A Call to Imagination

Failure of imagination. These three words – this statement – are so simple yet so complex. The phrase “Failure of imagination” has been around for a long time and spoken by many. It has almost turned into a cliché of describing what went catastrophically wrong in a given situation. But what if the words are true? Both globally and domestically, we are at a crossroads on several different fronts. The problems that we face are complex. However, are they complex beyond our ability to mitigate them? Are we helpless to bring about change? Are our laws and our policies not mighty enough to alter the path that those that they guide? While there are limitations to what we can do, the answer to these questions should be no. As Robert F. Kennedy once stated in his speech in South Africa during their Day of Affirmation, “Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.” We should be able to contribute to a change in society. We need to be able to make that change. Yet, we need to take a risk to affect that change. We need to imagine that we can change our future. Only by imagining a better tomorrow, can we make a better tomorrow possible.

So, we go back to the phrase again. Failure of imagination. Looking upon some of the woes that are inflicting pain upon our society and our world today, could one problem be that we are daring to dream? To imagine? It at least seems plausible that this could be case.

As we think of that phrase, examples may come to mind. What has caused me to think of this phrase is an example from American history. Fifty years ago, President John F. Kennedy dared the United States to dream – to imagine. To imagine and to see exploration beyond the realm of which we were aware existed – the lands and the seas. Rather, let us explore a new frontier. The frontier of outer space. The Moon. Thus, began an era of technological movement and innovative dreaming. Project Mercury to the Gemini Project and finally to Apollo. It is the start of the Apollo era where our phrase comes into our world in this case.

January 1967. A plugs out test wasn’t supposed to be dangerous. No man would fly into space or beyond the confines of the launch pad. Yet, this is when tragedy struck. Mired in a communications line breakdown issue, a sealed cockpit with a latched hatch door exploded into flames – the result of a faulty wire igniting in an enclosed area filled with 100% oxygen. Fifteen seconds was all it took. Gone were rookie astronaut Roger Chaffee, veteran Ed White (the first American to walk in space) and Gus Grissom (one of the original Mercury astronauts). A lot of time was spent trying to figure what went wrong. Astronaut Colonel Frank Borman was asked this during a Congressional hearing. He responded, “Failure of imagination”. The TV series From the Earth to the Moon highlights some of the testimony this way: “A failure of imagination. We’ve always known there was the possibility of fire in a spacecraft. But the fear was that it would happen in space, when you’re 180 miles from terra firma and the nearest fire station. That was the worry. No one ever imagined it could happen on the ground. If anyone had thought of it, the test would’ve been classified as hazardous. But it wasn’t. We just didn’t think of it. Now who’s fault is that? Well, it’s North American’s fault. It’s NASA’s fault. It’s the fault of every person who ever worked on Apollo. It’s my fault. I didn’t think the test was hazardous. No one did. I wish to God we had.”

Read Col. Borman’s words, whether they are from a Congressional transcript or TV series. The failure that occurred here did not occur due to some uncontrollable force. On the contrary, it was preventable. But no one thought of the situation in which it did occur. There was no plan. Failure was the end result.

Look at the world that we live within. See the parallels? We cannot afford to have a failure of imagination. We cannot afford to stand aside and let things happen as they may. We need to plan. We need to dream. We need to think. We need to imagine. Then, maybe, we can start solving some of the problems that face us. We need to plan for sight seen and unseen. In the film Lincoln starring Daniel Day Lewis, there is a line that struck me as interesting when it comes to planning. In response to a conversation about strategy and following your moral compass, Lincoln utters this line: “A compass, I learnt when I was surveying, it’ll point you True North from where you’re standing. But it’s got no advice about the swamps and deserts and chasms that you’ll encounter along the way. If in pursuit of your destination, you plunge ahead, heedless of obstacles, and achieve nothing more than to sink in a swamp… What’s the use of knowing True North?”

As we strike forward, let us not sink in the swamp that is failure of imagination. Let us be a strong, intelligent and compassionate people, who work for the betterment of all mankind. Let us have a plan and plan for all. Let us use our imaginations to avoid the tragedy that has befallen so many in the passages of history before us. Let us be the ripple of hope that Robert Kennedy described in that Day of Affirmation speech. That is how we will triumph as a world and as a society in an ever-complicated world. We can bring the flowers that exist in the world to bear so long as we use every once of our imagination and will to keep them alive and bring them to the front of the picture.

