WHY WE GATHER
Some 14-15 years ago, I became re-immersed in something I had heard about briefly as a kid; The Bataan Death March. Just the title fascinated me, and as you might guess, it became the subject for some Music years later. My first interactions with this History were casual, but later, my home office would become a virtual museum containing over 40 hours of rare video, photos and copious mementi from many of the Vets who had become more than friends.
For an epic work entitled, Kakehashi: THAT WE MIGHT LIVE, I found myself talking with a Death March Survivor. Soon it was ten. I was amazed to find anyone still alive from such a dark, torment-filled time. But later, I would come to either meet or be in contact with 333 Survivors, all of whom received the DVD version of Kakehashi: THAT WE MIGHT LIVE as a gift. (It's over 350 now...)
For the past 7 years, I would attend a monthly breakfast of our local Survivors. As you can imagine we became very close. I was honored to be their adopted grandson.
Now, there is much much much to this, perhaps later disclosed in other articles, and of course within the Music and the World-Historic recording of the Music, but let me start this discussion by describing what these incredible Souls endured.
They suffered the unimaginable and were reduced to the most base form of “animal.” Horribly, there was enough Humanity left within to recognize this most lowered form of self. Some hated themselves and claimed that it was the “good” who died. After 3 years, 8 months and 25 days of imprisonment, where 31,095 Souls were sacrificed to brutal conditions and inhumane hardship, the day of surrender did not mark an end to their agonizing imprisonment, ordeals on the “Hell Ships” and then continued slave labor in Japan. For them, the war would last much longer. In fact, it has taken almost 40 years before these valiant ex-POW’s began to speak of the events we now sum in the phrase, “Bataan Death March.” Of course, some… took the War to their graves.
Because it's easy to forget. I have made it a point to rub elbows with the Greatest Souls I have ever known... and you should to, and on a regular basis. Time is short.
Rubbing elbows with Men and Women like these over the past important years, provides for volumes to share. What keeps a Man alive under conditions like that? What are the things they believe in? In addition to the physical characteristics, which I find fascinating and worthy of study, there is an obvious role to the psychological aspects as well.
Later I will share some of the many many things I have learned from these incredible Men and their Wives. Health secrets, perspectives, stories that will inspire and more.
Godspeed! S (You can order the Award-Winning THAT WE MIGHT LIVE here.)
© Stephen Melillo 2012
The Only Thing to Fear…
As it reads in a recent STORMWORKS Score: “STORMWORKS is a Life-lesson in “positive obsession,” the rigorous regard for History and its Heroes, the pursuit of transcendent Love despite the storms of the world and an unwavering belief in the Brotherhood of Man.”
I once created a life-long class of students by posting 4X5 fliers… on the bottom of garbage cans in the remote recesses of Boston city streets. Whoever found those “most-unlikely-to-be-noticed” ads and responded would certainly become a student who could embrace the arduous rigor of the Chinese Martial Art.
With that in mind, and posted in the far-flung fields of the internet:
The Only Thing to Fear…
The photo to the left was taken on that same "field" in the same Time-frame.
At 16, one year in the Timeline before “Only for Now,” a single event changed my Life. Since it was so long ago and I don’t think anyone will take offense coming from a Man in his 58th year, I can tell you that I was disproportionately strong. In fact, because of “obsessive” training that had me, a high school kid competing with their upperclassmen cadets, the Military Academies made every effort to entice. However, this was during the final year of the Viet Nam War. I missed the draft by mere months. For those of you who’ve read “Only for Now,” you know that I eventually worked with Green Beret, and then because of research and interest, discovered many other disproportionately strong people.
When they were young they were “Supermen.” The feeling of Indestructibility is a normal thing for boys and some girls at this age. That’s why the Army drafted 18-year-olds. I have known and still know 16 year-olds who fought Nazis, Imperial Japanese, North Koreans and North Vietnamese. In fact, there was a 14-year-old on the Bataan Death March! Though connected , more on those special Men and Women in another story.
