Thank You for Your Service (Veteran’s Day Thoughts)

Veteran’s Day often gets glossed over these days because people fail to recognize how much has been done to provide and protect the freedom they so enjoy. This series of cartoons that came out last week just nails it, so in lieu of these, I share these as a reminder. Whoever served in your life, whether family or friends or strangers, take the time to say thanks today and every chance you get. They earned it. And you can never say it enough.


Take Time To Be Present aka Turn The Damn Cell Phone Off

This weekend I had the privilege of attending the funeral of two high school friends’ mother. I call it a privilege because this was no somber mournfest. This was a celebration of life and love. In fact, it was so good, it made me regret not taking time to get to know their mother better when I had the chance.

The pastor recalled how when the mother learned her cancer had recurred she came to him and told him her diagnosis, the treatment, and that if didn’t work she’d die. Then she said something he hadn’t heard in twenty years of ministry. “I’m ready. Like anyone, I’d like more time. But I can deal with all of that. What I need your help for is helping me to walk my husband and family through this with me.”

Yep. The woman had been given horrible news about her life and possible death and he first concern was helping her loved ones.

But that’s the kind of person she was. And the more he talked about her life and joys, the more moving it became.

Until that cell phone rang.

And not only did it ring, but the guy reached for it then let it ring. He didn’t shut it off right away.

First of all, it ruined the moment. Which is selfish and disrespectful to say the least.

Second, if you left work in the middle of the day to come to a funeral, what’s so important that you can’t at least put your cell phone on vibrate?

Or better yet…turn the damn cell phone off.

The funeral isn’t about you. It’s about honoring a woman and her loved ones. I hadn’t seen my friends in twenty years, but I went because I remembered them well. Because of the closeness once experienced by me and them and by our parents who were colleagues. I went to show my respect, my support, and my caring. I didn’t want anything in return. I drove forty-five minutes each way, took ninety minutes out of my day. It’s a sacrifice, yes. But is that too much to ask?

I remember when my birth mother and grandmothers died. The people who surprised you by showing up just to let you know they care often were the ones whose presence meant the most.

And in this case, I was all the more blessed by the message of a life well lived. I’m sure I got more out of my presence than the family did. And what a blessing.

But thanks to the bozo who disturbed the moment. He didn’t ruin it for me, but he did interject a bit of a reminder of how selfish and stupid people can be into things.  The opposite of the person being recognized and honored, in fact.

Taking time to be present is a lost art these days, I think. But it’s so important and meaningful, I think we all should learn to do it more often.

Making time for others is an act of kindness, respect and love that means so much and takes so little. I still got my editing and work done that day. I just had to schedule around it. And in doing so, I got to see some old friends and get insight into their family I never would have had in a way that brought admiration and joy despite their sad loss.

Oh, they were all happy to see me and we spent time catching up, for sure. I even saw another high school friend.

But the most important thing was to be present in the moment and join with them. That’s why I went. It’s kinda why I assumed everyone went, and the service was well attended. Except the cell phone guy. He was too busy to make time, apparently. At least, that’s what the cell phone rings and his response implied. And it’s too bad.

One of my pet peeves in church and movie theatres has always been people who can’t be bothered to silence their cells. My dad’s a doctor and can’t turn off his cell or pager, but he always had a headphone earpiece he wore to keep them from disturbing anyone else. If he had to talk, he’d quietly slip out and do what he needed to do, then return.

I wish more people had such manners these days. Because sometimes people need your presence. They need your attention. They deserve your respect.

Turning off the damn cell phone is just one indication that you want to be there, that they deserve and have your respect, and that being there at that moment is priority number one.

Is that too much to ask to honor the life of someone?

I hope not.  If it is, maybe don’t bother. Don’t ruin the moment for everyone else. Don’t call attention to your lack of dedication. Just don’t come.

At least that’s what I’d do.

For what it’s worth…

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction including the novels The Worker Prince and The Returning, and the children’s books 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (Flying Pen Press, 2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun (Fairwood, July 2013), Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age  (Every Day Publishing, November 2013) and Shattered Shields with co-editor Jennifer Brozek (Baen, 2014). He also edits Blue Shift Magazine and hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and can be found via Twitter as @BryanThomasS, on his website or Facebook.


