A “Symphony of Your Life” blog with Mark Hardcastle
Many years ago one of my pilot buddies was stationed with the military in England. As was often the case, he chose to live on the local economy, and found a room he could rent from a dear old widow who was glad to have a brawny lad around the house.
He happily did odd jobs for her, and in due course noticed that her front step, a single slab of stone, was deeply worn from having been trod upon for who knows how many years.
So one day he took it upon himself to dig it up and turn it over, hoping to present his landlady with a nice smooth surface for her front step.
Only to find when he flipped it that it had already been turned!
I thought of that story last weekend as I was taken to a different place by the Colorado Children’s Chorale. They were singing the Samuel Lancaster setting of John Holmes’ “The People’s Peace.” The line that fired my imagination: “Days into years, the doorways worn at sill…”
How many soles of how many shoes had swept the granite of that stoop at my friend’s lodging? What tidings had they brought? Babes-in-arms carried across; becoming toddlers, adolescents, young adults wearing at the stone of their own accord. Then old. Then children.
“Summer gives way to fall, but winter always gives way to spring, which must then become summer again. The sun passes from east to west each and every day; each and every night, it passes from west to east again while we sleep.”*
Until the tread is worn to the point that it must be turned. And turned again.
And now, in this bleak mid-winter, in the bitterness of cold, as those long gone are remembered and missed, we wonder. In the ultimate futility of living… where is peace?
Holmes and Lancaster and the Children’s Chorale would offer that we might look here:
“Peace is the mind’s old wilderness cut down-
A wider nation than the founders dreamed.
Peace is the main street in a country town;
Our children named; our parents’ lives redeemed.
Not scholar’s calm, nor gift of church or state,
Nor everlasting date of death’s release;
But careless noon, the houses lighted late,
Harvest and holiday: the people’s peace.
The peace not past our understanding falls
Like light upon the soft white tablecloth
At winter supper warm between four walls,
A thing too simple to be tried as truth.
Days into years, the doorways worn at sill,
Years into lives, the plans for long increase
Come true at last for those of God’s good will:
These are the things we mean by saying, Peace.”
And so, in this bleak mid-winter, in the bitterness of cold, as those long gone are remembered and missed, we wonder. Where is peace?
It is in the clearing of the mind’s wilderness; the stroll along main street; the naming of the children. It is in the warmth of summer noon gone by and yet to come. The harvest brought in. The table set, the lamps lit, the guests arrived for dinner. The unremarkable yet profound rising and setting of the sun. The turning of the stone. The things we mean by saying, Peace.
This sparkling winter, then, with best wishes for you heartfelt, I say it.
Will you say it too?
Thanks for reading!
The Symphony of Your Life
*The Symphony of Your Life: Restoring Harmony When Your World Is Out of Tune, page 7
Last week I had the privilege of speaking at the Global Business Travel Association’s annual convention in Denver. As my audience, over 100 travel professionals, and I, an airline pilot, visited about restoring harmony when your world is out of tune, one of the ideas that came up was “conversations that matter.”
The early 2000s was the era of bankruptcy in the airline industry, and many pilots saw their wages cut by 50%. How do you manage a 50% pay cut? “Let’s see… I’ll eat on even-numbered days. I’ll use water on odd-numbered days. I’ll use the air conditioner in the winter!” As you can imagine, those pay cuts stimulated some conversations in our cockpits!
Now, there are two kinds of conversations. There are the conversations you have when you’re taking off out of LAX for London in the late afternoon. The sun is bright as it descends toward the Pacific Ocean, the jet is operating well, the weather’s good, the air is smooth. You cross the San Bernardino Mountains at around 25,000’ climbing to 35,000’, and you can see Las Vegas in the distance.
You finish your post-takeoff housekeeping tasks and start to relax into the 10-hour cruise. And before you know it you’re talking about the Dodgers and Rockies. Or the AVs. Or whatever your favorite team is for this time of year. Those light-hearted conversations take you over Denver and Chicago.
But somewhere between Chicago and the east coast the atmosphere in the cockpit changes. It starts to get more personal. You find out that your Captain has 2 kids. One has special needs, the other has the potential to be an Olympic athlete. Both are expensive endeavors. And you start to wonder how she’s making it with the pay cuts.
Have you ever had a conversation that goes beneath the surface with a colleague? Is there someone you work with who really wants to know you on a deeper, more human level – beyond the platitudes? That’s the second kind of conversation.