The American Vision

In 1776, the founders of what was to become the United States of America set us upon the path of democracy. With the Declaration of Independence, our newborn country freed itself from tyranny and the dogmatic way in which its people were governed and set forth the thought of a new ideal. An ideal where “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…” In the many years that have passed since Thomas Jefferson penned these words, we have realized many things in the United States. As recent events have shown us, we are still fighting to realize that all are created equal.

Our founders could not have foreseen what the future may hold beyond their years. Yes, they had an idea of what worked for the times and what could possibly work for the future. But they could not have foreseen the unknown road that lay before the country, just as we cannot foresee the future ourselves. However, they created a vision. A vision called democracy. Whether this was the realized vision or not, this is what has come to pass – an ideal of government of the people, by the people, for the people. Not just one people – rather, all of us.

Here’s the thing about an ideal – a vision. It is not static. Rather, it is always evolving – moving like the intricate parts of a clock. Some will argue that our great experiment set forth in 1776 has failed. Certainly, it has not held true in the eyes of every person who called themselves an American. We do have oppression and discrimination in this country – we do have evils that seek to snuff out the light of hope and freedom. Now, here’s the thing. An ideal does not accomplish itself – it is not self-sustaining. Rather, it must be maintained. It must be fought for. It must be nurtured. Yes, we may not have reached the ideals that our founders set forth – perhaps unknowingly. But we do have the power to change that. We have the freedom to allow ourselves to reach that higher level. That is part of the vision that is America. That small sliver of hope gives us something to hold on to. An ideal is something to aspire to and become worthy of.

There is a vision that is United States of America. We are still on the road to realizing that full potential and that full vision that was presented in a document in July of 1776. America, we are still a dream worth fighting for – for all. Happy 4th of July and Independence Day.

Ripple of Hope

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope. And crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

~Robert F. Kennedy

I have written many times on the subject of hope and humanity before. In the uncertain times of COVID and societal strife that we live in currently, a reminder seems timely.

In order to reach the full potential of who we can be as a country and as a society, we must stop oppressing each other and start believing in each other. We must stop fighting against ourselves rather than against the barriers that impede our progress towards a more equitable and prosperous future. We are all one in the final analysis. No matter the foe that we collectively face, whether it be knowingly or unknowingly, we must stand together. It is fair to acknowledge that we will have our differences. There will be differing opinions and there will be representation among us of good vs. evil. It would be a fallacy and unwise not to acknowledge this fact. However, we must strive to overcome that divide.

What will it take to overcome this divide? Moral courage. The courage to stand and deliver for what is right. When we see a wrong, we must correct it. We have an obligation to stand and deliver for what is right; not what is popular. It takes taking action and making a difference rather than stating the obvious of what we know to be true that the initial action is wrong. And, yes, we are capable of this. We prove this through our millions of undocumented acts of kindness towards one another every day. Let those shining moments – those ripples of hope – define us.

In these trying times where our imperfections as a society do come to light, we must remember to not give up hope. We need to believe in each other. Let us remember that “a house divided against itself cannot stand”. Let us not give in to lawlessness. Let us not give in to hatred. Let us not allow the bitterness of anger to seep into our everyday lives until we become the very force that we believe that we can defeat. We are better than that. Let us keep our open minds and open hearts. Let us keep on believing and acting upon the virtues of love and compassion as we know it is the right way to go. Let us go forth and spread the word that we are the ripple of hope that others can believe in.

Let us be the shining beacon of light that others strive to follow. We are capable of it. We always have been. Many of us already do start that ripple every day by the way that we live. Let us spread that ripple even further in this time of uncertainty.

How I Learned the Power of Writing From A Eulogy…To a Cat?

2004. That was the year that I first became any semblance of a writer. In the 15-16 years that have passed since that time, I have written in many different publications and about many different subject matters. I first began writing as a way for a shy guy to spread a message – to make himself known. To get noticed. While the latter two points were of importance to me at the time, the real reason I was writing – and the reason why I write to this day – is the first point. Spreading a message. Putting into words what may not be said in a forum otherwise.

