Tuesday, December 31, 2013

LIVE YOUR DASH - DEDICATED TO RACHEL AND ALESIA

December thirty first.  A time of putting one year behind us and starting a new year ahead of us.

I was watching a documentary last night on a young man who was about to face his judgement from a gurney in Huntsville, Texas by means of lethal injection.  It was a film about the pros and cons of capital punishment, but that isn't what this entry is about.  Today is not a day to talk politics or even care what is going on in the world.  Today is a day to remember and a day to look forward.  That is what these entry is about more or less.  It is based on less than five minutes of that film.

Toward the end of the film, the filmmaker interviewed a former prison employee who was in charge of executions for the State of Texas.  Texas is by far the leader of executions in the United States and this man said that at one time they were executing two to three inmates a week.  He personally had carried out over 120 executions.  He did his job in a precise manner that became rote to him.  He said he got to the point where no emotions were involved, it was just his job until one day his mind broke and he suffered a breakdown.  It was two days after his last execution when he started having visions of those he had helped put to death.  His whole body began to shake and he decided he could not do his job any more.  He quit his job at Huntsville, sacrificing his pension and went into the private sector.  When he was asked what he had learned from the experience he said "Someone told me what I learned.  They said the big lesson was to "Live you dash"."  He went on to explain what that phrase meant.  He said that on a burial marker, a headstone if you will, there is the date that indicates when you came to be on this earth and a date on which your time on this earth came to an end.  In between those two dates is a dash.  That dash represents your life.  It represents the time time you spent on this earth.  Every day, every hour, every second of your time spent here is represented in that dash.  Included in that dash are all of the things you did, all the things you wish you hadn't done and unfulfilled wishes of things you feel you should have done.  That dash is your life.  Live your dash means to live your life to it's fullest, no matter how long or short it may be.  Live your dash in a manner that would glorify God and mankind.  Live it good, or as good as you can.  No one is perfect and we all have things in our lives that we regret doing or not doing.  Live your dash.  Live it as best as you can possibly can.  That is what this man who's job it was to carry out the laws of Texas learned and he now tries as hard as he can to live his dash in that manner.

I stopped this morning to look at my own dash.  As far as I know, my dash is still being drawn.  I have time to continue to live my dash.  The majority of us do have that time to continue to live our dash.  Others have finished their time on this earth and their dashes are kept in the minds of those who knew and loved them.  I can look at people I knew and loved who have finished their time here.  I look to my great grandmother, my grandfather, both of my grandmothers and Uncles Melvin, Duane, Buster, and Dan.  All of them lived their dashes.  Their dashes do not look the same, but each one of those dashes set an example for me as I live my own dash.  Friends I have know over the years have also left this earth leaving their own dashes to look at and to ponder over.

As I thought about living your dash and those I mentioned above I can honestly and sincerely say that I believe that everyone of them did their absolute best to achieve that goal.  Their lives are examples that I constantly look to as a point of reference as I live my dash.  There are however, two people who I did not know especially well but well enough to call them friends.

One of these people was Alesia Dawn.  I wrote an entry on Alesia Dawn a while back and I would urge you to read it so that you can get to know Alesia Dawn and her family.  Alesia Dawn lived her entire dash in fourteen short years.  Alesia was born with a major heart defect.  We never were sure how long Alesia had on this earth but as she grew older, her odds of living a normal life increased until one day her doctor told her father that Alesia was all right.  There was no reason to expect anything but a normal life for Alesia from now on.  All of us who knew Alesia welcomed the news with joy.  Two weeks later, while reading a book in her bed, Alesia's heart stopped and she quietly left this world.  She had lived her dash.  During her short life, even though she was restricted on what she could do because of her heart, she lived her life to it's fullest.  She enjoyed and embraced life.  Alesia Dawn was an example for everyone.