And as you head out over the North Atlantic at 35,000’, it’s now the middle of the night. The passengers are asleep, the flight attendants relaxing on their jump seats. And you turn to your Captain and ask, “So really. How are you doing? Are you making it? Are you gonna be able to keep your house? Your car? How are you making it? Did you send your stay-at-home husband back to work to pay for that Olympic-level coach?”
Through the era of bankruptcy, then eventually into the Great Recession, those conversations fell into 2 categories: the pilots who were making it, and those who weren’t. The latter category was filled with stories of personal bankruptcies, foreclosures, and divorces.
But the former category, those who were doing ok, contained similarities of a different sort. There were patterns among those who were successfully restoring harmony during this period of historic hardship. Those patterns boiled down to 3 simple ideas. Those who were managing were universally kind, they were doggedly determined, and they were looking for ways to help others restore harmony in their lives, too. Simple. Not necessarily easy.
All these years later I watch for those patterns among people who are clearly meeting life head-on. For example, I look for little instances of kindness.
Just last week the gate agent came into the cockpit to let us know we had a special passenger on board. She was a “Make-A-Wish” Foundation participant on her way to London. He didn’t have to, but the Captain asked the agent to invite this young passenger to come up to the cockpit before our flight for pictures. Next thing I knew, she was sitting in the Captain’s seat, hands on the yoke and throttles, cheesing for her dad as he snapped pictures of our newest “Captain.”
It was a small gesture. A little kindness. But the Captain turned her long journey into an adventure from the start.
How do you restore harmony when your world is out of tune? We talked about that at GBTA. Are you looking for little opportunities to be kind? How can you change your world in a small way today, tomorrow, next week? What can you do to bring a smile. How can you help someone else fight his or her hard battle?
Do you have “conversations that matter?” When do you have them? What in your world are they about? Let us know in the comments section below. We’d love to know your stories.
The Symphony of Your Life
I watched as his powerful shoulders, muscles rippling with development over a lifetime of compensating for incapable legs, hauled his crippled body around the spiral staircase. To the first landing. Stop. Breathe. Then to the second landing. Breathe. And he was there. At the artillery observer’s post. Looking out over the Pacific Ocean to the south.
Just in time to see a mother whale and her calf breach off in the distance.
What was the difference between that elderly gentleman from Seattle and all those people with fully functional legs who turned back from their climb on the side of the Koko Crater trail yesterday? What was going through each of their minds?
Clearly the man on crutches understood the simplicity of the situation. All he needed to do was climb one stair. And then another. And another until he was at the top. Simple, though for him, not easy. But do-able.
What did the Koko Crater climbers understand? That it was too hot to climb one railroad tie? That they were too thirsty? Was the railroad tie simply too big for them to be able to step up onto it?
Or were they looking at the wrong thing? Were they seeing the enormity of climbing over 1,000 railroad ties in the heat of the Hawaiian sun when all they had to see was the single 6-inch step at the base of their stride?
What was the real challenge? The totality of the climb? Or the single railroad tie? What did they really have to do?
How about you? What is your challenge today? Today you are facing a very steep climb up some mountainside. What are you looking at? Are you feeling intimidated by the totality of your climb? Or can you focus on the single railroad tie at your feet?
I encourage you to look for the individual stairs on your climb. And have the courage to know that even though they may be many, you have the strength to climb them all, if you’ll simply climb them one at a time.
The Symphony of Your Life
Here’s Part 1 in case you missed it…
Did any of them have to climb to the top to reap those rewards?
Well, no, actually. All of those people really had to do was climb one railroad tie. Not all of them. Just one.
There’s another famous hike on Oahu. I’ve mentioned Diamond Head, that great guardian of Waikiki Beach. It, too, served as a military lookout in WWII. Today, it offers another challenging hike up a hillside, through a tunnel, up a long, steep stairway to a reward of tremendous views.
On another layover a few weeks ago I was ¾ of an hour into that hike when I noticed the crowd ahead of me starting to pile up, apparently impeded by someone who was having some sort of difficulty. As I got closer I saw that there was indeed an elderly gentleman stopped at the side of the trail breathing hard. When I reached him I saw his crutches leaning against the rail.
This, I learned, was a fellow from Seattle, who’d never been to Hawaii, and was seeing as much as he could see. He had heard of the Diamond Head lookout hike and wanted to make it to the top. But because of his infirmity, what had taken me only forty-five minutes had already taken him a couple of hours, and he was feeling the strain. He wasn’t sure he wanted to go on from this point.
