One of my favorite 20th century philosophers is Robert Fulghum, the author of Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. He has the most uncanny ability to take ordinary moments in our life and turn them into extraordinary life lessons. In my own way, I think my stories strive for that same sense of contribution.
My chosen career, that of a professional networker, has lent itself to my desire to be a good communicator through spoken and written words. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time in front of large rooms of people, speaking and teaching. I’ve also spent large blocks of time writing business trainings (nothing technical, ever, simply because I’m not nerdy enough). Regardless of how important the business information, my trainings are always delivered as a story. Storytelling that delivers life lessons, over business lessons, appeals to me the most and is actually the reason I started my blog. You can say, Inside My Head, is my way to pay tribute to Mr. Fulghum, one of my favorite storytellers of all time.
Here’s a story I’ve wanted to share for a long time.
Summer. 1985. Place. San Carlos, Mexico.
It was a wonderful day. We had close family and good friends visiting us in our little slice of heaven. Clear blue sky. Warm, cobalt sea. Mom. Sis. Her boyfriend, Sean. Our friend, Steve. Our year old daughter. Hubby. Me.
We’d spent the day on our boat doing nothing more than basking in the sun and swimming in and water skiing on the Sea of Cortez. We finished the day by heading out to open water in order to catch the sunset, listen to music, and to ask ourselves the all important question, “Could life, as we know it, get any better than this?!”
We turned off the motor, oohed and ahhhed at the setting sun, and waited with baited breath for that mystical “green flash” as the sun dipped below the horizon. Privately, over our left shoulder, my husband and I also took note of a dark cloud and obvious storm coming our way. Well ahead of the incoming storm, we decided to head back to the marina.
We found our always trusty cabin cruiser had no power. Our engine simply would not turn over. Nothing but the clicking sound a key makes in the ignition. Hmmm. What to do? For those who don’t spend much time boating, conditions in open water can turn bad pretty quickly. This was one of those times.
As mentioned, it was sunset. Early twilight. The wind had ominously picked up. The storm was now headed directly towards us. The water beneath us, at 180 feet, was too deep to throw an anchor. My mother, very reluctant to be on a boat under the best of conditions, was near catatonic even as she pulled out her rosary from heaven know’s were. I found myself speaking as calmly as possible to my mother as I, without assistance from her, put her into her life jacket.
Looking at my husband, who, at the time was strapping our little girl into her life-jacket while securing her in her car seat, could tell he was calm but very concerned. When our eyes met, we both knew we were in trouble. And we knew enough to keep from scaring any of our other-wise-boating-novices about the seriousness of our present condition.
As if on perfect cue, the rain, wind, high seas, and darkness of night, hit our boat all at the same time. To make matters worse, at a quick rate of speed, it was apparent our distressed boat was headed for a distant out-cropping of rocks. Dead calm, but with an intense sense of urgency, I could hear my husband on the radio calling our location and saying, “May Day! May Day! We’ve lost our engine. Send help!” We were headed for disaster and, as if it couldn’t get any worse, it did. At precisely the same moment, my husband and sister were suddenly over-come by gut-wrenching sea sickness.
In quickly assessing my situation I look around to see:
- I’ve got a mother on the floor, paralyzed with fear, rocking and praying, praying and rocking;
- I’ve got a wide-eyed baby girl, incredibly calm and quiet, with not one peep as she witnesses the swirling chaos around her;
- I’ve got two very sick people throwing up over the side of the boat but doing their best to help;
- And, finally, I’ve got two young men, Sean and Steve, both of whom are first timers to Mexico, with little to no boating experience — standing in total silence — wanting to do something but unable to do anything without instruction.
In a comic moment, I find myself thinking, “Funny. Dying isn’t the way I’d planned for us to end our day.”
With just milli-seconds to spare until hitting the rocks, my green with sick husband threw an anchor line out from the bow of the boat and, unbelievably, it bit instantly. Our daughter, still a wide-eyed wonder … my mother still praying … my husband and sis still sick … the only thing going for us at that point was one taut anchor line off the bow and two young men standing at the back of the boat with wooden oars over the stern working heroically [and with great intensity] to keep our boat off the rocks. With no immediate relief in sight, we had no idea how this dire emergency was going to play out.
