Mythologies

What’s the mood music that’s playing in the background of your life?

“A myth is a way of making sense in a senseless world. Myths are narrative patterns that give significance to our existence.” ― Rollo May

We conjure and accept stories over time to help us explain situations and people that have made our lives what they are. As I pass through stages in my life I think about the various stories I have been told and that I have constructed myself. These stories help to explain and sustain the reality I’m living through. They keep me floating down the river.

Everyone has this kind of experience. Think about the kinds of experiences that you and others you know have to figure out:

Why did your mother leave you when you were a child?

How am I going to find a new job?

Why does it cost so much to get ahead in the world?

I don’t understand why bad things happen to good people?

Our myths take shape over time and as we grow with experiences.

I’ve got to clear out the stuff in my house that I’ve collected over so many years. I found an app the other day that will allow me to post and “market” all the books shelved in EVERY room. That would be one great gift to leave my children, less books to have to deal with!

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Sometimes, maybe more times, these days I find myself tripping over the clutter in my head and heart. Just today I stumbled over a foul box that I thought I’d thrown out, but as I read about and was reminded of other people and my own place in this world, I fell right over it. It was actually an ancient myth that had been told to me since childhood. I had buried it away like a treasure. But it wasn’t something to save and live on in days to come. This myth was a slow-acting poison that just kept me limping along in life.

Do you think you have any of those buried away in your own sandy beaches?

The myths we have built to help us survive sometimes get in the way of real progress, of healthy transition. We discover, the hard way, that our definitions about other people, relationships and even ourselves aren’t really accurate – maybe even downright false. We’ve been walking around in the dark too long. Worse still, we may have spent too long chained up in our heart and mind to ideas and feelings that kept us trapped and alone.

“People say you’re born innocent, but it’s not true. You inherit all kinds of things that you can do nothing about. You inherit your identity, your history, like a birthmark that you can’t wash off. … We are born with our heads turned back, but my mother says we have to face into the future now. You have to earn your own innocence, she says. You have to grow up and become innocent.” ― Hugo Hamilton

Sometimes our myths stop working or we ourselves move into new territory and we must construct a different kind of explanation to carry us across that deeper river. When you want to be more intentional with your life, pulling up anchor is an essential first step. That often means confronting a myth or two about yourself, other people or the world around you. To move in a new direction, we all need to be able to sing a different tune.

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I was standing there doing one thing and thinking deep thoughts the other day. Really just rolling through the Rolodex in my brain while engaged in a mindless activity, you know, like brushing your teeth, taking a shower, loading the dishwasher, folding clothes, etc. I was replaying the old “eight-track” tape of why things were the way they were in my life – related to a few specific situations. Then the light came on. Those lyrics weren’t really true. Actually, here’s the rest of the story, I told myself. I had known it all along but I guess I didn’t want to take full ownership of my own rotten consequences. Isn’t it always easier to blame others or mysterious fate? Or how about feeling like a real martyr and casting your life on the pyre of God’s will? That one’s really healthy for the pity party!

“Self pity is easily the most destructive of the non-pharmaceutical narcotics; it is addictive, gives momentary pleasure and separates the victim from reality.” ― John Gardner

I write a lot in my journal. Some of it is classic dialogue, sounds so much like a broken record. But each time I run it through the mechanisms of feeling and thought, I take another swing at getting to the truth. Ranting on paper also feels better than bottling it up and feeling soul sick.

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Finding someone who will really listen is a good habit. That sounds funny but getting into the practice of sitting together on the front porch of life is an ancient form of healthcare. Be careful and make sure this person is willing to not be a weird circus mirror – reflecting back to you the distorted myths that you might be chewing on. Find someone who is genuine, that loves you and is faithful to the truth. Clearing out the clutter needs an accurate picture.

 

My challenge these days is to confront some of the myths rattling around in my soul and make sure they are true. I’m ready to jump off the side of the pool and swim out into life. That takes courage, mostly about myself, and a willingness to go under a time or two. But sitting on the side is never as much fun as getting into the middle of it all and participating in what’s really happening.

“My yesterdays walk with me. They keep step, they are gray faces that peer over my shoulder.” ― William Golding

Recently I read a great strategy about overcoming the negative and discouraging self-talk that can weigh down progress. These are like those lethal myths that lodge in the DNA of our souls. Instead of hearing only the story of defeats, pay attention instead at the successes. When I listen to the story about how I’ve outlived my usefulness, I look across the room at a photo of someone in my life who really does need me. That changes the story.

