I feel like I’m inside a cloud. It’s dark, gray, chilly, and I can see very little definition in the clouds in the sky. Drizzle taps lightly on the roof in a slow, repetitive pattern, and the lake is calm other than an occasional ripple from the loons, who are packing their bags in preparation for their southern journey.
Hot lemon and sage tea fills my old metal camping cup as I snuggle with the dogs and an old green-and-red-striped Pendleton blanket. I hope sunshine and warmth return for just a few more weeks before my artists’ retreat here in the Adirondacks and our return to Texas.
Flashbacks have frequented my frontal cortex because of the huge number of old photos I found when emptying my dad’s place, which is now officially someone else’s summer home. I had forgotten how much I forgot, including a picture of me at the FBI.
A Visit to the FBI
As a kid about 12 or 13, I wanted nothing more than to become an FBI agent, which was glorified by the TV show called The FBI with Efrem Zimbalist Jr. My friend Randy and I started our own FBI club (there were just the two of us as members). We were even on local TV talking about our crime-solving club. Because I worked at my dad’s printing press in the summer, I printed my own stationery with the words “FBI, Jr.” at the top. And on that stationery, I’d write letters to J. Edgar Hoover, the true hero at the FBI (at the time no one was aware of his alleged “other life”). I always received signed replies (including a request to stop using the stationery), and I still have them somewhere.
One summer my dad announced we were taking a vacation to Washington, D.C. So I fired off another letter, got an invite, and showed up on the day and time suggested at the invitation of Mr. Hoover. But when we got there, the agent who greeted us said, “Mr. Hoover isn’t here today; he was called away on an important case.” But he added, “I’ve been told to give you a VIP tour.” So we toured everywhere behind the scenes. They even took us down to the FBI gun range, fired some machine guns, and gave my brothers and me the targets. (I’ll post a photo on my Instagram @Ericrhoads of me at the FBI.)
Though my dream of joining the FBI was broken when I was told I had to be a lawyer or an accountant to become an agent, I never gave up my passion for doing the right thing. I’ve always been the guy who likes to follow the letter of the law, even when no one would ever know.
In hindsight, I’m far too creative to have spent my time looking at someone’s books for fraud, but I love the idea of law-following (though not rule-following, which is another story for another day).
Most of us are law followers. But I often ask myself, what if I were guaranteed no one would ever know, no one would ever find out — would I break the law then?
My answer to that question is very clear to me. But then I ask, what if there were no accountability, no God? How would I behave if I knew there would be no repercussions? What about you?
Is law-breaking ever justified?
I can honestly say I’ve never hated anyone in my life — except that one kid who sat behind me in 7th grade math. I was his punching bag; he never stopped bullying and abusing me. And at that age I could not process it logically, only emotionally. And though I never would have gone so far as to get violent, I sure would not have minded if he was suddenly abducted by aliens.
What about you? Did you ever hate someone so much that you start thinking the end justifies the means?
Have you ever searched your soul? I’ve put together a few scenarios to consider.
Take the test now.
Let’s say a doctor gives you the wrong medication, and it causes you a lifetime illness. You’re convinced he did it knowingly, so you have him arrested. You are certain he wronged you, and he ends up going to prison. But later, you find out it was not him, but someone else who was responsible for the error. Would you let that doctor sit in prison and rot? Or would you come to his rescue even though you’ve been injured for life?
Or let’s say there’s a candidate for mayor you strongly oppose. You don’t like her personality or her politics. So you vote against her, and, happily, she loses the election. But you later discover the election was rigged in favor of her opponent. You are the only person who knows, and you have conclusive evidence. Your choice is to reveal the truth, or keep quiet because you can’t stand the idea of her becoming mayor. Would you hide what you know, even though she legally won? Or would you want the law followed to maintain the integrity of elections?
What if there was a Sunday School teacher you loved? You get to know him, have him over to your house dozens of times, and think he’s the world’s greatest and most high-integrity guy. But then you find powerful evidence that there is something truly evil about him, something unforgivable. Would you reveal what you know? Or would you tell yourself it can’t be real and continue to believe in him despite everything?
You have a favorite cousin, one who can do no wrong, one you adore. Suddenly you find out he’s been molesting the neighbors’ kids for years. No one knows but you. Would you turn in the cousin you love?
You run a business and find out your product is harming people — maybe even killing them. But you’re making a huge amount of money selling that product. Again, no one will ever know what you’ve learned. Would you sweep it under the rug? Or would you confess, knowing you could be sued and probably put out of business?
Life is filled with ethical dilemmas. And what we say we will do and what we really do when we’re faced with them are often two different things.
Anticipate Your Decisions
A wise friend once told me that you need to answer the tough questions before you face them. There is no clarity when we’re faced with emotional dilemmas and our judgment is clouded by hatred, love, the prospect of financial gain or loss, or potentially hurting someone we love or ourselves.
Once you’ve crossed the line between good and evil, it will affect you forever. Even if you ultimately change, you’ve got to live with your decisions for the rest of your life.
Sometimes if feels like anything goes, that evil is excusable because everyone else is doing it. But do you want to be that person?
