Wednesday, December 1, 2010

This Blog May Save Your Life

Have you checked your fire alarm and carbon monoxide detector lately?

I ask because my very life, and the lives of my husband and daughter, were literally saved last night. And we have our fire alarm system to thank for that.

So before you click off this site to answer the phone, or check another email, or return to your work, please do something today that may save your life. Check not just the batteries on your fire alarm and carbon monoxide detector, but make damn sure they work.

We hear about this all the time, especially when we get ready to change our clocks every year. But many of us really don’t think much about what could happen if we keep putting it off.

I now can speak from experience. At around 2 a.m., last night my family awoke out of a sound sleep by that loud, irritating sound of which I will never complain about again. My husband, Jeff, and I jumped up at the same time and already, our house was full of smoke. Thankfully, we were able to see just enough to move around and soon discovered the fire in our utility room. Our furnace was on fire.

Jeff went right into action and put out the blaze before it traveled from there. I went around opening all the windows and doors because my eyes were burning terribly, reminding me that it could’ve been worse. So much worse.

Later, as we both tried getting back to that blissful state of sleep, I couldn’t help imagining what might have happened if that alarm hadn’t shook us out of that sound sleep. Thankfully, I have a husband who takes care of things. He had just recently checked the alarms.

I also thought of all the times our kids were taught in school what to do in case of a fire. The number one rule was to have an escape plan. How long had it been since our family had discussed that? We should’ve become reacquainted with the plan, just in case. You can bet this was one of the first things we talked about this morning. If we had awoken later, rather than sooner, what should we have done? (My daughter said, “grab up my favorite clothes.” Wrong answer! But in fairness, I think she was kidding. I hope…).

It’s just too easy to stay so busy with our lives that we often forget the things we need to do to keep it. We also need to be thankful, not just on Thanksgiving day, but every day. I do thank God every day for my many blessings, but today, I thanked God that, besides being a little shook up, we are all alive and well, including our cat and dog.

Okay, now you can close out here, and go check that alarm! And if needed, spend the money for a new one. Do it for yourself and the people you love, who also love you.
Because life is precious.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Expanding Your World

I bought myself a guitar for my last birthday. What was I thinking? I’m in my 50s, can’t read music, and whenever I sing at home, the family—including the cat and normally devoted dog—scatter like roaches at the first sign of light.

It wasn’t something I even planned. Just caught sight of the pretty pink Fender Stratocaster in a music store, forgot all the logical reasons why I shouldn’t purchase such a thing, and proudly brought it home.

And why not, I told myself? I’ve been playing air guitar for years (and air drums, too—but unfortunately, when I tried the real thing once I discovered I have absolutely no sense of rhythm or timing).

Sure, it’d be a challenge, but I thrive on challenges.

I’ve only made it to nine lessons so far, got about six chords down, but I’m having fun. And that’s the thing. . . . I’m having fun expanding my world.

I have a colleague in one of my writers group who is 82 years old, just finished her second book, and has already started her third. I currently have an 86-year-old woman in my “What It Takes To Write A Book” class and she’s sharp as a tack. (Writers, please forgive the clichĂ©). She’s never written anything more than a grocery list but wants to write about all the things she’s experienced in her eight decades of living. I told her she practically has an obligation to do so. We all learn from each other and we can certainly learn lots from our elders. Her life is history.

We all have the means to bring new experiences to our lives but sometimes we get stuck in a rut because it’s comfortable. We’re afraid to try new things, and that fear robs us of some of the best things in life. Granted, you may not want to jump out of an airplane, but you might just want to build a model one, just to see how it’s done.

You can never run out of new things to do and that’s what living is for. And even if you find you’re not good at it, at least you’ll know what it’s like doing it.

So take a class, see a play, join a club, learn an instrument, go ballroom or line dancing, sit in on presentation at a library, community center, or the Rock Hall (yes, had to mention that!).

And try this: Read a book or listen to music outside your preferred genre. Keep an open mind. You might be surprised by your own reaction.

Expand your world. . . .

Because in doing so you’re bound to meet fascinating people, learn something interesting you didn’t know before, maybe even change your initial opinion about something or someone. All of which widens your mental, and often spiritual, horizons. You just might learn something new about yourself, too.

Take a tip from children, who see the world with fresh eyes, and dance, skip, and giggle whenever they feel like it.

It’s called enjoying life.

Okay, time to quit writing. I have a guitar that needs strumming.

