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Yesterday, I sent out a message to forty something friends on facebook letting them know that our friend and colleague, Chadd Milke, had been taken home to be with the Lord. In the last twelve hours, my mind has flooded my thoughts with memories of my dear departed friend…

Chadd and I go back a long time–even before facebook. We first met working for Blessings (BCM) back in the late 90s when, newly hired, he came to visit me at the Saskatoon store. At the time, Chadd was going to assist in managing the newly opened Winnipeg store. Right from our first meeting, I could tell that Chadd wasn’t cut from the same cloth as me, but I liked him immediately. Most people found Chadd to be a very like-able fellow.

A couple years later both Chadd and I would move to Edmonton, him from Winnipeg, me from Saskatoon, so we could both work at BCM’s new Support Centre offices. There Chadd’s friendship blossomed with his co-workers (Chris, Joy, Trisha, Janet, Christine, the Bobst girl whose name I can’t recall, Felix, Jim, Ruth, Sharon, Erin, Annie, Paul, Sheri, Sarah, Larry, Janice, Mark, and others I’ve forgotten–my apologies to you).

In those days, work felt like family. We had our good days, we had our fights, and we had challenges, but Chadd was one of those people who made going to work fun! He had a great sense of humor, and for those of us who invested our friendship in Chadd, we got to know one of God’s especially created personalities.

To say Chadd was a “music guy” would be an erroneous understatement. That fellow always amazed me with his passion for music. Many people have commented to me about my diverse and eclectic tastes in recorded music–Chadd’s interest, knowledge, collection, and appreciation makes me look like an amateur. And he knew artists and artists knew him too! I consider it a privilege to have introduced Chadd to at least one musician, Jesse Cook, considering that he introduced me to hundreds (if not thousands).

But Chadd wasn’t just into music; he loved reading books, and meeting and interacting with their authors. I recall he even was friends with Brock and Bodde Thoene, and Gilbert Morris (I think that was the fellow). Chadd was the most well read “music guy” in our business. Chadd also loved going to popular media and cinema–I recall going to Midnight Movie Premiers, like Lord of the Rings, with him and other friends from work.

In my work life, to amuse myself and try and lighten the mood, I dream up “camp’ names for my coworkers… If you’re lucky (or some might say, unlucky) I’ll share them with you. My camp names for Chadd included… Chadd the Milkman, “who always delivers”, Cha-Cha, Chadd-man-of-mystery, Mr. Rhondo, Chaddzilla, and Chad Solo ( I’m pretty sure he hated the last one the most since it was in reference to Han Solo from StarWars… Chadd would have nothing to do with StarWars; He was a Trekkie through and through).

There is no doubt that I got on Chadd’s nerves from time to time, but he was always very gracious and kind–truly a brother who modelled the fruit of the spirit. Chadd was also one of the most dedicated employees I’ve ever had the privilege of working with. His work ethic rivaled that of my mother, and she’s one of the hardest working people I know. A significant part of BCM’s success in those heyday years were built with Chadd’s sweat and tears. One warm summer afternoon, Chadd received one of the only Support Site award I ever recall being given–he won (and indeed deserved) to be The Support Site Employee of the Year.

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Eventually BCM sold, and the Support Site family was fractured with those who would move to Chilliwack, and those that move on to other things. For those of us who moved to Chilliwack, Chadd included, what we arrived to seemed like a TV Big Brother experiment gone wrong. The entire support staff was packed into two offices and a lobby, while the new headquarters underwent a complete renovation. Working in such tight quarters was challenging for all of us, but my Mom would later share with me that it was especially difficult for Chadd. The fact that all of us made it through with our sanity in-tact was only by God’s grace.

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In Chilliwack, I gained a new appreciation for Chadd. My kids were growing up, and Chadd was growing up in his own way. One of my favorite memories with Chadd was him going trick-or-treating with my kids, Mr. Woodward, and me. Jana and Justin, loved hanging out with him–he might as well have been their Uncle Chadd. When things wound down for me at Blessings, and my family moved back to Calgary, there was Chadd to say good bye.

Over the past few years, Chadd and I have connected by email and facebook, and I always appreciated how he’d bring new music to my attention. Even though we wouldn’t see each other face to face again, with Chadd, it always felt like he wasn’t that far away.

I think that Chadd was like that for many of us in that he had a unique friendship with each person. I’m sure my experience was different that yours, but it makes me appreciate how God uniquely created each and every one of us.