In this condition of being able to hoist up grand pianos on my legs, and move with improvised speed as you might see in a rehearsed and choreographed kung fu movie, I walked without Fear into many situations. Such was my heightened confidence and Training combined with the indestructible nature of being a teen.
It was a foggy night. Occasionally, the diffused moon would become bright-white visible, then retreat once again behind the veil of misty fog.
Walking across a large field near my home, I saw someone in the distance. In reflexive seconds war games were mentally played out. I calculated the variables in a potential encounter. The stranger moved in cat-like fashion and projected great confidence. When he didn’t change his direction and continued straight toward me, I began a counter-intuitive and psychological assault. Instead of pausing and taking stock, I accelerated towards him with greater alacrity, projecting greater confidence.
A chill ran through me when the shadowy figure seemed to mirror my projection of strength. He moved faster toward me. The hairs on my arm tingled. I could feel the temperature change and felt the moist condensation on my skin. I was preparing for battle.
Within the enigmatic man, I sensed a formidable power. I prepared for combat, summoning breath energy, and walked with still greater forward impetus. Into the dense atmosphere, I thrust forth even greater confidence and readiness, indeed telegraphing a transparent willingness to destroy him.
My heart raced when the man approaching me seemed to do the same! I could feel the pressure of the air compressing between us! Not only did he accelerate his pace, and swing his arms as if pumping his blood and adrenaline faster through his veins, but he actually appeared to become physically bigger!
This cat & cat game happening in mere seconds and feeling like centuries went on until finally, I realized, “This is no man!”
It was bigger than a man. It had inhuman ferocity like some unleashed wild animal. Yet, its movement was controlled like a seasoned predator. “What the hell is this thing?” I thought! "I've never faced anything like this before."
The closer we got to each other, the bigger the thing became.
Finally it grew so big… I thought for sure I was in contact with some other-world presence. An eternal second later, it hit me. It was my own shadow, back-lit by the moon and projected into the screen of the fog.
I had walked across that field some 900 times before I left Greenwich High School, yet I had never seen those conditions of perfect back-lighting, fog, temperature and feel until this one Moment in Time. I thanked God. The Universe had conspired to teach me an invaluable lesson, and one that I want to share with you.
It is said, “The only thing to fear is fear itself.” Rather… the only thing to fear… is yourself.
I was blessed to learn that liberating lesson so early on. And indeed that would be a great way to close, but there is more.
The Theory Put into Practice:
When I was 4 years old, two baby-sitters came to our 1st-floor apartment in the 6 story building. In ill-conceived joking, the two girls went to the window and dialogued, “Who is that?”
“I think someone is scaling the wall!”
“He has a flashlight!”
“Oh my God… call the police!” Etc., etc. You get the idea.
They helped me to develop an irrational “fear” of going to sleep in my room with the too easily scaled first floor window. As the years passed, I had devised secret defensive mechanisms like a model rocket poised to traverse a string back to the window, triggered by two metal contacts made when the window was opened. As a 5th-grader I had scaled that wall myself AND opened the window. With the fear tested in a scientific fashion, I had developed a long-lasting insomnia that took me to age 16, an irrational fear putting dents into that otherwise indestructible armor.
On that same night, the night that I now call “Shadow-Night,” I had a dream… a controlled nightmare as it were… where someone approached the bottom-floor bedroom window in my Greenwich home. I say “controlled” because I knew I was dreaming and I was able to control events in the dream. When the scary figure banged on my window, a knife in one hand, I froze within the dream, as I always did… up until that particular moment. Remembering the events and lesson of the field, I forced myself to move and confront the shadowy assailant. You know how it is when you try to move within a dream but can’t? Well, I MADE myself move. I got up from the bed and faced the window.
By now, I was fully awake and actually living in real life what I was dreaming. I ran outside to “face my fear.” Of course no one was there. But from that moment on, the fear was gone.
