The National Park Service called it a "controlled burn" - they set a fire near Los Alamos, New Mexico to remove 900 acres of dry trees and brush. But the controlled burn got out of control. It destroyed some 5,000 acres of private property and parkland, it caused the evacuation of the entire population of Los Alamos, and it destroyed some 200 homes. And saddest of all, the Weather Service had warned the Park Service that there would be high winds, high temperatures, and low humidity - prime conditions for a fire to spread. But apparently their warnings were ignored, and a fire they thought they could control did more damage than they could have ever imagined.
An alarm may be annoying but, face it, most alarms are your friend. The alarm clock in the morning - without which you'd lose your job. The smoke detector. The fire alarm. Now most us don't carry an alarm with us, but for some people, it's a very positive idea. Recently, my wife was in a nursing home on an errand of mercy when suddenly this loud alarm went off. Immediately, a nurse came running to a door where she intercepted one of their elderly residents who was headed for that door. The manager explained that some of their residents are afflicted with serious memory loss or disorientation, so much so, that they have left the building and wandered off, not knowing where they were - including right into the middle of the road! So the woman who triggered the alarm has been fitted with a special bracelet - one that triggers an alarm whenever she is on the edge of a possible danger zone. Apparently, she does remember what the alarm is for. When it went off, she instinctively stopped where she was. That alarm could literally save her life.
As a New York Knicks basketball fan, I've had some victories and some play-off games to cheer for. But I've had my share of disappointments, too. And too many of them have come at the hands of one particular opponent - a player named Reggie Miller. This man has done more to stop my team than just about anybody I can think of because something happens to this man in a close game, when there's suddenly just a minute or two left. He's on fire! He may or may not have had a lot of points earlier in the game, but somehow he seems to save his best for last. With time running out, Reggie suddenly becomes a scoring machine, making fantastic shots, often scoring enough points to send my team home for the season. Any player is a powerful force when he knows the end is near and lights up to makes a difference!
Michelle and Tara - they were the darlings of the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. Now, Michelle Kwan was favored to leave Nagano with the coveted gold medal for women's figure skating. Fifteen-year old Tara Lapinski was widely expected to win the silver as the second greatest female skater in the world. But, to the surprise of most of the world, Tara skated to the gold as the youngest skating gold medalist in Olympic history. Michelle Kwan went home with the silver. One morning after commentary said of Tara Lapinski, "She was too young. Too immature. Too unrefined. It wasn't her turn. The reason Tara Lapinski couldn't win the gold medal is the reason it hangs around her neck today: She was a kid." The writer went on to observe that while Michelle Kwan stayed with her parents in her room most of the time before her performance, young Tara was marching in the Opening Ceremony, mingling with other athletes, cheering for her team at other events - even playing video games and football. And then, "it was time to skate the long program. There was no fear. No nerves." Michelle talked about being, in her words, "more cautious." But for the gold medalist - they called it "no fear."
I remember that one time years ago that our area had a garbage strike. I think we've finally gotten rid of the special aroma in our garage after all these years. See, the garage It just piled up while the sanitation folks figured out their deal - and it took a while. Since I know how nasty the garbage can get, I'm sympathetic to the man I heard about recently. There was a garbage strike in his area, and he came up with a creative way to get rid of all that accumulating junk. He simply took some of his garbage each day, put it in a box, and gift wrapped it. Then he left that little gift each day on the bus or the subway as he commented. I'm not sure what happened to any of the lucky recipients of all those packages, but you have to admit - if you've got garbage to move, it's pretty smart to gift wrap it.
I have some friends who live near this industrial area - steel mill type of industrial. You could take me there blindfolded and I'd know where I am. The mills produce this distinctive aroma - OK, smell. OK, stink. All day long you can smell this sulfur-like, rotten eggs type of odor. When you go there for the first time, you sniff and say, "What's that?" Funniest thing - the people who live there answer, "What's what?" They have lived around that stench so long that it doesn't even register anymore. It's gross - but they've gotten used to gross.
When Walt Disney animated the story of Snow White, he created seven memorable - if short - characters - the Seven Dwarfs. Yes, you can be short and memorable. No, I'm not going to ask you to name all seven dwarfs - I don't think I can. But I can remember that little song they sang on the way to work. Now, they didn't exactly work in a climate-controlled office building. They worked in a mine all day. But each day, they would merrily march off to their job singing, "Hi-ho, hi-ho, it's off to work we go." What a great way to approach your work each day.
Anyone who can tackle their responsibilities with a song is no dwarf. He or she is a giant!
I was speaking at a winter conference in Canada - and the word cold took on a whole new meaning to me. The temperature was minus-40 Fahrenheit - literally the coldest temperature I had ever experienced. When I walked in the room, people stood and sang, "Freeze a jolly good fellow." I really don't like to wear hats or hoods, but I learned to do it that weekend. One Canadian teenager told me he had been outside on his farm, in this cold, for 30 seconds and his ear literally froze - and part of it broke off. That is cold. I had about a five-minute walk ahead of me - believe me I had my parka hood on! I didn't realize you can do permanent damage in no time.
The first time I heard someone talking about an invisible airplane, my reaction was, "I don't think so." But, in a sense, there is such a thing. Not exactly an airplane that people can't see - but an airplane radar can't see. It's called the "Stealth" bomber. Of course, if a bomber is headed for you, you want to know it. And radar has always been what alerted defenders to that bomber. But the "Stealth" is able to come in under the range of radar - and invade air space undetected - and do damage it might never have been able to do if it had been detected. Nobody realizes they're in danger until it's too late.
You've probably seen an actor named Iron Eyes Cody in many Indian roles. He tells an old legend about a young Indian brave, going through the rites of manhood. As he hiked solo into this beautiful valley, he decided to test himself against that rugged, snow-capped mountain that dominated the valley. When he reached the top, he felt like he was standing on the rim of the world. Then he heard a rustle at his feet - it was a snake. Before he could move, the snake spoke. He said, "I am about to die. It's too cold for me up here, and there's no food. Put me under your shirt and take me down to the valley." The young brave refused. He said, "I know your kind - you're a rattlesnake. If I pick you up, you'll bite and your bite will kill me." But the snake said, "No, I promise to treat you differently. If you do this for me, I won't harm you."