Happy Birthday, Doctor Seuss…Some Thoughts On Lessons Of Childhood

Well, it’s Theodore Geisel’s birthday again and with the movie release pending for The Lorax, it has me thinking once again about my childhood. Seuss’ The Cat In The Hat is one of the first books I ever remembering owning. I got it for my birthday as a young child. (I can’t remember which one my twin sister, Lara, got). I read that book ’til the cover fell off, over and over. I loved Seuss’ magic with words.

“The sun did not shine, it was too wet to play,” possibly the most well known opening line in twentieth century children’s publishing. Who could forget those words and what child couldn’t grasp the emotion behind them? Many a child had their days ruined by weather. No sand castle? No playing outside? No swingset? No bike? Sigh.

But as much as I loved The Cat In The Hat, I still remember The Lorax as my favorite. What I loved about The Lorax was the mystery of the hand reaching from that perilous tower, and the young boy wanting to know more, as so many young boys do, who gets a tale of a lifetime. I was one of those kids: frustrating adults with all my questions. In many ways, I still tend to be. I’m always questioning “What if?” “Why?” etc. That’s probably why I went into writing science fiction and fantasy.

But for me, The Lorax‘s message was so important. Despite being raised Conservative in a Christian and Republican home, the environment was something I always had a special relationship with. The Earth and nature resonate with me in a unique way. They inspire me, move me, touch me, and fill me with emotions at the experience of their beauty, aliveness, scents, smells, etc. I grew up in the farmlands of Kansas, far from the logging country of the Pacific Northwest, where that industry is such a part of the culture and economy that it’s iconic. I don’t think I saw my first logging truck into my teens or twenties. And it was on a trip somewhere, not around Salina where we lived. But one of my favorite singers, John Denver, sung a lot out the environment and I always found myself wondering why humans are so careless with the planet and land God gave us to live on. For me, it’s a no brainer. We need the Earth, the Earth doesn’t need us. We need the planets and animals and other ingredients in our food chain. We need the various products which give us quality of life. While they might not forage well, the cows and sheep and pigs probably wouldn’t mind if the slaughter houses shut down. And they probably wouldn’t get emotionally distraught at the disappearance of their farmer-owners. Just saying.

Seuss’ The Lorax taught a great lesson about how much our drive for more and more, whether it’s money or wood or anything else, leads humanity down dark and troublesome paths, with end results we should carefully consider. It taught lessons about respect for nature and the appreciation of the unknown. It reenforced my dad’s lessons about not being wasteful and about making full use of things as much as possible. From water to food, we were conservation minded at home. My dad installed Naval shower heads to cut our water waste from long showers. So much so that it was a huge adjustment switching back to regular shower heads when I moved out on my own. He taught us to turn the water off after we got wet, apply soap and shampoo, then turn it on to rinse, then get out of the shower. No dilly dallying or long shower concerts for me, his wannabe rock star son. That stuff had to occur elsewhere. He taught us about composting everything from orange rinds to grass clippings, using toilet paper conservatively, and minimizing trash. To this day, my parents are lucky to fill a 15 gallon bag of trash in two months at their house. I have several trashcans, with specific ones devoted to aluminum, milk cartoons, hardboard, etc. And I make an extra run to the recycling center monthly, since the city offers no street pick up.

The Lorax reenforced these lessons and did it in a non-preachy, fun way. Like so much of Dr. Seuss’ work, it was simple, with basic vocabulary and stunning rhyme, yet at its heart lay an important lesson for us all. It saddens me a bit to see the Hollywoodization of The Lorax now which seems to contrary to the message. I haven’t even seen the movie yet but there are wasteful tie-ins of paper, plastic, etc. everywhere. How many of those will wind up enlarging our nation’s landfills or landfills around the world? Is that really what Dr. Seuss would have wanted? I doubt it.

But The Lorax is still in print and so we can do our part. We can buy the book for a child we know, and help them get a start. We can teach them of its wonders, of the lessons that it holds, and watch their eyes light up with magic at the beauty of its prose. We can share it with a stranger or a neighbor or a friend. We can share it with our grandkids or our children once again. For me, it’s really simple, and a thing I mustn’t dodge. For the lessons of The Lorax still are needed quite a lot.

Ok, I’m no Dr. Seuss, but I hope you get my point. For what it’s worth…

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss. May we honor you well. And thank you!