Now as a Dad, I often tell my kids, “If you are afraid of something… face it. The only thing to fear… is yourself.”
Train. Make yourself powerful, flexible and confident. Face your irrational fears. (Rational fears are good!) The only thing to fear… is yourself.
STEVE SUPER SMOOTHIE SPECTACULAR with Update!
Sensual and Sure to Secure Success!
1 scoop of 22G Whey
1 scoop (smaller kind) of Flax, Oatmeal
1/2 Handful of Sunflower Seeds (optional)
1/2 Handful of Almonds
3 Slices of Green Apple
1 Full chopped up Carrot, (But baby organic carrots and freeze them!)
3 Handfuls of Frozen Blueberries, Raspberries, & Marionberries
3 Scoops of Non-Fat Yogurt
10 Leaves of Spinach (thus rendering the “Popeye Effect!” Freeze them!)
1 Lime (all the juice)
2 Capfuls of Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Tablespoon of Honey
Skim Milk, and maybe some Apple Juice, and/or Orange Juice
WHIPPED not stirred! BAM! Enjoy & Godspeed! S
© Stephen Melillo 2012 - 2014
In December of 2011, while doing some Christmas shopping, I saw a man wearing a WWII Veterans cap. Over the years, I seem to have acquired a homing-beacon to such Men and Women. I feel an instant duty to put aside all else and make every effort to “accidentally” bump into them.
Our Veteran was a soon-to-be 92-year-old Pearl Harbor Survivor. As always, I had to meet him and shake his hand. Talk to him. Let him know that a now 70-year-old sacrifice was still immeasurably appreciated, and perpetually alive within me. It is after all, why we gather.
We laughed together. Ah! The subject of another article: Laughter! I am a big believer in this! We looked into each others eyes. Joked. There were pats on the back as we went our separate ways. As much as I would like to share the dialogue of this fleeting, special passing of ships in a store, (He served on the USS Honolulu) I want to instead share with you a valuable Health technique I call… The Wishing Well!
It is a simple technique… but not one that comes easily. Like all physical arts it requires discipline. At its core is absolutely pure, completely innocent, unwaveringly honest Sincerity. Easier said and written than done. Yes, “Wishing Well” will have to be practiced and practiced yet again until it becomes fluid and natural. But stay with it!
Roberto Clemente said, “If you have the chance to help someone and you don’t, you are wasting your time on this earth.” But helping happens in many ways… and as we help others so do we help ourselves. Even when our every effort is to be selfless!
As I shook this stranger’s hand, I flooded myself with a simple thought… perhaps it was a form of Prayer, but remember, this works for anyone whose Heart is filled with Giving. That is, the technique is non-denominational. ;–)!
I thought this: “Please let some of my Life pass through my hand and into his. He needs it now, more than I do. I wish him Love and happiness. I wish him well.”
There it is my friends! A simple thought, a profound idea, a physical energy of good-will that flows through you and into someone else.
Even when it is self-blocked it always flows back to you, making you stronger and ready to wish well yet again. Is there a Health benefit? Yes. I do not have the science to support this, but this is something I know to be True and therefore gladly share with you.
How do I know?
In addition to feeling a quantifiable change in muscle tension, I also feel my heart rate relax, and a warm “chill” pass through every part of me. Since I experience the physical benefits after the fact of the doing, I know it works.
Best Time to Practice the Wishing Well Technique
Whenever you see anyone who touches your compassion... some stranger passing on a distant street, perhaps pushing themselves along in a wheelchair, give them your best wishes. Wish them well. Do it silently. No fanfare. Be sincere.
There are SO many possibilities. It is almost axiomatic to state that events such as meeting someone who needs uplifting will most likely occur when you yourself are down, tired, not-chipper, not happy-go-lucky. You may even be downright depressed. Maybe you’re the one who needs that friendly smile and that giving handshake. Perfect! As you extend yourself for someone else, you will feel something good reemerge within you.
