The Doorways Worn At Sill

A “Symphony of Your Life” blog with Mark Hardcastle

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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!

Imagine!

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. Until the tread is worn to the point that it must be turned. And turned again.

The stories that stone might tell! They might begin something like this:

“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.”*

Which sometimes gives us pause when we realize that while days can seem to drag, the years fly by.

Today at the solstice, at the point of mid-winter, enduring the bitterness of cold and the quiet of the long night, we might find ourselves thinking about the turning of the stone. Loved ones long gone and sorely missed may come to mind. And this shortest day, like our lives, is over almost before it begins.

Then what? If you’re like me, you may feel a bit unsettled by what seems in this moment to be a sort of futility of living. Today we might be asking, “why bother with living at all?”

Thankfully, as I heard at Boettcher Hall a few days ago, Holmes and Lancaster and the Children’s Chorale have a suggestion. I think they would offer this, “The People’s Peace” as a reason to bother:

“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.”

Our children named, our parents’ lives redeemed: those following in our footsteps together with those who came before us… abide. In our stories within the stone in the doorway. Written yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Remembered and retold around the table at the holidays. Because the years don’t fly into oblivion. Rather, years flow into lives. Creating plans for long increase!

This shortest day, like our lives, is over almost before it’s begun. But the stone in the doorway endures! And tomorrow will be longer, as will the day after. And our lives redeemed through the stories our children will tell.

And so, on this mid-winter day, despite the bitterness of cold, as those long gone are remembered and fondly missed, while wondering at the turning of the stone and the stories it could tell, if we simply choose, we can be warmed and comforted watching the plans for long increase come true at last. Even here, even now, if we stop to look, is peace.

We see it in the clearing of the mind’s wilderness; the stroll along main street; the naming of the children. It’s 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 that remind us why to bother with living at all: the days into years, the doorways worn at sill. The things we mean by saying, Peace.

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This sparkling winter, then, on this, the shortest day of the year, with best wishes for you heartfelt, I offer you…

Peace. In your stories. It’s yours for the taking.

Happy holidays!

The Symphony of Your Life

*The Symphony of Your Life: Restoring Harmony When Your World Is Out of Tune, page 7

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Link to Mark’s book, The Symphony of Your Life

The Symphony of Your Life

The Symphony’s YouTube Channel

Mark graduated from the USAF Academy in 1982. After nine years as a pilot on active duty, he left the military to join a commercial airline. In addition to flying B-777s around the world, Hardcastle spends time in the Rocky Mountains and serves on the artistic staff of the Colorado Children’s Chorale. He lives in Centennial, Colorado, with his wife and four children. Contact Mark today to schedule a keynote or workshop for your organization! email: mark@symphonyofyourlife.com. 720.840.8361

How Big Is A Railroad Tie? Part 2

A “Symphony of Your Life” blog with Mark Hardcastle

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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.

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Part 3…

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Link to Mark’s book, The Symphony of Your Life

http://www.symphonyofyourlife.com

Mark graduated from the USAF Academy in 1982. After nine years as a pilot on active duty, he left the military to join a commercial airline. In addition to flying B-777s around the world, Hardcastle spends time in the Rocky Mountains and serves on the artistic staff of the Colorado Children’s Chorale. He lives in Centennial, Colorado, with his wife and four children. Contact Mark today to schedule a keynote or workshop for your organization!

You Can. You Just Need To Know You Can, Part 3

A “Symphony of Your Life” blog with Mark Hardcastle

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Here’s Part 2

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

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Link to Mark’s Book: They Symphony of Your Life

http://www.symphonyofyourlife.com

Mark Hardcastle graduated from the USAF Academy in 1982. After nine years as a pilot on active duty, he left the military to join a commercial airline. In addition to flying B-777s around the world, Hardcastle spends time in the Rocky Mountains and serves on the artistic staff of the Colorado Children’s Chorale. He lives in Centennial, Colorado, with his wife and four children. Contact Mark today to schedule a keynote or workshop for your organization! Email mark@symphonyofyourlife.com or call 720.840.8361

The Watershed Part 4

A “Symphony of Your Life” blog with Mark Hardcastle

Seth Loading Dad Into Medevac
Up on the watershed
Standing at the fork in the road
You can stand there and agonize
Till your agony’s your heaviest load
Never fly as the crow flies
Get used to a country mile
When you’re learning to face
The path at your pace,
every choice is worth your while

– The Indigo Girls, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers.

In the silence of that moment Fortune presented her challenge in great big letters across the sky: Your neck may be broken. Your right arm is gone.

How are you going to respond?

The next group of riders came along, found me lying there, pulled out their cell phones, called 911, and got an emergency response. So began the rescue that involved getting the ambulance up to me on the trail, me on to the back board, into the ambulance, and then back down the hill to the Moab emergency room where they took x-rays. And we found out that indeed my neck was broken.

Because x-rays can’t tell us everything we need to know about soft tissue, the doctors couldn’t know how badly my spinal cord was damaged. With a broken neck and a paralyzed arm they thought they’d better figure that out. So they decided to evacuate me on a flight-for-life helicopter up to Grand Junction and put me in an MRI machine.

Back on the gurney, out to the helipad, loaded into the chopper and strapped down again. As the helicopter lifted off for the short flight to St. Mary’s hospital the chaos of the rescue melted away and I found myself thinking about the gravity of my situation.