“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” — Mark 8:36
There is a lot of anger in our world today, driven by the state of the world, by politics, and by health concerns. A natural instinct is to want to get even, to make “them” pay and to right all the wrongs. Knowing where you stand on the issues will offer you clarity when you’re faced with needing to make up your mind about difficult challenges.
Remember, the high road is always the right road.
Laurie and I (mostly Laurie) have spent 120 days working daily on getting my dad’s property ready to sell, which resulted in 12 tons from 42 dump runs. Now the house is empty, sold, and happily, we can move on.
As you may know, I was supposed to be in Russia at this time, but it, and our fall fine art trip was cancelled. Since we’ve not had a summer vacation, and since I would have been gone anyway, I’m taking some time off to enjoy what’s left. I’ll be back on my daily show after Fall Color Week and the drive home.
Fall Color Week is happening, and there are close to 100 of us gathering to paint outdoors daily. There is still room for you. It’s really a lot of fun.
My next virtual online art convention promises to be amazing, with a world-class lineup of the finest artists on earth. It’s in November, when most of us will be indoors anyway. If you want to learn to paint, or take your art to a higher level, this is your chance. Check it out.
What Would You REALLY Do?2021-09-18T08:26:00-04:00
One of the most devastating moments of my life was when my grandparents’ house was sold. If I’d had the money at the time, I would have bought it to keep it in the family. But of course, with time and perspective, keeping the house would have served no purpose; it was not needed and it might even have become a burden, dealing with renters, or with repairs if left empty. Clinging to the house was purely wanting to cling to the memories of times in the house with my grandparents.
On My Knees
About 11 years ago, my dad announced to us that he was going to be selling his lake home. I had fallen in love with the lake and tried to spend all summer there when possible. My kids have spent every summer of their lives in that house. Therefore it was my hope to keep the house in the family for generations to come. I can remember even praying that I could make enough money and find a way to keep it so he did not have to sell. But he was never really very serious about selling it, or he would have put a price on it that would have sold. In reality, he would only have sold it if he got a super-high price, and I did not have the financial ability to buy it. Reasonable offers were turned down, and the house never did sell. But three summers ago, my family let go, deciding to build our own life in our own place on a nearby lake.
After my dad passed this spring, my family unanimously decided to stay in our own lake home instead of moving back into his, so we put his home up for auction and spent several weeks making the house ready to show. We did some painting and repairs and added a lot of new appliances (my wife did most of the work because I still work full days). Two weeks ago, my dad’s house was sold, and this coming week, the sale will close and it will become the home of the new owners. And, other than the two weeks of cleaning attics, garages, and going through 30-plus years of stuff, we’re ready to say farewell.
Being a Cling-On
The lesson for me is that clinging to something just because of memories is not always the best solution. Though filled with memories of family events and summers with family members present, it’s not the house that made it a home, it was the presence of my dad and his positive spirit. Today, it’s an empty shell awaiting a new family and their own memories.
What about you? What are you clinging to that isn’t serving you well?
You Might Need It Someday
My dad, being a Depression-era child, never threw anything out. In the last two weeks I’ve touched every single paper, every box, every item inside his home, most of which he had not touched or seen in 30 years. How did that serve him? I daresay it caused more stress, knowing that someday he or someone else would have to deal with it. I think we filled up 32 dumpsters, and that doesn’t include everything removed to be put up for auction. Though I’m happy to serve my dad and my brothers, it would have been nicer if he had dealt with those things years earlier. And it’s a reminder that I’ve done the same thing. I still have my saxophone from high school and a garage full of memories I never see. Why?
The last thing I wanted to do this spring and summer was clean out houses, storage units, attics, and closets. Because of deadlines, I was forced to deal with it. Unlike my packed garage at home where I’ve not been forced to deal with it, and I dread ever having to move. It causes stress, and it’s something I need to carve out the time to deal with.
What are you not dealing with?
What things cause you stress, knowing they are looming?
How would you feel if you got those things off your plate this month?
As we enter the fourth quarter, let’s use it for cleansing our minds of the clutter we’re clinging to so we can enter 2022 with a clean slate.
PS: Speaking of 2022, this week I had my executive team up to the lake for a few days of planning 2022. We’re not waiting till the last minute, we’re making a plan now. Creating strategy, dreaming, budgeting, and trying to think ahead so we’re ready to hit the ground running in the new year. It may be something you should be considering now too.
I was due to leave for Russia next week, for two weeks of touring and painting, but sadly, I postponed the trip because of the state of the world at the moment. I had to disappoint a lot of people, and of course I’ll lose the income. But since I was going to be away, I’ve decided to take those two weeks off to recover from a summer of cleaning out closets and attics and the stress of getting the house ready. If I’m here next week, it will probably be a “best of,” and I’ll also be skipping my noon daily broadcasts. Thanks for your patience.
I should mention that we have signed some giant names to our Realism Live virtual conference, and we’ve seen a massive number of people sign up in the last two weeks. It promises to be spectacular for you and your artwork. I hope you’ll consider it.
Once vacation is over, I’ll be at my Fall Color Week painters’ retreat here in the Adirondacks. There is still room for you. Come paint with us.