As to our May Day? Well let’s just say there’s no such thing as a Mexican Coast Guard. Our call for help went unanswered and we were left to fight the forces of nature all on our own. But, of course, our story doesn’t end here.
As quickly as this storm came upon us, and as dire as our situation, nothing quite explains how we were saved.
Out of nowhere a very bright light was coming towards us. It was a boat. White. With two men. Wearing white. One older. One younger. The older with white hair and beard. The younger holding the white light. The sea was absolutely churning, and these guys never appeared even slightly ruffled. They weren’t pitching to and fro. Just completely pleasantly calm. The older gentleman, driving the boat, expertly maneuvered his boat within 15 feet of us. I was close enough to feel his uncanny sense of calm.
Unlike any extraordinary moment I’ve ever experienced before or since, as I sat crouched on the bow of our boat, the younger man took a white rope and tossed it to me. One toss. In a high sea. And, I caught the rope. On the first pass. Really? Yes. Really.
Incredulous, I tied us off (through my own error, I did tie it incorrectly and tore the bow rail off our boat and, miraculously, I did it without doing any harm to my fingers or hands).
Without slowing down and with no hesitation whatsoever, the men who’d come to our rescue, made one minor maneuver, pulled our boat off the rocks while my husband cut the anchor line and, before we knew it, we rag-tag-band-of-seven sat in silence as the answer to our prayers towed us the five miles back to the shelter of the marina.
The men deftly arrived at the marina and remarkably pulled us to an open dock end cap, the solitary slip that lies perpendicular to the rest of the dock. The boys jumped out of the boat and tied us off. The men who’d just finished rescuing us barely slowed down as they turned their boat around. Every interaction with them to this point always happened in seconds, and our marina interaction was no different. I had just enough time to toss their rope back to the young man on the bow before they both smiled at me and nodded their heads as if to acknowledge my gratitude. And with that, they quickly left the marina and slipped silently into the storm and the black of night.
The most interesting thing of all? They never said a word to us. Not one.
They didn’t respond via radio to our distress call. They said nothing as they rescued us. They said not a word when our eyes briefly met in the marina. They showed no interest in slowing down or discussing the situation with us. They didn’t ask for details about how we got into our predicament. The didn’t wait to hear us thank them for rescuing us. They simply smiled. This all knowing, mystical, wise, calm smile. And then they were gone. White boat. White clothes. White light. And all.
As we prepared to leave the marina for the safety of home, we finally looked at the time and were shocked to learn it had been less than two hours since our boat wouldn’t start, since being hit by the storm, since nightfall, since nearly crashing upon the rocks, since being rescued and being towed to our calm harbor.
It’s been 27 years since this experience. Since then, my husband and I have navigated some very stormy seas. Financial seas. Contemplating divorce seas. Death and dying seas. And through it all, we remain calm. We turn our eyes towards the horizon and we look for the bright light. We know that no matter how bad things look, there’s an inexplicable miracle waiting just outside our reach of understanding, and we wait, knowing a calm sea is headed our way.
To this day, whenever I’m at our home in Mexico, there isn’t a time I don’t search the boats and the faces of the men in the marina in hopes of catching a glimpse of the two that rescued us that night. I think it’s because I want to believe they were real men and that absolutely nothing out of the ordinary happened that night. That said, I’ve yet to lay eyes on them again. But, the older I get, the memory of these men gains an even tighter hold on me. Something tells me the Divine Plan is always in place and that legions of angels stand guard over all of us. Calm, wonderful, competent angels bathed in white, white light.
So, in the tradition of Mr. Fulghum’s ability to take meaningful life lessons from everyday events that come our way, let me say this:
Strap yourself in. Hold on tight. Know forces bigger than us are at work. Miracles happen. Calm seas ahead. I promise.
With Memorial Day weekend upon us, it’s a reminder that there have been many favorite days in my life … precious days that grow sweeter with the passing years. Special days worth memorializing. The story I’m telling today is about one of my favorite days ever. And, as promised, it’s dedicated to my friend, Phil Ballard.
