Archive for October, 2009

October 20, 2009

Grace or Good Luck?

When I was twenty one, I graduated from college and went to work for the Catholic Church, where I was responsible for a youth group comprised initially of high school students, but rapidly grew to include junior high school youth and even some 5th and 6th graders.

It was a great job.

Over the past year, the marvels of FaceBook has meant that I’ve been able to be in touch with some of those (then) young people. There were a few that I was in touch with the whole time, but I lost contact with most. Still – over the years I’d see someone when jogging, or a friend of a friend would be in touch and I’d have a bit of a sense of what was happening to the young people with whom I spent my first 5 years post college.

In any case – it’s been pretty fun to find out what folks are doing. Seems to me (no scientific sample here) that most are doing pretty well. Oh, sure – I bet most have had the same trials as the rest of the population – working out challenging jobs and relationships, figuring out how to be married or divorced or both. But the folks that have been in touch? Seems like to a person they’ve remained warm, hopeful, optimistic. And that put me to thinking:

Was it good luck, back then, that tossed us all together? Maybe there was some of that. But I think there was grace, too, but not the cheesy grace that accompanies a holiday meal, or the kind that you might find on a get well card. No, it was grace of a different sort, I think.

Back then, I was thoroughly excited about being Catholic, and due mostly to a great Jesuit education – was also committed to seeking justice where I could, all with an attitude of inclusion and questioning that I find increasingly rare. And while I am less enthusiastic about the Catholic tradition these days – that sense of justice and inclusion are still with me.

Anyway – back then – what I remember the most of those five years was the essential goodness of the people with whom I was working. I bet many of them have kids that are teenagers or close to it – and maybe they are seeing some of the things that I remember seeing back then:

  • Young people had an almost irrepressible sense of optimism that was mostly warranted and very contagious. No wonder we had fun – all we needed was to be in the same room together.
  • They also exhibited a clever sense of humor that I think is fleeting – it was full of adult perception and youthful indiscretion. If I had a nickel for every time I laughed when I shouldn’t have – I’d still have a lot of nickels!
  • They cared for each other. Oh, sure – there were groups and pairs and threesomes. And there were hurtful things, and young romances, too. But all in all – it was more likely than not that I witnessed a genuine sense of caring for one another and for the larger group – despite some of those groups and pairs and threesomes.
  • They wanted better. To be better humans, to care more deeply, to be more authentic. Sure (just like me) there were moments of anger, laziness, spite. But overall – people wanted be better at who they were becoming.

I can recollect specific moments (like when I inadvertently showed “the evil dead” to a group of high school students and had to rapidly figure out how to process that with them without losing my job. Or when we took almost 100 people skiing and I had to float the lift tickets and hotel on my credit card. Or the trip to Ocean Shores where it rained so much I thought we’d wash into the ocean. Or the time (another ski trip) when two people both broke legs. Or the fun of taking pictures, developing slides in the hotel bathroom, and showing them less than 2 hours after a weekend away.) Mostly though, I remember laughing a lot – laughing at the funny, at the fun, at the ridiculous, at myself.

So – good luck? The right young people at the right time? Or grace?

I think it was a combination – lucky for me to be surrounded by those young people, for sure. And lucky that I showed up post college feeling pretty enthusiastic. And lucky that my boss was terrific. (We still have lunch together).

But it was full of grace, too, but the real stuff, not the cheese-ball. The grace of self acceptance (at least sometimes) of forgiveness (a lot of times) of humor (most of the time), of trying to be better.

So – thanks, all. Thanks for being back in touch. Thanks for the chance to be together all of those years ago.

And write and tell me how it is with you, too. The real stuff, like back in the day. I probably can’t change any of your circumstance, but I can certainly listen and wish you well – which is about all we did the last time we were together.

October 18, 2009

For Whom Are You Voting?

I spotted an exchange on FaceBook, between a friend of mine and one of his friends. They were chatting about a bunch of the local races and issues on the ballot here in Seattle and King County, and one of the remarks in particular stuck out like a sore thumb:

The writer wanted to vote for whichever King County candidate would freeze the budget and stop growth in spending. Given the current economic climate, that sounds smart, right? But if you wait a second, and think about it – there are a LOT of assumptions built into that vote – and while I don’t know the answers to some of them – we should insist that the candidates for that office does know.

For instance, before assuming that we should spend the same as last year, shouldn’t we know:

  • If the population of King County is greater or smaller than last budget
  • If there has been an increase or decrease in the demand for services
  • If there are more or less people in school
  • If there are more or less workers contributing to the tax base
  • If any increases in the King County budget came from Federal or State dollars
  • Which funds are mandated by laws for which we’ve voted

I’m not a policy wonk, and not very good at math –but I was able to find out that the population of Washington has grown by about 188,695 persons, and King county by 48,900 persons. I didn’t dig deep enough to find out more – do an additional almost 50k people here in town mean that our budget should go up? Are they in school? Are they wage earners? Are they healthy? Are they employed? The answer to all of those questions matter a lot.

So –back to that question. Would it pass the reasonable test if I said to a family of two that they should maintain their grocery budget (not to mention their laundry, clothes, education) when they had a baby or two? Not really – we wouldn’t expect that such a family would continue to make ends meet without increasing their access to goods and services. Maybe dad gets an extra job. Maybe mom does, too. Maybe they get food from a food bank. Maybe they get subsided medial help. Or maybe they are lucky, and their wages rise. If they don’t, though –and if that family stays healthy and fed – the community is helping them.

You can see where I’m headed here – asking for the same (or a smaller) budget isn’t the right question. It’s important – especially now when there is less money. And it’s certainly important to prioritize. But to assume that an increase in spending is bad, and a decrease is good, without answering some of the questions I’ve noted above is silly. As I said, I’m not very good at math, or public policy. That’s why we elect people – so that they can be really good at math and public policy – and can make choices based in the best and most relevant information.

That’s who will get my vote.

Oh. In case you’re interested – you should take a look at a report produced every year by King County. It’s long, but it is broken into chapters. I found this one particularly interesting. We all know that data can be manipulated to say what we want it to, and I don’t know the author. But some things stand out:

  • More than half of the workers in King County don’t make enough to qualify as having a living wage. Let’s argue about that. (That wage, by the way, as calculated in this document, is about $28/hour.)
  • Average wages in real dollars (adjusted for inflation and those sorts of things) haven’t’ changed much in the last couple of years. That means that while prices are going up, wages aren’t.

There’s a lot more there to read. You can find the entire report and read it – might help you decide who will get your vote in November!

October 13, 2009

A Thousand Miles

Looks like I am on track to clock 1,000 running miles this year – my best total for some time. Turns out that the more you run (provided you stay injury free) the faster you get. I took a quick peek at my running log to see how I’m comparing to last year – and I’m already ahead by almost 100 miles.

That sounds pretty good – but back in 2002-2004, I was running well over a thousand miles a year, and peaked at 1,600 miles in 2004.

2005 was off to a good start, I ran the Boston marathon – and then I happened to meet my wife, moved, my dad passed away – so it was a year that was full of unexpected surprises, and I ran a lot less.

2006 was better. 2007 was worse (although I swam and rode a lot getting ready for a tri – so I can’t really compare) and 2008 was better still.

How does that old saying go? A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step? Well – I took that step on January 1 in Manhattan (despite the snow, or maybe because of it) and I’ll finish in December. Not bad. And while my mileage has varied a fair bit month to month – the cumulative miles show that each month has been faster than the last, from a slow of an 8.07 average to this month, where I’m averaging a 7.33 pace so far.

So – whatever your goals – get started! Effort upon effort most often yields results!