In the Shadow of the Flag…..

This past week, I read a social media post in which the author opined that he did not see the necessity for the outrage attendant to the flag. This individual, presumably to assuage his own lack of understanding, suggested he honored the country and not the flag that represented it. He meant well, but really has no grasp of symbolism. You certainly do not have to display a flag at home to be patriotic, but many of us do, and enjoy standing in the shadow of this symbol of America. It prompted a thought or two about the ceremony, conducted under the shadow of the flag, that honored Senator McCain, as it compared with the ceremony honoring my own father when he was committed to eternity.

Senator McCain was a patriot. He was fortunate enough to be born into military royalty, the son of an Admiral, who was the son of yet another Admiral, thus practically guaranteeing him entry into the Naval Academy. He became a naval aviator, arguably among the finest warriors that America produces, and spent many years in captivity under conditions that broke many of his fellow warriors. He was married to a wealthy socialite and possessed the charisma and means to enter politics and enjoy a long career in the US Senate, duly noted in the lengthy sendoff accorded him by a grateful nation. There is room in my yard, for the spirit of John McCain to stand in the shadow of my flag. With all due respect to the Senator, the space under the shadow of my flag belongs first to those ordinary Americans who were not born into a level of opulence that all but guaranteed the chance to enjoy a distinguished career. It is fitting Senator, that you stand with the spirit of my own father, but not, sir, in front of him.

Dad was born into a lower class working family in the small town of Marion, South Carolina. His father, Alex, was said to be a hard edged individual, taken to strong drink and a rough life style. Alex was married to Emma, a demure lady, who kept a small house on the edge of town where she raised a brood of sons and daughters who were, by and large, left to their own wit to succeed in life. There were no silver spoons in this family. My father was a street brawler who soon found himself at odds with a local magistrate and on his way to basic training in the US Army, where his propensity to fight was most welcome. He rose quickly in the enlisted ranks and was ordered to Korea where he became a tank commander. When his commander was killed, he was commissioned on the battlefield and began a distinguished career as an officer referred to in military circles as a “mustang”. As an airborne officer, he was given various commands in airborne units, such as Special Forces and the 173d Airborne Brigade, both units taking him to Vietnam where he was able to indulge his passion in life, close quarters combat, where you stepped in the blood of the vanquished. Despite his career path, he could be quietly eloquent on occasion, with a deceiving manner that concealed his passion for the fight and smell of gunpowder and sound of combat. He possessed the remarkable ability to transform from a country philosopher, enjoying a scotch and soda, to a cold calculating killer, all in the name of a country that he loved.

The Colonel had planned his own funeral, knowing that cancer was soon to kill him. He contacted his own pallbearers, ensured their availability for the simple military service that he planned, selected his own coffin and purchased a new Lincoln Continental, upon which he took a credit life policy which, of course, paid for the car when he died a few months after the purchase. It was a very nice service, with a number of family and friends in attendance, conducted by the soldiers he once commanded. He was interred after a small ceremony in a National Cemetery in Florence, South Carolina, among the military brother’s and sisters he revered. Because he was not a Senator, nor the son of a succession of General Officers, he was not accorded the days upon days of ceremony honoring his service. This, readers, is the fate of literally millions of American’s who have given a fair measure of their lives to this country. It is these folks, accorded a nominal ceremony at the end of their lives, whose spirits are welcome under the shadow of the flag in my yard. At dusk, as the world around us slows down, I can gaze at the flag, softly moving in the evening breeze, and feel their presence. I hope the Senator stops by once in a while, as he has earned a place among these warriors……

As a final note, eternity is a very long time. I would much rather spend this time among the warriors in Valhalla than among those pitiful, lost souls who will surely be relegated to an artificial turf patch where folks who have given nothing to their country and the human condition, and who choose to dishonor those that have, will spend their time, on a knee protesting something they cannot define. There is undoubtedly a flag in Valhalla, and there will be American warriors sitting under it talking about their love for America…..this would be a place that kneeling football players should avoid. To do otherwise would be a fools errand. The folks that kneel are not welcome in the shadow of my flag.

Women in the Boardroom, Cockpit and other Neat Places…..

This commentary began taking shape when I listened to the news out of our beloved (add sarcasm) but very strange state of California that a bill was in the formative stages mandating that a female be placed on the Board (of directors) of every publicly held entity within the state. Leave it to California to muck up the progress that women have made in the last 25 years by suggested their gender, alone, was somehow qualifying for a leadership position. Ladies, such nonsense is doing you no favors. Here is my take.

