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.

If I Asked You To Stay

You told me that you needed to leave,
To get away from here.
You said that you weren’t sure if there was a future here.
I could see the pain of those words in the dawning eve.

I nodded and wished you well.
Told you that I would sure miss you.
Later that night, as I thought of your words
I thought of what I could do.

If I asked you to stay
Would you not go away?
I truly want to see you be happy
But I don’t want you to leave.
If I asked you to stay
Would not go away?
Would you stay?

I don’t know if your future is with me.
I don’t know what the future holds at all
But I know that you mean more to me
Than you realize. More than I realized.
I’ve just been too afraid to let you see.

I don’t know why
But you can make a day bright
Just like a day warmed by the newborn light.
The thought of you leaving brings a tear to my eye.
The more I think of you, the more I realize
I’m not ready to say good-bye.

When I talk to you

If I asked you to stay
Would you not go away?
I truly want to see you be happy
But I don’t want you to leave.
If I asked you to stay
Would not go away?
Would you stay?

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.

Outside the Window

This lyric/poem is for everyone who needs to hear an encouraging word as we fight through this pandemic.

Sun shining
A ray glistening through the cloudy sky.
Look outside –
No words do you need to say.
Close your eyes and open your mind.
Let the stress and strife melt away,
As you feel the newborn day.

Outside of my window,
I hear the birds singing.
Outside my window,
There is a land where I once was
And again, long to go.

Outside of my window,
Where the grass turns greener every day
As time advances to the month of May.
Watch the red streak of the cardinal
And the blue hue of the blue-jay
As they soar and play.
Feel the world melt away.
As they soar through the dancing sway of the trees.

One day, the prison walls will fall,
And the calm of nature will call.
We will dance through the grass so high
And into the pure blue sky will I sigh
With you by my side.
That’s the world that waits for us
Outside of the window.

Outside the Window

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

Valentine’s Day Special Lyric/Poem – In Your Arms

To all of you who are celebrating Valentine’s Day today and tonight with a loved one, this is dedicated to you:

The night slowly comes along
And the magic of love comes alive in my heart
As I can hear the music of a love song.
In your arms is where I belong tonight.

Girl, take my hand,
Let me sail you to a star-lit land.
Now, our hearts move as one as we sway to the beat.
I’m lost in this moment in time with you
Because all I want to do
Is slow dance with you in my arms.

Listen to our hearts as they sway to the music
And watch as our feet drift along.
Feel it now, our love is strong.
With you, there is no way to be wrong.
Love as it should be, in your heart where I belong
As I slow dance with you in my arms.

Oh, forbidden fruit never tasted so fine.
Still can’t believe that out of all of the hearts
You want mine.
Never knew a love like this,
Living my life searching for a heart like mine.
I was a prisoner and you set me free.

In the dark of the night
We don’t need a light to feel so right,
For our love lights up the darkest of nights.
We are a true lover’s sight
And know what it’s like to love somebody.
I’m where I belong in your arms tonight.

Take my hand
Let me sail you to a star-lit land.
Now, our hearts move as one as we sway to the beat
I’m lost in this moment in time with you
Because all I want to do
Is slow dance with you in my arms tonight.

Listen to our hearts as they sway to the music
And watch as our feet drift along.
Feel it now, our love is strong.
With you, there is no way to be wrong.
Love as it should be, in your heart where I belong
As I slow dance with you in my arms.

I can hear the music of a love song.
In your arms is where I belong tonight.

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.

Athletic Sustainability: Self-Awareness and Adaptability

This post is part of a series on athletic coaching lessons and can also be found on the author’s Athletic Coaching Lessons website at this link here.

Sports and life have many similarities and many of the same lessons. This has been covered in other posts. As in any task in your every day life, one of the keys to success (covered here) is to have self-awareness. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Know how to best utilize them in any given situation, whether that be working as a lead on a project or on the field of play in athletics. To be truly successful performing your task at hand, you must also know how to perform the other side of the equation of self-awareness: Adaptability.

It is great to know your strengths and how to best use them. But how do you best use your weaknesses? While it is sometimes as simple as not letting your weaknesses come into play, there is another strategy that is more meaningful and one that is more sustainable. Turn your weakness into a neutral or a strength.

Look at it this way: you have the ability to be the best version of yourself in the current moment. What do I mean by this? I have written before about having a winning mentality – that on any given day, a team can be better than the next. For this example, I quote a speech that Hall of Fame college football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant gave to an incoming Freshmen class of football players as Head Coach of the University of Alabama. In this brief speech, Coach Bryant mentions how you can win, individually and as a team, if you believe that you can be the best that you are. The example he gives is that suppose that you have a 70/100 rating and your opponent has an 80/100 rating. Now, say that your opponent doesn’t play well or doesn’t prepare well enough. They are not an 80 anymore. They are a 70. Now, say that you prepare properly and that you are willing to go above and beyond what is required. You are now at an 80 level. Now, you have the upper-hand to win.