The second person was Rachel.  Like I had with Alesia, I kind of watched Rachel grow up.  When she was but a toddler, they discovered a tumor in her brain.  She had surgery and rehab and all of the things that come along with having cancer.  The tumor and surgery left her somewhat compromised but not that you would notice.  She never let anything stand in her way of doing the things she wanted to do.  Her parent's played a big role in that part of Rachel's personality by never discouraging her from trying to accomplish what she set out to do.  As she grew older she became more adept at figuring out how to do things.  She went to college after graduating high school and did her very best while she was there, which I must say wasn't too bad at all.  I began to really get to know Rachel at church after my wife's physical problems began to catch up with her.  Barb began to have trouble going up and down stairs and not long after that Rachel took it upon herself to see that when Miss Barbara was at church she would have Rachel not far behind to protect her from falling or any other difficulties that Barb may run into.  Rachel became Barb's "right hand man" in children's choir and help Barb keep the kids in order, helped her clean up after choir and generally made Barb's attempt at fulfilling her calling much easier.

At the Christmas service in 2012, Barb and Rachel's choir was going to sing in front of the church.  One of Barb's gifts is the ability to do sign language pretty fluently and every year at least once she would teach the kids to sign a song.  In 2012 Rachel decided she wanted to sign a song and Barb and her decided that Rachel would sign Silent Night while the kids sang it.  As was Rachel's way, she was determined to learn how to sign the song and do it in front of the whole church.  The Wednesday before the Sunday of Christmas, we had the final practice before the performance.  After the kids left, I asked Rachel if she wanted to go over the signing some extra.  She shyly said "If you don't mind" and so we did.  We went through the song four times, five times, it doesn't really matter.  We went through it until Rachel felt comfortable with herself and the signing.  The next Sunday Rachel stood up with the kids who were in the choir that she used to be in years earlier and signed Silent Night as the kids sang it.  She did a great job.  After the service I hunted her down and pointed at her and said, "YOU ... you were great up there."  I saw that Rachel smile that we have all come to know and love and recognize as a sincere smile, not just a smile for the sake of a smile but a REAL smile.

Shortly after that, Rachel, her parents, her siblings and all of us learned that the tumor had returned to her brain.  The doctors did not give much hope for Rachel.  This time the tumor would be here to stay.  Rachel and her parents decided to get as much living in as the could in the time that Rachel had left and they did a wonderful job.  I watched as pictures of the summer long adventure of Rachel came in over social media.  Rachel took advantage of every second that was given her.  She consoled her parents and friends as time continued to tick away.  Rachel completed living her dash early this morning after over twenty two years of doing her best to do it right.

Alesia and Rachel were not given as much time to live their dash as most of us are given.  What we learn from these two young ladies is that we never know when we will finish living our dash.  It could be in the next hour, the next week, or the upcoming year.  We all probably feel like we have many more years to live our dash.  The truth is, we just don't know how long we have.  Rachel and Alesia learned early in their lives that by the mercy of God they were given time to live and to set an example that we all can look up to as we live our lives.  I can look to God and thank him for letting Alesia and Rachel be a small part of my life.

There is not a doubt in my mind that when Rachel at last found herself in His presence that she heard Him say "Well done my good and faithful servant." just as Alesia had heard years ago.

As we head into this new year of 2014, my hope is that I will be able to look at how they lived their own dash and learn from them as I try to live my own.
Rachel

Alesia with her older sister Kristie

Thursday, December 12, 2013

BEING AWARE OF OCCASIONS AND SURROUNDINGS

I use to love going to see a movie on the big screen.  I love movies and like to find myself engaged in the one I am watching that I don't really notice my surroundings.  These days, the only way to watch a movie with undivided attention to get the most out of it is to sit and watch it at home.

It is the same thing when I go out to the theatre to see a play.  I want to be able to get involved in the play without distractions and enjoy it no matter if it is silly and frivolous or serious and deep trying to get a message across.  Unfortunately, I can not bring the play to my house to watch it, I have to endure rude patrons that distract me from the play or movie as the case may be and not get all that I could get from the play.