For me, my first real message was about disability awareness and advocacy. Many who are reading this are aware of my family situation and the special, unbreakable bond that my brother and I have along with the circumstances that forged that bond. After my initial venture into writing in 2004 – which I will explain in a minute – I became a writer for a my high school newspaper, The Hawk’s Claw. At the time, I was a the Sports Editor, but I would occasionally cross into other subject matters. Disability awareness was the first. I have covered this in a prior article posting, but my first serious writing – aside from the fiction stories that you write for assignment in elementary school – was about stopping the use of the word “retard” as used in a derogatory manner. This was before the Spread the Word to End the Word Campaign that would take off a few years later. While unrefined and a tough write, my messaging worked for the most part. I had used the power of words and rhetoric to make stand for what was right, not what was popular.

I have written many times about the power of words, of expression and of communication. As alluded to at the start of this article, I discovered that power in 2004. This revelation came about as a mixture of research and from a personal event. The research came from spending time in the school library. The event was the death of my pet cat. The reason that I keep mentioning 2004 is that it was June 2004 that my beloved cat died from feline leukemia. When we buried Kitty in the back yard, I read a eulogy that I had written. If you cracked a smile at that last sentence, I can’t say that I blame you. Who writes a eulogy for a pet cat? Me, apparently.

Well, this eulogy was more than a eulogy, looking back on it. It was when I discovered and applied a lesson I had learned from that school library – the power of words, thoughts and communication. Remember that last word – communication.

Much of my library studying came during art class in early high school. While it may surprise some who know me now, I was actually a lousy student until part way through high school. I wasn’t lazy, I was just…lost…indifferent at times, I guess is one way to put it. Sports is what I cared about and I lived and breathed sports – especially baseball. I could break down a baseball swing and relate it to Ted Williams Science of Hitting and I could tell you the batting average of Napoleon Lajoie from 1901 in Major League Baseball (.426 on the odd chance that you were wondering) but I wasn’t great at school work. I certainly wasn’t much of an artist, though my art teacher didn’t see it that way.

Somehow, I would manage to talk my way out of my art lessons to go to the library the next room over. I would sit and I would read. A book here about Jim Abbott, a one armed Major League Baseball pitcher, a book there about military strategy in World War II or about the history of NASA. One day, I picked up a book about Ronald Reagan and started reading. Political affiliation didn’t matter as I read about a public servant. I read about an actor turned public servant who was called “The Great Communicator” – see there’s that word – and suddenly it clicked. Words = Knowledge = Power. I was fascinated. That summer, my cat died. Though it felt silly, I decided to harness the power of my emotions through writing a eulogy for my cat.

From there, I kept on writing. After high school, I wrote for the Massachusetts Daily Collegian, the college newspaper of the University of Massachusetts – Amherst. I wrote guest columns for local newspapers and started writing lyrics and poetry, self-publishing a I went along. And I am still writing. But it all started in 2004 with a eulogy to a cat and lesson from a Ronald Reagan book. Who writes a eulogy for a cat? Me. And here it is below:

Kitty Eulogy – June 2004
Matt Kushi – Read and written

Today, we lost a great and beloved family member in our cat, Kitty. We will never forget you, Kitty. You were part of a family. Not just any ordinary family, but our family. You were as much of a family member as anyone else in the family. We will never forget what you meant to us or what you did for us. You comforted us when we needed comfort and you were always helping us out by having a good and friendly behavior. We will always remember you for who you were, not your tragic ending. We will remember all of the great times we shared over the course of 8 ½ years. As your death has come on, I have realized that life goes on. We must grieve and move on as it is the process of life. You would have wanted us to be happy and carefree such as the attitude that you brought along to us. Thus ends a journey of life that began on November 26, 1996 as a tiny baby that defied the odds in surviving such a small birth size and ended here on June 14, 2004. May God open up the arms of his Kingdom to receive you. You will always be missed and you will always be a part of our family as Butterball and Inki are.

