Thursday, April 30, 2009

Tribute to a Mentor: John Woodrow

Yesterday, I learned about the sudden death at age 59 of a man who hired me 10 years ago to work with him to help provide employment for adults with developmental disabilities. At the time, I had been self-employed for a dozen years and felt ready for a change as I approached my mid-50s. John Woodrow took the risk of hiring this "older guy" to join him at the non-profit organization.

A front page story about John in the Register Guard told much about the public side of his life. He was truly a public servant, devoted to his adopted community. The story on the Springfield Times website offered a more personal look at his life from people who were his friends.

I had the privilege of working with John for nearly three years. Over the years since then, we saw each other at community business meetings and spoke on the phone several times (usually when I was asking him to be a reference for me, which he always graciously agreed to do).

During our years of working together, what I remember most about John was his fairness, inventiveness, and clear communications style. Once, when the executive director at the time was attempting to place blame on me for a sales slump during a difficult time for the non-profit, John backed me up and saved my job -- at least for a little while. John's proposals for making changes to the production operations (which would have opened the door to significant sales opportunities) were met with deaf ears by the executive director. And John ended up getting "cut loose" from the organization a few months before I was. All turned out for the better for both of us (and for the organization when their Board hired a new executive director).

I loved John's inventiveness in creating ways for developmentally disabled people to produce and package products for our business clients. He would play around with various "jigs" and other contraptions that made it possible for the jobs to get done. John was also a "grand master" of spreadsheets. Yes, spreadsheets. He designed ways to capture and analyze production and cost data that must have taken many hours to create on his computer. His understanding of production operations and business management was exceptional.

John was a "no B.S." kind of guy from Wisconsin. You always knew what he stood for and where he stood on issues. While he and I were far apart politically, I always supported his election and reelection to public office because I knew he was a "straight shooter" with a heart of gold. His contributions to his community (and the accolades he received and richly deserved) over just 12 years in Springfield were "awesome" in the truest sense of the word.

As I reflect on my time with John, I think the most significant thing he showed me through the way he lived and worked was the importance of "showing up fully-prepared and ready to make a meaningful contribution" to whatever you've chosen to do in your life. While not a new life learning for me, it is one that John demonstrated so well and so completely that I won't ever forget it.

May all the many friends and colleagues of John Woodrow celebrate him for the contributions he made to our lives and our community. I'll miss him.

PHOTO CREDIT: Craig Murphy/Springfield Times



I attended the Celebration of Life for John on May 1oth, along with hundreds of other people. Speakers included several public officials who celebrated John's service to our community, his faith, his love of family, friends, and his dogs, and his gentlemanly way of being in the world.

Among his many forms of service, John was a champion for the K-9 dogs employed by our police department. It touched me to see three of their dogs sitting next to a standing policeman throughout the celebration.
And what looked like our whole police force was sitting in two rows ahead of me along the the Chief who spoke about John's support of policing in Springfield.

While I could say much more about the service, I prefer to post a couple of the photos of John from the program. Thanks also to John Rodney Woodrow, III -- his son -- who posted a comment about our blog posting.
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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Living in Oregon: A Legacy of Beauty (Spring)

Over 20 years ago, my dear partner and I moved to Oregon. She has taught me more about beauty than anyone in my life and, especially, about the beauty in nature.

In springtime, it's dangerous to have a digital camera in your hands. So much beauty, so many choices, too few megabytes.

Here a just a few of the many photos I've taken walking in the neighborhood.

I better stop ... before you decide to move to Oregon. You're welcome to come, but as they told us 20 years ago, be sure to bring a job with you!

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The Wisdom of "Pickles": Journal Writing

It's a good thing that Grandma is still writing in a journal and hasn't started a blog:

Pickles Comics - April 29, 2009

Maybe it's time for her favorite guy to start his own blog to share his wisdom (and experience in a long-lasting relationship) with the world. On the other hand, maybe not.

Pickles Comics - April 28, 2009

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The Gates Legacy: Interview with William & Bill

I just watched a father-son interview with William and Bill Gates. On a wide-range of topics (with a focus around William's new book "Showing Up for Life: Thoughts on the Gifts of a Lifetime"), both men shared insights on their life and work together.

