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Something New, Near or Far

December 27, 2020 by  
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The human mind is an incredible machine. Our brain can remember tons of facts, experiences, feelings, and more. I find it so very interesting and exciting that, after struggling to remember some situation, name, or fact and giving up, later that day or even the next day, like magic, while I’m not even trying, the answer will suddenly pop into my head. I’m pretty sure you’ve experienced the same phenomena.

Yes, our brains are amazing but they do need to be fed. There is this super great thing we can do for our brains when we are feeling down in the dumps. It’s a simple little thing called “novelty”. Our brains crave novelty! Being exposed to something new and totally different than we’ve ever seen or experienced before does amazing things for our brains.

Today I was very bored and a bit down (Thanks COVID for picking on me and, well, pretty much everybody!) That bad ole virus has kicked our social life in the face and it wiped out the wife’s and my travel plans this year. Nearly every year we fly to Paris and from there go on to visit new countries, seeing so many new sights and faces. We are missing the novelty that we get when we travel to new places and meet new and different people.

With my brain being a bit down, I have certainly had the urge to see something novel lately and a few days ago, I knew that I was going to need that very, very soon. So, I did a very simple thing that didn’t take an airplane or a lot of time. We just jumped in my car and started driving.

I drove to places, neighborhoods, and business districts that I had never seen and it worked! Yes, we found novelty in places nearby. Seeing pretty much anything that is new to your eyes and brain can lift your feelings and attitude. It was only a one-hour drive but, wow, it was a great lift for my brain and mood and it was such a simple thing to do.

In today’s COVID world, and especially around Christmas and New Year times, we need to push ourselves to seek out and find those new sights, sounds, people, and experiences that stimulate our brains. Yes, it may take some thinking and planning but that’s not hard to do.

So, I am going to challenge myself, my family, friends, and, yes, you the reader to look for and find things to see, do, and experience, especially now as we start a new year. Let’s all go do it and make 2021 and great new and exciting year!

A Season for Appreciation

December 20, 2020 by  
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The holidays are upon us. What a great time of the year this is! It’s a season of celebration that usually brings back many special memories of family and friends. To me, though, it’s mostly about giving. Okay, yes, as a kid it was mostly about receiving but that was a very long time ago!

The act of giving returns so many super wonderful feelings in such a big way to the giver, sometimes to the point that the giver can feel guilty for getting so much out of it. I remember one particular experience a while back that gave me a twinge of guilt after I had done a rather small thing.

I was coming out of a mall when I saw two young ladies, probably in their early to mid-20’s, sitting on a little wall taking a break from one of the shops they obviously worked at. As I walked by, I handed each of them a 2-dollar bill saying, “This is for luck. Don’t spend it. Just keep it for luck.” 

I usually give these to kids between 6 and 8 years old and watch their excited reaction and joy. It is one of my favorite giving things to do. But I guess, in this case, since I was struck by the season of giving we are in, I handed these to the young ladies without thinking. Both girls said “Oh, I’m sorry I can’t accept this.”

I replied, “Give it to a kid and watch the big smile on their face.”

Reluctantly they accepted. Then they began to thank me as if I’d given them $100 dollar bills.

As I started to walk away, they asked, “Hey, where are you from?”

I replied, “Oh, I’m from here but I grew up in the Middle East, in the country of Turkey.” And then, of course, I had to lay a little Turkish on them, what little I remembered.

One of the girls surprised me by answering back in Arabic (the two languages have a lot of common words) and then they explained they were from Israel where they’d learned a little Arabic. So, we had something in common.

As I walked toward my car, I began thinking about how their great appreciation for my very small gift made me feel so good. I realized that appreciation is really a gift too and, often, a big and glorious one.

Feeling a little connected to these young ladies and warmed by their great appreciation and friendliness, I got in my car and drove back to where they sat, giving both of them a copy of my latest book.

Wow, talk about receiving a huge gift back! Their appreciative words and genuine feelings absolutely overwhelmed me. You would have thought I’d given them a million dollars. They called me an angel from heaven and thanked me to the point that their appreciation was almost embarrassing.