Chadd, rest assured my friend that you will be greatly missed, and that you made a bigger mark on lives than you might have imagined!  It was a pleasure spending time with you here on Earth, but I look forward to meeting you again in Heaven, and hearing about what great music awaits me there. While you’ve gone on ahead, I’ll be praying for your family and friends who will be missing you greatly.

Your friend,

Lane

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Missing Chadd

Imagining Venice

Friday was my last day or work.  Two weeks before I had resigned my position.  Like in the movies or TV, I spent five minutes packing up my stuff into a box.  I had only worked with DIRTT for six months–not enough time to get thoroughly nested yet.  DIRTT was also the kind of place where people’s workspace was limited in the amount of “stuff” we could accumulate.  For me, that was a good thing–some crazed minimalists  might suggest I lean towards office hoarding.  If you ever saw the movie Fletch, you might remember Chevy Chase’s desk–mine has never looked that bad, but it’s been close.

During my first week at DIRTT, one of my assignments was to fix the quality issue with the Xerox Phaser (a waxed based printer that basically melts crayon blocks onto paper to create color copies or print jobs).  This printer was out of warranty, so rather than call the Xerox repair guy, I was entrusted to troubleshoot it myself.  During my diagnosis, and with helpful instructions from the internet, I printed many pictures–the kind that would test the full range of colors.  On Google Images I found pictures of sunsets and scenic images of Venice at dusk.  My best efforts to fix the printer ended up in vain, and eventually the professional was called in to service the unit.

Once the printer issues were resolved, I was left with my paper gallery of Venice.  Most of it was recycled, but a couple decent prints became long-term scenery for my workspace.  I’ve never been to Venice, nor Italy.  It certainly isn’t the place I plan to go anytime soon… economics dictate otherwise.  Besides, I figure the kids will find a Disney theme park far more interesting than a historic gem from the Renascence.

So, for the last six months, I’ve been left to occasionally  imagine my evening stroll along the canals in Venice.  I’ve pondered the smells, the sounds, the music, and wondered if pasta dishes taste that much better in Italy.

Remembering my thoughts, imagining Venice from my office chair, were pretty much inspired by a simple photo post seen here…  Imagine.  On her blog, Christine Sternfels asks “What would be left to the imagination if you were already in paradise?”  For me, right now, Venice and Italy are left to my imagination, and perhaps some distant bucket list.  Though, it makes me wonder if I ever visit there one day, if the real Venice will live up to my imaginary strolls.

Deserted Island

Before I started writing this piece, I thought I was going to write about being stuck on a desert island.  As I began my writing process, it occurred that I might have chosen the wrong word.  Did I actually mean a deserted island?  It wouldn’t be the first time I had chosen a wrong words–nor will it be my last.

I also didn’t want to leave an impression on my wife that I would rather be stuck in a tropical paradise with other people, not including her.  The island I was trying to portray was something more… LOST-like, but without all the crazy stuff (only what I’d heard since I only ever watched the first episode).

Upon Google defining both desert and deserted island, my friends at Wikipedia indicate that both are indeed   “A desert island or uninhabited island is an island that has yet to be (or is not currently) populated by humans.”  This was exactly what I was attempting to describe…  basically stuck in the ocean (kind of like Tom Hanks in Cast Away).  This desert island post stems from a discussion with two great coworkers at my beloved Purple Prison, GaoRong and Coralie.

(In my own experience) Friends seldom become coworkers, and friends that do, typically don’t remain friends after laboring together.  Most coworkers remain coworkers–fused into a “professional” relation by place, position, and situation.  Other coworkers end up as adversaries–too bad for them because life is too short for that kind of conflict.  Occasionally, a few select coworkers gel together and actually become friends in the workplace.  This last group is the ones that often make work enjoyable (and more bearable).

Gel-ing coworkers can often  have goofy conversation about work, popular culture, personal experience, and life in general.  These friendships are typified by a genuine interest in each others’ lives.  Really great friends at work can even discuss politics, religion, and another forbidden topic that I can’t seem to recall (I think it was sex, but since I haven’t anything too interesting to mention about that, we’ll it’s never been an issue).

