It's my hope you and your loved ones had a great year, and are anticipating a wonderful 2015!
With 2014's increased travel, my chances of experiencing unique circumstances multiplied. Two events showed me how courage and truth can lead to freedom and happiness.
May 2014: Providence, RI. 2:30 AM.
After Brown's Campus Dance, a group of 1984 classmates, wanting memories to continue, proceeded to old Theta Delta Chi's courtyard to share stories and relive the hope we sensed as underclassmen. When I entered the restroom I noticed a walker leaning on a stall. When I turned to wash my hands, the walker's owner was washing his face and hands. My heart dropped.
Thirty four years earlier, I was one of two early risers on my college freshman dormitory hall. The sense of duty, honor, discipline, and organization I'd come to admire, and thrive under, in my legendary high school football coach, Ted Monica, was displayed by only a handful of people I met at Brown. One was John "Bake" McBride, Brown's future Basketball Captain. For a majority of our first year, John was the first person I greeted early each day. Like clockwork every morning, in Perkins Hall's 3rd floor men’s bathroom, I'd say: "morning Bake" and he'd respond: "Hey Matty, what's up my brother?"
Little did Bake know his impact. My mom died the previous November and my dad remarried a month into my first year at Brown. Relationships I'd known were gone. Bake's steady goodness was like a streak of sunshine every morning.
And there he was! Brown's dormitories are available to alumni returning to reunions. Bake and his wife were staying in a room on the former fraternity's first floor. I said "morning Bake" he turned, smiled, and we embraced. His wonderful spirit, mind, smile and kind eyes are the same. But MS has taxed his once powerful and athletic frame. We spoke and I invited him to join us in the courtyard. He said he'd like to, but he was exhausted. I understood. Five minutes later, Bake was strolling down the ramp leading to the courtyard. I teared up. Despite his physical restrictions, Bake's courage and willingness to face his truth mobilized him to laugh and joke, to be free and happy, into the wee hours. More will come about Bake in 2015.
July 2014: Old Orchard Beach, Maine.
Sean McGrath, was the monster back during our high school senior year's Star Ledger Trophy Winning football season. A roving defensive back, he adjusted to an opponent's offensive strengths and used his body like a human missile to disrupt intended plays.
So, it was no surprise when Sean became a Special Forces Ranger in the United States Army. The battle of Mogadishu started during a 1993 city meeting when United States forces attempted to seize two high level insurgents. Shortly after the assault began, Somali militia and armed civilian fighters shot down two US UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. The subsequent operation to recover these helicopter crews drew the raid. Expected to last an hour, it grew into an overnight standoff. This resulted in 18 deaths, 80 wounded, and one helicopter pilot captured among the U.S. raid and rescue forces.
Sean was the acting 1st Sergeant with the 82nd Air Medivac Detachment Unit in Mogadishu during this 1993 rescue. He was in the middle of this military initiative made famous in the book and movie entitled "Black Hawk Down".
One of his most graphic memories includes Sean being wakened by rats nibbling on his feet in his make shift desert dwelling. Like Bake's physical challenges, these war traumas took a toll on Sean. But, they did not break his spirit. He fostered the courage to address his situation and to seek freedom, peace, and happiness. To maintain a peaceful perspective, Sean paddle boards a few hours a day, riding Maine waves year round regardless of the weather.
In addition, he fixes homes and restores, by hand, VW Buses, like this 1962 model he found in Colorado where it was functioning as a chicken coop. He transported its rusted body to Old Orchard Beach on a flatbed trailer. Last summer as we cruised Maine Beaches people took candid shots of us in the bus and asked to have their pictures taken with it. And, I understand he's been offered six figures for similar VW Bus projects. Sean stands second from the left. In order, here's Peter O'Donnell, Sean, John Dagon, Steve Doherty, and me.
Like Hoosiers, football style, the 1979 Madison Football Dodgers are the only team from a Group II sized NJ high school to win the Star Ledger Trophy, recognizing the state's best team. It was a unique time. As mentioned, coinciding with this extreme success I experienced a great loss. My mom was buried the day before our state championship playoff game against Orange. So, the friendships forged during this season are significant to me and we try to connect a few times a year.