I am married to a bobcat, pictured below, disguised as a very nice lady with good manners and appropriate social grace, attributes that served her well as an elementary principal. She seldom relies on her sometimes ferocious feline tendencies, but when she does, she can make a point. Sharon dislikes the haggling associated with buying a vehicle, but does take the lead when the vehicle in question is to be her daily driver. Her technique always brings a smile to my face. She confronts the unfortunate salesman (woman) and calmly suggests that I am along for window dressing, not to close a deal. She will square up, look this person in the eye and suggest they need to quickly find their low dollar offer and that if he (me) steps in and is able to reduce the purchase price by as much as 10 dollars, we walk. It is an effective technique, and we have walked on several occasions, to the dismay of perplexed sales associates. She doesn’t just say it, she means it.

With this background in mind, the news of the day continues to somehow suggest that women are inferior in some way to their male counterparts and deserve recognition based on gender alone. That philosophy does not fly in the Johnson household, but is still prevalent in our world. There are numerous other examples of this attitude out there. When Captain Tammie Joe Shults (pictured below) calmly and professionally piloted an airliner, that had suffered a catastrophic engine failure, to a successful landing, it was her gender that made the headlines, and not her measured coolness and ability to fly under trying circumstances. My God, man, a woman dared to exhibit extraordinary skill in a trying circumstance that most male Captains would be expected to accomplish easily. A woman who was once told women can not fly. My own flying career, the modest pursuit of a Sport Pilot rating, temporarily (I hope) derailed by a series of aggravating but not disqualifying health issues, has involved a total of four instructors. Each of them were competent enough instructors, but please be assured that my last instructor, Ms. Jeanne’ Willerth, (below, sitting on an airplane being towed with a flat nose wheel) is as competent a pilot and a better instructor than anyone I have ever shared the cockpit with. Her gender has nothing to do with her remarkable ability to make a point and teach you to fly…….believe me.

Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri’s outsized military base, has recently been placed under the command of a diminutive black female, recently promoted to Major General. The news announcing her elevation to this position is rift with references to her sex and race. This is another example of gender (and race) getting ahead of the story. I am betting the General is absolutely capable of commanding an Army base and, when necessary, issuing orders that her subordinates will immediately comply with. Once again, we are doing no favors to the gender issue by making it THE issue. It is time to grow up folks.

This phenomenon is much more pronounced in male dominated fields. Among the pilots flying commercially in America, less than 4.4% are women. Obviously in law enforcement and the military, women are in a distinct minority, and without getting into the traditional arguments revolving around physical strength and bravado, are actually doing quite well. My own daughter, (below) a trooper here in Missouri, maintains an enviable conditioning regimen, necessary to do the job when the situation arises resulting in her putting her hands on a miscreant. A stronger male violator may be able to take her down, but he sure as hell will know he has been in a fight. This same thing could be said of any number of male officers I have worked with over the years.

Perhaps I will see the day when gender is not the over-riding issue when a leadership position is filled. We are living in a day and age when women are rapidly assuming roles that were traditionally male bastions just a few short years ago. I offer medicine, both veterinary and human, as a vivid example, as well as the military, piloting and police professions. I intend to accord the same respect to the professional I encounter, irrespective of their gender, as has been my practice for many years. The bobcat that I am married to, my daughter and my flight instructor will see to it.

The women in my life do not walk behind me, rather with me, and that, my dear readers, is how it should be!

A Thought or Two For Destructive Demonstrators….

There is a right way and a wrong way to do just about anything that requires human effort. As an example, the right way to open a bottle of catsup is to twist the lid off, break the film and pour the stuff on whatever gastronomic delight you are hell bent on defiling. The wrong way would be to break the top of the bottle off, Viking style, and pour catsup and glass shards onto your previously edible entree. To further illustrate this point, there is a right way and a wrong way to mount a Harley motorcycle. The right way produces a broad smile as the big twin is brought to life, while the wrong way results in the necessity to summon help from two or three smirking bystanders to get the 800 pounds of iron and leather off your leg that is pinned to the ground. These examples can be found in the unabridged, illustrated book of life.

