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Morning Story and Dilbert

Vintage Dilbert
May 19, 1999

The ball pinged off the aluminum bat and headed toward the hole between shortstop and third base, the sort of one-hop screamer that the high-school junior shortstop, my son Chris, had backhanded a thousand times. Only this time, the ball hit a pebble and caromed weirdly toward his head. With a sickening crunch, the ball caught him flush in his left eye, and he went down in a heap. Bad hop, and a bad break. The ambulance came onto the field, and he was taken away, something that just doesn’t seem to happen in the pastoral world of high-school baseball.

At the hospital, Chris was diagnosed with a blowout fracture of the bones in the orbit of his eye socket – a classic sports injury easily resolved by a simple surgical procedure. Except that things went wrong, and when the surgeon finally got up his courage enough to tell my wife and me what happened – an undetected blood clot had cut off oxygen to the optic nerve – the long and short of it was that Chris would be blind in his left eye, probably for the rest of his life.

In one instant, the college scholarships Chris had contemplated and the dreams of a professional baseball career vanished.

Chris was still groggy from the surgery when we went into his hospital room, his bandaged eye holding a secret we now had to share with him. We chatted about small things until he was alert enough to ask the inevitable, “Did everything go okay?” My wife, Sue, gripped my hand as I told him that, no, it had not. That there had been complications. That the doctors had done their best, that medicine was still more art than science. Halfway through my semi-prepared speech, Chris interrupted me: “Dad, am I blind?” “Yes, son. I’m afraid so.” “Will I be able to see out of it at all?” “We don’t know – the doctors don’t know. Maybe a little. Someday. Not now.” It was the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do. Chris sort of nodded and looked away toward the window. Outside it was spring, and we listened for a time to a robin’s territorial song from a nearby tree.

“Can I have a Coke?” The duty nurse brought Chris a soft drink in a can with a cup and some ice. His mother poured the drink and he sat up and drank some of it through a straw, and then peered at the can on his bedside table. “Dad, could you see if they have a pencil and paper I can use?” I walked outside to the nurses’ station and borrowed a notepad and a pencil and returned to Chris’s room, where his mother was talking with him in hushed tones. I handed him the pad and pencil, and we elevated his bed. He raised his knees and propped the pad against them, looked at the soda can, and began to draw. Sue and I said nothing as long minutes passed.

Finally, he tore off the sheet of paper and handed it to me. We looked at it – a photo-likeness of a Coca-Cola soft-drink can. Chris had always had an uncanny artistic ability: if his eyes could see it, his hand could draw it. We had thought of art as his second love – right behind baseball. In those brief moments, Chris took a bad hop, made a decision and changed forever the course of his life. “I’m okay, you guys. I can still draw.” With that, he lowered his bed, turned onto his side and fell asleep.

That was eleven years ago. Since then, about 40 percent of the sight has returned to Chris’s left eye. Even with this handicap, which severely affects depth perception, he went on to hit .385 and shortstop a state-championship baseball team the very next season, earning all-state honors in the process. But his focus had changed. Chris got his college degree – with the help of an academic and not an athletic scholarship – in fisheries and wildlife management as a background for his career as a wildlife and sporting artist.

Today, his paintings and pencil renderings grace the pages and covers of magazines and more than a dozen books, and they hang in galleries and museums in New York and Tennessee. The list of his clients awaiting oil and watercolor commissions is always at least a year long.

One bad hop, one routine ground ball, one instant of pain, and what could have been months or years of despair. But Chris never said “Why me?” He said, “Where can I go from here?” He parlayed that bad hop into different channel. an adventure in its own right, just different. And he parlayed it into a financial bonanza.

One bad hop – and the determination to play whatever hand he was dealt and to accept what could not be changed… it altered the course of a life for an amazing, but previously not seen future.

By - Steve Smith (c) 2000
From Chicken Soup for the Sports Fan's Soul
Morning Story and Dilbert

Vintage Dilbert
May 18, 1998

I lay in my hospital bed, eyes filled with tears as I stared longingly at the crisp October sky. This was my long-awaited wedding day. But I wouldn’t be strolling down the aisle in my white satin gown as planned.

I dated Yates for six years, during high school and part of college. We were the proverbial high-school sweethearts. He was my first love and I his. Young and naive, we discovered we each had dreams that required pursuits down different paths. So, we choose to part ways.

For a decade, Yates and I lived separate lives, with different geographies and different experiences. Several failed relationships and many mistakes later, we each discovered an unexplainable void within our lives and within ourselves.