This summer, we traveled to Sean's home to enjoy each other’s company, the beach, to learn paddle boarding, to laugh, and to eat lobsters.
While struggling to stand on the paddle board before learning I exceeded its weight limit, Sean coached me in the water and shared an amazing story.
A year before, he was enjoying huge surf generated by an approaching hurricane when an aged harbor seal approached his board and started barking: "HUP, HUP, HUP!"
Sean was surprised and amused by the seal, and he thought the animal was being playful, but the seal swam closer to Sean and was relentless in barking: "HUP, HUP, HUP!"
Once Sean focused on the seal it snapped its head toward the sea. The animal seemed to want to direct Sean's gaze with its nose. Sean's eyes followed the seal's guidance and Sean saw two distant dots floating in the water. He paddled to investigate and, as he approached the dots, he heard the screams for "help" and realized the dots were heads. A Canadian father and his son were being pulled out to sea by a powerful riptide, created by the hurricane.
Sean pulled them onto his board and paddled them to safety. The men rewarded Sean with a dinner and thanks.
It appears the seal sensed the father and son's desperation and notified Sean by imitating their screams for help. In order to save these men, Sean had to have the courage to explore, to trust his instincts, and to help.
And prior to this incident, I'm guessing Sean took a similar approach in dealing with his war memories. He fostered the courage to face the truth. This gave him the perspective and wisdom to free himself from horrific memories. It also gave him the freedom to pursue his happiness.
And Bake appears to have followed a similar pattern. His courage allowed him to honestly assess his situation; his strengths, challenges, opportunities, and threats. Focusing on the facts, and not believing limiting opinions, allows Bake to pursue his freedom, and happiness.
I've always had great respect for Bake and Sean. When I knew them before their respective challenges, their willingness to help their teams and pitch in, to focus on the needs of others while giving their optimal effort, was always evident. They were trustworthy. I always felt they had my back.
Since learning about how they've maintained happiness despite their challenges, my admiration has grown from an already high perch. Following please find quotes offered to reinforce the path to freedom and happiness via courage and truth, as demonstrated by these two friends.
1. Courage: mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty
You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honor. Aristotle
Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen. Winston Churchill
I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. Nelson Mandela
Courage is grace under pressure. Ernest Hemingway
You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' Eleanor Roosevelt
Have the courage to say no. Have the courage to face the truth. Do the right thing because it is right. These are the magic keys to living your life with integrity. W. Clement Stone
....and the secret to freedom is courage. Thucydides
2. Truth: the real facts about something: the things in accordance with fact or reality. "a true story"
In matters of truth and justice, there is no difference between large and small problems, for issues concerning the treatment of people are all the same. Albert Einstein
Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom. Thomas Jefferson
Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth. Marcus Aurelius
If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything. Mark Twain
If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair. C. S. Lewis
I believe that it is better to tell the truth than a lie. I believe it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe it is better to know than to be ignorant. H. L. Mencken
"The truth will set you free." John 8:32
3. Freedom is the state of being free or at liberty rather than in confinement or under physical restraint: exemption from external control, interference, regulation, etc.
Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes. Mahatma Ghandi
Freedom is nothing but a chance to get better. Albert Camus
The one thing you can't take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one's freedoms is to choose one's attitude in any given situation. Viktor Frankl
America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms it will be because we destroyed ourselves. Abraham Lincoln
Freedom means choosing your burden. Hephzibah Menuhin
On the other side of fear lies freedom.
Freedom is never given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Man is free at the moment he wishes to be. Voltaire
We seek peace, knowing that peace is the climate of freedom. Dwight D. Eisenhower
The secret to happiness is freedom.... Thucydides
4. Happiness: feeling pleasure and enjoyment because of your life, situation, etc.
Happiness can exist only in acceptance. George Orwell
It is not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes happiness. Charles Spurgeon
Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life. Omar Khayyam
Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions. Dalai Lama
Be happy with what you have and are, be generous with both, and you won't have to hunt for happiness. William E. Gladstone
Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony. Mahatma Gandhi
Remember that the happiest people are not those getting more, but those giving more. H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be. Abraham Lincoln
Happy New Year!