It is said that in Giving we receive. It is True. Practice this technique until you too, feel it! Then both of us will know that it is True!
Until then… and through the most unlikely media of the internet, I wish YOU well!
PS: Here is my “Laughter” article. Why wait?
Just as Music can uplift the Human soul, so can laughter add years to a Life. I believe this. The science? I’m sure it’s there, but why get sidetracked? If you too believe in the power of Laughter… I urge you to make every effort to pass some Laughter to those who are towards the end of their Life. Wish them Well in the form of a shared laugh. As our Veteran left the store, he still had a smile on his face. I hope he lives for as long as he wants and needs!
© Stephen Melillo IGNA 2012
My name is Steve and I am a Composer. Because of my early work with kids from NYC, and later experiments in eliminating the middleman via at-the-cusp-of-the-internet technologies, I have lived my own American Dream story. I began at age 33. I am now 54.
Writing Music for thousands of world-wide conductors and audiences in all sorts of venues is not without its physical tolls. That is why Health and Fitness, in all its many forms, has always been much more than a hobby to me. It is a Mission. It is what keeps me physically able to dig down again and again, spend 21/7 days year after year and remain a fit Father for my two young kids.
My interest in physical, mental and spiritual Health, in Sport, Nutrition, Human Anatomy & Kinesiology, and specifically in the Martial Art began when I was born to 11 (eleven!) Grandparents. They lived into their late 80s and 90s… with a Great Aunt reaching her Centanni! (100 years!)
I also studied Nutrition and Kinesiology as part of my Masters Degree. From the rigors of Martial Art training to basic calisthenics and day-to-day maintenance and diet, I make an effort to remain strong enough to do what I want and need to do. I am not an expert. But perhaps you can relate to someone who does these things in order to pursue something else. I think that describes most of us. Our job is not “fitness,” but it sure is good to be as fit as possible.
I’ve set up this page as a compressed source and turnkey page for products and links that you may find useful in researching and then supporting your own goals. There are links (or soon will be) to products I have tried, or researched enough to believe they will help you. Now… please keep in mind that this site is brand new and there are still many links and items I need to set up, but they’ll be coming soon!
“Why We Gather,” takes its name from the Veterans I have been blessed to know. In future posts, I’ll share with you many of the things I learned from these great Souls.
As Time allows, I will continue to update this page with useful links. In the pursuit of your goals and your personal Mission… I wish you the best always and Godspeed! Steve
© Stephen Melillo 2012
If you’ve ever seen the movie, RUDY… (with an excellent score by Jerry Goldsmith!) … you will see something of the “Psychology of Success” in action. As Henry Hartman said: “Success always comes when preparation meets opportunity.”
Is that True? Always? Let’s find out.
What does it mean to be “prepared?”
By now, I’m sure that most of you have heard about the 10,000-hour rule. What do Mozart, Bill Gates, and the best of professional athletes have in common? Time. By putting in a minimum, but required 10,000 hours of work, they have willfully forged the synapses of their brains to acquire the physical networking necessary to not only “succeed” at what they do, but literally pass the wiring on to their offspring. But it’s much deeper than that.
As heroes of our own story, we very much want to either consciously or subconsciously follow the archetypical, often Hollywood, often Joseph Campbell-like script of the “rite of passage.” It goes like this: “Incredibly impoverished youngster, growing up in duress, works relentlessly, and beats all of the outrageous slings and arrows cast by misfortune. The hero triumphs over the forces of the external, and by finding within the once submerged skills and merits of the dragon-slayer, produces a final and lasting success!”
If only it were that easy. Our “heroism” though is not just the product of our immediate family and experience… but rather, the entire culture from which we have come. It is not our parents, but our great-great-great grandparents and all of their hardships and triumphs that helped shape our psyches and ultimately the center from which we would respond to the world that stimulates us at present. We begin by already owing so much. We owe to the History of the world and all that was sacrificed up to this very moment. And we owe to our own personal, family history. So… some of our preparation began even before we were born.