Till next time, take the time to smell the flowers. It's summer!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Brother's Legacy

Last year I called my brother to wish him a Happy Birthday.
I wish I could do it again tomorrow.
But he died last September. A sudden, unexpected, death.

Boy, I never saw that coming. I’m sure neither did he. That’s a lesson right there. Live each day to its fullest. Be kind to yourself and others.
Go happy . . .
My brother did. He worked hard, but enjoyed his life, especially his last few years on earth. He loved playing bass guitar, even got his own band (with groupies!) and met some great people through his music. He loved sailing on his boat, The Witchdoctor. And truly loved his boater friends.

Soon after his death, I mentioned his accomplishments in this blog. But for what would’ve been his 59th birthday, I want to share with you a very cool story. It’s inspiring, and reminds us all, how each of us has the capacity, maybe even a duty, to make a difference in someone else’s life.

The story is written, in his own handwriting, in a letter discovered by his fiancĂ©, who shared it with me. (We have no idea why he wrote it, though it could’ve been for a position in teaching Karate).
Reading it once again, brings tears to my eyes. But they are proud tears.

It’s a 13-page document that holds much wisdom, on more than one subject. I want to share my favorite one, what he called his “life-changing awakening.” But only he can tell it properly. So here it is, as written, though because of its length, I’ll have to edit his work.
I hope he doesn’t mind. . . .

Here’s a lesson gleaned from a man who earned 6 black belts in the Martial Arts:

“As a young teen growing up without a father, I led a rebellious lifestyle and saw my life going nowhere fast. After I began training in Martial Arts, the intense training began to improve both my physical and mental outlook. As I became more involved, I met some of the greatest Karate and Martial Arts masters, and what impressed me most about these remarkable men was how humble they were. Through them, I learned that respect, true respect, was earned with hard work and devotion to one’s art from (as opposed to demanding respect because of who you think you are). Although the spiritual aspect of the training incorporated [many beliefs], it was not about what religion you believed in, but rather how you used the discipline and training to make you a better person.

As I began my Karate Kids program at YMCAs, youth centers and community programs, I realized I had to live my life honorably, not just during class. I ended up teaching to a wide variety of people, some - women and children, especially - who were victims of those who seemed to enjoy inflicting pain on them. . . .

During these early years in my training and teaching, I had a 16-year-old student, a troubled kid with a lengthy juvenile record involving drugs, gangs and violence. [Note: This was a juvenile probation program my brother founded, called “1st Strike” where he gave young offenders free Karate lessons to learn the art of respect for others].
I allowed him to enroll in my class, although the probation officer thought him unredeemable. After he joined, I had an almost nonstop battle about his bullying other kids and using bad language in front of young children. He was constantly downplaying the Karate he was learning from me, claiming he already knew Kung Fu. Finally, I’d had it. I arranged with the janitor to open up the gym for a “private” workout. When the kid showed up, I locked the door and threw him a pair of punching gloves and informed him I intended to see how good he can fight a grown man instead of punching little kids. He refused, saying he was under-aged and I wasn’t allowed to hit him, which I immediately did. Not enough to seriously hurt him, but hard enough to let him know I meant business. He put on the gloves and came at me. (Mind you, he was much bigger than me at 6’3, and a really big kid). He ended up begging me to stop fighting him, and I never saw him again.
Six years later, I was teaching at John Carroll and noticed a well-dressed black man with a business suitcase, watching my class, which was not uncommon. Afterward, he approached me and asked if I was Dennis Fedorko. I acknowledged that I was. He then asked me about a certain date in which I deliberately assaulted an underage juvenile. I looked at him in his $600 suit and said, “Do you mean that punk is going to sue me after all these years?
He looked at me and said, “No, I am not.”
I was absolutely floored! I asked what happened to turn his life around and he replied: “You did.”

He went on to say that because of his big size, everyone was always afraid of him: his mother, grandmother, teachers, other kids . . . so nobody ever said no to him, no matter what he did. After our encounter that night, he gave up drugs, got his GED, and decided to go to Case [Western Reserve] Law School. He became a lawyer, and was now involved as a childrens’ advocate for the court system.
That was the absolute best justification for all the sacrifice and training I did all those years.” . . .

I wished I could’ve heard Dennis tell this story when he was alive. But then again, to have this letter, written by him in his own handwriting, is a gift that keeps his spirit alive for me. And makes me so proud that he was my brother.

Happy birthday, Bro. Thanks for the great story. You did good.