves as, the pain deliverers.

My road to recovery began two weeks ago at the Sauk Prairie Health Center, and my thanks go out to all of the nurses that got me back up, my pain managed and on my way to rehab. Each was appreciated for their particular skill but Brianna was one nurse that stood out. She drew the night shift on my first night and not only promptly responded to all of my needs, and yes some whining, reduced my pain and managed to protect my dignity through it all.

Next up came the SSM Home Health team of Sarah, Dana, Wayne and Gail. These four gave me what I needed most, encouragement and motivation. When I worried that I wasn’t progressing, they showed me just how much I had. When I felt I couldn’t possible bend my knee any further, they showed me how and why and then found a few more degrees. When I needed someone to listen to my stories, they even took time for that. They humored me and restored mine.

Today my home team handed me off to out-patient rehab. For the next several weeks, I will be meeting with Jim and Carolyn at Meriter Monona Clinic. These two will help me finish the journey I have begun. Both Jim and Carolyn were there for my first go round and I look forward to working with them again and am confident they will get me through these final steps, no pun intended.

Surgeons and their teams are incredible in what they accomplish. I for one cannot even watch the procedure let alone imagine performing any of these medical procedures. But as great as their feats are, without the physical therapists, none of it would matter. That said, I could not let my PT experts go unnoticed and potentially unappreciated.

Thank you all for putting me back together and making sure that all those parts start doing what they were meant to do. They say I’ll be dancing soon and with every step I take, I will think of how important each of you were in helping me make each one.

A Broken Record

We are a culture that spends huge amounts of time keeping statistics.  We track statistics in every aspect of work, sports, entertainment and life and then record them as records.  The longest, the shortest, the highest, the lowest, the most, the least, the fastest and the slowest.  If we can measure it, we can record it.  We even dedicate an entire book to keeping these records and update it annually.  So what is it about these records that make them so sacred?

They are important, or seemingly so, because they motivate us.  They often go so far as to inspire us to reach for goals we believe might be beyond our reach.  But one thing is true, records are meant to be broken.  And, given time, they often are.

A week or so ago, one of my records was broken.  It had stood for a number of years and in the back of my mind, I know I entertained the idea that it would somehow stand forever.  It had been a record I had set at work and I was quite proud of it.  In truth, it wasn’t the record, but rather the effort that it had taken to set that record that made it so important to me.  And there in lies the point of keeping records.  It is not the loftiness of the record but rather the effort, skill, tenacity and often the risk that was involved in establishing it.  Records don’t come easily.  If they did, well, they shouldn’t be records and certainly not worth tracking.

I am happy to say that my record was broken by someone very deserving.  She put forth the effort required to have the chance.  She sacrificed the personal time and dedicated herself to the work in a manner that allowed her to reach and exceed the goal.  And in the end my record fell.  Sure, there was a moment of sadness when my record fell but it was quickly replaced with a sense of pride knowing that I had inspired an individual to do what it took to break it.

That is the purpose of records and the reason they are worth recording.  They inspire people to reach higher than they otherwise would.  To accomplish things we think are beyond our ability.  To set goals worth working for.  The record setter needs to realize this fact and take pride in the effort they expended in setting it.  The record may fall, but the sense of worth and the challenge they set for others can never be taken away.

Ironically, this week we have the chance to set a new record as voters go to the polls in what might be record numbers.  What an inspiring thought that we as a nation might so fully respect the right to vote that uncountable numbers of people before us fought to secure and protect.  Like any other record, it is meant to be broken and all it takes is the will to break it.  Go be part of the record.  Have your vote counted, and then just maybe go on to choose or set a record of your own.  But remember, your record is just the bench mark for someone else to reach for.  Set the bar high.

First Days

This week our children and in my case, grandchild are headed back to school.  Summer is over in some sense and play time is being replaced by school time.  I came across this quote by The Prophet, Khalil Gibran that my sister had shared in a post.

“Your children are not your children, they’re the sons and daughters of life longing for itself. They come through you but they are not from you. And though they are with you, they belong not to you. You can give them your love but not your thoughts. They have their own thoughts. You can house their bodies but not their souls — for the souls are in a place of tomorrow that you cannot visit. Not even in your dreams. You can strive to be like them, but you cannot make them just like you.”

As I read these words and felt them resonate within me, I knew I had to write about my version.

Twenty two years ago this week, I prepared to walk my daughter Kathryn to her very first day of school.  At five years old she was our stubbornly independent challenge.  There was seemingly nothing she didin’t feel she could do on her own.  As we prepared to leave the house, she declared that she did not want me walking her to school.  She was fully intending on taking the five block walk on her own.  As I insisted that it wasn’t going down that way she dug her heels in harder.  After some intense negotiations, I managed to carve out a compromise.  I would be allowed to walk with her to the end of the block before her school but there would be no hand holding.  I accepted this compromise fully believing that she would soften on the way and allow me to go that last block to the school doors.  And with that folly in my head, we set off.