The day of which I speak was in the early ’90’s. I was visiting my father figure and mentor, G. A. “Go Ahead” Curly Smith, at his home in Nevada. Curly was the father figure for whom I’d been searching my entire adult life. I like to tell people he was the father every girl wished she’d had (at least that’s how much he meant to me).
Curly was born in 1922. The son of a sharecropper, and one of five children, every day for the first 19 years of his life, he’d gone to bed hungry. With his first paycheck, he bought himself a steak dinner and told himself he’d never be hungry again. At age 34, he read Napoleon Hill’s book, “Think and Grow Rich”. At age 54, he earned his first million. When he died at age 78, he left his only child, a daughter, enough money to last three generations. And, in me, he’d instilled the undying belief that I would fly as high and as far as my dreams would take me.
I met Curly in 1989. He came into my life at a time when my suffering was great. One year later, we were guests at an anniversary party for friends we had in common, a party I had absolutely no desire to attend (I was suffering so much at this point that, had I not been forced by my loving daughter-in-law to go to the party, I would have probably driven my car off a cliff in order to end my sorrows … but I digress). At the party, Curly, told me he knew I was desperately searching for the truth, and if I was prepared to listen, he had the answers. He was nearly 70 and I, 34. One of the best decisions of my life has undoubtedly been to listen to what this man had to say.
There were many times over the course of the ten years Curly was in my life that I thought nothing of hopping in my car and making the 530 mile roundtrip-road-trip from my door in Phoenix to his in Boulder City (at one point, I needed his guidance so desperately, that I made the trip three times over a ten day period!). While there, we talked about everything and anything weighing heavily on my mind.
Life. Money. Business. Love. Marriage. Divorce. Children. Discipline. Philosophy. Religion. Politics. Transcendental meditation. Common sense. Success. Accomplishment. Wisdom. You name it, if it was important, it was one of our topics. In our decade together, we never spent a minute of time on small talk. My conversations with Curly were the balm that played a significant role in healing my broken life.
On this particular trip, my husband and one of my girlfriends happened to join me (I loved sharing Curly with important people in my life, and he, along with his beautiful bride of 50 years, Georgette, were always delighted with the many guests I brought to their home).
It was a perfect spring day with a bright blue, cloudless sky, and, in mid-conversation, Curly said, “Hey. I was just thinking. Would you all like to take a break and fly down to Kingman to pick up my new twin-engine?” I didn’t give anyone else a chance to answer before enthusiastically saying, “Absolutely positively YES!” Kingman was 90 miles away and we simply got up — walked out the door — hopped in his plane — and WENT to Kingman (Curly was a man of action!).
Curly had been flying since 1941. An accomplished pilot, he was up-grading his ride from a single engine Bonanza to a Beechcraft King Air. Too cool. I was especially excited by this spontaneous trip because it was the first time he’d ever extended me an invitation to fly with him. Before I knew it, we were airborne. Wow. Being that I’d only been in a private plane a couple times, flying right seat to Curly was simply thrilling.
Shortly after takeoff, and as soon as Curly got us straight and level, he looked across at me and said, “Cindy, would you like to fly the plane?” I was incredulous … but not slow to respond. Grinning ear-to-ear, I was tickled pink to take the yolk. Little did I know that my husband and girlfriend, sitting in the back seat, were giving each other looks like, “What in God’s name is going on here?!!!” Indeed, based on my lack of experience, they had cause for alarm.
The first few minutes were pretty thrilling. I was all over the place. Up and down, wings tipping to-and-fro. Dials, previously, cool calm and collected, suddenly spinning and whirring seemingly out of control! It was easy to tell I’d never done anything like this before. From an outsiders perspective, I’m sure it was a hoot to watch.
As a result of some type of time warp, five minutes of flying the Bonanza felt like an eternity. At one point, I looked over at Curly and said, “Do you want to take over now?” only to have him say, “No. No. You’re doing fine.” He then proceeded to keep talking about whatever important subject we’d been discussing earlier that day.