 

Your loving family,

 

The Kushi’s

A Tragic Lesson

Like many today, it has taken part of today to process what happened earlier in the tragic helicopter crash that killed NBA legend Kobe Bryant, his young daughter and others to be named. I am still stunned. As someone who still identifies strongly with sports and has a sports background, I am saddened. As a fellow human being reading of a man and a daughter traveling with friends/others to a youth basketball game when this occurred, I am crushed. Take the fact that Kobe Bryant was tragically killed out of the equation. This could happen to anyone and did happen to those whose names have yet to be released. You still have multiple individuals who were killed in an act of tragedy today. Bryant was just like any of them. A father. A spouse. A friend. It does not matter that he was a celebrity. He was just like your local police officer, fireman, neighbor who works at the local store, friend. He was a human among humans who were the wrong place at the wrong time.

Over the course of the past few hours, I have read much about Bryant and learned much about him. I knew of the professional athlete who failed and succeeded. I knew of the athlete who inspired so many through a sheer will to succeed. I knew of the athlete who represented the NBA brand and showed that all basketball is worth watching – NBA and WNBA. What I have learned more about in the past few hours is Kobe Bryant – the person. He was a parent. He was a spouse. He was a friend. People today lost all of these things when he, and others, perished.

Out of this observation, I want all of us to do one thing: Appreciate those in your life. Tell your family that you love them. Tell your friends how much they mean to you and let them know if they inspire you. Show people that they matter to you. As today has shown, whether you are a celebrity or the neighbor who works at the local store, it can all be gone in an instant. Not all of us are destined for fame or greatness, but we are all unique and special – even if it is only to a few people in our lives. To them, we are the world. Hold those people close and tight for tomorrow is not promised. Honor them and mourn them as we do for every service member who does not make it home, every public servant who gives their life in the line of duty and every person who enters through the Gates after their time on Earth is done – famous and common.

Many of us have experienced death enough times to know that the loss of a loved one is a wound that never quite heals. The tears are never quite done being shed. The hole in the heart never quite closes as it was before. We are only here on this Earth for a short time. Whether we are famous or not, our lives matter. Our souls matter and our the spirit that provides that spark within us that makes us definable. Too often, we only look back upon that spark of a human and realize how amazing they are when their time of departure has occurred or is at hand. Why don’t we do this with those around us while we all have time to appreciate it? That friend who works hard and is always there for you and asks nothing in return? Don’t wait until the sun sets many years from now and you see their name as an obituary and think “That person was really amazing.” Tell them. Tell them now. Don’t you think it’s worth it to see a smile come across their face as they realize that they are defined by more than a label  – more than just a common person – and that to someone in their life, they mean something more valuable than gold? I do.

Whether you are a NBA legend or a hard-working person at a standard job, you have worth and value. You are someone – even if it is only in the eyes of a few. Tell those people, please. As the tragedies of deaths of military members, everyday people and legends attest, tomorrow is not promised. Not to any of us or any of those we sometimes take for granted. Use this tragedy as a lesson.

Words – Our Power to Change History

Words. The tools that we use to communicate each and every day. We tend to take them for granted, such a vital part of our lives they are. Are words just words? Are there lessons that can be learned from one of our most basic tools? Yes. Perhaps we could shape a better vision for our society and a better future for ourselves – and those to follow us – if we heeded the lessons of the very language we speak, think and communicate.

Think back and look back upon the passages of time that make up the history of human civilization. Men and women have walked the lands and sailed the seas of our world. Great rulers have orchestrated policies that have guided the history of human societies as a rudder guides a ship. However, no policy would be crafted, no rule would need to be heeded if it were not for the power of the written word and spoken language. Policies are based upon ideas and visions that are communicated to others through rhetoric. The power driving human accomplishment are the words that we think and speak every day. Therefore, it should not be beyond our own individual power to make a difference in the world around us. We only need to have the awareness to realize the power that we hold and the moral courage to stand up for what is right.

Look back upon some major events in history. Yes, we recognize the resulting policy that changed an outcome. But, what we remember are the words that a figure, who stood out for a moment in history, spoke and wished to share with others. We learn the Gettysburg Address that President Abraham Lincoln spoke, defining the vision of the United States of America. We look back at American Presidents, such as Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, and recognize them as much for the words they used to describe our vision as we do for the policies they proposed. We look to a time in 1968 where Robert Kennedy – before his tragic assassination – helped to calm a crowd as he broke the news of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination to them. He did so not by promising a policy, but by using the power of rhetoric – the power of words – to connect with the crowd. He quoted a Greek poet and a message of love and compassion:

“My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He wrote: “In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another…”.

