At the end of each year, I take a look back to see how I’ve grown. It may be kind of cheesy, but it can be rewarding. Sometimes it can really suck to look at yourself so closely if you’re not happy with what you see, but regardless of what I find, I do my best to learn from it; that makes the self-critique worth it, at least for me. Most times I honestly don’t see much of a change. I doubt anyone can, really. We don’t really change all THAT much from year to year, do we? Not by leaps and bounds, anyway.

If we look at ourselves like a tree for a moment (bear with me), we’re still the same tree from year to year. We have nice green flora, earthy smelling bark, and many branches reaching out in hundreds, if not thousands of directions, but when you get right down to it, we’re just a tree.

From a distance, we all look pretty much the same, one tree of many in the forest.

But move in and look at everything more closely, and you begin to see the individuality. I don’t like being just another tree standing in the middle of the forest. I want to be unique. I want to be an individual, a tree that stands out, a tree that makes someone stop and think to themselves, “I’ve never seen a tree quite like this before.”

Large, lumbering branches swaying in the breeze, as if conducting some kind of nature concerto; calling on the wind, the other trees, the water lapping up on the shore of the lake or flowing over the rocks in the riverbed, and the branches above clackity-clacking together to the rhythm of an unknown, but calming tune. The rustle of the leaves provides the applause.

Not only are we trees, but we are instruments of nature, playing our own specific tune. We need to understand ourselves to interpret how our instrument works, how it is to be played.

Everyone can play the piano if they practice enough, but it is only the person who truly loves the instrument and the sounds it can make who can do so with such ease and beauty, adding subtle personal touches that make the sounds uniquely theirs. It is that person who can not only play beautiful music, but create music that inspires others to do so, as well.

Negativity makes your song go flat; positive thoughts keep it in tune. Be at peace with yourself, play a beautiful tune, and watch people dance when you’re around.

It is my goal this year to learn how to play some new chords on my own instrument, to come closer to playing the song I know is buried somewhere inside of me—that random song that sometimes finds its way to my lips in the form of a whistle when I’m happy. You never quite know where this random tune came from, but it is yours—a unique song we are all born with that slowly reveals itself the more you allow yourself to understand YOU, and become more observant and tolerant of all people, and of your surroundings.

Forgive yourself for your mistakes, and others for theirs.
Embrace people for their differences, and proudly celebrate yours.
Be good to people.

These are some of the silent lyrics I’ve found to my song over the years.

What are some of yours?

Here is to a safe and happy 2008, my friends.



I was out talking a walk over the weekend. It was a bit chilly outside, but it was sunny. There was no need for a jacket, just a sweatshirt.

I went to a walking path down by the Mississippi River. I wasn’t specifically out for fitness, though any extended walk will do that for you whether you’re looking for it or not. No, I was more for focusing on my surroundings. I really wanted to relax and focus, so I took my time and enjoyed the view and focused on the things around me.

I felt the cool air go up my nose and into my lungs, enjoying the smell of dry leaves, tree bark, and pine as I inhaled, and watched my warm breath turn to small clouds at it passed my lips on the exhale.

I couldn’t hear any birds. They had all fled and gone south for the winter, so the only sound was that of the wind through the trees, the empty branches tapping against each other.

The water lapping up on the banks of the river.

The sound of my breathing.

The sun on my face.

It was quite relaxing.

I was in a state of heightened awareness, feeling, hearing, smelling everything around me; my senses flooded.

I decided to walk off the beaten path and see what else could be experienced by walking through new ground.

I decided to stray.

Fifteen minutes off the path, I stopped and just stood in one place and looked around me.

Ahead of me through the trees, I could see a lake. Behind me somewhere was the path I had started on. I knew it was there, but from where I was standing I couldn’t make it out. It felt like I was standing in the middle of the wilderness.

Next to my foot there was a rock. I knelt down and picked it up. It was hard and cold, rough on one side, somewhat smooth on the other. It looked like it had been broken in half. Looking near my foot under the leaves, I found the other half sticking up out of the soil. Fitting both halves together and seeing that they fit gave me a really satisfied feeling.

And then a flurry of thoughts came over me that gave me a little tingle.

How long had this rock been here? How long had it been since this rock had been “one?” How long had it been since someone had actually held this rock before? Had anyone even ever touched it before, or was I the first to do so?

I became fascinated with the thought that I could very well be the first person to ever hold this stone in my hand.

Then I looked up and began to wonder if anyone else had ever stood in this place, this one exact spot off the beaten path, and seen the world from this exact location.

Had anyone else stood on this exact spot and thought the same thing?

I stood there, holding that rock, looking all around me, for what felt like an hour. Millions of thoughts ran through my mind—sensations, smells, tastes.

I debated taking the rock with me, but I instead left it, both broken halves put together again as best I could under some leaves where I had found it.

Two pieces, whole again.

While I walked back to the car, my thoughts turned to the struggles I have faced in my life, and how, at times, I have felt like that broken rock—forgotten, off the beaten path, alone, two halves living apart, but longing to be together. And how, when I allowed myself to be open to the things around me—the sensations around me, the people around me—and allowed myself to go off the beaten path, I was able to reach down and place both halves together again.

And feel whole.