People are rude at times.  This is the reason I don't go out to movies much anymore.  There are those people who chat amongst themselves during the whole of a movie or make comments on the movie as it is being shown.  It is rude.  I pay good money to see a movie and I should be able to sit and enjoy it, but most of the time I can't.

It isn't any different with a play although much more irritating.  To see a play at a local theatre is usually twice as expensive as seeing a movie and it is a one shot deal.  The play is performed, it is over and it will never be the same as it was on that one night.  Yet people all around sit and talk, often repeating lines that were just spoken on the stage causing the missing of the few lines coming from the stage after the line that was deemed so important it bore repeating it for the rest of those around these people.

Then there are occasions when people can be rude when the whole of the occasion calls for a decorum that is above what is required at a movie or a play.  The best example of this is a funeral or memorial service for a lost loved one who people have gathered together to remember and to celebrate the life that has passed.  As for myself, I can not remember any funeral or memorial service that I have attended where the people were not respectful of the occasion and the surroundings that brought them there.  I need to correct that last statement.  At my Uncle Melvin's funeral I had the feeling that a lot of people there attended because it was seen as an important event and was the place to be and weren't there because they necessarily knew my uncle and what he was like while he was living.  Sure, there is and should be some laughter at a funeral because everyone's life has it's moments that are remembered at such times.  But it is a short laughter and not a distraction from the reason why all of the people had gathered to remember the loved one.

A funeral or memorial service should be held with the highest respect of those attending.  The crowd that gathers are people who knew and loved the person being remembered.  They respect what the life that was had represented when the person was still walking the earth.  There is no constant chit chat during the service.  People gather at these events to remember a life.  The service is not a party and it shouldn't be.  It can be proper to have a party after the service to celebrate the life but during that time when the service is progressing and the life is being remembered in the minds of all those gathered, their thoughts should not be distracted by rude people who talk and act out and makes you wonder why they are even there.

Most of the more somber days of my life have been when I attended a service for someone who had passed.  I was at that service because the person had effected my life in a very real manner and I had great respect for them.  During these services if someone had been sitting and cracking up and making small talk during the service, it would have offended me, hurt me, and made me angry and that one time shot at being in one place with all the people that the service was paying respect to would have been ruined and not remembered as a day of celebration and remembrance.

And so now we come to the Nelson Mandela memorial service earlier this week.  I don't need to go into Mandela's life and who he was and what he accomplished.  Every one should have knowledge of that, and if you don't then educate yourself on the man.  He was a great man.  A man who stood by his beliefs and paid a heavy price for his beliefs.  He was a man who had some effect everywhere around the globe.  He was a man that shows up in history too seldom.  He was a man who deserved all the respect from all of the world.  He was a man that will never be forgotten.

If ever there was a memorial service where the mood should be somber, and reflection on a life and the changes it brought be thoughtfully considered, Mandela was the one.  Thinking over my short amount of history knowledge, I can think of few people that come close to having earned the respect that Mandela did.  Winston Churchill comes to my mind first.  I would feel like Presidents Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison and Lincoln along with possibly Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. would be about on that level.  Tolstoy, Orwell, Dickens, Faulkner and Steinbeck would come close to that level for the social changes that their writings brought about.

I have watched a few state funerals on television.  Funerals and memorial services of men that do not come close to the level that Nelson Mandela set.  Just taking funerals of President's lately here in the United States.  I watched, of course, President Nixon's funeral.  I saw Reagan's and Ford's.  Never have I seen the level of disrespect at any state funeral as was shown by Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron, Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and, sadly, the President of the United States Barack Obama.

Photos were taken of the three joking around, laughing, taking photos of themselves at "The Event" during what should have been one of the most somber times in history.  It is, or should be, an embarrassment to all Americans.  I have already documented a few things that this President has done to embarrass the country and to cause us to lose respect and our place in the world.  His domestic policy is destroying the economy and his foreign policy has shifted the world's opinion of who is leading the world politically from the United States to President Putin of Russia, or at least the illusion that Putin is more of a leader than Obama.

