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!

I Had A Paintbox – Redux, Part 3

A “Symphony of Your Life” blog with Mark Hardcastle

303 ReMinders

In case you missed it, here’s Part 2…

Video: What I Told the Kids That Night

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

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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!

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!

You Can – You Just Need to Know You Can, Part 1

A “Symphony of Your Life” blog with Mark Hardcastle

JOAX 13-03

During my third summer at the USAF Academy, I had the opportunity to attend the U.S. Army’s Parachute Training Jump School at Ft. Benning in Columbus, Georgia. It was a challenging three-week course. Ground Week taught us to properly put on our 50 pounds of equipment and how to do a tumbling roll to absorb the impact of hitting the ground. During Tower Week we were hoisted up on towers high enough to allow us to experience descending underneath an actual open parachute. Then came week three: Jump Week. During Jump Week we would jump five times out of perfectly good airplanes.

Three different weeks, three different skill sets to master, on our way to earning our Parachutist Badge, or “Jump Wings.”

It would be an important omission though, if any description of Jump School did not emphasize that the syllabus consisted more than anything else of physical conditioning. It’s certainly true that when descending beneath an open parachute one comes down more slowly than if one didn’t have a parachute. Even so, one can still hit the ground pretty hard, and injuries are not uncommon. The best way to keep from getting hurt is to be in the best possible shape. So a large part of the training involved getting us in good enough condition to endure a parachute landing without injury. We did a lot of push ups under that Georgia sun. And more than a few sit ups in the wet heat.

No surprise, then, when we showed up for training in the middle of the second week and were told that we were going on a one-mile run. We formed up in a platoon and off we went. And the Jumpmasters set what we might call a “brisk” pace. And then they got faster. And faster again. As we approached the end of the course we were at a lung-searing sprint.

We came down to the final hundred yards. At that point the Jumpmasters began taunting us, telling us that we’d be going another full mile before being allowed to stop!

Soon as they said that a bunch of trainees dropped out of the platoon. They felt like they couldn’t go another step, much less another mile. So they gave up on the spot.

Then came the lesson of the day. Those of us who stayed in formation ran maybe another hundred yards before the Jumpmasters called us to a halt and let us rest. 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…

Part 2: The lesson of the day…

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Link to Mark’s book, The 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