While wondering about those three forbidden topics, I ended up Googling this article from money.usnews.com:  40 Topics You Can’t Discuss At Work  Wow!  Take away all 40 of these topics and some people might have nothing much to discuss… My own new favorites from their list include…

  • (10)  The progress, or lack thereof, of your therapy   (if I could afford therapy, I think that I would want to talk about it.)
  • (11)   Your blog URL  (this seems obvious, considering my topic today)
  • (29)   The state of your undergarments (never even crossed my mind, that’s a good one.  What about ripping the crouch of my pants at work?  Does that count?  Because “that” actually happened last week!  Breezy!  Too much said?)

The fact someone actually took the time to articulate these 40 things makes me worried about the average worker’s ability to use their discretion *sigh*

I know amongst my friends at work, sometimes the conversation turns to kidding.  Occasionally this kidding involves silly ways we tease each other, and sometimes the teasing can get into cutting or sarcasm.  Sometimes this goes too far, so much so, that  when a person, like me, is trying to give a real compliment, it doesn’t get taken seriously.

In one such conversations, to get my point across and demonstrate I was being genuine,  I suggested that if I had to pick only ten co-workers to be stuck on a deserted island with, both of these coworkers would be in my list of ten.  My point of this statement was to indicate that each coworker was the type of person that I would want with me in that hypothetical circumstance.

And truthfully, both GaoRong and Coralie are the type of co-workers that would make my list of top ten islanders to be stuck with on my imaginary island.  This isn’t to say they’d be perfect island-mates, or that we never experienced a personal spat before, but rather that despite the good and the bad, they are stand-up people, the kind I would prefer to have with me in a rough patch.

So thinking about my hypothetical deserted island, what would you say about your own coworkers?  And what would your coworkers say about you?  What defines the kind of person that each of us would want with us in just such a situation?

Thinking about GaoRong and Coralie …  Why would I want them there with me?

  • Sense of humor (and the ability to laugh at oneself).
  • Transparency (the ability to really be yourself, and to not worry about people seeing the “real you”).
  • Sensitivity (good friends are attune to what’s going on).
  • Empathy (Maybe the grind of our Purple Prison has naturally brought us together).
  • Common Interests (music, popular culture, personal experience).
  • Diversity (different life experience, an interest to learn from each other).
  • Trust (not worrying that anyone will be getting “thrown under the bus”, and heaven forbid it happens, knowing there’s forgiveness afterwards).

Last Friday was a good reminder about why I picked GaoRong and Coralie to be my island mates:  Thanks to both of them for staying late to help me with all 28 international packages despite being finished (and permitted to go home)… you two are the best!

So in the scheme of things, where you work, would your coworkers be stuck on a deserted island with, or without you?  Why do you think that is?

Day Dreaming of Simpler Times

Do you recall simpler times?

While working late on Friday night at the Purple Prison, another self-imposed craziness, an old Payola$ song started playing on Jack FM.  It was the end-of-shift and I was wrapping things up by myself.  Usually, I’m very focused on the job at hand, but amidst the music I found myself daydreaming.

Listen Here – You’re The Only One – by the Payola$

My mind was transported back in time to simpler days–Summertime, hanging out with friends around a picnic table in the heat of August sunshine.  Imagine those blue skies, laced with fluffy white clouds, being surrounded by trees, and feeling gravel crunch under foot.

There we were, finishing lunch (likely KFC), listening to songs on the radio, and not a care in the world.  Later, playing games in the park, drinking up the sunshine, and running with boundless energy–where did all that energy go?

In those carefree hours, how could my friends and I know ever the little taste of heaven we had?  Unbeknownst to us, we lived so simply–no bills, no dependents, no worries, and no looming concerns to preoccupy our thoughts or dreams.

Even relationships, and the whole matter of love, seemed simpler in those sun drenched days of summer.  Love was new, allusive, and mysterious.  Much later in life, experience slowly revealed love’s complexity and its full ranges of emotion.

Like the lyrics in the song say,

I’ve finally found what I meant to
Now my face is filled with laughter
Soon I’ll be gone
then I’ll be dreaming about you

Sure enough, much later in life, triggered by an old song on the radio, I find myself dreaming about [then].

A Reference Letter To My Co-worker

Jennifer,

The other day, I was saddened to hear that you, a long standing member of our C&W family, are leaving to pursue bigger and better things. Of course I am happy for you, but sad to see you go, *sniffle, sniffle*.

Jennifer McQueen, I consider it a privilege to have worked alongside you since February 2008.