The point behind all of this is that the power of words hold the power to our present and future. Words have value. We live in times of unrest and a rapidly changing world. These issues, while noticeable in our times, are not uncommon. This unfortunate fact can be quelled by the knowledge that we can follow the path of history and use words, visions and ideas as our sword and our moral courage as our steed. That is how we shape human history. That is how we shape our future. With hope, love, compassion and humanity.

Just as words can be used to communicate a vision of hope, love, compassion and humanity, we must beware of an abuse of power of thought and idea. Just as words can be used to aid our vision and future, so to can it be used to oppress others. There are those who will follow that path, for we live in an imperfect world. It is for the righteous among us, those with the moral courage to stand and deliver for what is right, to carve out the path of our society on the road to justice and humanity, for the path of evil is not the path that we seek should our society wish to survive and sustain in the future.

Words – our most powerful tools. In the final analysis, these tools that we use every day must be used as a force of good and not evil. While we may only seem to be a small portion of this world, our words and our actions matter. Have the moral courage to use words in a positive manner to shape ideas and visions that benefit all of mankind. Do not be afraid to make a difference. Be the difference.

Happy Birthday to a Brother

Happy 36th Birthday tomorrow to my brother, Joe!

Joe, there is no one I would rather call my brother. You inspire me every day and I have learned so much from you. Life may have put us in unique circumstances, but we have navigated the road together. Being one of your Personal Care Attendants has never felt like work, it is time that I cherish with you, my brother. Helping with meals, activities and daily routines – that is just our life. It always warms my heart when someone sees your ability rather than the disability, and gets to see the Joe I know Sure, there have been sacrifices, but I would choose to make them again for you. I will always be there for you as you have been there for me. You are someone that I can sit with and have myself brought back to center just by being in your presence. I may be the little brother taking care of the big brother, but you take care of me as well. You are my best friend. You are my brother – always. I will always be here for you.

Happy Birthday, Joe!

Your little brother,

Matt

Author’s Note: My older brother, Joe, was born prematurely. In order to save his life, he needed to be fed oxygen and he had brain bleed. Joe has Cerebral Palsy and is considered to be blind, non-verbal and non-ambulatory. However, Joe is able to make vocalizations and he does not let his disabilities define him. Though we do not need words to communicate, Joe is the most thoughtful, brave and fun brother to be around. In addition to my two jobs that I work, I also serve as one of Joe’s reserve Personal Care Attendants. My duties include assisting in everyday routines and activities, helping with meals and helping with bathroom functions. It is a role that I would do any day. To me, it is simply being there for my brother.

 

9/11 – A Reflection

Eighteen years ago. Hard to believe. As the calendar pages fall to the ground year after year, it feels like another lifetime ago yet just like yesterday. Eighteen years ago today, our world’s were changed as we witnessed an unthinkable act and an unspeakable tragedy. I will never forget how crisp the early September air was that morning or how blue the sky was. I will never forget sitting in English class in 8th grade when we heard the initial reports. As the day went on, our reactions went from confusion to disbelief. At 13, the fact that such cruelty can exist in a world that you are just growing into is hard to comprehend. At first the TV’s were on but then they went silent. We were released slightly early that day and I remember walking into the living room and watching the TV in complete disbelief. This was not a movie or an act of make believe. This was real and every life, direct or indirectly, was impacted on that day.

We learned something that day. We learned that despite our differences, we could unite as one; that our resolve to be the better people and to be there for one another could lessen the sorrow that was suffered as a collective group. We discovered things as well. We lost many people, many heroes. We also discovered the spirit of human resiliency. We discovered heroes, from First Responders who selflessly gave their lives in the line of duty so that a fellow person could live and get to see their wife, husband, children that night. We discovered that heroes are not always those charged with saving others – we discovered that it is us. We discovered that ordinary people are capable of extraordinary measures to help a fellow person up. We discovered that our power – our love, strength, compassion and will – was greater than any evil force that tried to destroy us. We discovered who we are and who we are meant to be – a human force filled with compassion that has one heartbeat – a force that, when we realize it, can bring any evil force to its knees.

On this day, we honor those that we lost on that day. We also remember and honor all of those heroes that we discovered on that day. 9/11. Never forget.