The stories I tell myself are as important as food, water and air. They keep me alive in one way or another. I need to grow wise and pay attention to these stories because they are what make me who I am and how I am with everyone else.

“If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people.” ― Virginia Woolf

What’s Been Bubbling Up?

“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

One of the social thinkers who helped to invent the field of sociology, Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) used the term “collective effervescence” to describe what happens when people act in social ways to create something bigger than themselves. I try to bring an Alka-Seltzer tablet to class and drop it in a glass of water to demonstrate what this looks like. As societies evolve and become more complex, the bubbling up only gets bigger.

We’ve all been in large gatherings where it seemed everyone was moved to collective action by a speaker or new ideas.  People volunteer after hearing about a neighborhood need. Members of a society pay taxes and in so doing support all kinds of activities for the common good, like public transportation, community healthcare and police. Social good bubbles up because together we make things happen that we could never get done by ourselves.

These past few years of social crises have me wondering about why people view clear-cut situations very differently. Why do people who share so much in common divide up on issues and seem unwilling to agree on what look like reasonable solutions? Does this sound familiar to you?

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“The main condition for the achievement of love is the overcoming of one’s narcissism. The narcissistic orientation is one in which one experiences as real only that which exists within oneself, while the phenomena in the outside world have no reality in themselves, but are experienced only from the viewpoint of their being useful or dangerous to one. The opposite pole to narcissism is objectivity; it is the faculty to see other people and things as they are, objectively, and to be able to separate this objective picture from a picture which is formed by one’s desires and fears.” ― Erich Fromm

Something else is bubbling up in our society and it’s not getting resolved. What’s causing this kind of thinking and acting when it comes to politics, race/ethnicity, medical care, education and policing? I’m not sure there’s a quick answer. But there is a very interesting explanation for how extreme ideas and attitudes spread, like an infection, throughout groups and even whole societies.

When it was originally getting organized, medical science was beginning to learn about how infection occurred through germs, viruses and contact. Social Contagion Theory was created over time to help explain how certain ideas and then actions get passed around, evolve, mutate and spread throughout groups. Similar to the ways that germs spread.

Where did this normal guy I’m related to come up with these wild ideas all of a sudden? Maybe it didn’t happen “all of a sudden” and maybe he didn’t invent this thinking – maybe he caught it somewhere/somehow? What if I’m the one that’s got the strange ideas?

So your aunt has been in the car too long getting an overdose of NPR. Maybe that guy at work has lost his remote and his TV is stuck on the Fox channel? Well, of course people who only hear one side of the story tend to fall into opposing opinion camps. But this sort of activity is going on all the time. What’s happening lately seems out of the ordinary, doesn’t it?

“I learn from my own daughter that you don’t have to be awake to cry.” ― Jodi Picoult

Maybe the global pandemic, being quarantined, large and sudden economic shifts, and violent political turmoil have all created a unique series of toxic germs that have spread throughout society?

According to Contagion Theory:

  1. People can act differently when they are in a crowd. There is the anonymity that’s always possible. We might do or say things that we wouldn’t if all eyes were on us as an individual. There have been a number of crowds on the streets, in big cities and even the capital. Think about how this might apply to our online activity.
  2. During times of strain and disorder, emergent interactions occur. People don’t always know how to feel or respond during extraordinary situations. Both consciously and unconsciously, we look to our social groups to help us understand and appropriately communicate our feelings. The explosion of media sources and the internet itself has provided people with new sources of social connection, albeit impersonal and transitory. Without realizing it, many are being baited into emotional responses they normally would not be having at this level.
  3. What often happens is called a circular reaction. People can pay too much attention to isolated cases. They look at the outliers and not the average. All of us are prone to biases in thinking – we only see what reinforces our preconceptions. Seeing these examples (“see, I told you!”) causes emotional arousal – anger, fear and suspicion.  Then, what can occur, if we talk about it to our social circles, either in person or online, is contagion. Our normal inner resistance to these ideas are socially reinforced. During times when we are not living under extraordinary stress and anxiety, we might never pay attention to these isolated cases or to the voices of the crowds around us who are giving voice to our unnamed feelings.