Most of us in our life have approached an employer about obtaining a reference letter. I have no idea if you even needed such a thing to obtain your new position, but knowing you and your contribution around here, the reference letter would have been legendary, if not infamous.

With your pending departure on my mind, I was inspired to construct my own little “Reference Letter From a Co-worker”. I figure you’ll never need my reference to get a job (In the words of Napoleon Dynamite, “You have skills.” and those speak for themselves), so instead this letter serves as my own personal tribute to having enjoyed working alongside you.

To Whom This May Concern,

First off, I figure if you’re reading this then you’ve deemed Jennifer a worthy candidate for the position. Congratulations, you must be an astute employer with an eye for talent. Now hurry up and offer her the position.

For nearly five years, Jennifer has been an excellent coworker to me and many others here at C&W. Amazingly, the business has neither burned down, nor has anyone been arrested in handcuffs during her tenure. Colleagues from both the local and national offices frequently rave about Jennifer’s contributions, specifically how she exceeds all expectations (especially considering that she started out as a young aspiring artist from Saskatoon). One agent, so impressed and thankful for her creative deliverables, bought her Italian designer shoes (She gets Italian shoes and I get cookies—go figure).

Most of Jennifer’s work for the Agency involves creative design in print and copy mediums. Beyond that she has also demonstrates excellence with painted media, covert web development, golf merchandising, and even small-screen acting. Recently an internal office training video went viral on the internet, and Jennifer’s acting has been equated to a young Heather Locklear (Melrose Place 2(Too)? Well it happened for 90210, right?).

Her interpersonal networking skills are honed. Whether she’s rubbing elbows with bikers at the Shamrock, or hanging with the Finer Things Club, Jennifer is a piece of the puzzle that seems to fit everywhere. If there was a place you wanted to go, she’s probably been there, and if not, she always knows who to speak with about gettin’ in. And don’t get me started about her unique magnet collection (apparently that’s a Calgary thang).

Jennifer demonstrates a life-long pursuit to develop her interpersonal working skills. Long gone are the days when Jennifer was sat down to cover the basics of “How not to treat the newly hired support staff.” And only one past C&W employee was recently reported to have given Jennifer special hand signals (God Bless our dear little Romeo, wherever thou art now).

Innovation is synonymous with Jennifer. Not only was she the founder of C&W’s Employee of the Month Award, she chaired its selection committee, repeatedly was nominated for months, and eventually even received the esteemed honor herself—You go girl!

Jennifer frequently motivates the people she works with. Just thinking about her magic touch with computers (some might say more occult-like than magical), it brings tears to my eyes. In her own special way, I’ve seen how Jennifer’s keen powers of observation correct those with run-away delusions of pride, and restore the multitudes to simple humility. How does that saying go… “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?”

After working with Jennifer, words like discretion, compromise, empathy, sensitivity—they just simply aren’t the first things that pop to mind. But knowing Jennifer is to experience genuine outspoken honesty. Many a time, Jennifer shows kindness in providing her less-than-subtle reminders of the way things were, are, and should be. She usually knows what is best, and if not, you just let her think that she does (Just ask her interoffice sweetheart, Jordan. Not to be confused with that nutty wife she’s married to on facebook).

Whatever the case, clearly by now, you the employer, should realize you have a keeper. Jennifer is the real thing and SHE IS the one for your company. And if not, well, it might just be better for everyone involved if you let her think she is. Deep, deep down, my coworkers and I will dearly miss Jennifer, indeed! (No, it wasn’t a typo, I really meant dearly, and not barely).

Sincerely,

Lane Smith
IT Network Technician

So, since you already have your position at BMO, and you likely won’t need this letter any time soon (or likely ever), I hope it serves as a keepsake of your time with us at C&W. It occurs to me that some things are worth blogging to the world, other things are better announced on facebook, but a few select things, more personal in nature, should be treasured between good friends who started out as co-workers (with a bunch of Bccs to people you worked with who might also find it amusing). Can you guess which I chose today?

Looking forward to working with you for a couple more days!

With Kindest Regards,

Lane

And Jennifer’s response…

You posted this on facebook??? LOL. Thanks Lane I’m going to print this out and put it up at my new office/ cubicle whichever it is I get. Of course I’ll wait till I’ve cleared the 6 month probation period just in case someone reads it. I wouldn’t want to pull a Lane and have to ask for my job back. You are too funny. I thought you’d mention the dress like your office IT tech day last Halloween. I will truly miss you Lane, and for the rest of my life when I see socks & sandals I’ll think of you.