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Moral Courage – Our Compass to Making a Difference

Tonight, I would like to speak to you – through this writing – about our place in history and our place in determining the path that society follows. Over the course of the past decade, in the United States and globally, public discourse has taken upon a tumultuous turn. Our society has always bore the burden of crisis, this is the story of human civilization.

Often times, we are wrapped up in our own world, in the events, triumphs and plights that cross our own paths and directly impact us. However, what must be realized is that all events impact us, even if it is in an indirect manner. Public policy and public discourse treats all of us the same in that we all live in the outcoming society of our global society’s events. Thus, we should be paying attention and trying to make a positive difference in whatever way that we can. With our elections, we are asked to vote on issues that affect us both directly and indirectly. The key is that we have voice in matter no matter how it affects us personally.

The point that I would like to make with this statement is that we have an obligation to moral courage as inhabitants of this world. Often times, when things go wrong, we blame a faceless bureaucracy and the public servants that serve as the face of a policy or decision. We ask these people entities to display moral courage. While this is fair and acceptable – with power comes responsibility – those in power are not alone in needing to answer to the virtue of moral courage. We all answer that call. We are a government that derives its power from the will of the people. Despite the power that lobbies and organizations of wealth wield, we – the people – hold the true power. We need to realize it. Not only do we need to realize our own power, we need to believe in it. We need to act upon it. We need to step up and claim the crown to our place in history and our era’s contribution to sustaining human society now.

Look around us. Look at the world around you. We are at a crossroads. Should we want to improve the world that we live in and make a difference in sustaining society and the human condition of dignity, we must act. We must step up. It does not matter your standing or whether you are young or old. Stand up. Stand and deliver. Take action for what is right. We do not exist in a past time or a future time. We exist now. Our time is now. We are needed now. Let us be that ripple of hope – now. Today.

We, through our actions, are the ones who can influence change. We do not want change to be evil – we want it to be for good. We should be seeking a world where one’s destiny is determined by the quality of their effort and work. We should be seeking a world where all have the opportunity to seek a life of happiness and purpose where they can accomplish success through hard work and honest effort. We should be seeking to knock down the walls of oppression that divide us and make us weak. We should be seeking to strengthen the bond of the love and compassion that resides within our hearts that unites us all as humans – one heartbeat. While this vision may not be attainable in its ideal state, indeed – there has never been total peace on Earth during mankind’s existence, it is an ideal that is worth striving for. As the saying goes, if we shoot for the moon, even if we miss, we will land among the stars.

This ideal – this vision – can be accomplished by looking to our own moral compass’ and following the path of moral courage ourselves – not leaving it just to those that we have elected to represent us. Our actions each day, no matter how small, influence this vision as well. Whether we are standing up for what we believe in, voting in support or opposition of a piece of public policy or simply making a positive impact in society by being a good person, we have the opportunity to make a difference every day. We have the opportunity to follow our moral compass and to perform acts of moral courage. By moral courage, I simply mean doing what is right – not what is popular.

So, as you wake up tomorrow, look at the world around us. Read about what is going on in your community and in society as a whole. Ask yourself what you can do to better the world around you. Ask yourself if you have the moral courage to follow the moral compass that we know lives deep within us – each and every one of us. Ask yourself if you are going to make a difference today. Tomorrow. And the next day. The answer should be yes. It might come in the form of advocating for a piece of policy or in support of someone who supports a policy. It might come in the form of standing and delivering on your own – a mountain that can become an island that others can stand upon and reach above the crashing waves from.

Yes, we all have this power, and collectively we can form an unstoppable wave of compassion and humanity. But it must start today. It must start now. Our time is not a time of the past or future. It is now. Look inside yourself. What does your compass tell you? Unleash your moral courage and make a difference in this world and in our time. Be the difference.

Finding Your Value – A Surprising Journey

“What is something about you that would surprise people?”

This is a basic question, yet one that is difficult to answer. This was a question that was posed as part of a staff training/orientation at work a week ago. As I thought of how to answer this question, hundreds of thoughts popped into my head – none of them the truly correct answer. As I sat with two colleagues, all I could think of were things that they already knew about me. I’m a farmer. I’m a business owner. I write lyrics and poetry. I’m a Sport Management alum and a former land surveyor. I am a sibling and a Personal Care Attendant.