That’s way too much theory! But that’s what people like me do during times like these when there is so much disorder all around – and even within myself. I’m searching for explanations also because, down deep, I’m a fixer. I want to know what’s wrong so we can accurately diagnose and then get back on track.

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“There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing.” ― G. K. Chesterton

If Contagion Theory is a good way of analyzing why people all around you (yourself included) are responding in irrational and extreme ways to social situations, then here’s some suggestions to help:

  1. Get out of your familiar crowds and join some that don’t always think the way you do. Switch your media sources for a little while. Maybe get off the internet and spend time with people in person.
  2. Open your ears and mind to listening to ideas and reactions that don’t necessarily agree with your own (stop spending all your energy defending your own position).
  3. Find some ways to get more perspective on your thoughts and feelings. Writing it out helps. Read your Bible. Reflect on how you’ve responded to crises in the past. Talk with your parents and older relatives to get their longer view of life.
  4. Try and locate your jar of empathy in the back of the cupboard.

“If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces. Here it is love that is the frame we see them in.”  ― Frederick Buechner

Christmas and Memory

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“What you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed.” ― Julian Barnes

As you decorate for the holidays each year are you putting up all your lights and garland just to have something festive hanging from your windows and branches? Is this annual activity only aimed at putting your home in the festive mood? Maybe this is a traditional chore that just needs to be done? You’ve purchased all that stuff over the years, it would be crime to not drag it out and nail it to the wall, right?

My wife was the decorating dynamo to my grinch every Christmas season. Ask anyone that knows us. She was definitely over the top. As the years passed, our house started to look like a nutcracker flea market. Things are much more low key these days. In fact, I couldn’t find any of our collection of wreaths. Please don’t tell. I must of lost my senses and pitched them all one hot July afternoon. Let’s hope Santa wasn’t watching.

The question I want to ask is, do you think this is really all about just decorating? I think. whether we realize it or not, what we are doing is awakening our memory each holiday season.

“Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.” ― Hamilton Wright Mabie

When we relive our memories that made us happy – it makes it more true.  The memory we have of being with our friends, loved ones, family becomes more firmly planted inside us as we remember, share it, and pass it on in the telling, retelling (and even elaborating). These memories become happiness for us years later, when at the time we never fully realized what they truly were. They were being planted inside us as we grew up and matured and then one day needed them so much.

“I can only note that the past is beautiful because one never realises an emotion at the time. It expands later, and thus we don’t have complete emotions about the present, only about the past.” ― Virginia Woolf

What we do with our memories is so important. They aren’t really something to just save for a rainy day. They become richer and vibrant as we share them with others. They need to be passed on so that they can live and continue to enliven with meaning. When you talk about that ornament on the tree that your grandmother made, you are sharing part of yourself with your granddaughter. She will remember it one day as she hangs it on her tree and will have saved a part of you and a piece of what mattered to you.

“God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December.” ― J.M. Barrie

Memory hold us all together. Those rich memories that are being created and shared during this time of year are like chains of gold that hold people together – especially when the going gets rough. Having common memories, even when we don’t all remember the details the same, is an essential form of social cohesion. It’s like super glue that keeps even the most independent free spirit connected to his home base. Somehow.

“There was a long hard time when I kept far from me the remembrance of what I had thrown away when I was quite ignorant of its worth.” ― Charles Dickens

When Christmas arrives each year, what do you remember?

I’m unpacking boxes in the garage and finding memories stashed away, some very carefully, others crammed in with what looked like a mostly hurried life. I honestly thought that maybe last year I had packed away my artificial tree with all the decorations still on it. It is the season of hope, no? Well, I found the box and no such luck.

My childhood Christmas was in the 60’s and 70’s. Very unique decor. I remember two very different kinds of holiday. One at home with a silver and gold tree in the olive green, dark wood living room. The tree had it’s own rotating multicolored spotlight shining on it as it stood proudly in the front window. We thought it was cool, but because it was in the front living room, where no one ever went, except the little dogs to periodically take a dump, it was an experience we didn’t really fully embrace.

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We had another tree in the den, the regular tree. This is the one where we stashed presents, hung lights and our homemade ornaments. It was the children’s tree. We did grow up doing craft projects with the neighbors. I remember making ornaments for the tree and even presents for our family. I don’t remember all the gifts purchased at the store – I do remember those that we made ourselves. Not sure all the recipients did??

