Monday, December 14, 2009

Pearl 28: Beware the Vehicle with a Gas Pedal and No Brake

Dearest Eliana and Gehrig,

Santa Claus is packing up his sleigh and feeding his reindeer.  What a night he has once a year delivering all those toys to good little girls and boys.    Attempting all those landings on billions of roofs, sliding down all those chimneys and flying around the world on Christmas Eve is a daunting and adventurous task.  Santa must be quite a risk taker and he definitely lives life in the fast lane. 

I know this man whom you have yet to meet.  Tommy and I became friends in high school and I was drawn to his outgoing, exuberant personality.  Tommy built and drove the fastest car in school and went everywhere at 90 mph.  He was always full of energy and spent copious amounts of it on his friends, his cars, his work and his drag racing.  From the time I first met him, Tommy lived life fast. 

After high school, Tommy went to TCU but his other activities took precedent over his studies and he dropped out to go into the Air Force.  He mastered his skills as a jet engine mechanic but when he came out he spent some of his time as a technician for IBM but most of it building and racing cars…the faster the better.  Nothing could slow him down, not even his failed first marriage, which included a daughter with whom he never could connect.  He did manage to be Best Man at Granny and my wedding, but after that, we drifted apart. 

Tommy drove his drag cars to the top of his class for several years in the late 1970’s and early ‘80’s.  But speed didn’t satisfy the beast.  It wasn’t risky enough.  Somehow, he got into big-time drug dealing.  Tommy would drop everything to rent a private jet to fly to the Caribbean so he, his "girlfriend du jour" and his buddies could charter a boat and sail around St. Kitts for a week, or something just as extravagant.  These activities were a normal occurrence during this high risk and dangerous period, that is, until Tommy got busted and spent the next six years at the Federal penitentiary in Big Spring, Texas

Tommy went the straight and narrow after that.  We renewed our friendship and he married his third wife, who has been a God-send, but not his salvation.  Tommy’s internal motor was still racing and he needed something to fuel it.  Unfortunately, he chose alcohol.  Drinking every waking moment was how Tommy slowed the engine down, but it wreaked havoc on his health, his work and his relationships.  At one point I told him I loved him too much to sit by and watch him kill himself and I helped him check into a quality rehab center.  Seven weeks later, he was restored to a semblance of the man I knew.  Which kind of brings me to my next pearl:

Twenty-Eighth Pearl:  "Beware the Vehicle with a Gas Pedal and No Brake"

Many successful people are driven.  They have even isolated a gene present in many very accomplished folks, like Albert Einstein, John Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump that identifies this genius/overachieving/risk taking nature.  Although I don’t know for sure, it appears Tiger Woods has that same gene.  But just like all of these successful individuals, there can be a dark side to this risk-taking gift. 

When we are young, in our teens and twenties, many of us live a “pedal-to-the-metal” lifestyle.  We think we are invincible and we take risks that maturity would not allow.  Maturity adds the brake.  It works in concert with the gas pedal to produce a safe and effective ride.  With a fully functioning gas pedal and no brake we have the ability to attain high speeds and cover a lot of ground, but also the ability to careen off the cliff edge and into the abyss.  Some people reach maturity early in life, some never do.

Einstein used his gas pedal to achieve mathematical genius, but without a brake tumbled into a series of questionable relationships.  Kennedy and Clinton both attained the exalted position of President of the United States, but without a brake brought a measure of disgrace upon themselves and the Office.  Donald Trump’s risk-taking gas-pedal has made him a fortune, but without a brake he also lost a couple of fortunes along the way.  Tiger powered his way to the top of professional golf, but now, brakeless, he is plummeting down the backside of the pinnacle. 

Tommy’s stuck-on-the-floor gas pedal propelled him through life at break neck speed until one day he sat down in a chair and could not get back up.  Now paralyzed from the chest down due to a ruptured aneurism in his spine aggravated by his risky choices and dissipated lifestyle, his brake is now forever applied. 

These are some sad stories, I know.  Does this mean we should never take risks?  No, of course not.  There is risk in every great endeavor and we must accept those challenges throughout the course of our lives.  Knowing when to apply the gas and when to apply the brake, however, is the key to not only attaining success but being able to responsibly embrace it over time. 

When he hits your roof next week with his huge, heavily laden sleigh and nine famous reindeer, let’s hope jolly old St. Nick knows how and when to apply the brake.  I think he will.  He has been doing it for a very long time.

Merry Christmas, little ones and God Bless you!

Grandpa Jud