Wednesday, March 25, 2020

#SFTP in the Time of COVID-19


Photo by Greg Conderacci
The days of our years are three score years and ten...
-- Psalm 90

A year ago, when I reached the full biblical lifetime of 70, I thought I’d share the life lessons of my advanced age.  After all, I had been born in the first half of the last century.  I had survived the 60s – twice.
But the procrastinating old journalist in me “sat on the story,” hoping for a better “angle.”
Well. It’s. Here. Now.
Photo by Gregg Landry
The great stuff I had missed earlier in the 20th century – The Great Influenza and The Great Depression – I get to experience all at once. I don’t even need my ever-narrowing attention span.  It’s like binge-watching The History Channel while drinking Red Bull.  Very 21st Century.
Okay, so here’s The Big Life Lesson: Share the Frigging Toilet Paper. Totally. Like #SFTP.
Think about it. Exactly how much toilet paper do you need? In what way are you better off if you use twice as much a day?  Go ahead, look in your closet. You have plenty, don’t you?
Now look around and apply the Share the Frigging Toilet Paper Principle. Some people have enough for several lifetimes.  Others have little to none.  The SFTP Principle applies to all kinds of paper: stocks, bonds, mutual funds, loans, checks and, of course, cash.
Thanks to COVID-19 there’s been some “paper losses.” In other words, a lot less paper to go around. And a lot more people have little to none.  So, I’m going to share while I can.
I mean, hey, I’ll be 71 in a couple weeks.  Two of my college roommates died last year and another just had open heart surgery. The coronavirus is smacking its microbial lips every time I step out the door.
For my last birthday, my family did a wonderful thing. They set up a special fund called “Shifting Gears” to divert my birthday present “paper” to folks who really need it: the homeless and hungry served by Our Daily Bread Employment Center. I’m sending money there and you can, too. If you’re looking to share some of your “paper” with people who desperately need it, there’s no better way. Just click on this link: cc-md.org/shifting-gears. 
Thank you for SFTP!

Thursday, December 27, 2018

A Prayer to Share for 2019


-- Photo by Greg Conderacci
Before the holidays vanish behind a mountain of used wrapping paper, Amazon boxes and post-Christmas sales, I wanted to share one of the most moving experiences of the season.
A good friend and all-around great guy, Buddy Emerson, read this reflection at a meeting at Catholic Charities of Baltimore, where he has long served on the board:

As I write this prayer at this very special time of the year, I can’t help but think back so many years ago when I used to write a letter to a very famous individual who lived in the North Pole and who was so very important to me at Christmas time. The letter would be done again and again to perfection to make sure my requests were just right. They were so specific and yet appreciative to insure my requests would be  honored.
The years went on and the requests for skis, books, toys  (occasionally clothes) and so many things I thought I could not live without were sought and fortunately for me -- often rewarded. I have to admit it was not until I was much older -- maybe 10 or 11 -- that I began to even ask for gifts for others.  Mostly, I must confess -- it was all about me.
So as I prepared for today, I thought I would use the same approach and work just as hard to create the perfect prayer just as I did when I wrote those all-important letters to the North Pole. 

Dear Lord,
·      Please encourage me to be a member of society who seeks to be a peacemaker and a healer in times of contempt and confusion.
·      Please grant me the wonderful gifts of empathy and compassion that can be quickly put into action no matter what the circumstances.    
·      Please help me to be a caring friend who knows how to say and do the right things when needed by others.
·      Please allow me to be the stranger who comes around at the perfect time for someone in need.   
·      Please counsel me on how to be a better Board Member ever giving of myself in spirit as well as financially.
·      Please endorse me as a person who is known for what he stands for as opposed to being recognized primarily by whom he works for.
·      Please encourage me to be a coworker known for his trustworthiness, loyalty and support of my fellow coworkers.  
·      Please guide me to be a spouse who is always aware of how very fortunate I really am and help me to be truly loving and supportive of my partner. 
·      Please instruct me to be a parent who is patient and understanding and who always listens first and holds judgment for a long, long, long time. 
·      Please support me as a grandparent who truly enjoys and relishes one of the greatest gifts we will ever receive – grandchildren - and imbues the future generation with unbridled love.
·      And lastly, I would ask to always be a child of God who realizes we are all gifts of God, with purpose, a right to dignity and respect  -- and all so very equal and important in his eyes.
Well, as I look back at this and mentally compare it to my earlier letters, I sadly note one thing that is so very apparent. It is still all for and about me.              
I guess some things never change.  Amen.
— Ralph W. Emerson Jr.


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Energy for Change – Then and Now


Princeton President Goheen Confronts Student Demonstrators in 1968*
It was a daunting challenge: roll back the clock a half century to look at the forces that changed a great university…and almost everybody in it. But that’s what Princeton Alumni Weekly asked me to do in an article in its current issue.   
The spring of 1968 was a time of turmoil, much like today. Tragedy, anxiety, elation and struggle swept across the globe, generating massive amounts of energy.  Then, I was a college freshman, awash in an ivy-covered bubble in a vast sea of emotion.
This year, I interviewed several of my college peers to get their perspective then and now. It was an eye-opening experience that I had the privilege to share with PAW readers (and you!). 
In researching the story, I interviewed Robert Durkee, who was the student Managing Editor of The Daily Princetonian then and is Secretary of Princeton University now.  I asked him if he could think of anything that was better at Princeton then than now.
“No,” he said simply.  It reminded me about all the ways the world is better now – and gave me the hope that, eventually, today’s energy will go to making it even better tomorrow. 
* Photo: Princeton Alumni Weekly

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Saving Lives…Millions at Time


             
-- Source: Global Polio Eradication Initiative
            Do you know someone who would like to change the world?