There isn't a lot to say about what went on in South Africa.  Presidents Carter, Clinton, Bush (42) were all there and apparently they behaved as world leaders should behave.  The current President however acted like a high school kid in an assembly late on a Friday afternoon in spring.  Instead of listening and being serious at a time where it was called for, horseplay became the agenda for the day.  The President should have shown respect to Mandela by showing respect to those who were commemorating his life.  Foreign leaders and dignitaries deserve to be listened to with respect at an event such as this.  Just like he does at home though, the President did not listen to those he should be listening to.

As a citizen of the United States, the President has embarrassed me once again, but more important than all of the other times he has embarrassed me, this time he embarrassed himself.  Well, he should feel embarrassed but I doubt that he does.

The photographer who took the pictures was surprised that they caused such a fuss.  That alone stuns me but he has now moved on to trying to defend the photos that he took as a moment in time that wasn't a bad as the pictures make it appear to be.  The Liberal press , and CNN, have jumped on this story now and no long print the offending photos nor talk about how inappropriate the President's actions were during the service.  Soon we will be expected to just forget this ever happened like so many other events that have happened in this administration.

The President has shown a new low in how the world views him and along with that, how they view the United States.

Mr. President, How many more times are you going to embarrass the country and myself?  How many more situations can we endure before losing all respect from the world?  Mr. President, please grow up, read a civics book and learn how to be the President of the United States, leader of the free world.  It would do every one good if you could do that for just three more years.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

THIRTY FOUR YEARS GO FAST

On December 3, 1979 I walked into the offices of Dit-MCO International to begin my first day at a new job.  Now today I look back over thirty four years sitting in this chair as I watched technology change at an ever faster pace and working hard to help keep the company up with the pace that technology has set.

I have been extremely fortunate in my professional career.  It really began when I was approximately ten years old on a Saturday morning.  My dad was doing some outside work at Rycom Instruments that morning and I had gone in to help in what little way I could.  I decided to take a tour of the old dance hall and stumbled into a room with big tables, high sitting chairs and blue prints taped or tacked to the walls.  It was the drafting department and it took me around two minutes to decide that I had found my place in the world.  This was what I wanted to do for a living.  I didn't know how I would but on that day in the darkened room my mind was made up.

It was a few short years later, when I was fifteen, that I was hired at Rycom as a janitor of sorts.  My job was to come in during the summer and empty all the trash cans in the building, clean the restrooms and then do some floor work, either sweeping or buffing until it was time to head home with dad.  I replaced light tubes and such and just generally worked all summer at minimum wage.

When I turned sixteen and had been given a drivers license from the State of Missouri, I began to work after school doing the same thing but making much less money.  As I would do my trash pickup rounds, I always made it a point to take extra time in the drafting department and make friends with the people who worked there.  It was a small department staffed by only three or four people but I began to work my way into making them realize that this room was where I really wanted to work.

It was the fall of my junior year in High School that the offer that would create my career was given to me.  Loretta. the head of the drafting department, offered me to work in the drafting department after school each day when my trash pick up duties were finished.  It didn't leave me much time to do much drawing everyday but it was the start of a great learning process that is still going on even now.  When I finished my first professional drawing, well I can not describe the pride I felt.  I made a copy of it and took it home and put it in a scrapbook.  Today it is in that scrapbook as a reminder of my beginning as an artist.

Artist.  I had always been interested in art and craved the talent to be able to draw.  The talent was not there though, so drafting became my art outlet.  With drafting I had tools to help me make straight lines and proper angles and when I finished a work of this "art" you could actually tell what it was.  I had found my niche.

During my time at Rycom I graduated high school, took myself a wife, bought a house and began my adult life with a career I was happy with and did not want to leave.  As I continued to work there on a full time basis my skill set started to widen.  Not only were my drawings becoming more professional looking, I was starting to design small printed circuit boards by hand taping them onto mylar.  I was learning to use the huge camera and darkroom to make the final artworks of my attempts.  I was settling into a job and career until one day a friend of mine came to me at church one Sunday and asked if I was interested in a job.