Shortly thereafter we had Kingman in sight. I’d been flying for about 20 minutes or so. I knew, at any moment, he’d simply reach over and take control. But he didn’t. He just keep talking. And every few minutes he’d tell me something new to do. “Flip this switch.” “Push that rudder.” “Pull this knob.” Little stuff. But lots of it. He kept this up until the airport was looming through our windshield … at which time I knew he’d HAVE TO take back the yolk. But he didn’t.
Now, as I looked down towards the ground, the Kingman airport was immediately to my left and I’m obviously a little more than nervous. I’m looking at Curly like, “WHEN, in God’s name, are you going to start flying THIS PLANE?!!” I’m so concerned at this point that I’ve got cotton mouth and I can’t speak (and God knows, I’m seldom if ever at a loss for words!). He, on the other hand, never, not once, acted a bit concerned. That said, in a non-plussed voice, he started speaking to me a little faster; the instructions were more detailed; and then everything started to happen faster and faster; and, as I quickly gave a furtive look to my husband in the back seat, I could tell, through his blood-drained face, that I wasn’t the only one who was terrified.
Before I knew it, Curly in his soothingly calm voice, was telling me to pull the throttle all the way back, and magically, at that very instant … we touched down and came to a rolling stop on the Kingman airport runway. I looked across at Curly and instantly burst into tears.
My husband and girlfriend let out a collective sigh of relief followed by a raucous round of applause.
Curly, on the other hand, simply smiled at me and said, “Outstanding, Cindy. I’m very proud of you. It’s obvious you’ll be one of my very best students. You follow instructions perfectly.” What an incredible way for me to learn the joke was on me. 🙂
My mentor, my father figure, my G. A. “Go Ahead” Curly Smith, had purposefully failed to tell me he was more than an accomplished pilot … he was a masterful flight instructor, too.
In 1941, at age 19, and after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Curly’s first job, the job that bought him that first steak dinner, was teaching countless young soldiers how to fly in preparation for military combat. His students would solo at 9 hours and would often go to war with a mere 26 hours of flight time. Imagine that. Our Greatest Generation won the war because they were taught to do unbelievable things by men like Curly. Forget that it was a perfect day to fly, for Curly, teaching me to land a plane under disastrous conditions would have been as natural as breathing. Humbling isn’t it?
The reason Curly was never worried? The man knew exactly what he was doing. Even his trip to pick up his new plane wasn’t a seemingly spontaneous joy ride. It was planned (down to the last detail) to test my ability (and willingness) to follow his instructions. Had I failed his “test”, Curly would have been faced with the decision of whether or not to invest another moment of precious time in my education.
We gain knowledge in one of two ways: 1) Experiential and 2) Intellectual. To learn to fly from someone who only has intellectual “book” knowledge of the dynamics of flight? Disastrous. To learn to fly from someone like Curly, a man with intellectual AND experiential knowledge? Brilliant. Powerful. Life-changing.
In every sense of the word, Curly was a phenomenal teacher. I had come to him in hopes of finding success and happiness. What I found was The Truth. The Truth about what it takes to make it in life. It’s that sense of “purposeful teaching” that I use as I do my best every single gosh darn day to make a difference in the lives of others.
All we need do to create a life of value and purpose is either 1) become a teacher who can teach their students (at a high level) the ability to find mastery, or, 2) learn to receive and follow (at an even higher level) proper instruction from a masterful teacher.
As to his name, G. A. “Go Ahead” Curly Smith. It’s appropriate that I share the significance as it pertains to this story. “Go Ahead” is an aviation command that is most often given from the Control Tower. It means, “Go Ahead … Send Your Transmission”. Since WWII, Curly had introduced himself as, “G. A. “Go Ahead” Curly Smith”. I found it charming that his real initials were “G. A.”, and though they should have, his parents most certainly didn’t name him “Go Ahead”!
And, so, on this Memorial Day weekend, to my Gerald Anderson Smith, I say, “Thank you for Going Ahead. Thank you for saving my life. Thank you for making my day, my year, my life by investing a decade of your life-energy in teaching me what it takes to become a person of substance. There’s not a moment that goes by that I don’t thank my God for you. There’s not a time that I look toward the sky without thinking about the day you taught me to fly. I love you, G. A. “Curly” Smith, and I will spend my last waking breath paying tribute to you and the difference you made in one girl’s life.”
