Category Archives: Service

Money and True Treasures

Note: This is a comment I posted on a friend’s blog about money.

Good post, Manisha.

Here’s a quick story and it has a point or two about money.

I stayed out of debt and so, when my small business sold at a price I never expected when I was 53, I was able to leave commerce and live modestly. Since then, I’ve tried to make my life worthwhile in non-monetary ways.  I have learned the basics of investing and have held onto my money so far, but am resigned to the impermanence of money. There is no such thing as true financial security. Any of us could be wiped out in a bad time. Security comes from being able to provide a product or service or do work that people need or want and are willing and able to pay for voluntarily. True treasures are what can never be taken away from you.


Enchiladas, Margaritas and Illegal Immigration

Let me get this out right off the bat. You were not invited to come here and you did not wait your turn. You jumped ahead of tens of thousands of people in other countries who are doing their paperwork and waiting years to enter the U.S. legally. You littered on the way up, for God’s sake! Do you think this is fair? And it really pisses me off that now I have to “press 1 for English,” thank you very much.

Yes, I did see the movie, “Day Without a Mexican” and I do realize what could happen if you all left at once. Yes, I know there are many jobs waiting for you when you get here and many businesses that want your labor, especially at a low price. Yes, I know that you serve honorably in our military in very high numbers. Yes, I do know that your children want badly to speak English and blend in with all the other teenagers, just the same as all previous generations of immigrants. Yes, I can see that you have a work ethic. In fact, by toiling in the lowest paid jobs and holding your heads up, you are bringing back the dignity of all honest labor. We were losing that before you crossed the river.

Actually, I love to see your teenagers who have been here a while and are so completely American, but who can speak Spanish when they want to. It makes me glad I’m an American. And I love to see you out with your families. Your kids are adorable, by the way. And when I was in that long line of people waiting for the H1N1 flu shot, I didn’t want anybody to ask you for your papers. (See “In Line for the H1N1 Flu Shot“)

So, let me sum up. I think you are reprehensible, disgusting lawbreakers with adorable children. But if I were you, I would do exactly what you have done, especially if I thought it would be best for my family. If you are here because we collectively lacked the will to keep you out and because we all have lawns that need tending and houses to be built, we are complicit. If I could wave a magic wand and send every one of you back to where you came from, I would not do it. Nor do I believe most Americans would do it, though most of us would like to get back in control of our immigration situation.

By the way, did I mention I love enchiladas and margaritas? And that song, “Estrellita” by your composer Manuel Ponce…well, who knew!

Confessions from A Life Revised

I had a small business, which a big business bought, leaving me with a blank canvas (at 53), a reasonably young age. But I continued pursuing life as if I were still in business, with to-do lists, time management system and all that. It took several years to metamorphose into the new me. I was surprised at some of the things I decided to do with my time, but for the most part I have been drawn to projects that involve my creative tendencies.

Comment left by the author on Madison Woods WordPress Blog, “Blank Canvas”

I know some financially successful people, people who could retire tomorrow, who say they have no idea what they would do if they stopped working. They say this is why they continue. They are sad about it and they are not joking. They have spent their entire lives focused on their work. It’s all they know. Most importantly, although they don’t admit it, they believe their status in life is wrapped up in what they do for a living. It’s who they think are.

I try to encourage them. I tell them they will never know who they really are until they drift for a while, until they just empty their minds. I offer a metaphorical suggestion: Drop your bottom into one of those big black truck inner tubes on a warm day. Float down a lazy stream until all the thoughts that follow one after another, on the power of association, are gone. When you reach a mental dead-end you will have actually arrived at a new beginning. Now your canvas is blank.

It takes time to shed the symbols, mannerisms, “corporate speak” and attitudes acquired in the work world. It takes time to realize that deadlines are not always necessary. And it takes time to completely empty out the self-imposed and self-limiting choices anchored in your own mind.

The attitudes about what’s important and unimportant in life are the first things that need adjustment.

During my headier work days, I once referred in conversation to “the real world,” meaning the “important” world of pressure to perform and compete, of deadlines, of movers and shakers, and of travel with perks. This comment and my attitude were quickly put down by a few stay-at-home-moms and a guy who went to a regular job everyday. They wanted to know what world I thought they lived in and why I thought I lived in the “real world.”

Today, I would completely take their side. I’ve seen it from both perspectives now. People who don’t have a day job do manage to stay busy – and worthy. They take care of children and the elderly. They do all sorts of volunteer work. They create amazing pieces of writing and works of art, for the free enjoyment of others. The list goes on and on.

Here’s a clue to what’s really important in life: Observe people who are retired. They rarely talk about their past work lives. They may talk about their travels or the people they worked with, but not of the work itself or even their most worthy work accomplishments. Everybody has to work to live, so big deal. (An exception to this is military service, about which older men frequently reminisce, because they see it as something different from just making a living.)

So, what have I done with my own blank canvas? I have become a person I’m much more comfortable with than the person I have relinquished. I have done a turn as a house husband and found out how rewarding it can be. (Yes, ladies, I know I had a choice and it was not automatically expected of me. Plus, Mr. Mom gets praised for things real Moms are expected to do as a matter of course. But you’ve been keeping quiet about the many satisfactions!) I have been able to help others with medical situations (some terminal) and have been the executor of somebody’s will. I have hiked a bit on the Appalachian Trail at age 62, sleeping alone at night in a lightweight tent that fit me like a hotdog roll, and I have encountered bears at close range.