As someone who had a troubled relationship with his father, I was touched by what the Gates' men had to say about one another and the way in which they said it. And I'm pleased that this 83 year old and 59 year old "duo" have taken on such huge projects with the Gates Foundation -- ending malaria and AIDS -- and the U.S. education system. While I'll be long gone from this life before their goals are achieved, I'm more hopeful than ever knowing that these guys are focusing their lives (and billions) on the problems.

I'm going to order the new book and expect I'll enjoy reading the life lessons of Bill gates, Sr.
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Friday, April 17, 2009

Wisdom on Living & Dying - Frank Langella Interview

For some reason, my mind keeps recalling statements that actor Frank Langella made during an interview Charlie Rose did with him in January:

"You must not attack anyones defense for living."

"It's not right to invade someones defenses."

He made the remarks near the end of the amazing 28 minute interview (start at minute 20) -- and also discussed issues of dying in the video. Charlie Rose did a masterful (and sometimes humorous) job of interviewing the brilliant actor.

Having worked as a counselor (mostly with men and couples) during the 1990's, Langella's statements and my life experience since then seem to have "landed" in a place within that I can only call "wisdom."

Perhaps, with more self-acceptance as I've aged -- coupled with being more able to accept the "defenses for living" of people close to me -- Langella's statements had a deeper meaning for me.

Thank you, Frank Langella and Charlie Rose, for the heartfelt interview. I encourage readers to watch the video. Your feedback is welcomed.

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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

What Matters Most: Living a More Considered Life -- Book Review

"If we fail to engage in some form of cogent dialogue with the questions which emerge from our depths, then we will live an unconscious, unreflective, accidental life."
-- James Hollis

Longtime readers of this blog may recall that one of my favorite writers is Jungian analyst James Hollis. His most recent book, What Matters Most: Living a More Considered Life, directly deals with many of the life legacy issues I've written about over the past three years.

For anyone who grew up in the Midwest (or anywhere else for that matter), Hollis presents a point-of-view in the book that would make a Norwegian Lutheran "nice boy" wonder why everything he was taught as a child was, shall we say, "less than the truth" about life. According to Hollis:

"We are not here to fit in, be well balanced, or provide exempla for others. We are here to be eccentric, different, perhaps strange, perhaps merely to add our small piece, our clunky, chunky selves, to the great mosaic of being . . . we are here to become more and more ourselves."

That's not what my parents, grandparents, and teachers had in mind for me or any of my friends. I was well-trained to "not rock the boat, be good, be nice, don't 'show off', and that 'appearances' were of tantamount importance." I imagine that just the idea of writing a blog that all the world could see (about anything that mattered to me) would be shameful in their eyes back then and even now.

James Hollis does not discuss the usual "stuff" of what matters most in his book. He notes that matters like family, friends, love, work, and the like that "take care of themselves." Rather, Hollis encourages us to look at matters such as risking growth over security, learning to tolerate ambiguity, not be governed by fear, delighting in creativity and our "foolish passions", engaging spiritual crises, and living fully in the shadow of death. Through his personal reflections and stories of people he has counseled in private practice, the author provides insights and guidance for readers who want to live life to its fullest.

There is so much in this book that I enjoyed that it's hard to decide what to write about. In the chapter in which Hollis asks "that we consider feeding the soul," he says:

"Maybe all us will learn to grapple with the paradox that living our lives more fully is not narcissism, but service to the world when we bring a more fully achieved gift to the collective. We do not serve our children, our friends and partners, our society by living partial lives, and being secretly depressed and resentful. We serve the world by finding what feeds us, and, having been fed, then share our gift with others."

In his chapter focusing on the subject of "writing our own story," Hollis asks us to:

"Imagine what our story would look like if, rather than succumbing to the insistent voices of family or culture, we determined that our vocation was to be a better human. Many, if not most of us, will have run through our lives and never really been here, never really experienced precious moments of mindfulness, asking why, or felt ourselves in the presence of mystery, whether found in the beloved, in nature, in contemplation, in the work of hands, or in whatever venues mystery comes to find us."

He goes on to say: "Personhood is not a gift; it is a continuing struggle; the gift is attained later, and only from living a mindful journey where, prompted by an inner summons, we write our story at last."

I highly recommend the book to anyone interested in "living a more considered life" and risking being who you really are. You may find, as James Hollis does, that "in the end, having a more interesting life, a life that disturbs complacency, a life that pulls us out of the comfortable and thereby demands a larger spiritual engagement than we planned or that feels comfortable, is what matters most."

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