Alice Shepard and her husband Noel were two of my best mentors as I fought my way through my teenage years.  Alice worked as a purchasing agent and the engineering department where she worked were looking to hire a draftsman or two.  I decided it wouldn't hurt to ask and so I went to an interview at Labconco that Alice had set up for me.  During the interview I asked for a modest amount of money but still a big raise from what Rycom was paying me.  They hired me almost on the spot.  A few days later I told Loretta I was moving on.  She cried and vowed to try to get Rycom to match the salary that Labconco was offering.  She couldn't accomplish it until my last day at Rycom, which was too late.  I was leaving the nest in a sort of way.  Leaving my dad, Loretta, and the Rycom family behind as I truly set out in the world on my own.  It was November of 1978 when I began the grueling work schedule that Labconco expected of us.

I stayed at Labconco for thirteen months.  There was a company that was growing like wild fire over by my grandparent's house and they were stealing people from Labconco right and left.  As soon as one person would leave, in a few weeks someone would get a call from that person asking them to switch jobs.  It was just a matter of time before the call came for me.  I was asked to come work for Dit-MCO and was told how good of a company it was, how it was growing, how things were more laid back and how the pay was a lot better.

When I went to Dit-MCO in mid November of 1979, I was expecting a real interview.  It didn't happen.  They had decided to hire me before I got there.  They were in desperate need for mechanical draftsmen and engineers.  They were taking whatever came through the door, and that week it was me.

And so on December 3, 1979 I began a job that back then, I wouldn't dream of still being at thirty four years later.  But here I sit.  My time at Dit-MCO has been good.  They are a good company that has always tried to do what was best for their workforce.  Their philosophy is to keep as many people as you can for as long as you can so that time isn't wasted on training new hires over and over again.  They have done a good job of it.  Even though the economy has effected the company pretty harshly at times, they still try to do what they can to keep people here.  There have been times of layoffs, massive layoffs at one point in time but only when they had to.

Today the company is growing again.  I am no longer a draftsman but a design engineer.  Over the years i have had to trade in my drafting board for a computer.  I no longer draw by hand and the new "art" that I created is all digital.  I design the printed circuit boards on the computer as well as doing 3-D modeling.  It is a whole new type of work that I had not forseen back in 1979.

There have been adventures working here.  There has been a lot of horseplay working here and there have been a lot of pressure working here.  It is rare these days to find a company that actually strives to take care of their employees.  That is one thing that the company does do.. It takes care of us as best as it can.  It gets us the best benefits package they can.  They paid my way through college.  I have always had a good insurance plan.

Thirty four years ago, I had figured maybe five to ten years sitting in this chair.  I have seen a lot of people come and go.  I have seen old friends retire.  I have seen friends die from cancer and other sicknesses.  I have seen a father turn the company over to his eldest son who carried on his dad's desire to take care of the people.

Not many people can say they work at a company like mine is.  Not many people can say that they enjoy working for the company that they do.  I may not get as much pay as I could somewhere else, but to me, not waking up in the morning dreading the coming day as another day at the office is worth a lot of money.  I wake up and am anxious to get here.  There is something about a company like Dit-MCO that a lot of other companies could learn from.  Keep your people.  Keep them satisfied.  Make their time at the office rewarding instead of monotonous.

As for me, I have been extremely lucky and looked over.  I have never really been on an interview for a job.  My resume is extremely small.  But I continue to learn something new each day I come to this place.  Somehow I landed here.  Divine intervention?  Pure luck?  Destiny?  I don't know.  What I do know is that it doesn't feel like I have been here for thirty four years.  It has been an experience that allows time to fly by and for thirty four years to creep up on you without you realizing it.  I am here for the duration of my career I think and I am good with that.  Looking back over thrity four years that feels like five, I wouldn't have it any other way.

I am still an artist.  I still work my brain everyday.  I still feel good with what I accomplish while I am here.

Visit ditmco.com for a look at what the company does and more information.  You may find it interesting.