The author, happy and revised on the Appalachian Trail

I have become a competitor in the fast world of draw-from-the-holster defensive shooting sports, something I would never have imagined given my previous attitudes. It has tested me, humbled me and given me a new circle of friends. I have volunteered my photographic and video services for Boy Scouts, church, my younger son’s lacrosse teams and to help preserve a Civil War battlefield. I have become my dog’s best friend and constant companion.

Now, just so you know, there’s one more check-in-the-box I need. It’s something I saw on a postcard once in trendy little shop in Austin, Texas. Here it is: I want to be the person my dog thinks I am.


Old Letter to My Nephew in the Service

October 28, 2009 – I got an email yesterday from a nephew who is in the Air National Guard. He was, he said, sitting in a terminal and in two hours he would be leaving for an airbase in Iraq.

SrA Daniel Kotler (on left)

His Facebook page still says “Delaware ’10” and lists his interests as “…guitar, da beach, eating, sleeping, talking, piano, drums, skydiving, doing backflips, wallflips, frontflips, and any other type of flips.” (Note: Google “wallflips” and be amazed…) Favorite music includes, to name just a few, “Making April, Amber Pacific, Something Corporate, Starting Line.” Under “Political Views” he says “Obama is my boss.” Boss, as in Commander in Chief.

This is his second deployment to the Middle East, his first to Iraq. He loads and unloads airplanes that transport troops and heavy military cargo and equipment. On his last deployment he worked as many as 14 hours a day in heat that often reached 115 degrees or higher. As part of US Air Forces Central Command his unit helped break records for moving troops and cargo during the Surge.

Now, Iraq. Now moving troops out. Now more heat and more sandstorms and more danger. As I write this I am listening to news on the radio about Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s not good.

Five years ago, not long after he decided to enlist, I wrote him a letter. Here it is, with just a little edited out:

August 25, 2004

Dear Danny:

Last week Cory, your sister Maggie and I were walking on the boardwalk at Ocean City, Maryland. The temperature was in the high 80s and the sun was shining brightly. A teenage boy walked by us wearing a Darth Vader style ground length black coat. I asked Cory and Maggie what message they thought this guy was trying to send to the world and expressed my opinion that everything we choose to wear is intended as a message to others. At this point, Cory looked at me and asked, “What message are you sending, Daddy?” And I said, with no hesitation whatsoever, “I was in the Air Force once.”

The words came out of my mouth so quickly that I was startled. I am in my sixties. I went in the Air Force when I was 18. I wondered if it is possible that something that happened so long ago could have become such a dominant part of my self-identity, so much so that it influences how I wear my hat, what I wear, how I stand and walk, who I think I am, and how I think.

Here are my considered views on all this. Military service, in war or peace, changes your core. Permanently.

It starts when you raise your right hand to be sworn in, promising to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and to obey the orders of the President of the United States and those who are appointed over you. Taking this oath, if you do so seriously, puts you far ahead of the responsibilities shouldered by the average 18 year old civilian. You will always have a sense of pride in having taken this oath. You will always have a sense of pride in knowing that you are permanently part of the long historical procession of those who have served in this country’s armed forces.

But it is an oath with such potentially serious consequences that it would be just plain foolish and naive to enlist just for the educational or other benefits. There has to be a sincere sense of duty to your country or it makes no sense at all. You are agreeing, for the period of your enlistment, to be placed in harm’s way if your country needs you. You are saying that, if in harm’s way, you will not surrender as long as you have the means to continue the fight. You are saying that you will give up your right to do whatever you please and will obey all lawful orders in order to serve your country. Danny, some people go their whole lives without developing the maturity and discipline to handle the “have-tos” which enter into every life. You will learn the needed maturity and discipline at a very early age in the service.

In basic training you are pushed to new levels of physical achievement that you could hardly have imagined possible. You learn to keep going in the face of calculated harassment that aims to find out if you’re made of the right stuff.

After basic training you will go on to training for your specialty. When you finish this training it is very likely that you will be given job responsibilities and experiences that are far greater than those held by people your age in the civilian world. You will not get the higher civilian pay, but you will get up every day and know that what you are doing really matters to your country, especially now. You will be guided by a sense of duty, even if you can’t wait to get out. It’s possible you will see the friends you left back home as immature and self-indulgent, but you will envy their less regimented lifestyles. When you do get out, your service to your country behind you, you will find that you are a member of the largest informal fellowship in the world – that of men and women who have served their country in the military.

There will be occasions in your life, probably on a Veteran’s Day or Memorial Day, when you will be at church or in a restaurant or at a sports stadium and someone with a microphone will ask all who have served in our armed forces to stand to be recognized. You will be glad that you are among those standing.

For the rest of your life, you will look at things from the perspective of a young serviceman, because you will always be able to put yourself in their place. You will say to yourself, “I was one of them,” and your opinions will be influenced accordingly.

Danny, someday when I die, I will be put in a veterans cemetery where I will be with others who served in war and in peace. My stone or plaque will be the standard, showing my rank when I was a young enlisted man in the service, as though I never accomplished more in life. In my mind, thinking specifically of my own experience, I never did accomplish more or for a greater purpose.

God bless you and protect you. We are all proud of you.


Uncle Gordon

Senior Airman Daniel Kotler, to you and all of the young men and women who serve in this nation’s armed forces – come home to us safely.

What not to miss: Here is a link to a 9 minute and 45 second long YouTube video I shot of a planeload of our armed forces personnel returning to the USA through BWI Airport outside Baltimore, Maryland on June 6, 2008. Senior Airman Daniel Kotler is tagged and appears for nine seconds.