(As a side note, a few short years later, in 1998, I went ahead and earned my private pilot’s license. The last time I saw Curly, he was standing on the runway at the Boulder City airport, waving goodbye to me as I took off towards home. There were tears in both our eyes. I, his best student, and he, my most profound teacher. In that instant, we knew nothing would be able to keep me from reaching my potential. We knew we’d come full circle. We knew my time to fly had arrived. Little did we know he would die a few short weeks later, on December 7, 2010, the 59th anniversary of Pearl Harbor.
Tomorrow, May 26, marks what would have been Curly’s 90th birthday. Incredibly, it also marks the fourth anniversary of the the accidental drowning of my best friend and professional mentor, Bob Schmidt. Another teacher who’s profound impact on my life brings me to my ever grateful knees.
Monday, May 28, marks what would have been my beloved brother, Cliff’s, 48th birthday. He died in 1994 after waging a long and determined battle against liver and pancreatic cancer. He died with honor and courage. He left us, his siblings, knowing, without question, he was the best of all our mother’s children. Our life would be the lesser if not for him. He taught me how to die with dignity.
All three of these men, Curly, Bob, Cliff, rank at the top of my list of teachers who’ve taught me never-to-be-forgotten lessons about living life to the fullest. Is it any wonder, then, that Memorial Day weekend is virtually a sacred time of year for me? That said, have a fantastic day. I hope today becomes one of your favorite days EVER … a day you will be able to live over and over and over in your heart and mind. A day where you’ll learn you can fly as high and as far as your dreams will take you.)
Do something spectacular. Go Ahead. Make My Day.
Dedicated, with love, to my friend, Phil Ballard, a man who’s kindness has reached across the years and blessed my life.
Happy Birthday, Curly. I love you.
This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one, the being a force of nature instead of a feverish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.
I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.
I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of bright torch which I have got hold of for the moment. And I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it over to the future generations.
~ Oscar Wilde
Interestingly enough, for the last 20+ years, I’ve wrongly attributed this amazing quote to the late, great Earl Nightingale, The Dean of Personal Development and author of The Strangest Secret (do any of you remember him and that wonderful gravelly voice of his?).
To come across a piece of paper stashed in one of my file drawers with the full quote (attributed to the proper author), is one of the greatest Mother’s Day gifts I could have given myself. It doesn’t hurt that it’s made even more special by our having paid homage to Oscar Wilde by walking past his home while in Dublin last year.
This particular quote is extra special to me because it came at a time in my life when I was suffering the most. A time where I could no longer hide from the demons and monsters hiding under my bed.
In the late ’80’s, through faulty thinking on my part, we lost a huge amount of money on a bad business deal. The subsequent financial stress put my marriage on rocky shoals. Add to that the fact that I had yet to go through the trauma of healing from [criminal] childhood abuse inflicted upon me by my mentally ill father. On a daily basis I was pitching between great despair and an over-whelming sense of hopelessness. And then, magically, this ‘wrongly’ attributed quote walked into my life.
Earl Nightingale, a survivor of the Japanese bombing of the USS Arizona in 1941. A decorated soldier and the voice of Sky King. A man I never met, and who died in 1989, has come vividly to life in my mind, and heart and soul, on thousands of occasions. I love Mr. Nightingale because, when I was drowning in a dark night, he threw me a life-line and offered me a bright torch to help me find my way. How lucky am I to learn the truth of the matter is that Mr. Nightingale had assistance in the form, of all people, Oscar Wilde? How touched I am that when I reflect on those moments when I felt most helpless and I was looking for help, that Mr. Nightingale, was looking over his shoulder to past generations, in order to help a current generation find true north. Pretty darn lucky. And deeply touched.
I am greatly blessed in this life for the suffering and loss that was mine to endure. Each of us has our own heavy load to carry. I’m now old enough to realize our burdens are designed not to break us but to make us strong. More importantly, I am even more blessed that at an early age I was led to the well of life called self-help and personal development (thank you Mary Kay Ash for setting me on this path). A simple word, a powerful quote, a hero’s hand of kindness at precisely the right moment can help us make the decision to burn as brightly as possible in order that our lives can [hopefully] someday shine in the life of others. Thank God for those who’ve chosen to be the bright lights in our lives.