After almost ten years of no contact, Yates reached me through my mother. We reunited and immediately realized what we had been missing in our lives was each other. The paths we choose gave too much up. Our personal self-fulfillment lied within each other.

Within three months we were engaged.

Now on this beautiful October day, my husband-to-be sat next to me on the hospital bed, caressing my hand with sympathetic understanding. We both knew our journey together would not commence on this day.

An unfortunate twist of fate two days earlier, left me with a collapsed lung, several broken ribs, a fractured pelvis and a fractured clavicle. Hours of phone calls ensued, canceling vendors, airline reservations and informing family and friends.

Anger welled up within me, as I relived over and over the memory of the truck that couldn’t stop and ran the stop sign a block from my home. It T-boned my car, catapulting me into the passenger seat, leaving me virtually paralyzed, both physically and emotionally. Why me? I thought. Why now?

Suddenly the details of reception centerpieces and invitation designs, which had seemed so monumental during the planning stages, were now so trivial. Why had I spent hours and hours poring over what color ribbons to use on those darn bubbles? It wasn’t all about me. It was about us. I worried sick about him.

Now, what was important was having my life, my fiancé by my side and a future of memories to make. I had a new perspective on the importance of marriage and of life. We were already living the for worse before even exchanging vows. I knew this was a test of love and we would pass it.

Despite the doctors’ predictions, within a month I was walking without a walker. I had renewed energy and purpose: I was determined to walk down the aisle and marry the man who had bathed, fed and comforted me through weeks of physical and emotional agony.

Three months after my accident, I sat in the bride’s room of St. Mary’s Chapel embracing the thrill of my wedding day. Yates and I would finally become one.

A torrential downpour shrouded the chapel, accompanied by soft, rumbling thunder. I smiled to myself and thought, God is shedding His tears of joy and expressing His voice of approval of our marriage. We had both finally learned the important things of life.

The emotional and physical scars I still endured were constant reminders of my mortality. I was fortunate. My experience provided a self-discovery I might otherwise never have known: I realized a perfect wedding day does not make a perfect marriage. But the focus of love, caring one for another, can make every day perfect.

Ariana Adams (c) 2003
Chicken Soup for the Bride's Soul
www.chickensoup.com
Morning Story and Dilbert

Vintage Dilbert
May 15, 1995

There is an episode on one of my son’s favorite TV shows, Jay Jay the Jet Plane where Herkie, the Helicopter has to perform a good deed in order to earn a Merit Badge. Herkie spends the entire show attempting to perform a remarkable, heroic deed, only to fail time and again.

Finally, Herkie gives up, sure he will never be good enough to win the badge. However, at the end of the show, he is surprised to find he has earned the award after all by doing a small act he had felt was so insignificant he hadn’t even considered it a good deed.

As my pregnancy has progressed, I’ve had more and more trouble sleeping, despite the fact that I’m dead tired most of the time. People have suggested I get a pregnancy pillow to help me find a comfortable position, but all of the pillows I saw were so expensive they didn’t seem worth it for a few months relief.

Finally, I spotted a pillow on the internet where the price was right – $10 even I was willing to try something for that!

When the pillow arrived, I was, frankly, underwhelmed. It looked exactly like a blue wedge of cheese, and it left me wondering how such an insignificant product could be any help at all.

But, far be it for me to waste $10, so I diligently took my slice of cheese to bed with me, jamming it under my belly as instructed on the box.

What a pleasant surprise! Just that small change made all the difference in the world to my sleep comfort. And, the Cheese’s (as I’ve taken to call it) small size proved to be an asset as well, as it easily fit into my suitcase on a recent trip.

I’m sure that by now you are wondering what Herkie the Helicopter and my Cheese have in common. Well, I’ll tell you! So often in my life, I’ve felt like Herkie, needing to perform a big awesome act in order to make a difference. And, since heroic acts are few and far between in this world, it is easy for me to start to feel pretty insignificant and useless.

In reality, we all have much more of an opportunity to be like the Cheese making a small difference here and there that we may not even notice, but others appreciate tremendously.

It’s easy to lose track of all that we can do to make a difference, because so much of it we do without thinking as part of our daily lives. But it is reassuring to remember that those little acts of kindness we do automatically really make a huge impact in the long run. As Sally Koch reminds us Great opportunities to help others seldom come, but small ones surround us every day.