What did I really take away from this experience though? I realized that the biggest gifts any of us can give are not objects or anything you can put a price tag on, but gifts of love and appreciation. These things, without a doubt, last longer than any gift wrapped present.

At this special time of year let’s all try to give more and return more with our sincere appreciation!!

Friends: A Vital Part of Our Lives

December 13, 2020 by  
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A few weeks ago, I got a terrible phone call from my best high school friend’s two adult kids. What they told me cut me to the core. They were calling from the hospital where their dad had just died.

Richard Harvey was my dear brother and the first black guy that I really got to know. He was my high school buddy and my basketball teammate. We met in Ankara, Turkey when our fathers were working overseas to help other countries. I knew he had been in the hospital because I had talked to him on the phone a few weeks earlier. He sounded find and we all thought he was recovering. The phone call from his kids was like a giant punch in the face and gut.

Richard Harvey and I, along with other American kids, attended a small high school in Ankara, Turkey. He truly was my soulmate and we bonded very quickly when we both made it on the high school basketball team. We got better every week and worked so hard at it. A big part of that great improvement came from my older brother Bruce’s death on the first day of tryouts for the team. Bruce died right in front of me.

Because of that, Richard and I, along with our great big Texas center Ed Beckcom, made a commitment to win in my brother’s honor. We practiced many, many hours each day. There were many small American High Schools in Europe, the middle East, and even northern Africa, and we were bound and determined to win the championship for that entire area.

The big championship tournament is held each year in a huge stadium in Rome, Italy. Thinking back after Rich’s death I had some vivid memories. We did in fact make it to the finals of the Rome tournament and even to this day I marvel at what happened in that game.

Notre Dame high school was the number one favorite and we were to play them in the finals. It was a very close game and with only 20 seconds left, Notre Dame was 1 point ahead and had the ball. They took one last long shot and it missed. Big Ed Beckcom went high in the air and came down with the rebound. The outlet pass went to me and Richard and I were speeding down the court with two on one. The clock was ticking down very fast.

When we got close to our basket, I faked a shot and threw a bounce pass to Richard and, as I did, Richard slipped and fell. Oh my gosh, I was petrified! But as he hit the floor, he tossed the ball up toward the basket and, miracle of all miracles, the ball went in the basket as the buzzer sounded.

WE WON, WE WON! Wow, were we ever excited and in 7th heaven. We did it for Bruce, and for us too! That day certainly cemented our friendship and we’ve kept in touch all these years. Hmm … that’s about 60 years!

I know that you, the reader, know the huge importance and gift of having good friends and we especially see how important that is since COVID-19 has made it hard to be close to them or make new friends. So, let’s all double down and reach out to friends, old and new, on phone calls, through texts, and on the internet and stay connected with these dear and important parts of our lives.

In photo above: Ed Beckcom (top row, left), Richard Harvey (middle row, right) and me (bottom row, left.) 

A Sterling Mentorship

December 6, 2020 by  
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A couple of days ago I was re-reading one of my old journals and came across a truly inspiring and motivating letter I had tucked in there from 1978 from one of my mentors. He was so helpful to me, both personally and through some of the 22 books that he wrote. This mentor was Sterling W. Sill, a great thinker and motivator.

Here are a few of the things he said in the letter he sent me back in 1978 which I just loved.

“I appreciate very much your thoughtful letter of October 1. I think you have the attitude of a winner.” He went on to write, “I think you are a great person, Mark, and I think you are about a dozen times greater now than before.” I was so amazed that he appreciated one of my letters as he was my idol.

Sterling also quoted something that Shakespeare once said that I thought was very enlightening: “The best men are sometimes molded out of faults.”

He went on to say, “Someone who never made a mistake isn’t likely to be going any place very important. And sometimes, I think, somebody needs somebody to help lift him up outside of himself. He needs some assurances from someone who can take a position of precedence over the arguments of his own self-accusation.”

It was so strange and wonderful that one of my idols had given me so much credit and so many complements. In re-reading his letter, it struck me that any of us can not only learn great lessons from great people but we can also pay it forward and help other people. Believe me, they will thank you for the rest of their lives just like I thank Sterling and so many other mentors. I owe him so much and will remember him for the rest of my life.