Some of the best years of my professional life were spent working for supervisors who were secure in the knowledge that a reasonable degree of failure was the best teacher you could have. They understood that knowledge gained “the hard way” was likely to leave a lasting imprint on a just developing police professional. Police science is an rapidly evolving science that has become incredibly sophisticated over the years, with dramatic advances in the world of technology and the application of law. In spite of these advances, in the end, this profession turns on human interaction, if you will, where the rubber meets the road. Stay with me, I am headed somewhere with this!

One of the least sophisticated and finest police officers that I was ever associated with was a older gentleman by the name of Ted (Theodore) Gann, a Lafayette County deputy sheriff, who in his later years was assigned the responsibility of collecting bond and fine money at the truck weigh station in Odessa, Missouri, specifically on I-70. So the reader can grasp the enormity of this task, Ted collected many, many thousands of dollars from hundreds of drivers over the years. He was masterful in his ability to find the appropriate level of discourse with drivers who ranged from enraged to embarrassed, docile to combative. It should also be noted that at the age of 75, Ted, who began life as a coal miner, could, if the need arose, tear your arm off and beat you senseless with it!

Occasionally, we would be summoned to the scales to transport an errant driver to jail, usually because he could not raise the money necessary to cover his “expenses” or was of a temperament that required a little reflective time in the bullpen at the county lockup to restore normal reasoning ability. One of Ted’s admonishments to drivers who were simply offended by a law they had just broken, and chose to rail against this law was, and I am quoting here, “Now (name) if you don’t like the law, work to change it, don’t violate it”. He would go on to remind the violator that working to change a law was how our country operated whereas violating it was going to be expensive at best and deny him access to his profession at worst. Most of the time, these miscreants were receptive and the conversation would end with knowing smiles and money being exchanged between the deputy and the violator.

Folks that are tearing down statues and blocking highways could certainly use a little one on one face time with Ted. Herein lies the problem. I would challenge every one of the folks who are engaged in the pursuit of some elusive form of social justice to stand in front of a mirror and ask themselves a simple question. Are my convictions and/or concerns strong enough to cause me, alone, to grab a rope to pull down a statue or stroll onto a major highway and risk immediate arrest or perhaps being run over by a car? If your strength is derived from a mob, you have no strength at all, and if your convictions do not rise to the level of a willingness to be arrested, you have no conviction. You are an unprincipled individual who has nothing more to do, and likely have no clue as to why you are standing in traffic or tearing down a statue.

I would suggest you spend your time constructively, perhaps writing a respectful letter to your representatives expressing your concerns. Force him or her to respond to your position and become a part of a solution to the issues that you are vexed with. Don’t want to write, then call. Don’t want to call or write, then your conviction is suspect. A final, and legal, effort might be participation in a PEACEFUL demonstration, long a fixture in American social justice. I can assure you that, in the future, your children and grandchildren will not be impressed by your participation in a statue tear down or mob inspired attempt at blocking a road. Deputy Gann is long departed but his advice is as valid today as it was 50 years ago…..work to change the law, don’t violate it!

The Changing of The Seasons……

The first day of fall is rapidly approaching and I, like so many others, am left wondering where this year has gone. The warm feeling of accomplishment is still very much at odds with our aggravating disappointment with items not checked off of our annual to do list. The first hints of fall are about us as the night air reminds us that soon enough, winter will signal the end of another of nature’s cycles of life. Let’s have a look at what is left of 2018 and how to use the rest of this tumultuous year.

One of my closest friends is quietly watching his wife as she enters her final days on this earth. I deeply admire his courage as he quietly accepts the inevitable end of a long relationship with his trusted companion of many years. I am reminded of just how fortunate I am to count this man among my closest of friends and am, at the same time, frustrated at my inability to offer very little in terms of comfort as this transition occurs. Their situation reminds me that we all have this experience to negotiate, a sobering thought for my generation. We should use our time wisely.

The political season is upon us, and soon will be relegated to history. Thank God. I have never seen such rancor and hatred as what we are experiencing today. Instant communication, through social media as well as traditional media has left much of America reeling. It is difficult, if not impossible, to wade through the sea of lies, half truths, innuendo and half baked nonsense we are being exposed to endlessly. My favorite refrain these days is quite simply “somebody’s lying”. We must be awfully easy to influence and I long for the days when folks like Ike Skelton and Harold Caskey were running things. It was always an interesting day in our state capital when you visited with Senator Caskey, a bulldog of a man who was principled and direct. Ike was equally principled and both of these gentlemen were motivated by public service, checking personal agendas at the door. No media influence could possible dissuade a voter, either for or against these kinds of folks, irrespective of where your loyalties might lie.