The example above holds true in competition and I believe it holds true when your opponent is yourself. Let’s use that 100 scale again. Say that you are a 75/100 at your current standing, knowing your strengths and weaknesses. You have a bad day, you can fall to 65. You have a good, self-aware day, you go up to 85. But your base remains at 75. How do you improve that base ranking? By adapting. By making a weakness neutral or a strength, you can become an 80/100 player or worker. This is why coaches are always teaching fundamentals in practice. The attitude and the willingness to adapt – that has to come from the player.

In sports, how many times have you seen this scenario play out? A new player comes in and starts to do well right away. Opponents don’t know how to neutralize that player, thus making that player an asset for their team. However, after playing against that player for a while – a few games, a season, etc. – opponents start to find the player’s weakness and strengths. They play away from the strength and to the weakness. Now the ball is in the new player’s court. They know what they are good at and are not good at. Do they keep doing what they did before? Many times, this does not work. It may work to an extent, but it is not sustainable. The successful players are the ones who know their strengths and weaknesses and have the ability to adapt. Once a player adapts to the adaption that opponents have made on him or her, they may experience success again. Thus, is the cat and mouse game of sports.

So, what does this look like? Sometimes, it isn’t an opponent who finds your weakness – it is something you notice on your own. Let’s look at quick case study of this process in action.

Batting Stance
A sport that I have played a lot of is baseball. I worked in college baseball as a Student Manager and was part of the scouting and recruitment efforts among my other duties. This led me to look at myself as a player. Now, I never had much talent. I had to rely on fundamentals. Technically speaking, my batting stance – the most basic element of hitting a baseball – was not great. I am a right-handed hitter primarily, so I dig in with my right foot and line my stance up in a perfect line to the pitcher. I tend to have a “see ball, hit ball” mentality and let the mechanics that I have practiced take over in the form of muscle memory.

I have one problem. I tend to “step in the bucket”, meaning my stride (which can be a small step or static with my left foot) tends to drift away from the plate. This reduces my plate coverage while allowing my hips to flare open away from the plate. As I am trying to stay in line to the pitcher’s mound, I am prone to locking my hips, altering my ability to rotate my hips to the ball and make solid contact. I am also taking away the outside part of the plate from my power zone where the ball hits the bat flush.

This is a weakness. I am taking away from my prime swing and now following the optimal bat path for solid connection as Baseball Hall of Famer Ted Williams dictates in his book The Science of Hitting. What do I do? I need to adapt. Ok, I have trouble correcting my step. How can I turn this around? If I shift my stance so that I am angling my body in – a closed stance – where my back foot moves slightly back and my front foot moves slightly forward, I am still facing the pitcher but at an angle.

Now, when I swing, I am swinging for an opposite field base hit if I keep my body aligned (unless the pitch is inside, where I am prone to being jammed. If you have strong wrists, you can still get the bat head around to square the ball up). If I step a little outside, I am still prone to bad mechanics and flaring/locking my hips, but if I allow my hips to open – as I am now back to my neutral stance line with the pitcher – I now have a swing that can cover the entire plate and make solid connection with the ball. Is this perfect? No. There is still risk in the mechanics. However, I have improved my situation and turned a weakness into a neutral or strength. Pitch selection, location and strategy are other variables that can impact this scenario. But I adapted to improve a situation that I was self-aware of as a weakness.

Below is a quick sketch diagram of what I am talking about. For a legend, we have home plate with a bat and bath path sketched over it, based on the situation. The ovals next to the plate are my feet, as a batter, and the direction I want to go in along with the direction my load and stride take me in.

Stance

Conclusion
The point of all of this being, if you can be self-aware and adapt, you are putting yourself in a position to be successful. It is not guaranteed, but you are improving your odds and your baseline. If you do that successfully, enough times, you will succeed. This is true and applicable in sports as well as in life in many different job settings.

IMG_2876

Two Wine State of Mind

Beautiful soul, beautiful heart.
Feel my love, even when we are miles apart.
The power of your love
Lights up the dark side of the moon.

I see your face – the sun spills across it.
You toss your long hair and give me a smile –
Oh, can you feel my heart melt?
How can I tell you?
How do I tell you?
My heart is yours.

Darling, you put me in a two wine state of mind,
One touch from your hand –
One look from your angelic eyes
And I’m yours forever and for always.
Lost to all of the world but you, girl.
Girl, you don’t know what you do to me,
You put me in a two wine state of mind

Two wine state of mind –
That’s where I want to be
As long as I’m with you.

Feel the world sway,
Every time you look my way.
I’ve been waiting for you my whole life.

In your arms,
I feel myself start to float away.
Girl, I feel the world sway
All I have to do is be around you.

Darling, you put me in a two wine state of mind,
One touch from your hand –
One look from your angelic eyes
And I’m yours forever and for always.
Lost to all of the world but you, girl.
Girl, you don’t know what you do to me,
You put me in a two wine state of mind.

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.