Jennifer

Free Hugs?

Have you heard of the free hugs campaign?  I had forgotten about it.  A couple years ago it first came to my attention as a popular video through facebook.  It appealed to me right away, and today I was trying to figure out why.  So, was it the idea of free hugs, or the story line surrounding the campaign, or the soundtrack provided by the band Sick Puppies?  Was it a combination of all three?  I’m not sure.  See it for yourself here…

The concept of Free Hugs is unusual, especially to me.  I’ve never been a natural hugger.  Everyone knows, has met, or dreads meeting those natural huggers.  They’re just so expressive, sometimes excessively, with their hugs.  A friend and coworker of mine, Su, is a hugger… not necessarily a comfortable thing while working amidst burly men.  Over time, I came to really appreciate Su’s friendship and his friendly hugs.  Conversely, I’ve also worked with people who are extremely uncomfortable with affection–I never figured out if it was their fear of  affection or pure disdain for physical touch.

Then there’s that element of coed hugging.  I’m okay hugging my Mom, my Aunts, my daughter, extended family members and little old ladies, but there’s always an element of discomfort when I hug women.  Why?  I’m not sure, but it might have something to do with squishing body parts, theirs, not mine.

When confronted with hugging, frequently I have memory flashbacks to my swimming instructor coarse where it was emphasized that you never initiate a hug with a child.  It was okay if the child initiated affection, but an instructor was never to encourage it–for obvious reasons.  For me, it just carried over towards adults too.  You’ll rarely find me initiating a hug outside of family members.  Fear, not my disinterest nor dislike, holds me back.

Was I a handsomer man, would I be more comfortable initiating hugs?  Perhaps.  Personal observations lead me to believe that hugs (and other activities in general) from society’s beautiful people are more often deemed acceptable.  Or maybe beautiful people just receive a greater measure of grace when they cross uncertain lines, like hugging.   And for me, I’m naturally skeptical about motives and intentions when a pretty woman offers me unexpected affection.  I don’t believe my body language emits signals encouraging people to hug me.

And maybe in society’s pursuit of safety for all, in an effort to protect everyone possible, hugs have become a social taboo.  Physical affection is often the victim of suspicion.  For that reason, I respect those affectionate rebels that push past the unwritten rules that forbid hugging.  With modest envy, I admire those people for just being themselves and ignoring perceived propperness.

So what motivates those people to hold up signs advertising Free Hugs?  In my office, I have the privilege of working with a young lady, Nicole, who worked in Sydney in or about the time of all this “free hugging.”   I was curious to gain her perspective.  She knew about the free hugs thing, had seen the people holding up the signs, but didn’t know it as a formal campaign.  Her impression was that the Asian tourists loved that kind of thing, almost like a novelty, and the people giving the hugs looked like they were homeless street people  (does the fellow in the video look homeless to you?  To me his burgundy jacket seemed more artsy than homeless.  Then again, most artist are financially poor, right?).  Nicole didn’t understand why people would offer free hugs.  Needless to say, neither Nicole, nor I offered each other any free hugs.  Maybe it would be deemed “office inappropriate.”

Free Hugs.  Is it a public statement about society’s discomfort with public affection?  Or are these huggers actually reaching out to a world of infrequently touched people who have too often been famished from a good squeeze?  Would I feel comfortable offer my affection to a complete stranger?  Would it be easier than offering it to someone I know?  It would seem not, but having done just that, would I be changed in my efforts to demonstrate kindness, or even love, to someone in a way I seldom would?  It might, it might even be life changing.

The video’s storyline is definitely about the campaign being the underdog, having triumphed in the end.  What’s not to like about that?

And the Sick Puppies song that servers as a sound track? Well, I’m a sucker for strumming guitars and a certain passion expressed in music.  The lyrics are interesting at best, but the idea conveyed about acceptance, I think everyone would appreciate a bit more acceptance.

When I first saw this video, youtube indicated the video had been viewed about 500,000 times (if memory serves me correct).  Today, it has been watched nearly 65 million times.  In some way, different or similar to my own perceptions, the Free Hugs Campaign video has peaked viewer interest over the years, and in the least, it resonates with people at some level.