In the course of our brief conversation I asked him if he knew what was before him on the trail to the lookout. He listed the 74 stairs to the first tunnel, then the 99 additional stairs to the second tunnel. But he didn’t know about the two flights of spiral stairs to the very top. My question was simply this: are you able to climb stairs? He quickly and decisively averred that as long as he had something to hold on to, he could climb anything. I smiled and quietly congratulated him for how far he had come. And reminded him of how close he was to the end. And reassured him that from this point on there would be railings for him to hold on to. And told him I’d be waiting for him at the top.
With that I turned and climbed the 74 stairs and walked through the first tunnel. But I didn’t go up the next 99 stairs. Instead I waited. About 10 minutes later here came the man with the crutches. And for the first time I saw the massive effort it took for him to walk. He had the distinctive gait of someone who had been stricken with polio as a child, weight forward on his arms, supported by crutches, twisting to fling one leg forward, shifting his weight onto that leg, advancing the crutches, twisting to fling the other leg forward. Pace. By pace. By pace. One. Shift. Step. Shift. At. Shift. A. Shift. Time.
He exited the tunnel, looked to his right, and saw the 99 stairs to the top. He moved over into the shade and leaned against the wall to gather his strength. Five minutes later he began.
I watched as he placed his crutches on the first stair. Then one leg up. Weight forward. Second leg onto the step. Crutches onto the next step. Balance. Pause. Gasp for breath. Mission accomplished. Victory.
Another step. Mission accomplished. Another victory.
Then one more step. Then one more. Ninety-nine times. Ninety-nine separate tasks. Ninety-nine separate small victories. Then he was there. Through the second tunnel. I watched as his powerful shoulders, muscles rippling with development over a lifetime of compensating for incapable legs, hauled his crippled body around the spiral staircase. To the first landing. Stop. Breathe. Then to the second landing. Breathe. And he was there. At the artillery observer’s post. Looking out over the Pacific Ocean to the south.
Just in time to see a mother whale and her calf breach off in the distance.
Today I’m in Houston, in the middle of a 6-day trip for United Airlines. It’s my second layover. The first was in Honolulu. Not bad duty, especially when there’s snow on the ground in my hometown of Centennial, CO.
I’ve had the great good “fortune” (in quotes for those who are familiar with my book) to enjoy many layovers in Hawaii over the years. As is the case with any layover city, once you’ve seen all the well-known attractions in Honolulu, you start to wander a bit farther afield. Which is how I found myself climbing the Koko Crater trail yesterday.
Koko Head is a volcanic mountain on the southeast corner of Oahu. There are a number of popular and interesting formations there. Hanauma Bay, known for its snorkeling, and the Koko Crater, a cinder cone that stands sentinel over this part of the island, are two of them. Koko Head’s strategic location provided a great radar site for the US military from 1942 until its decommissioning in 1966. There are still remnants of the site’s concrete and steel foundations at the top of the mountain. But that’s not the attraction.
Today people go to Koko Crater for the climb. It’s a fantastic cardio workout. And the view from the top of the mountain is spectacular. Diamond Head and Waikiki are in the distance. Hanauma Bay and Hawaii Kai are nearby.
When it was an active radar site, the main base was at the foot of the crater. The operational facility at the top was accessed by a rail tram that ran directly to the top, climbing some 1,200 feet along the way. All that remains of the tramway today is the track.
Back in the day, the track’s users didn’t mind the grade. Passengers and supplies were winched up by machinery easily capable of taking passengers in a straight line – no switchbacks required.
Which brings us to yesterday. There I was in the company of a couple hundred of my closest friends climbing those railway ties. There are over 1,000 of them.
The climb starts gently enough. The first half is deceptively easy with a relatively shallow grade. But just after the 500th tie, the track crosses a ravine. It was constructed for rail cars – not humans, so exposure below the ties wasn’t a concern. But as one hikes across the ravine, one needs to tread carefully.
There’s nothing between those 64 ties except the rails themselves, and a misstep looks as though it could be disastrous. This is challenge number one. And it is the end of the day for many. Those who simply cannot stomach the idea of exposure to a fall through the ties turn back here.
Then comes challenge number two. Here the trail bends upward and becomes much steeper.
And the crowd really begins to thin at this point. Climbers who didn’t understand what they were undertaking have a reality check and many turn back. Those who are not ready physically or psychologically, or who are not properly dressed, or who didn’t bring enough water, or who are too old or infirm to climb a steep grade stop here or shortly after. They give up. They know they can’t climb another 500 railroad ties up this massive incline. From here on, the number of climbers heading down to the parking lot is greater than the number going to the top.