So, today, I encourage you to celebrate all the little things you do every day and to remember that, in the long run, even Herkie learned that it’s better to  stop looking for the big things and to just be the Cheese instead.

 By Sue Dickinson
Morning Story and Dilbert

Vintage Dilbert
May 14, 1994

A young boy six years old lost his sight. He was so scared. He was in total darkness. He felt lost, alone and totally abandoned. He was overwhelmed. An already dismal life now looked extremely bleak…dead ended. His mother tried to encourage and console him, but nothing she said could overcome his fear. The fear of the unknown kept him in a state of terror.

As the young boy was lying in bed one morning and refused to get up, his mother, searching for words, made a statement that he would grab on to and change his life forever. She said, “Son, you have lost your sight and nothing can change that. There are things you can’t do. But there are lots of things you can do. You have a creative mind. Find something you enjoy and stick with it, no matter what.”

To a young, poor, blind child from the south, the possibilities didn’t seem too bright. But as this young boy thought about his mother’s words, about what he really wanted to do with his life, he dreamed of becoming a recording star. So as a child, he would practice playing the piano and singing each day.

A teacher heard him practicing at school and told the young boy, “You can’t play the piano, and God knows you can’t sing. You’d better learn how to weave chairs, so you can support yourself.” That comment broke the young boy’s heart, but he remembered his mother’s words and refused to quit.

He practiced different techniques, different styles and different melodies that would fit him. He deeply wanted to become a star and remained focused on his goal. Many times after auditions, people would tell him that he would be better at something else, that he would never succeed at this. Many times the young blind boy cried himself to sleep from the rude remarks. But he would not give up.

Ultimately his perseverance paid off.

In his life, he received countless awards for his music including 12 Grammies. He performed before millions of people including presidents and heads of state. And his unique musical style has made a lasting imprint on all forms of popular music in the past 50 years. All because he kept his mother’s words in the back of his mind until the day he died. He wouldn’t listen to the negative influences in his life and refused to quit.

The next time someone tells you to forget your dream, remember this young boy who wouldn’t quit. If your dream is something that you REALLY want, don’t let anything stop you until you achieve it!

A Tribute to twelve time Grammy Winner, Ray Charles.

By Cynthia Kersey
Excerpted from Unstoppable
 http://www.unstoppable.net/
Morning Story and Dilbert

Vintage Dilbert
May 13, 1993

His thumb softly rubbed the twisted flesh on my cheek. The plastic surgeon, a good fifteen years my senior, was a very attractive man. His masculinity and the intensity of his gaze seemed almost overpowering.

“Hmmm,” he said quietly. “Are you a model?”

Is this a joke? Is he kidding? I asked myself and I searched his handsome face for signs of mockery. No way would anyone ever confuse me with a fashion model. I was ugly. My mother casually referred to my sister as her pretty child. Anyone could see I was homely. After all, I had the scar to prove it.

The accident happened in fourth grade, when a neighbor boy picked up a hunk of concrete and heaved the mass through the side of my face. An emergency room doctor stitched together the shreds of skin, pulling cat-gut through the tattered outside of my face and then suturing the shards of flesh inside my mouth. For the rest of the year, a huge bandage from cheekbone to jaw covered the raised angry welt.

A few weeks after the accident, an eye exam revealed I was nearsighted. Above the ungainly bandage sat a big, thick pair of glasses. Around my head, a short fuzzy glob of curls stood out like mold growing on old bread. To save money, Mom had taken me to a beauty school where a student cut my hair. The overzealous girl hacked away cheerfully. Globs of hair piled up on the floor. By the time her instructor wandered over, the damage was done. A quick conference followed, and we were given a coupon for a free styling on our next visit.

“Well,” sighed my father that evening, “you’ll always be pretty to me,” and he hesitated, “even if you aren’t to the rest of the world.”

Right. Thanks. As if I couldn’t hear the taunts of the other kids at school. As if I couldn’t see how different I looked from the little girls whom the teachers fawned over. As if I didn’t occasionally catch a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror. In a culture that values beauty, an ugly girl is an outcast. My looks caused me no end of pain. I sat in my room and sobbed every time my family watched a beauty pageant or a “talent” search show.

Eventually I decided that if I couldn’t be pretty, I would at least be well groomed. Over the course of years, I learned to style my hair, wear contact lenses and apply make-up. Watching what worked for other women, I learned to dress myself to best advantage. And now, I was engaged to be married. The scar, hrunken and faded with age, stood between me and a new life.

