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Gifts and Benchmarks
From the book Be Nice (Or Else!)

    Since family relationships last a lifetime, that certainly gives people years and years of opportunity to see and experience both the best and worst of each other. Anyone can be charming for a season, but a lifetime is tough.

    To stay charming over the long haul, I believe it helps to look for gifts and benchmarks in life. A gift is an experience�either personal or not�that causes you to reflect on what�s important. Not that you must go through life looking for horrible, dramatic tales to bring perspective into your life, but it�s important to recognize those experiences for their significance when they do present themselves naturally. Again, these experiences are gifts, and they can become benchmarks in your life when they represent turning points of growth and change.

    Following a bad experience, such as a home burning down in a neighborhood or the funeral of a loved one, people often say, �It�s so sad that something like this had to happen for us all to come together.� But the thing is, the experience did bring people together.

    How many times have you watched the news on television and heard the devastating stories of parents losing a child? Hearing those stories brings tears to your eyes, helps you to appreciate your own family, and may cause you to tiptoe into the bedroom of your own sleeping children to give them a kiss and to stand there and stare with a new sense of love and appreciation. Though someone suffered by losing a loved one, you can consider these moments as gifts of life. They�re gifts to you because they remind you to stop, take inventory of what�s important, and renew your love and appreciation for your own family.

    Remember, these experiences are gifts, and if you choose to give them value and awareness, they can be benchmarks for change in your life. I think of benchmarks in terms of before and after� �Before this happened, I didn�t appreciate my weekends with my children, but now I do.�

    I was recently given one of life�s gifts that I�d like to proclaim as a major benchmark in my life. My very dear friends from Houston, Sandy and Rosie, were blessed with a beautiful baby boy named Steel, born nine weeks premature. Although Steel was able to grow, develop, and even come home from the hospital for two months, he eventually took a turn for the worse and passed away, only three and a half months old.

    The gift that Sandy, Rosie, and Steel gave to me was in allowing me to be a part of all of it�the excitement of Rosie�s pregnancy, the struggle to make Steel grow strong, and the celebration of his young life after he died. Yes, sharing the experience of his death and funeral was a gift. Why? Because I grew more through all of that than I could have by attending a thousand seminars. The entire experience, sad as it was, proved to be a major benchmark in my life and has instantly put everything into perspective for me. Without sounding too dramatic, I can categorize my life as �Before Steel� and �After Steel.�

    Sandy and Rosie asked me to speak at little Steel�s funeral, and this is what I said:

    ~For Sandy, Rosie, and Steel,
    I am not at all a churchgoing religious man. I am, however, a very spiritual man. I define my spirituality in terms of my peace of mind, my love of myself and my friends, and my sincere desire to be nice, do the right thing, and give back to those who are less fortunate than I. I do not attend a church or a synagogue in order to learn, practice, and exercise the beliefs that sustain my spirituality. Instead, I practice every single day by investing time and love into relationships.

    My altar is a quaint little table in a fabulous restaurant with amazing food, sharing a bottle of wine with people I love. I�ve shared that spiritual experience with Sandy and Rosie many times. My altar is in sharing and keeping embarrassing secrets with each other. We�ve shared those secrets with each other. My altar is in scheming to do a fun business project with someone that I meet and instantly like. Sandy, Rosie, and I have been scheming since we first met.

    I believe that spirituality is a very personal thing, that there are thousands of genuine spiritual paths, and that each of us has the responsibility and the adventure of discovering the path that works for us. My spiritual beliefs tell me that communication doesn�t end at death. Steel is still broadcasting. It�s just that he is now on Channel 4, and you�re still watching Channel 5. My challenge to you, Rosie and Sandy, is to hold on tight to each other, be listening and watching, because Steel is communicating with you.

    ~To Sandy,
    Perhaps you feel cheated as a father�that you didn�t get the chance to love, support, and protect your little boy for a lifetime. But I�m here to tell you that you�ve played that role for many people. When I watch you interact with the hundreds of students at my school, or participate with them backstage at one of the students� fashion shows�yes, your stature gives people protection and safety, but your heart and love give young students hope and confidence.

    ~To Rosie,
    To see you last July as you showed that little belly of yours, while gleaming from ear to ear with the declaration of pending motherhood, I instantly forgave you for the red wine stain that is still visible on my white living room couch. That red wine stain happened because you were passionately telling a story while your hands were flying with expression. Please know that that passion is why many people choose you as their friend and mentor. It�s probably why Sandy chose you to be his wife, and it�s why Steel chose you to be his mother.

    I�ve thought a lot about what this all means, and here�s what I came up with. I have this very vivid and strong visual of Sandy, Rosie, and Steel meeting together many thousands of years ago in another place, discussing the relationship they�d have together on this earth, in this lifetime. And if you consider this life as a time to learn and grow, then my visual of Steel is him telling Sandy and Rosie, �You both need to be on earth for about eighty-plus years to learn everything you need to learn. I only need to be there for a couple of months.�

    You see, all I can come up with is that Steel was so perfect that he really didn�t need to be here on this earth for very long. He came here, he taught his parents about a love they�d never experienced before, and then he moved on. It�s not a tragedy, it�s a gift.

    I didn�t get to meet little Steel, but I know and love his parents. Sandy and Rosie, when you�re in pain, I�m in pain. When you cry, I cry. When you want to think and reminisce about Steel, I�ll be your captive audience. And when you�re ready to laugh again, please know that I want to be there, too.

    All my love, Winn � Winn Claybaugh

    Winn Claybaugh, author of Be Nice (Or Else!) with foreword by CNN�s Larry King, has worked in the beauty industry since 1983. He is the National Motivational Expert for John Paul Mitchell Systems and the founder of Paul Mitchell The School, with several locations throughout the U.S. Winn has helped thousands of businesses build their brands and create successful working cultures; his clients include Vidal Sassoon, the Irvine Company, Entertainment Tonight, Mattel, For Rent magazine, Structure/Limited Express, and others. In 2004, the North American Hairdressing Awards (NAHA) recognized Winn�s outstanding contributions to the hair and beauty industry by naming him to their Hall of Leaders. In its November 1997 �Super Heroes� section, American Salon magazine called Winn a �mover of mountains� and �Mr. Fix-it.� Winn has also served as vice president of the AIDS Relief Fund for Beauty Professionals, and he continues to pursue many fundraising projects. Visit Winn at BeNiceOrElse.com and sign up for the free monthly Be Nice (Or Else!) Newsletter.