None of these people get to enjoy the feeling of meeting this challenge. They don’t feel the endorphin rush that accompanies the last step as they reach the top of the mountain. They won’t know the “wow” factor of the view out over the endless Pacific Ocean in all directions from the rim of the crater.
All because they couldn’t climb to the top.
Really? Did any of them have to climb to the top to reap those rewards?
Well, no, actually. All any of those people really had to do was climb one railroad tie. Not all of them. Just one.
In part 2 we’ll talk about how I saw this reality applied in dramatic fashion on another hike on Oahu. More importantly, we’ll start to think about how this applies to challenges you are facing today.
I was one of those who kept running that day. Ironically, I feel like I was one of those who failed. Why would I say that?
My buddy Jeff, running right beside me, was one of those who dropped out.
Of course I failed.
Would I have been able to go another full mile? That’s something I’ll never know with certainty. What I do know is that I had enough to go another 3 or 4 steps. And hopefully another 3 or 4 beyond that. On another day, in another time or place I’d have reached out to Jeff and helped him along for those first few steps, then the next, until hopefully he got his second wind and would be able to keep going on his own. But that day I didn’t.
Why not? Two reasons. First, I was so consumed with my own burning lungs that I wasn’t looking around for anyone who might be losing steam. Second, Jeff didn’t tell me. Had either of those realities not been true I’d have reached out and grabbed him and pulled him along.
By continuing to run I got what the Jumpmasters wanted me to get that day. By watching Jeff drop out I got something else.
When Fortune starts doling out her challenges we need to think more deeply.
Are your lungs burning today? Of course they are. You’re running hard, living life, doing what you were put here to do.
If your resources are stretched, reach out. Do you have mentors a phone call away? Partners in your networking group who are more experienced? Advisers who’ve been where you are? Call them. They’ll help you keep going until you get your second wind and can go again on your own.
If, on the other hand, these are the good times for you and you’re hitting on all cylinders, take a look around. There’s somebody in your sphere who’s challenged and can use your wisdom. You have the ability to make a difference in a colleague’s life. Make it. Look up. Reach out. Bring him or her along.
In all cases mental strength rules. It’s always mind over matter. You can keep going as long as you need to. You just need to know you can. The real question, as is the case so often in life, is “how?”. Can you go it alone? Should you? Can you help somebody else? Will you?
I know you can. I hope you will.
The Symphony of Your Life
As we walked back to join our friends who’d given up only a few yards short of the end, the instructors said nothing, allowing the lesson to become self-evident: It’s always mind over matter.
“Mind over matter…” Sounds impressive. We’ve all heard it over and over again since we were small. But what does it look like? What does “mind over matter” actually mean?
In this particular case, it meant that most of the platoon continued to run. So what was the difference between us and those who dropped out? Were we in better physical shape? I don’t think so. Other dynamics were at work. Several of us were young bucks from service academies, driven to show our mettle. Others were older service members—enlisted and officers—who had waited years to take this training course and were hell-bent not to blow their chance. The one commonality among all of us was this: a simple, undeniable determination not to be defeated.
Here’s the bottom line: If you believe you can keep going as long as you need to, you’re probably right. If you believe you can’t go on, you’re probably right about that, too.
Situations like this are classically self-fulfilling. We conclude that we can continue toward our goal, or that we can’t. How we come to that conclusion is critical. We can convince ourselves either way! Which means that our success is up to us. It’s all about what we believe. In other words, it’s always mind over matter!
What are you believing today? Are you good enough to do what you need to do? Do you have the resources within you to go as long as you need to go?
But what if you get tired? Not just tired… What if you get ‘I can’t go another step much less another mile’ tired. Then what?
I was one of those who kept running that day. Ironically, I feel like I was one of those who failed. In Part 3 (coming soon!) I’ll tell you why…
The Symphony of Your Life
I enjoyed their ideas and the insights they came up with to explain why they thought that Randall had placed the notes the way he did around those words. But I left my own thoughts out of it for the time being.
At the concert in November I took a moment after we finished The Pasture to tell the audience about our interaction with Randall Stroope. I told them how fun it was to watch, and how gratified I was that they had come well prepared with intelligent questions for the composer. And this was when I finally shared my thoughts about Tali Shurek’s The Paint Box. I chose this moment because it was my last with the 303 Choir for the foreseeable future, and I wanted them to understand not only what choral music can convey, but what I hoped they were learning from us on this night, in this setting, through this musical experience. Here’s what I told them.