“The smells of Christmas are the smells of childhood” ― Richard Paul Evans

As I recall, my grandparents did hang up on the walls of their little house those homemade gifts. That was the other location for my childhood Christmas memories. There was a life-sized Santa and his sleigh with Rudolph, wooden cut-outs in the front yard. We knew Christmas was almost here when they went up each year. The tree was hung with all the familiar decorations, homemade, store bought, it was an archive of memories as we explored the branches every year to look for our favorites.

Those memories are recorded on polaroid photographs. Remember those? Your aunt with that funny hairdo. Those cousins who looked so innocent. Everyone was like a new jacket. Then you realize how many of those faces are gone now. I can’t really remember any of what was wrapped up in those packages, so colorful and carefully arranged. But I do remember those people that I didn’t pay enough attention to, taking it for granted as we all do. Now Christmas is just a few of us instead of a houseful. All that love is still bouncing off the walls but not as many to catch it.

“My yesterdays walk with me. They keep step, they are gray faces that peer over my shoulder.” ― William Golding

I don’t think it’s a bad thing to grieve a little for people no longer here when you come across a memory. We had a beloved aunt who crafted homemade cards with photos, she wrote on the back of each one, I saved many and run across them now and again. That’s what bittersweet tastes like, I thought, as I put one of her handmade ornaments on my tree last night.

Make it a point this year to take a few moments and remember someone or sometime in your life. Think about what they/it mean to you. As you’re sitting around with others, find something to share – especially with someone of the next generation. Maybe a backstory, a quality, something important that ought to be known. It doesn’t need to be in chapters or make everyone cry. But it will tell a lot about you. If you can be intentional about sharing, you will have helped hold your group together with a few more strands of meaning. And that kind of buried treasure won’t ever run out of batteries.

“You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.” ― Amy Carmichael

 

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Worth a Million Dollars

I don’t buy lottery tickets.

On the way to work each day there’s a big billboard that informs us all of the current state lottery jackpot numbers – increasing each week until someone wins. Like everyone else crawling through traffic to their hum-drum jobs, I imagine what life would be like if I just won a single million dollars.

“What is the likelihood, of winning the lottery, then lose it all the next day when you step out your front door and get struck by lightning? Probably, very slim, but then anything is possible.” ― Anthony Liccione

Trying to be a saint, the first items on my list are always benevolent in nature. I’d care for widows and orphans and set up some sort of organization to do good works. I’d pay off all my bills, quit my job and devote my time to my passion in life. Not sure what that really is anymore??

By the time I get to work, a few minutes later, I realize what a disaster having a winning lottery ticket would mean for me. I’d surely make a mess of things, my life included. Money is the root of all evil, right? I’d be a fool and end up in more trouble then than I am now. I’d be a tragic character in an O. Henry story.

“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.” ― Epictetus

No, I don’t need a lottery ticket. To be honest, God really is taking care of me day by day. You’d be surprised at all the details, until you start looking. Initially we tend to think that most if not all of our problems could be solved with a big fat check in the mail. Then something happens, you make too many wrong turns, someone goes missing, you’re not sure who’s looking back at you in the mirror anymore…and over time you realize that more dollars in the bank isn’t really going to fix most of what’s wrong. You can’t buy a new attitude on Amazon.

As children grow up they learn it all. Humans are emotionally equipped. But what to do with all those feelings? Our social worlds teach us how to manage and act out our emotions, when and how to display what we feel and how we should/should not feel:

  • Look people in the eye when speaking
  • Smile back
  • Hug people that you love
  • Don’t hug strangers
  • Cry with others when they are sad
  • Learn how to control your temper

Often we forget that they are just children with developing brains and everything else. They are brand new selves, trying to negotiate a strange world. Take a look at that extended family photo hanging on YOUR wall and just imagine trying to figure that out (while standing below everyone’s knees). The job of the adult is to make a safe place for kids to figure out who they are becoming – not put them into a pre-figured mold or turn them loose into the jungle of today’s self-absorbed society. Right?

Little children are never as happy to see us as we are to see them. Their feelings don’t last but a few magic moments. Goodbye can be a foreign concept. Attachment isn’t so much about feeling as it is about frequency. Children need to have the time and space to practice how they feel. Never expect a child to mean what he says or does (I’ve made that mistake too often!).