What escaped me in that moment was the true answer. An answer that never came to fruition, yet was born from a spirit within me – the need, the desire to make a difference. What I should have answered with is an answer that those reading this may have heard me allude to in passing.

The answer that I should have given was that in my Senior year of college, as I was searching for jobs, I entered into a two month period where I was in contact with a United States Marine Corps recruiter and was seriously considering joining the military. Go ahead – laugh. I know that for more than a few people, the idea of Kushi – the one teachers called “church mouse” when he was younger due to his shyness – being a Marine is likely an amusing image. I’ll admit, it can be. Needless to say, that is not the path that was ultimately journeyed. And while that likely fits the bill in answering the question posed above, it does lead to another interesting discussion. Why? Why did that idea appeal to me?

Well, to start, there is this now legendary commercial:

I have watched this commercial many times. On top of the fact that there is messaging present – I have noticed something more. Look at what they are trying to portray – drive, grit, courage, selflessness, dedication. These are all virtues that we strive to have and to achieve. I know that they are virtues that I have always sought to have and be seen as having, whether I knew it or not. What can all of these virtues lead to? What does the life of a Marine have implied meaning of? MAKING A DIFFERENCE.

My whole life, I have had a need to make a difference or feel like I am making a difference. Most of us do. My problem was that I didn’t know how.  I was the one who didn’t always know which course of action to take and didn’t always have the confidence to do so when I knew how. The thing about not knowing how to do something is that you don’t know that you can do it until you do. I was a shy kid, yet I somehow found it in me to stand up for my brother. Suddenly, that shy kid who wrote for the school newspaper figured out that he could stand up for his brother who had disabilities and lead a fight again the use of the word “retard” in an offensive manner by writing an article about it. Oh, I pissed some classmates off, but I stood up and delivered for what I knew what was right. The same goes for when it was graduation time. My brother stayed in the school system until the age of 21 and that was it. No ceremony or acknowledgement like he deserved. He deserved that honor as much as his little brother did. When all was said and done and I had had a few conversations with the Principal, my brother received a certificate just as I did. These tasks were accomplished because I stood up for what I thought was right and I sought to make a difference and better the lives of a fellow person.

In my professional life, I have had to rely on these virtues as well. I have served as a town board member, a town athletics coach and started/operated my own business along with a winding career path that led to some tough lessons in my 20’s. I have had to have drive and grit to make it. Some of this drive and grit is a part of who I am and some of it has been inspired by the ideals that I value – such as the ones displayed in the Marine Corps commercial. Sometimes, I have a tendency to try and go above and beyond what may be expected of me on paper. This goes back to who I am and what I value. Maybe deep down, I want to be the personification of that Marine in that commercial. You may not expect the extra effort from me to get the job done but I do. Anything less, effort-wise on my part, is failure to do the best that can be done to get the job done.  I think that most of us have that mentality, that – when we are playing our hand – we want to be the toughest son of a gun on the field. We want to be that good co-worker that helps get the job done for our team; that person who can look in the mirror and say “I have done everything in my power to get the job done and make a difference. No one can say that I have not worked hard enough.”  We all have that in us, whether you are a natural go-getter or whether you are someone who was accused of being a timid church house. When the cards are on the table, you have the ability to do something and make a difference, so long as you work hard, are selfless and are willing to go above and beyond what is expected and what you think you can do.

The lesson to be learned here is that no matter who you are, you can make a difference. You can be an inspiration. You can be a person of honor and dignity. The road will not always be easy and there will be some rough roads that are journeyed, but you can make it. If you have grit, drive, the ability to follow your moral compass and the courage to follow your heart, you can make a difference in this world and in others lives. If you ever doubt that, just remember a line from the movie Fievel Goes West: “I don’t know what’s out there beyond those hills, but if you ride yonder, head up, eyes steady, heart open, I think one day you’ll find that you’re the hero you’ve been lookin’ for.”

To answer the question that opened this discussion, maybe the fact that I once had the idea of the Marine Corps appeal to me isn’t what the most surprising thing about me was. Maybe it’s the journey that took place within my own self that showed me that I could make a difference – no matter how small. Perhaps, this journey that each individual goes through at some point in their life in discovering their difference making value is the most surprising thing that we don’t know about a person.