There was no hand holding and as we approached the last block I was being allowed to walk, she informed me she was going to say goodbye and I needed to go home.  The look on her face told me there were no further negotiations to be had.

Now before you think badly of me leaving my precious daughter to walk that last five hundred feet all alone, I at least had one last trick.  As I turned back toward home, with a handshake goodbye, I ducked behind the tree that would hide me from her view.  From my vantage point I was able to watch as she approached the school.  My heart ached as I saw the line of parents standing there with their children, holding hands and hugging them close.  And there was Kathryn, in her first day dress and that Pretty Pony pink backpack.

And then it hit me.  What was the one thing I had wanted for her as I held her tiny body in my arms just moments after her birth?  I wanted her to be independent, to have her own mind about things and the courage and determination to follow her dreams where ever they would take her.  And now, watching her from my hiding spot behind that tree, I realized that she was going to be just fine.

All of this leads me back to the words of the prophet.  We can try to relive our lives through our children. We can try to mold them to the form we would have them take but the truth is they really aren’t ours to keep.  Our role is one of slowly moving away from center stage and back to the wings, where if we are wise, we quietly observe the wonder of life through their eyes.  We understand that we can bring them into this world but it is their world from that moment forward and they belong to it.  They will carve their path and leave their mark and if we trust them to walk that last block alone, the mark they leave, just might be great.

So as you take those first day photos and bid your children goodbye, trust them, trust yourself.  They will succeed if you let them and they will flourish if you encourage them.  This is their first day.

 

 

The things I know and you don’t

Travel is an incredible thing.  You can learn things you never knew but you have to be in the right place at the right time.  I have always resisted my wife’s desire to be part of a tour.  My idea of travel has been to explore while hers was leave the driving to someone else.  I held to the premise that exploring will uncover those hidden nuggets, accidently while presenting them as pleasant, most of the time, surprises.  The problem is, the odds are you might just as likely discover that you were lost and only thought you knew where you were.  The only surprise turns out to be all the things you missed and without my wife’s method, never even knew you had.  I believe the term is “blissful ignorance.”

Lest you think I am defending my approach, you are wrong.  I have, after several, no, many successful times using with my wife’s methodology, succumbed to the idea that at the very least I need to compromise.  The beauty of my wife’s reliance on tours and tour guides is that I have learned things about an area or region or country that I never would have if I had just been stumbling around in the “explore” method.  And I might add, in such a shorter period that I still had the time to indulge my desire to explore.

This trip across the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland has provided so many “aha” moments each and every day.  The tours have truly exposed us to the culture and history of the cities and countries we have traversed.  The tour guides have entertained, skipped the lines and cued us in to the history, humor and ethnicity of the tours provided for us.  Each and every time they have left us with personal space to spend exploring with just enough direction to leave us satisfied that we had seen the things that mattered.  Call it the “cliff notes” of Europe’s greatest cities.

As an example, just today we learned the connection of Professor Bunson, Mr Heinz, Jacob Astor and the Preslin family line to the city we toured.  I found out the origin of Mannheim Steam Roller, the real reason for the success of the Benz Company and the significance of the monkey statue just this side of the Heidelberg Bridge.  And let’s not forget that there were John Deere’s there but they call them Bull Dogs.  And now you are waiting for me to explain these statements………Seriously?  That was the point of this segment.  Unless you travel, unless you take my wife’s advice, you will be stuck with Google.  But I know because I got the chance to be there, to hear the stories and even better, to experience them.

My wish for everyone is that if you haven’t yet, you will one day get the chance to travel to at least a few of the places on your bucket list.  And that if and when you do, you’ll realize that there’s no shame and you are no less the explorer when you take the occasional tour or when you rely on the knowledge and wisdom of the guide.

Retirement…a Bottle of Wine and Sunset on my Deck

Hopefully the title got your attention.  I apologize to my readers, now numbering in the tens, for my lull in writing.  I should also tell you that after a bottle of wine, kindly provided by our neighbors, that this, at least in my own mind, will be a great read.  I am happily, almost comfortably into my ninth month of retirement.  Ironically, a couple can produce a child in that time frame but I guess finding one’s self in retirement is sort of the equivalent.

Achievement

Not sure why this picture seems approprite, but something about the child, the mask and the arms raised in victory strikes a cord with me.

On Vaction

In my vacation phase somewhere up north.

I have found my purpose and that seemed to be everyone’s fear for me when I announced my retirement.  “What are you going to do with yourself?”  That seemed to be everyone’s concern.  If you remember, I started making lists.  I am happy, no elated to tell you that I checked and I haven’t accomplished any of those things yet.  The list was stupid.  It was too long and it included things I assumed would put everyone’s worries at ease.  Turns out it only made me tired thinking of all I would have to accomplish.