“Children see magic because they look for it.” ― Christopher Moore

It’s been an adventure watching my 3-year-old grandson as he grows and figures out how to express himself. His parents are very laid back personalities. He’s not at all. Runs everywhere and talks as loud as he can – even at 5am. During the week he attends a pre-school, so he gets to have a lot of interaction with other growing up kids his age. Fun and well-planned activity all day long. When do they teach how not slam doors?

The two of us were sitting on the couch, playing around as we usually do, and out of the blue, he leaned over and gave me a kiss on my cheek. Just the spontaneous expression of a child. He probably forgot all about it a moment later. Just a passing feeling quick as a wink flying past his soul.

It just took me a moment to realize that’s all I ever needed, all I would ever need in life.

Who needs a million dollars when you can get that?

It Really Is The Little Things

“When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” ― G.K. Chesterton

Our Thanksgiving was smaller this year. Well, sort of.  A new member was born into the family a few weeks before and we decided to stay home and recover. There was great weather, an over the top smoked turkey and a soon to be four-year-old bouncing around the house (he is the epitome of joy!).

I ended up washing a lot of dishes (loading and unloading the dishwasher). It was a contribution I could make. Keeping my hands busy usually lets my mind wander. There is so much to notice in someone else’s house, things and situations that can light up little fires of reflection. Watching my daughter with her new child, conversations at the counter with my grandson over macaroni & cheese, searching in a strange cupboard for ingredients to cook with – all filling my mind and heart with memory. Gratitude is certain to break through in that sunlit happiness.

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

As I washed I could look out the big window over the sink. That soon to be four-year-old tornado bounced around pitching balls into a hoop. Always a big smile. Never walking anywhere, galloping back and forth. And the next time I see him he will be different. That’s how children are, they keep moving and they keep changing. How did I live before he arrived? Now his sister is here, who will I now become? I guess we think adults are always the same, but maybe life is changing us all time too. We can see our children transform before our eyes. Perhaps looking more carefully, we could see our friends and family changing too – and be present and be a blessing and be thankful. 

There were platters, plates, bowls and pitchers to clean up. Many reminded me of a wedding. That big day then reminds me of a relationship that started so many years before. I’m standing with my hands in the sink filled with soapy water of blissful memories. All around in that house filled up to brimming with a relationship that makes me think of a garden that blossoms, puts out deeper roots, casts an inviting shade and beckons others to come and sit to enjoy a beauty – the result of an unending promise. Each relationship that passes through my life is a treasure of hope, all too often taken for granted.

Clearing and cleaning up a Thanksgiving meal reminded me of past feasts when this dish or that had been passed down, prepared and enjoyed. So many have stories included in each recipe. They are rich in calories and memories. We ate our pieces of pie near the fire late at night and shared a story that came like a dollop of whipped cream. All these stories were made by the people in our lives. They help to make us who we are, just like they faithfully roll out that flakey pie crust. Our lives are filled with stories. I think it’s important to figure out the important ones that define who you are and who you are becoming. Listen to the stories around you and learn how to tell your own.

While driving back home, with no one to talk with, I was able to file away all the little things that really did matter so much. Sometimes, talking is overrated. Getting your files in order works wonders.

“You pray in your distress and in your need; would that you might pray also in the fullness of your joy and in your days of abundance.” ― Kahill Gibran

A Night at the Movies

The world really is getting back to normal, I hope I am as well.

“In a movie he could dream without effort; all he had to do was lean back in a seat and keep his eyes open.” ― Richard Wright

I recently went to the movie theater again. This was a big “hobby” for my wife and I. We have one of those sit down in a recliner and order dinner theaters a few blocks from our house. We could walk to it. Why didn’t we? It was great to be able to check in online, reserve a seat and make a whole date night out of one trip. Talk about lazy romance.

I think it worked so well for us because for years and years we went at odd hours, when no one else was really ever there. Sometimes we almost had the whole theater to ourselves. We never went at night or when a film first opened. That would just be asking for trouble.

“It’s funny how the colors of the real world only seem really real when you watch them on a screen.”  ― Anthony Burgess

When I went back to the movies recently it was a spur of the moment decision. I had to cancel my outdoor plans due to rain. So, I turned around and headed indoors to my local theater. It was a weekend night. I barely got a seat once I got in and saw the reservation screen. That should have been the first sign that this was not going be what I had grown accustomed to in all the years of movie watching with my wife. But I trudged ahead anyway, anxious to see a new film I had been awaiting for over a year.