“Of course, I’m not a model,” I replied with a small amount of indignation.

The plastic surgeon crossed his arms over his chest and looked at me appraisingly. “Then why are you concerned about this scar? If there is no professional reason to have it removed, what brought you here today?”

Suddenly he represented all the men I’d ever known. The eight boys who turned me down when I invited them to the girls-ask- boys dance. The sporadic dates I’d had in college. The parade of men who had ignored me since then. The man whose ring I wore on my left hand. My hand rose to my face. The scar confirmed it; I was ugly. The room swam before me, as my eyes filled with tears.

The doctor pulled a rolling stool up next to me and sat down. His knees almost touched mine. His voice was low and soft.

“Let me tell you what I see. I see a beautiful woman. Not a perfect woman, but a beautiful woman. Lauren Hutton has a gap between her front teeth. Elizabeth Taylor has a tiny, tiny scar on her forehead,” he almost whispered. Then he paused and handed me a mirror. “I think to myself how every remarkable woman has an imperfection, and I believe that imperfection makes her beauty more remarkable because it assures us she is human.”

“Imperfections develop character. It is character that develops charisma and the glow of woman. ”

“When a person falls in love, if their mate has an imperfection, that imperfection becomes special. They become protective of their mate’s imperfection.”

“We fall in love with a person, not with body parts. Body parts become special, when the person becomes special.”

As the tears were rolling down my face, He said, “You are a very attractive woman with a very small imperfection. Whether you know it or not, it has given you the glow of woman.”

He pushed back the stool and stood up. “I won’t touch it. Don’t let anyone else touch it, either. You are delightful, just the way you are. Beauty really does come from within a woman. Believe me. It is my business to know.”

What a wonderful doctor. I left his office, not with the scar removed from my face, but with a tear removed from my heart.

Joanna Slan (c) 1998
Chicken Soup for the Woman’s Soul
http://www.chickensoup.com

Morning Story and Dilbert

Vintage Dilbert
May 14, 2002

Last week, Sara Tucholsky, a 5-foot-2-inch softball player in her senior year for Western Oregon University, was playing in a big game with Central Washington University. Both teams were vying for the Division II NCAA playoffs. Sara, who was batting less than .200 all season, hit the ball over the fence with two runners on.

She had never hit a ball out of the park before, even in practice. She was so excited, she missed first base. Realizing this, she turned to go back but collapsed in agony as her knee gave out. Her first-base coach yelled that she had to crawl back to first base because if anyone on Sara’s team touched her, she’d be out and her home run would be nullified. Her coach encouraged her to try to crawl around the other bases to preserve her home run, but it was out of the question.

That’s when the star player on the other team, Mallory Holtman, asked the umpire if she and a teammate could carry Sara around the bases. It was an unprecedented request from an opponent fighting for a playoff berth, but the rules allowed it.

Without hesitation, Mallory and shortstop Liz Wallace lifted Sara and carried her, lowering her to touch each base with her good leg. Tears poured down Sara’s cheeks. The first home run she had hit in her life and she thought she couldn’t have it until two players from the other team made sure she could.

To Mallory it was simple: “In the end, it’s not about winning and losing so much; it was about this girl. She hit it over the fence and was in pain and deserved a home run.”

Mallory was right. It is just common decency. But it is uncommon valor.

All the coaches, players, and spectators who were stunned by this spontaneous act of sportsmanship; they wept. Mallory became a national hero.

Mallory’s team lost 4-2, but Mallory set a standard that blazed a trail. No one knew the National Media would be broadcasting this act of sportmanship and uncommon valor over every station Nationwide. This young girl rose above the game and set a standard for life.

Michael Josephson
www.CharacterCounts.org
Morning Story and Dilbert

Vintage Dilbert
May 7, 1998

“You gotta be crazy!” That’s what Lee Dunham’s friends told him back in 1971 when he gave up a secure job as a police officer and invested his life savings in the notoriously risky restaurant business. This particular restaurant was more than just risky, it was downright dangerous. It would be the first McDonald’s franchise in the city of New York – smack in the middle of crime-ridden Harlem.

Lee had always had plans. When other kids were playing ball in the empty lots of Brooklyn, Lee was playing entrepreneur, collecting milk bottles and returning them to grocery stores for the deposits. He had his own shoeshine stand and worked delivering newspapers and groceries.