For the first time in decades, I am not fascinated with the prospects of deer hunting and catching a limit of fat crappies for the freezer. It is unbelievably hard to cross an arm of Truman Lake and note a bass boat as it passes under the bridge driven by an angler who is grinning in anticipation of a day on the water. This evolution is the result of advancing arthritis, which makes handling a bass boat less than pleasant. The folks who purchased my Ranger sent me a photograph of them fishing on Truman and I damn neared choked as I looked at it. As for hunting, I still regard the hunt as one of the noblest of sports but have lost interest in killing critters. Even so, my memories are wonderful and I wish my hunting friends well. Another thumb surgery late this fall will hopefully take some of the pain out of my left hand as it has already done in my right thumb. Modern medicine is incredible and the prospect of another cold winter is creating an urgency to get this done, even though hand surgeries are no fun. Winter seems like a good time to become a one handed coffee drinker!

Sharon and I are counting the days until the first frost signals the necessity to drive across US 24 in Lafayette county where I patrolled as a brand new trooper. The heavenly smell of apple orchards provided the backdrop for many fall days in those years. A perfect day was marked by a coffee stop, followed by a roadside check visiting with the good people of Lafayette County while geese sang their song as they migrated south. If it gets any better than that, please drop me a note so that I can experience it.

Our river tested canoe is now back in Springfield, having spent several years reposing at a friends business in Osage Beach. Few activities rival a fall float on one of our rivers and we will soon load Tazzy for such a trip. If you have never done so, please take the time to rent a conveyance and give this activity a try. It is impossible to describe the peace you feel under a towering bluff on one of our clear streams on a fall day, after the summer crowds have dissipated. Floating is easy on the hands and even easier on your mind!

Another of my friends recently published a picture of his work canning tomatoes and making home-made jelly. The vibrant color reminds me it is time to peruse the various markets for year end produce and similarly canned products. Urban living pretty well precludes a garden, but I remember the satisfaction derived from growing and preserving your own produce. This is yet another fall activity that I dearly miss, taking me back to years when this was not just fun, but was also a necessity. It is a beautiful fall tradition.

In a few short days, fall will be officially upon us. We should be thankful the Master has given us yet another year to close out gracefully. We have all lost friends and relatives, as my good friend is doing as I write, and we should not waste this opportunity to show appreciation by smiling and moving about our great country. We must refuse to let the hatred that is consuming us as a nation crush our optimism and anticipation of the fall season. My generation, by now, should be well aware that we are promised a limited supply of beautiful fall days.

The seasons are changing……..

If Only These Hills Could Talk……

Shannon County is a poor county, if wealth is measured in money. Thankfully, there are many ways to measure the value of real estate beyond an accountant’s ledger and such is the case with this gem located deep in Missouri’s Ozarks. The folks here are not the least bit pretentious, perfectly content to live in a land where cell service isn’t really necessary and wood heat is a mainstay. The steep forested hillsides and crystal clear streams are the center of their lives, and if you are respectful, you are welcome to share their existence for awhile. Sharon, Tazzy and I spent last week at Missouri’s newest and extremely popular state park, Echo Bluff. This park has a colorful history, much of which is recorded, however; if these hills could talk, I suspect the story would be entrancing.

Echo Bluff began establishing it’s identity as Camp Zoe in 1929. This was a place where young women came from around the country to spend time communing with nature, swimming and hiking the many trails in and around the park. In 1967, Camp Zoe became coed, presumably in an attempt to remain in existence, providing outdoor adventures in a time when more urban activities were becoming popular. Sometime in 2004, the camp was acquired by a colorful musician named Jimmy Tebeau, a member of a rock band named “The Schwag”, a popular tribute band for the Grateful Dead. Jimmy began promoting rock concerts in this very remote location, some of which were attended by as many as 7,000 folks. It was a perfect location for these activities, the remoteness providing some insulation between the revelers and law enforcement, important as these concerts and drug use are closely related. Jimmy owned about 330 acres of ground within what is now the park. Jimmy’s luck ran out in 2010, when various law enforcement agencies, led by the Drug Enforcement Administration, raided the park and seized it in a federal forfeiture action. Jimmy pled guilty to a single drug related charge and spent a year in a prison camp in South Dakota. The photo below is of Mr. Jimmy Tebeau.

Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources purchased the land, at auction, for 640,000, and subsequently acquired an additional 100 adjacent acres. This was the beginning of a politically controversial period of development into what is now Echo Bluff State Park, named for the towering bluff overlooking Sinking Creek in front of the modern lodge. Within the park a beautiful stone bridge was constructed across Sinking Creek, among other projects, which became the subject of some concern given the poor quality of many bridges within the county. Thankfully, the government was not dissuaded and the park was fully developed and opened in the summer of 2016. Although the exact costs are elusive, the improvements within the park are conservatively estimated to have cost around 55 million dollars, not including approximately 10.5 million dollars in federal grants. What does this investment get you, you might ask?

The camping area is, in simple terms, state of the art. The RV parking pads are all concrete, level, spacious and properly equipped for the various needs of users, in terms of water, sewer and electrical connectivity. This area is not currently shaded, however; trees have been planted and will soon provide ample shade. The shower houses and restroom facilities are all first rate, immaculately maintained and convenient. There are considerable tent and primitive camping opportunities close at hand, with parking for those that walk in. Handcarts are available, conveniently spotted around the grounds, to pack in your gear. For those who eschew the camping experience, there are a number of very modern cabins and chalets as well as rooms in the lodge, which is a gorgeous building. Sinking Creek runs through the park and provides wading, fishing and swimming opportunities at a number of locations. Tazzy loves this park and we have named one of the deeper pools on the creek “Tazzy’s Hole”, a place where he swims until exhaustion! In spite of these many amenities, the draw is the setting.

The hills and ridges are densely wooded in pine and hardwood. The hollows are deep and fog shrouded in the mornings, the cool air from the creek practically demanding a campfire in the ring at each campsite. There is abundant wildlife and a resident population of feral horses who have a fondness for such things as watermelon carelessly left out at night. There is WiFi, as some folks do not think they can live without it, and it is surprisingly good. We found it useful only in a drenching downpour, precluding us from being out and about. There are numerous float outfitters close at hand, some of which will pick you up at your campsite, deliver you to a put in and pick you up at the take out, then deliver you back to your campsite or cabin. How convenient is that!

There are local folks who can remember the sounds of blaring rock bands shattering the peaceful hills. There is an occasional local with enough salt to remember the sounds of children squealing in the cold creek waters or coaxing a horse along a trail. I can only imagine what it is like in the fall, when nature displays her colors. I am told that Halloween is a special occasion in the RV park, with folks dressing up and brightly lighting their RV’s as they welcome children on the prowl for treats. If there is a downside, it is the park’s popularity. Make your reservations well in advance as this is going to be one of those coveted destinations where sites are reserved many months in advance.

We will be back, soon. There is much research to be done and many interviews to be conducted. I thoroughly enjoy conversations with the folks in Shannon County who have lived the colorful history around Echo Bluff. The hills will never give their secrets up. The stories that are known only to the ridges, hollows and hills are locked away forever.

If only these hills could talk!

Our Fascination with Risk…..

We the people love risk. Our blessed existence in a free country, where we can make decisions relative to everyday living with little interference from government is an excellent example of the proverbial, two edged sword. I tend to associate with folks who I would describe as excitement junkies, folks who enjoy being in motion. Many years ago, author John A. Shedd, wrote, “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” This adage applies to many things in everyday life. Our challenge today, in a country that thrives on excitement, is to balance risk and reward. The legal profession and insurance industry both seek to mitigate the impact of risk with words, such as a warning to not place your hand in a blender and turn it on. Words may help but personal accountability is the single biggest piece of the mitigation equation. Let’s talk about it.

Risk is everywhere. We all understand that quietly sitting in your favorite chair, sipping a cup of coffee while reading some bloggers musings, carries little risk. On the other hand, placing one’s body in motion, whether it be driving across town to shop, or powering a bass boat up a narrow arm of Truman lake, increases the risk. Issac Newton, a genius from another era, determined that a mass (human being) in motion requires energy to move it and the dissipation of energy to stop it. Human beings tend to come apart if too much speed is involved in either acceleration or deceleration. It is really pretty simple. So, what does this mean?