The question that came rushing in – that I couldn’t push away – was ‘how much worse is it gonna get?’ I knew my neck was broken and my right arm was gone. Was I gonna lose my left arm, too? What about my legs? Were they gonna stop working before I even got to Grand Junction? And if you go just a little bit further down that line of thinking you come to a pretty dark place. I won’t say it here – I’ll let you get there on your own. But suffice it to say I knew for the first time on a gut level something I’d known in my head for my entire life:

Tomorrow is not promised.

That’s me on the gurney being loaded into the helicopter in the picture above. That’s my then 18-year-old son standing beside me, saying goodbye before I began my journey.

The image of him standing beside me, doing what needed to be done, being the adult in the situation, was burned onto my psyche during that gentle cruise beyond the LaSalle Mountains, northeast toward the Grand Mesa. I wasn’t finished raising him, his sister and two brothers. But tomorrow was no longer promised.

Why did you do the things you did today? Are those really the things you should have been doing?

Is there something you need to say to somebody close to you that you haven’t said yet? Are there things you need to do with your kids, your grand kids that you haven’t done yet?

The helicopter landed at St. Mary’s. They wheeled me into the MRI machine, did the test, and wheeled me back out again. The neurosurgeon came over to give me the news: “Yeah, Mark, no fooling, your neck is broken – in five places. That’s the bad news. The good news is that there’s no spinal cord damage.”

“No spinal cord damage? But doc my arm is paralyzed?”

“Yeah, Mark, the nerves that control your arm are badly bruised way back up at their roots. But the bruise is outside the spinal column, which means your arm will likely recover.”

Sure enough, it was only a matter of hours before I began to regain function in my right hand.

At that point I was given a great gift from the Universe. Now it’s not what you’re thinking…

Part 5: https://thesymphonyofyourlife.wordpress.com/2016/01/26/the-watershed-part-5/

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Link to Mark’s book, The Symphony of Your Life

http://www.symphonyofyourlife.com

Mark graduated from the USAF Academy in 1982. After nine years as a pilot on active duty, he left the military to join a commercial airline. In addition to flying B-777s around the world, Hardcastle spends time in the Rocky Mountains and serves on the artistic staff of the Colorado Children’s Chorale. He lives in Centennial, Colorado, with his wife and four children. Contact Mark today to schedule a keynote or workshop for your organization!

The Watershed Part 3

A “Symphony of Your Life” blog with Mark Hardcastle

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Up on the watershed
Standing at the fork in the road
You can stand there and agonize
Till your agony’s your heaviest load
Never fly as the crow flies
Get used to a country mile
When you’re learning to face
The path at your pace,
every choice is worth your while

– The Indigo Girls, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers.

…we have an opportunity in those challenges to create meaning. Now it’s not the challenges themselves that matter. We have no say in what Fortune throws at us. The opportunity is in how we respond.  So how are you responding today when Fortune challenges you with difficult times?

Challenges. Are. Inevitable. It’s how we respond that matters.

Ok, Mark. How inevitable are these challenges?

Well let’s look back in history and see if we can find a pattern or two. How far back? Well, how about 2500 years? Would that provide enough perspective?

In about 400 BC Buddha imagined the Four Noble Truths. Truth number 1: Life is suffering. Fifty years before that on the other side of the world, Plato was reminding his followers to “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Still in the Mediterranean half a millennium later Epictetus was teaching that “it is what it is.”

Hmm. Can we just skip over the Dark Ages and come right to the 20th century? In 1946 we received Viktor Frankl’s wisdom. He posited that life is not so much a quest for pleasure or power as a search for meaning. Then in 1978 M. Scott Peck wrote his controversial (at least in my world) book, The Road Less Traveled. Chapter 1, page 1, line 1: “Life is suffering.”

Right back to Buddha.

Seriously? Is that the best we can hope for? Absolutely not!

Every one of these individuals used those ideas as starting points in a conversation about how to find joy in an imperfect world..

May 18th 2012 I had  a profound opportunity to join that conversation…

I woke up on that trail, my nose and mouth filled with the dust of the Utah desert. The sun, earlier hidden by overcast now making itself fully known on my face and in my eyes. Pain building steadily between my shoulder blades and at the base of my neck as I became more and more aware. With that awareness came clarity and I told myself I must remain still until I knew more. With absolute care not to allow my head to move I took inventory of my extremities. Left toes? Yep, they work. Right foot? Check. Left fingers? No problem. Right arm…?

Right arm!!…? ? ?

Problem.

In the silence of that moment Fortune presented her challenge in great big letters across the sky: Your neck may be broken. Your right arm is gone.

How are you going to respond?

Part 4: https://thesymphonyofyourlife.wordpress.com/2016/01/22/the-watershed-part-4/

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Link to Mark’s book, The Symphony of Your Life

http://www.symphonyofyourlife.com

 

Mark graduated from the USAF Academy in 1982. After nine years as a pilot on active duty, he left the military to join a commercial airline. In addition to flying B-777s around the world, Hardcastle spends time in the Rocky Mountains and serves on the artistic staff of the Colorado Children’s Chorale. He lives in Centennial, Colorado, with his wife and four children. Contact Mark today to schedule a keynote or workshop for your organization!