This is the kind of theater where you need to arrive early to place your order, like being at a restaurant. Well, for movies that are filled to near capacity, that means that most of the people will arrive right at show time. Don’t ask me why. These people will be talking out loud to their waiter and using their cell phone flashlights to read the menu. It doesn’t matter that there are other people all around or that the movie has started. I need to order my nachos right now. It’s a tragic comedy occurring simultaneous to the real show.

Then there’s the lady behind me who for some reason needs to explain the film to her companion. There’s a constant narration going on for all the rest of us to experience. Is this other person just very confused? Does the lady feel like she’s a tour guide for the evening? Does she not realize there are other people all around her?

“The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder.” ― Alfred Hitchcock

Grandpa was sitting next to me and he waits until the most still, tense and quiet moment in the film to begin his origami practice on the large popcorn bag he had emptied. It’s just impossible for me to ignore all of this, I feel like an anthropologist from another planet observing everyday behavior of the native population. 

I’ve noticed in large groups like this that its very normal for some people to engage in an ongoing dialogue with the film. They talk back to the characters. Expressions of strong emotion are made aloud. Questions are raised that aren’t ever answered.

This may be why I started sitting up toward the front of movie theaters long ago.  Siting with just a few rows between myself and screen limited the chances of too much commotion in my periphery. Maybe there will be a lower probability of someone around me providing a narration?

Despite the larger and larger television screens in our homes, I hope the movie theaters don’t disappear. That experience is unique. With or without the overactive audience. I just saw Nicole Kidman doing an ad for AMC theaters, beckoning us all back to the romance and thrill of going to the movies once again. I notice that she does the whole commercial while sitting alone in a very upgraded theater. Hope mine got modernized like that. See, there is something to watching without a crowd.

“You live by yourself for a stretch of time and you get to staring at different objects. Sometimes you talk to yourself. You take meals in crowded joints. You develop an intimate relationship with your used Subaru. You slowly but surely become a has-been.” ― Haruki Murakami

Sometimes I go to the movies with friends. But now I’m starting to go alone. It’s very convenient and my wife bought a gift card to our theater with lot’s of money still left on it. I’m a cheapskate at heart. When I go now I think about a new way of living, new rituals and all that’s still so much fun. I promise myself to find an odd hour to attend, with as few people as possible in the auditorium.

But, to be honest, going to the dark theater, filling up the grocery cart for one, making every trip with just one in the car, watching whatever you choose on TV, doing laundry in just one load, longer walks in the dusk, never finishing the leftovers…it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be.

Get out of your pandemic rut. Go sit outside at a cafe. Take a walk with friends. When’s the last time you went to a mall (what are those?)? Go to church. What about a sporting event? Find some friends to reconnect with – that’s what matters – and laugh at everything that drives you crazy.

We are meant to be together with others. Even if it means someone narrating the film right behind you all night long.

“How long is forever?
Sometimes just one second”  ― Lewis Carroll

Are You Listening?

“Out of the mouth of babes and infants…” – Psalm 8:2

I just spent the weekend with my three-year-old grandson. He’s about to turn four. He has a baby sister about to arrive in the next few weeks. I think he’s very sharp. Of course, I’m heavily biased.

“Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them” ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

My grandson made several statements this weekend that got me thinking.

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He was up way too late the first night. He was coughing too. Where we stayed didn’t have a bed for him, so that night he slept in the big bed with me. He rolled around like a bag of monkeys, moaning and groaning – in between the coughing. I just knew he was not going to get much. It was a certainty that he was going to sleep late the next morning. Before the sun was up, so was he. As usual. He rolled over, looked at me and said, “Popo, are your eyes open?”

I’ve said to friends again and again that I’m trying to live a life these days with my own eyes more wide open. I don’t want to just pass circumstances off to coincidence as I’ve done for so long, almost mechanically. God is always doing something, whether we’re aware or not. I want to catch him in the act.

What if we began to expect to see the supernatural in our day to day? As hard as that seems sometimes. Do you think it’s possible you might get more of what you expect?