Insurance actuaries make a very good living assigning a monetary value to risk. They study human activity and through careful analysis of outcomes in various scenarios, arrive at a reasonable premium to charge folks engaged in these activities. I ride a motorcycle, and was surprised with a hefty premium increase last year as a result of the stupidity, bad luck and carelessness of other riders in my region who, by any account, have had a bad year on our roads. Piloting a light airplane is viewed as having approximately the same risk factor as the motorcycle, and it cost more to insure my life when I fly. (The pool of insurers willing to offer a life policy on general aviation pilots is very small, and the premiums high.) Perhaps the single biggest risk that I have ever taken was on a snowmobile ride in the mountains in Colorado where our young trail guide led us on a virtual race down narrow trails at breakneck speeds. The thought of being lost and freezing to death prompted my decision to “keep up”. It was exhilarating and plain, damned dangerous.

Warnings are everywhere. Because of the clumsy, distracted effort of a motorist accepting a cup of hot coffee at a McDonalds, we are now warned the coffee is hot and may burn you. I recently purchased a very nice folding knife and noted a warning the knife could cut you resulting in serious injury or death if not used carefully. We bought a small gas grill to travel with in our RV and the box contained a number of warnings that indicated the grill would be hot and possibly burn you if you touched it while in use. There are an unbelievable number of warnings in the owners manual of our pick-up truck that would lead you to believe your chances of survival if you actually drove the thing were not good. There are warnings that suggest you should wash your hands after a restroom break, and the failure to do so could result in serious illness. There are warnings on hair dryers suggesting that use while sitting in a tub of water could be hazardous and warnings on paint cans to not ingest the paint. When a lawsuit is filed, the number and location of the warnings is the contested issue, not the sanity of someone painting his bathroom, and drinking the paint while standing in a tub of water, drying their hair.

I, like so many others, am crushed by the horror of the drownings in the recent duck boat tragedy in Branson, Mo. As a matter of fact, I have never ridden one of these things as I have never believed them to be safe, based on nothing more than intuition and years of boating experience. This same experience causes me to run like the devil for a safe haven when weather threatens on a lake. Risk is a part of any active lifestyle and signs, placards and warnings do not remove the requirement for personal accountability on the actor’s part.

Folks, if you are moving, there is risk. Personal accountability is the first step in guaranteeing a positive outcome when you are in motion! Have a good day and enjoy the reasonable degree of risk that suits you. For the most part, being in motion is a hoot, and damned sure beats the alternative.

Twenty-Nine Names on The Wall…….

Night before last I attended my 50th High School class reunion, an event that I almost skipped because of misplaced priorities. The precious few hours spent at this event has been on my mind since, anchored in place by a display of classmates that are no longer living. I came away having learned another lesson in life. Each of us should set aside time to mitigate regret. Let’s have a look at this nasty little concept that plagues all of us.

I have made my living around the concept of preserving life and protecting dignity. As such, I have dealt with the fragility of life and the certainty of death, often unexpected and remarkably sudden. On far too many occasions, I have stood with family members and friends of folks who are confronted by the death of a friend, acquaintance or family member, and witnessed first hand the regret that immediately envelops the survivors. I have officiated at the scenes of many sudden deaths, and helped surviving folks through the denial that almost always sets in soon after someone dies unexpectedly. A key ingredient in denial is regret. I am writing to encourage my readers to take steps today to deal with this inevitable response to the loss of someone we hold dear by protecting the friendships we are blessed with.

I was acquainted with every one of the 29 people whose name graced the memorial wall. Some of those folks were friends back in the day, and I had no idea they had died, many of them far too soon, many years ago. As I visited with folks at the reunion, it occurred to me that soon enough some of their names will grace the memorial wall. A sobering thought is the reality that, at some point, my name will be added to this list of folks who once enjoyed a shared existence during those beautiful years of innocence and laughter. I felt a tinge of regret at having never again seen or heard from them after we walked out of the auditorium on the night we graduated. My feelings of regret intensified as I noted several very good friends on that list, friendships that were casually discarded at the end of the High School experience.

The 29 names and pictures on the wall serve as a reminder that friendships are a vital component of living and should never be taken for granted. The friendships that formed during those years deserve a little maintenance over time and I walked away Friday evening resolving to provide that maintenance. There is a harsh reality in play here, the reality that in the next few years, relatively speaking, we all will be added to that list. Life is tough enough without dealing with regret in response to an obituary announcing that an old friend has died, leaving many conversations unspoken and memories unshared.

Fifty years is plenty of time to shake the decidedly one sided existence that we have lived, an existence dominated by work and the pressing needs of day to day life. We now have time to push regret to the back burner by reconnecting with those who shared the intimacy of growing up early in life. Call or write an old friend soon. You won’t regret it.

A lesson learned, courtesy of 29 names on a wall.