To my heroes, Mr. Wilde and Mr. Nightingale, thank you for teaching me not to be a feverish little clod and that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.
Much Love to All Today.
My oh my … it’s been a terribly long time since I stopped by to visit my blog. It’s not that I’ve stopped writing, it’s that I’ve been writing to an inner circle of friends and business partners about stuff that has to do with building a successful life and business. But always, in the back of my mind, was this little nagging voice that said, “Cindy, you started that blog with a promise to share the stuff that goes on inside your head, the stuff that might very well make a difference in how someone’s life turns out … now gosh darn it … keep your promises, or go home!” So, here I am again, with hat in hand hoping you’ll let me back in your hearts to share a story or two. The following is one of my life lessons. It might very well be something I wrote about previously, but any worthwhile lesson is worth repeating. It was prompted by a video I hope you’ll take five minutes to watch. Let’s get started.
When I was falling in love with my husband, and long before I’d ever kissed him, I was deeply attracted to his quiet strength and wisdom. I was young. He, 18 years my senior. I worked for a manufacturing company, he for one of our suppliers. I didn’t see him every day, but I must admit I’d go to work hoping I’d get a glimpse of him. His Rock of Gibraltar personality and his down home common sense just had a way of making my life better. Decades later nothing’s changed.
One of my favorite stories about him goes all the way back to 1978, when I was just 21. It’s the story of how he stopped me dead in my tracks and instantly kept me from living my life as a whiner, moaner and complainer. On one of those days when he called on my company, he quickly walked by my cubicle and without stopping said, “How are you today, Cindy?” Without a moment’s hesitation, I said, “I feel horrible! Just awful! I’ve got a terrible headache!” His reaction was the last thing I expected.
Though obviously in a rush to get to an important meeting, he stopped dead in his tracks, turned around on his heels, and making sure he had steady eye contact with me, looked straight into my heart, and said, “Cindy, when people ask you how you’re doing you need to understand they really don’t care. If you’ve got a headache, take an aspirin.” And, with that, he turned around and briskly walked away.
As for me? I was left standing there feeling like I’d just been hit with a baseball bat. That said, it was one of the most powerful lessons of my life and all these many years later, it has served me well. It’s also probably one of the main reasons I remain hopelessly in love with my husband. To that end, let me take the story one step further.
After we’d married and while we were raising our children there was no such thing as whining, moaning and complaining in our home. From the cradle, we taught our children this axiom,
“No whining. No moaning. No complaining. And if you do, you better be bleeding … and you better be bleeding profusely.”
This rule for our lives made for a home that was pretty peaceful and zen-like. It also made for a life where there were no excuses, no places to hide, no way to get out of things based on the excuse, “I don’t feel good. I’ve got a headache” (or stomachache or earache or whatever the case may be). Our kids never even tried to use one of these excuses to get out of going to school. Never. Is it any wonder I love my husband the way I do? And our children? Oh my. Like me, they will love him and honor him all the days of their lives.
I share this story with you today in order to encourage you to take a very close look at the way you’re living your life. From personal relationships to professional relationships to how you communicate with yourself, are you whining, moaning and complaining? Are you making excuses for why you’re unable to get the work done that’s necessary to build a happy and successful life? Rather than getting up and taking an aspirin, is it easier to just sit around and make everyone miserable by complaining? The only person that can answer these questions are you.
A little later, when I get a chance, I’ll tell you another incredible story about the strength and wisdom that comes from making a decision to never complain. It’s about a remarkable young man who’s recently come into my life. Until then, watch the video I’ve attached to this lesson. You’ll never be the same. You’ll never complain. You’ll never make excuses. I promise.
Your Prodigal Daughter Come Home
(And, Boss, you are the light of my life, the wind beneath my wings, my knight in shining armor. You are the beginning and the end. My alpha my omega. The man of my dreams. And I shall love you beyond my last breath. Thank you for being the man behind the woman I am today. My life would not be worth living if not for you.)