“My grandmother was a painter. And I can imagine a situation where (had I been a little smarter!) I might have sat down with her and asked, ‘Grandma, How did you decide to live your life? What caused you to make the decisions that you made?’”
“And I think in her wisdom she might have said, ‘Son, you know I’m a painter. And I have this paint box. And I had the opportunity to choose the colors that went into that paint box – the colors that I wanted to use to paint my life. There were certain colors that I rejected. I didn’t want to have anything to do with colors that represented discord and pain and hardship. I chose colors to put into my paint box that would allow me to paint beautiful paintings and create a beautiful life.’”
“That idea is what I hope you guys will take with you – the idea that you have the opportunity now to put the colors into your paint box that you are going to use to paint the painting of your life. And I hope that you will do as the song says. That you will use that opportunity to create something beautiful. Let’s make beautiful things with that paint box, shall we?”
With that I turned back to the choir, gave the accompanist the downbeat, and we were into the music.
So what really happened that night? At least, what do I hope happened?
Here was a group of young people whose entire lives lay before them. Middle schoolers. High schoolers. Only starting to have inklings of who they are as unique individuals. I wanted to have an influence on who they will become. I don’t care what they become. I care that they become their truest, most perfect selves, whatever that might look like. So I planted a seed – the idea that they are the captains of their own souls. They will be the ultimate arbiters of what their life-paintings look like when they finally put their brushes away.
And here’s a thought. You are older than them. In fact, if you’re like me you’re approaching the end of middle-age. What does this idea have to do with you?
How about this? Just like those singers, your entire life, however long it may be, is before you. The reality is that some of those kids will have more time to create paintings than others. Some of us adults will have relatively more time to work on our canvases as well. There is no difference. Those of us with more time in our past have just that – a history. We cannot change it. We have no control over it. It will enrich our memories forever.
What we can change is tomorrow. What will your tomorrow look like? What colors do you need for your paint box? Will you reject colors that represent wounds, orphaned children, the face of the dead, burning sands? Will you choose colors warm, cool and bright? Colors that evoke joy and life? Buds and bloom? Clear bright skies? Dreams and rest?
Are you today living the life you were meant to live? Do you already have the paints you need? Then paint! If you are not today doing the things you were put on this earth to do, take out a new, clean canvas. Go get your paints. And paint the masterpiece of your life.
The Symphony of Your Life
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 720.840.8361
Ya gotta love the internet! We found a date when Randall would be in his home office and we’d be in rehearsal. It was all set.
On the appointed evening, we gathered in Travis’s basement and ate pizza while he set up the Skype connection. Before we knew it, Randall came on the screen, sitting at his desk in Stillwater, devoting his full attention to these 25 eager young people in Arvada, Colorado. Now what?
I had a list of questions prepared in case the conversation dragged, but it wasn’t needed. Right out of the chute one of the kids asked, “Why do you write music the way you do?” Not bad.
Randall didn’t miss a beat. He explained that it’s always about enhancing the text. The text always dictates how the music is written. Every aspect of the music – notes, rhythm, meter, harmonies – should be about bringing out the message that the poet is trying to convey. The music should always bring the words to life.
Next question: “What inspired you to compose The Pasture?”
“I wanted the music to convey the reality that Frost wasn’t talking literally about cleaning out a pasture spring. He was talking about building a relationship. So I built the notes around that idea.”
And so it went. Randall graciously gave us a huge chunk of his time. The kids asked several more questions. Then we sang “The Pasture” for him through the magic of the internet, us in Arvada, him over in Stillwater. Then it was over and he was gone. And the kids will never forget the night that they “met” a famous composer and actually got to speak with, and then sing for, him.
That was in late September. Our concert was scheduled for early November. So we had several weeks to introduce concepts of traditional choral music that were new to members of the 303 Choir. We would have been remiss had we not frequently referred back to their time with Randall, whose music they were now learning in earnest. As part of that process, sometime in mid-October I asked the singers what they thought Randall might have been thinking when he set the notes around the text in The Paint Box. I enjoyed their ideas and the insights they came up with to explain why they thought that Randall had placed the notes the way he did around those words. But I left my own thoughts out of it for the time being.
In Part 3 I’ll share what I learned from this experience, and what I hope the kids took away…