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So let me tell you how it is actually working out.  The book I am writing, it will be a great success if two things can happen.  One, I can take one hundred years to write it and two, I will live that long and some how have any of the faculties left to write coherently.  I had one bottle of wine and you are currently witnessing the results.   The alternative to that plan is that there is a publisher out there looking to publish the world’s shortest, we are talking ten pages, “how to succeed at life” novel.  Can you call ten pages a novel?  Then there’s the travel.  We have managed a four day get away to a Florida convention resort where we begged to be upgraded to a real room, you know, one with a view of actual water and I don’t mean the retention pond beyond the parking lot.  We squeezed in a week skiing in Colorado, everyone says go South, somewhere warm, by the ocean, we go to snow covered mountains.  And then there was the golf.  I was going to golf every week if not every day….. right, not so much.  But it turns out that was a good thing as retirement doesn’t actually improve your golf game.  Turns out it requires practice, patience and perseverance, of which I have, oh yeah, none of those qualities or at least not the time for them.

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But not all is lost.  I have found the secret to retirement.  It turns out it is doing nothing and feeling busy.  It is enjoying a sunrise with coffee on your deck. It is reading the paper for enjoyment instead of worry, you just skip all the news stories and focus on the comics.  It is changing your mind and doing the last thing on your list instead of the first.  It is skipping everything and sitting on the deck, watching the sunset and finishing off a bottle of wine with no regrets for tomorrow morning.  It is letting the day find you instead of trying to find yourself.

Grandkids selfie

There is one other accomplishment for which I am both proud and grateful.  I found an organization, SCORE, that has completely fulfilled me.  I discovered that the passion in my career came from helping and mentoring others, sometimes helping them do and become things even I couldn’t do for myself.  In this volunteer position, I get to mentor new businesses.  I marvel at their dreams and aspirations and then I get to answer their questions and tell them what I learned from both my mistakes and my successes.  I return from these sessions recharged and envigorated.  It is the exercise of your passion that rewards you for the years you spent working at figuring out what it was.

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So take heart all you worriers.  I am alive and doing well in retirement.  My list has been put in the back of my desk drawer where it belongs and I am allowing each new day to write its own “to do” list for me.  Now if you don’t mind, I will sign off.  I’ve got a million things to not do yet today.  Manana.

How could I be missing this?

I really can’t believe that I am about to write this.  Its not that I am unhappy with the freedom of retirement.  I went to Florida for a week on a whim.  I spent a week skiing in the Rockies, something I could only dream about for the past twenty years.  I get up each day and set my own schedule.  I have even learned to skip the guilt when that schedule includes just kicking back with a good book.  And yet, I am about to tell you I am missing something.

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I’ve thought about it for a while now and at first I wasn’t sure what it was that was missing but the other day, having a very leisurely two hour breakfast with my wife, it became clear.  Deb asked if I was actually missing doing tax returns, something that kept me locked in battle from mid-January to mid-April every year for the past thirty-five plus years.  I was quick to answer, and apologies to any former client reading this, no way.  How would I be missing the stress, especially in a year when the tax law changes are creating countless more hours spent in planning?  How could I be missing the hours stacked on hours of time spent at the office?  The simple answer, I didn’t miss that.  But I was missing something and that turns out to be something I can’t replace.

Tax season, as it has always been known, is more or less a war.  It starts well before the first W-2’s or 1099’s hit the mailboxes.  It begins slowly as the office and staff gear up for battle.  Even before the first client enters through the doors, there will be hours of training on the law changes, software updates and procedures that will be put in place to handle over seven thousand tax returns to be compiled, reviewed, signed, filed and mailed all before April 15th.  It will speed up in mid January and by February 1st will consume everyone in the office, demanding conservatively eighty hours a week just to keep up.  So where am I going?  What masochist would miss that?  Well…..me.

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Don’t get me wrong, its not the hours, its not the work, its the workers.  I said it was a war.  In a war, you lean on the soldiers around you.  You depend on them.  They become your family.  Tax season was no different.  We were all in it together.  We knew when the stress or the hours were getting to one of us.  We stepped in.  We encouraged.  We told war stories and we laughed.  We were comrades and only someone who dealt wth it could understand the connections we formed.  If knowledge made you proficient at solving tax problems, empathy saved you.  That’s what I was missing.  I was on R&R while my comrades were going to battle together.  I missed the companionship, the hugs, the general encouragement from people going through the same process.

