Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Burning House

Earlier this week it was reported that Sir Richard Branson’s luxury hideaway on his private retreat of Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands burned to the ground after being struck by lightning during a thunderstorm. What was amazing to me was the attitude of the billionaire entrepreneur toward his massive loss, especially given that his personal office containing priceless photographs was destroyed in the fire.

According to reports Branson’s reaction to the fire was one of gratitude that his family and friends, totaling 20 people in all, escaped injury: “At the end of the day, what you realize is that all that matters is the people that you love. Everything else is just stuff. And none of that stuff matters.” I couldn’t agree more. However, assuming one’s loved ones are safe, it helps to think about what one would try to rescue in the event of a catastrophe.

There is even a website called The Burning House that presents readers with the thought-provoking statement: “If your house was burning, what would you take with you? It’s a conflict between what’s practical, valuable and sentimental. What you would take reflects your interests, background and priorities. Think of it as an interview condensed into one question.”

It is a question that my wife and I have considered during our process of whittling our possessions down to the essential. Rather than speak for her I’ll simply list a dozen things here that I’d try to take with me in case of such an emergency, which is not a hypothetical proposition given this week’s Virginia earthquake and hurricane Irene heading toward us as I write.

In no particular order, my stuff to save would likely include my NKJV Bible, Moleskine notebook, Rolf wallet, Nokia phone, Leica camera, Powerbook laptop, iPod Touch, passport, memento box, wedding video, grandmother's picture, and copy of Thoreau's Walden. Also, I wear my wedding band at all times so I didn’t include that in the overall count of items.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Simple Lifestyle

Henry David Thoreau’s timeless tome Walden speaks to us today at least as much it did to the readers of Thoreau’s time. While some of its language could understandably use an update the book’s principles are as timely as ever. In fact, author Robert Sullivan writes in The Thoreau You Don’t Know that Thoreau’s message was written during a time very similar to our own.

“It’s important to think about the economic climate. As the country reeled from market forces, as the gap between rich and poor widened, as people strained to make a living and saw their social and family life begin to change as a result, Thoreau was about to give a very practical answer to the question that Emerson asked, the question that was not just on the mind of philosophers past and present but on the mind of the country: ‘How shall I live?’”

For readers past and present Thoreau answered the question himself in Walden. “My purpose in going to Walden Pond was not to live cheaply nor to live dearly there, but to transact some private business with the fewest obstacles…I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

Elsewhere Thoreau wrote of “sucking the marrow out of life” rather than having the life sucked out of him…or living a life that sucks! But he was quick to state he wasn’t necessarily suggesting that others copy his lifestyle by retreating to the woods as he had. Rather it was an overall philosophy of simple living that he espoused and encouraged others to emulate.

As Sullivan reminds us: “Walden takes the long way around on purpose, making it in itself representative of Thoreau’s life. With the book, he was not suggesting everyone live as he did at the pond, or as he ever did at Concord: ‘I would not have any one adopt MY mode of living on any account.’” As with so much of life, simplicity is as much caught as taught. And what Thoreau was trying to communicate was the need for all of us to consider simplifying our lives, whatever that looks like for each of us.

Monday, August 08, 2011

The Day the Music Died

I am mourning. No, not the death of a loved one, thankfully. The demise of a radio station. One week ago today, my all-time favorite station, WLOQ 103.1, quit broadcasting its smooth jazz tunes over the FM airwaves after more than three decades in business. It is no exaggeration to say that it was one of my very favorite things about living here in Central Florida and I already miss it.

It was the last independently owned and operated commercial radio station in the Orlando market and won numerous accolades, including jazz station of the year by the National Association of Broadcasters. Fortunately for us long-time listeners the station isn’t disappearing completely, as it continues streaming live online at

Even as I listen to it while typing this at my favorite Starbucks I am reminded of when I was introduced to WLOQ in the autumn of 1985 upon first moving here. I’ve moved in and out of the area a couple of times through the years and each time one of the first things I did upon my return was program 103.1 into my radio station rotation.

I also have fond memories of attending various concerts sponsored by the station, including one by Kirk Whalum, pictured in the adjacent photo. Looking forward, I guess one benefit of the station’s migration to the internet is that I can listen to it whenever I am online so for that I am thankful. Thanks for the memories, WLOQ!