We begin to work and hopefully love the work by learning from the actions of our parents. If we work, especially through some adversity, something good will come of it. That’s something you learn, and the work prepares you. For what?
The Beatles were “prepared” to become The Beatles as history records them because they took a grueling job in Hamburg, Germany, playing 7 nights a week. They didn’t shrug off the opportunity as “stars,” but instead embraced the chance to A: Log in a big portion of those 10,000 hours, and B: Work, work, work, (eight-days a week!). When they had their first breakthrough moment they had already performed 1200 times on stage. Twelve-hundred times.
I remember my first gung-fu Teacher speaking about 12-years of training before “beginning to get it,” and one could hardly imagine a truly accomplished and pioneering Musician without at least 10,000 hours, or maybe 10-years of dedicated work in back of them. And I certainly wouldn’t want a heart-surgeon operating on someone in my family who did not spend many years in preparation.
So, let’s say that you log in your many hours. You diligently do the work. You are prepared. Then what? Does opportunity… “knock?”
What does it mean to be “meet opportunity?”
Let me try to put 2 different ideas into a 2-part invention for you. A kind of fugue where one line plays off the other. In my college Educational Psychology course, I was often an outspoken counter-voice for the “black-box” theory. It basically states that we are born into the world as empty slates, waiting for environment to fill us with all that we are to become. That philosophy of psychology was often connected to Behaviorism and methods of dealing with… what in my case would be… Music students, in a way that seemed to disregard the undeniable “soul” that I sensed within myself and saw in others. The soul I am speaking of is the one brought on by generation after generation of pre-wiring culture, joined with our God-given uniqueness, and then further forged throughout our Lifetimes via our work-ethic, our chosen 10,000 hours (then much more), and our opportunities.
The 2nd line of this fugue is interesting. Over some of it we have control… but over all of it, we are ultimately creatures of luck. Now how the heck can I say that and where is this going? Is our Life ultimately a throw of the dice?
We can stack the deck of probable outcomes by putting ourselves in the right place while hoping for the right time and outcome. Example: A 12-year-old boy once hit a hole-in-one on hole #2 during his first game of golf on caddy’s day! His fellow caddy said, “Man.. you are the luckiest SOB I have ever known!” The first caddy turned and said, “What do you mean luck? That’s where I was aiming.”
If you want to be a contender for the Heavy-weight championship of the world, it would help immensely to be putting in your 10,000 hours in the right gym, being seen by the right people who can guide you on the journey throughout the years. It’s the same in every field… from Symphony Conductors to boxers to doctors. Back in high school, Dorothy Hamill was a skater who probably logged in much more than 10,000 hours by the time she was 15! She maximized her skill set by training in places where she could be properly observed and groomed for the Olympics. Preparation met opportunity and indeed Dorothy went on to earn the Gold Medal.
It seems to fit the success-story paradigm perfectly; the young girl grows up to womanhood, working hard and with great focus. But if you keep reading, I will posit the easily debatable notion that gold medal or not, her name recognized or not, Dorothy Hamill was and is a success.
I was at a graduation party recently where the father of a very smart, very gifted and polite young graduate introduced his daughter to the Supervisor at a top Medical Center. “This is Lei, my daughter and she has just been accepted into such-and-such college as Pre-med.” Within minutes the Supervisor was inviting Lei to visit her and was already recommending good medical schools at which the Supervisor had contacts. She even began preparing Lei for her INTERVIEW at the Medical Center some 8 years from now!
Lei is very bright, very hard-working. She’s got much of those 10,000 hours in and will soon become even more focused and dedicated… but can you appreciate the opportunity afforded to her by a graduation party and a savvy father?