Early on, he promised his mother that one day she would never again have to wash other people’s clothes for a living. He was going to start his own business and support her. “Hush your mouth and do your homework,”she told him.

She knew that no member of the Dunham family had ever risen above the level oflaborer, let alone owned a business. “There’s no way you’re going to open your own business, ” his mother told him repeatedly.

Years passed, but Lee’s penchant for dreaming and planning did not. After high school, he joined the Air Force, where his goal of one day owning a family restaurant began to take shape. He enrolled in the Air Force food service school and became such an accomplished cook he was promoted to the officers’ dining hall.

When he left the Air Force, he worked for four years in several restaurants, including one in the famed Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York. Lee longed to start his own restaurant but felt he lacked the business skills to be successful. He signed up for business school and took classes at night while he applied and was hired to be a police officer.

For fifteen years he worked full-time as a police officer. In his off-hours, he worked part-time as a carpenter and continued to attend business school. And he had started saving and preparing for his dream. By 1971, Lee had saved $42,000, and it was time for him to make his vision a reality.

Lee wanted to open an upscale restaurant in Brooklyn. With a business plan in hand, he set out to seek financing. The banks refused him. Unable to get funding to open an independent restaurant, lee turned to franchising and filled out numerous applications.

McDonald’s offered him a franchise, with one stipulation: Lee had to set up a McDonald’s in the inner-city, the first to be located there. McDonald’s wanted to find out if its type of fast-food restaurant could be successful in the inner city. It seemed that Lee might be the right person to operate that first restaurant.

To get the franchise, Lee would have to invest his life savings and borrow $150,000 more. Everything for which he’d worked and sacrificed all those years would be on the line – a very thin line if he believed his friends. Lee spent many sleepless nights before making his decision.

He decided this was it. The years of preparation he’d invested – the dreaming, planning, studying and saving now had a vehicle to make them a reality. He signed on the dotted line to operate the first inner-city McDonald’s in the United States.

The first few months were a disaster. Gang fights, gunfire, and other violent incidents plagued his restaurant and scared customers away. Inside, employees stole his food and cash, and his safe was broken into routinely. To make matters worse, Lee couldn’t get any help from McDonald’s headquarters; the company’s representatives were too afraid to venture into the ghetto. Lee was on his own.

Although he had been robbed of his merchandise, his profits, and his confidence, Lee was not going to be robbed of his dream. Lee fell back on what he had always believed in – preparation and planning.

Lee put together a strategy. First, he sent a strong message to the neighborhood thugs that McDonald’s wasn’t going to be their turf. To make his ultimatum stick, he needed to offer an alternative to crime and violence. In the eyes of those kids, Lee saw the same look of helplessness he had seen in his own family.

He knew that there was hope and opportunity in that neighborhood and he was going to prove it to the kids. He decided to serve more than meals to his community – he would serve dreams and solutions. He was going to make their obstacles their stepping stones.

Lee spoke openly with gang members, challenging them to rebuild their lives. Then he did what some might say was unthinkable: he hired gang members and put them to work. He tightened up his operation and conducted spot checks. He continually taught his employees the need for honesty and a good reputation if they were to succeed in life. Lee improved working conditions and once a week he offered his employees classes in customer service and management.

He encouraged them to develop personal and professional goals. He always stressed two things: his restaurant offered a way out of a dead-end life; and the faster and more efficiently the employees served the customers, the more lucrative that way would be.

In the community, Lee sponsored athletic teams and scholarships to get kids off the streets and into community centers and schools. The New York inner-city restaurant became a hub for ghetto kids to get a new start and dream new dreams. And in the process, it became McDonald’s most profitable franchise worldwide, earning more than $1.5 million a year.

Company representatives who wouldn’t set foot in Harlem months earlier now flocked to Lee’s doors, eager to learn how he did it. To Lee, the answer was simple: “Serve the customers, the employees, and the community-dreams, goals and solutions along with hamburgers.”

Today, Lee Dunham owns nine restaurants, employs 435 people, and serves thousands of meals every day. It’s been many years since his mother had to take in wash to pay the bills. More importantly, Lee paved the way for thousands of African-American entrepreneurs who are working to make their dreams a reality, helping their communities, and serving up hope.

All this was possible because a little boy understood the need to dream, to plan, and to prepare for the future. In doing so, he changed his life and the lives of thousands of others.

 Cynthia Kersey
 Excerpted/Adapted from Unstoppable
 Copyright 1988 by Cynthia Kersey, www.unstoppable.net 
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