So here is the reality, at some point you step back from the battle and it moves on without you.  I will, for as long as they will include me, go back for the occassional lunch or the social hour, but I know it won’t and can’t be the same.  Their battle stories will now be their stories and not mine.  Conditions will change, and people will change.  Life will evolve.  Eventually, just as Thomas Hardy wrote, I won’t be able to go back home, the home that work, during a tax season, always became.  That family of co-workers I battled along side will have moved on, fighting new battles, their battles.

Every person who retires will go through, to some degree, this feeling of loss.  I am missing it now and though difficult, I must find a way to come to grips with it.  I will need to find things and people to fill my days and eventually, I will leave the battle behind.  I will leave the battle to those younger and still energetic enough to fight it.  If any of them are reading this now, here’s my advice.  Hang together, appreciate each other and realize that one day you will miss it as much as I do.  But for now, as tough as the hours may be, as stressful as the work may seem, you have comrades in arms who are sharing it all.  That’s what I miss and always will.

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The Hotel Room …. or how we became friends for life

I had two cups of coffee this morning.  One cup leaves me talkative but two cups and I’m sarcastic.  I thought I ought to take advantage of that and write this next piece.  You’ve been warned of my sarcasm if you intend to continue reading.

Years ago, fall of 1986 to be exact, my two year old daughter was going to a sitter just a few doors down from us.  When I was dropping her off one morning, there was a new father dropping off his two daughters.  We exchanged hellos and that was that.  A couple days later, My wife and I attended a neighborhood casino night.  We were new to the neighborhood and not knowing anyone there we attempted to mingle while playing casino games.  At the end of the gaming session and prior to the auction for prizes, I noticed the new father I had met at the sitter and realizing he hadn’t known anyone either, introduced him to my wife.  He in turn introduced his wife and we boldly joined them at their table.  The auction was rolling along when a room for a weekend at the Embassy Suites in Milwaukee came up for bid.  We had been looking for a quick get away, so my wife and I started bidding on the room with our play money winnings.  The bidding soon passed our total.  About to bow out of the action, our new found neighbors offered to throw in their meager winnings and we offered up the entire works on our next bid.  Now I fully expected to be immediately outbid, or should I say, hoped we would be outbid.  After all, we really didn’t know our partners in this bid let alone intend to share a suite with them as our first date.  And you guessed it.  No one bid.  I was the anxious owner of a Milwaukee hotel room with let’s be honest here, total strangers.  For all I knew they had been forced to move after a recent stalking charge leveled by their previous neighbors.  Worse yet, they would turn out to be swingers and my wife and I …. well we weren’t … aren’t.  Disclaimer here, my wife worries that the reader will get the wrong idea …. well don’t.

I decided the best course of action would be to graciously hand the room over to them and formulate our early exit.  And again you guessed it or you figured out there wasn’t much of a story if they accepted my offer.  They were already setting a date with my wife for our hotel stay.  Now I WAS convinced this couple was either crazy or desperate, possibly both.  Before I could make up excuses, like I snore loudly or I prefer to sleep in the nude, I don’t but I thought it might scare them off, unless of course they really were swingers, we were scheduled to all head down to the Embassy Suites that very next weekend.

The weekend came and my wife was actually looking forward to our “group date”, which made me begin to worry about her as well, after all, I had only known her for nine years and maybe she was really good at keeping secrets.  We had decided to bring our daughter with us, as had they, but I was still wondering how this would work?  At this point, my detail planner wife explained that it was a suite, implying, though adjoining, two rooms.  We would take one and they could have the other.  All I had to worry about was hitting it off conversationally.  My anxiousness was reducing.

Arrival in Milwaukee.  The suite turned out to be a shared bedroom and sitting area with at least a separation of sorts between the two areas.  Remember how I said we brought the kids.  The three of them were already thick as thieves from the common sitter we shared.  And again you guessed it.  They all wanted to be together in the sitting area on that wonderful fold out couch that only three kids under the age of six could not only love but share.  And that left us right where it turns out BOTH couples had thought wasn’t going to happen …. sharing two queen beds in the same room.  Thank god for wine and a mini bar.

It has been over thirty years since that night.  Not only did we survive our time together …. turns out they were as nervous as we were …. our families traveled together many more times in the years that followed.  Through multiple moves by our friends, first to Chicago, then back to the Madison area and eventually settling in the St. Louis area, through our children’s graduations and two of their weddings, and even through grieving the passing of Doug’s wife Carol two years ago, we are still and always will be best friends.  It is clearly not the same without Carol as part of the “Bob and Carol, Ted and Alice” running joke of our first meeting, but nothing can break up a friendship forged by sharing a room as your first date.

Thank you Embassy Suite.  From that night forward, Doug and Carol and their family became an integral part of our family’s life.  Without your donated room to that casino night thirty “odd” years ago, my wife and I would never have discovered one of the most likable, family oriented and adventuresome couples with whom we have spent a lifetime.

To quote someone “Ain’t life funny sometimes.”