            One of the most powerful ways to do that is through public health policy.  And one of the best places in the world to study that is Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The school motto, “Protecting Health, Saving Lives – Millions at a Time,”  has been demonstrated over and over again since its founding in 1916.

            The school has just produced this great video on its Department of Health Policy and Management, which is the largest in the country.  If you or someone you know would be interested in learning more about public health policy, I invite you to share this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=31t2itUi4bc

            Full disclosure: I’ve had the privilege of teaching there for several years and you might see a glimpse or two of me in the video!

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Women’s Voices…And a “Blue Tick Hound”


           
Lee Conderacci getting "unstuck" in "Blue Tick Hound"
             At a time when national attention focuses on women and power, a key question arises: where do women get the energy to overcome the inertia that traps them in the old, male-dominated models?

            Playwright Audrey Cefaly explores this dilemma in “Love Is a Blue Tick Hound and Other Remedies for the Common Ache,” her award-winning collection of four short plays making their local debut in Baltimore and Washington.  It’s a refreshing part of the 2018 Women’s Voices Theater Festival, a cooperative effort of 30 theaters in the area.

            Although the plays are about women, it’s easy for both genders to identify with “stuck.” All too often, even when our “comfort” zones are very uncomfortable, we back away from the challenge of moving beyond them.  “Blue Tick Hound” tenderly treats the fear and pain – and the fun and love – involved in the journey.

            Offered by Rapid Lemon Productions, “Blue Tick Hound” is appearing at Baltimore's Theatre Project January 12-21 and at Washington's Trinidad Theatre (Capital Fringe) February 9-17.  For more information and tickets, click here.

            And, speaking of good energy, my talented daughter Lee directed one of the short plays and acts in another!

           

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Stressed? Remember the Secret of the Bicycle


Baltimore Kinetic Sculpture Race -- Photo by Greg Conderacci

            Wanna be stress-free?
Sorry. Not possible. On the other hand, there are many ways to reduce stress.  I’m not talking about the stress that motivates us; I’m talking about the wasteful stress that just consumes energy and throws us off balance. 
You’ve heard many ways to fight this worthless stress: meditation, exercise, getting more sleep, single malt scotch…
            Here is one of my favorites that you may not have heard about: The Secret of the Bicycle.  I don’t mean riding a bicycle (which does work for me); I mean thinking like you’re riding a bicycle.
            In his great new book, Thank You for Being Late, Thomas Friedman writes, “There are some ways of being, like riding a bicycle, where you cannot stand still, but once you are moving it is actually easier…. We are all going to have to learn that bicycle trick.”
            Standing still on a bike is possible.  It’s called a “track stand,” because bicycle racers on a track use it as a tactic in some circumstances.  But it’s not easy.  And going backwards, which is some folks’ solution to stress, is almost impossible. Do that, and you’re asking for a fall. 
Yet, rolling right down the road…no problem. In fact, the faster you go, the more stable the bike. It’s called “dynamic stability.”  As Friedman points out, we don’t teach people this. But we should.
            What does this have to do with wasteful stress?  My argument is that a major source of stress is that we are not ready to go fast.
            A blogger buddy just shared a story of one of his friends who had to evacuate, unexpectedly, in the middle of the night in the path of the California wild fires.  He had almost no time to respond. Unimaginable stress. He lost almost everything.  His story is heartbreaking.
            And it reminded me of all the stressful “fire drills” I go through (on a much lower level, of course).  Why do I experience the worthless stress?  Because I am not ready to “go.”   I’m “off balance” because I didn’t take the time to prepare for a faster world.
            Most of the time, I can see the challenges coming at a distance – unlike the raging wild fire. I know when I have to go fast.  To use a homey bike metaphor, why didn’t I “pump up my tires and oil my chain”?  It would have made going fast so much easier…and less stressful.
            Often, the world offers a simple trade: spend a little time preparing and you get back a more productive, less stressful life.  It’s what the fast people do.
            When you need to go fast…will you be ready?

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

John Fuoco: Living with a First Finisher


             
John Fuoco -- Photo by Andrea Matney
            John died Saturday night.
            It wasn’t unexpected.  He’d been fighting the cancer gnawing at his lungs for a half dozen years. 
            But to me, John Fuoco wasn’t dying. He was living. Cancer had many times pushed him to the brink and every time he had pushed back.  Long after others would have given up, John lived.  He lived through the unspeakable torture of countless procedures and chemotherapies.
            He lived to ride his bike, to treat hundreds of his patients, to attend his children’s weddings, to see his grandson born, to love his wife, and to inspire hundreds, perhaps thousands, of us. 
            Only a few days ago, he and I were swapping hopeful texts about riding together again this summer.  Now, we will, but only spiritually.
            Before cancer, John was one of the best ultra-distance cyclists in America. He won races stretching hundreds of miles. He rode among the best in the world’s oldest bicycle event, the 750-mile Paris-Brest-Paris. He held the record for riding across Pennsylvania.
            After cancer, he applied his incredible energy, strength, sense of humor, and discipline to defeating his disease.  Toward the end, he told me he was “failing,” a term of art in his medical profession. 
            To me, John never failed.  In his favorite long-distance cycling sport, Randonneuring, there is no “winner” or “loser.”  But there is a “first finisher.”  And that’s what John was. 
            In life, like on the road, he finished ahead of the rest of us.