If success is something defined as meeting luck, then perhaps we should change the definition. Luck is too… well, “chancy!” You may leave the world unknown to the masses, and the best network-wiring you’ve ever done may not be in Facebook or Twitter… but within your own brain and then the possible lives of your offspring. You may have taken your 10,000 starter hours and helped to craft a person who is the product not only of his/her own hard work, but also that of the many generations that sacrificed and preceded you. In my case the goat-herders and the apple farmers of Calabria and Abruzzo in Italia. (And yes, I will have really incredible stories or you as this site develops…)
When it comes to this “luck” we are speaking of, we really don’t have as much control of it as we would like to have, that is, luck coming to us. But… but… if you are an Educator, or you are in a position to understand the many variables of the students who come into your care, then you can take charge and create some of that “luck” for them. First teach them the inherent virtue of hard and dedicated and focused work. Start them in their noble 10,000-hour quest. Then, whenever you can, and using everything at your disposal, give them every opportunity you can… be it a job in Hamburg, Germany, or access to a laptop, or your garage-turned-gym, or the 2nd hole on a golf course.
We cannot control the ebbs and flow of Time, when and where we are born, but we can help those who follow us… as best we can. Look forward, my friend. Not every great success is known. The tiny stone you drop into a still lake may one day produce a great wave. Take heart and do not let luck define your success. Instead, and as Roberto Clemente said, “If you have the chance to do something good for someone, and you don’t, you are wasting your time in this world.”
Let us then do unto those who follow us as we would have wished someone might have done for us… had they only known. Be the best that you can be given the variables that have culminated in you alone. Work hard. Then, with faith and good will, pass your success like the sword Excalibur. Who knows, maybe some of your students, maybe your own kids will one day meet the opportunity that just missed you.
© Stephen Melillo 2012
We are tuned to believe that “failure” is something to be avoided, when quite the contrary, failure is a target point. Warning… we are about to redefine “failure” in ways that exceed the normal usage of the word.
Let’s look at it the way scientists do.
“If you want to succeed, double your failure rate.” Thomas J. Watson
Every day, I take my kids down to the P.O.E.T. (the Place of Eternal Training) It is a little pier by the waters of the James River. There we can stretch and work-out, practice forms. We talk. Watch sunrises. Sweat.
At POET we try to find the point of “failure” for that given day, at that particular time. How long can we stand on one foot, with the other leg fully extended? How many push-ups can we do with X amount of sleep and X kinds of foods eaten, and so on and so forth.
What is Failure? Imagine a model rocket. How high can it go? At what point does it fail? At what height in feet? What inch? Can we get it to go higher by learning from the “failure point?” Can we get it even higher by trimming some weight? Improving the engine thrust? Perhaps a re-design of the rocket’s “form.”
Failure defines us. If we find something truly worthy of a Lifetime of effort and dedication, then success becomes a line drawn in the sand. Something we’ve settled for. What lies beyond that success? At what point has a person reached their greatest potential? Weight-lifters do this all the time. They push themselves via repetition and load to the point of “failure.” Failure assures us that we have truly given our best.
Of course the idea caries from the body to the mind to the spirit. When have I written my “best” Music? Where is my end? Rest assured that the Physical Arts are not so tumultuous and inconsistent a thing as the Arts!
From sometime long ago:
“There is definitely more risk in ART… and especially in Noble Art, left virtuous and un-compromised by Accountants or Agents. I’ve always thought that the easiest job could be found in the life of a Boxer. Winning and Losing are tangible, pragmatic events, and in a 3-minute round there is plenty of feedback about training and diet. Compare that to the life of an Artist… who succeeds, but might never know it, who falls consistently short and yet is lifted up. — Stephen Melillo, Boy, writer of Music, lover of food.”
And so I leave you with this thought. Failure as defined by Webster is of course… not an option. But failure as we define it here becomes a goal. Consider the Olympic swimmer consummately dedicated to shaving 100ths of a second… a quest in finding not only the limits of him/herself, but the very limits of Humanity itself. Now that’s cool.
What is your limit? Your asymptotic line? Have you settled for success? Or can you carry on, refusing to fail while searching for your failure point?
Godspeed in that Mission! S
© Stephen Melillo 2012