“There are things you can’t reach. But
You can reach out to them, and all day long.
The wind, the bird flying away. The idea of god.
And it can keep you busy as anything else, and happier.
I look; morning to night I am never done with looking.
Looking I mean not just standing around, but standing around
As though with your arms open.”
― Mary Oliver

We had friends come over for a shared brunch on our last day of the weekend. They brought all sorts of gifts for the expectant mom and some cars to play with for you know who. He zoomed all over the floor. As they were leaving, he and I were on the front porch of the house waving goodbye. I reminded him that we had seen these friends the day before at the football game. He had clammed up, and hidden himself behind his parents when introduced. Very uncharacteristic of him. As he was waving goodbye and yelling thank you, he looked up at me and said about the day before, “I was shy.” 

See what I mean, very self-aware for a three-year-old!

How to Encourage a Shy Kid Who Doesn't Socialize

Do you think it’s possible that we as adults don’t talk more to people around us or stick our necks out in friendships because we’re just too shy? Yes, sometimes you’ll get your hand bit. But mostly, the people around you are waiting for a smile, a kind word or just a little forgiveness. What would happen if you just started speaking, smiling, waving and reaching out? What typically happens is a back and forth good will. The fancy term for this guiding ethic is called a, norm of reciprocity. Returning a smile, asking for help, even paying it forward.

“Nobody is normal once you get to know them.” ― J.W. Lynne

I think my grandson’s favorite food is a donut. It’s a glorious experience for him. All weekend we kept promising him that eventually for breakfast he’d have one, with plenty of sprinkles. Surely, it’s impossible for a three-year-old to conceive of time like that, to have to wait and to understand that promises do get kept. He never let his desire for that donut go. He said again and again, “I’m ready for a donut!” On that last morning together, in addition to all the wonderful gifts, our dear friends also brought the best blessing of all, a box of donuts, with sprinkles.

9 Foods Not to Give Your Kids | The Beachbody Blog

As adults we often organize our lives around strict disciplines because we have important goals to accomplish. Living is metered out on a daily calendar. We count our carbs. Hours are spent in the gym or on exercise equipment. I’ve now got one of those bracelets on my wrist that’s counting my steps and reporting my sleep cycles. Sometimes, I’m ready for a donut. Ready to turn away from my screen and look that colleague in the eye and really listen (not getting ready to match her story with one of my own). Ready to park further away so that I can walk in the sunset and unwind and talk with God. Ready to eat just a pickle for lunch all week because it seemed like it might be an adventure.

What if you decided on a donut each week? What if you became anxious about it like a three-year-old? A donut that helped to fill your soul. Something meaningful that mattered in the long run. What if your donut each week was doing or saying something that helped to fill up someone else’s life?

“New mysteries. New day. Fresh doughnuts.” ― David Lynch

Another Trip to the HEB

Do you remember when the global pandemic first hit?

Going to the groSoylent Green original release british quad movie poster - Galerie filmposter.netcery store was a surreal experience. We were lined up out in the parking lot trying to get in to buy some toilet paper. The sidewalk outside was marked so we would stay six feet apart. Someone was spraying us down as we entered, only in groups of ten or fifteen. Seemed like a 1970’s end of the world film.

“If you really want to escape the things that harass you, what you’re needing is not to be in a different place but to be a different person.” ― Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Is it more than just grabbing supplies for the week?

I was the one who went to the grocery store in our family. That evolved year after year as I started doing more of the cooking. Cooking became a hobby. My wife was working two jobs. She tutored kids after school with their math homework at our dining room table. Getting dinner ready for our family was a contribution I could make.

I’m usually not in a hurry at the grocery story. Sometimes, for variety, I will go to different stores. When I go through the checkout, I try and talk to the cashier and baggers as if they were real people. It usually works. But I fear I’m turning into the old man with the odd banter and bad jokes. This is how it happens, too many solitary trips to the grocery. You can check yourself out these days, if you have just a few items. Unpaid labor working for the store, you even bag your own purchase. People seem to love the privilege.

Have you ever had a car wreck and felt in a daze afterward?

I remember that first trip to the story after my wife had passed away. The virus was months away. Moving down the rows, as I normally did, I had brand new thoughts to wrestle with. What was I actually looking for? In the days ahead, was there any reason to go to the store? I was all alone now. In a daze I sort of wandered around, contemplating the next stage of life. Little did I know then that a pandemic was soon to arrive.

Trips to the store still happen. I don’t really cook meals, when I do, they end up half eaten or as buried treasure in the freezer. Wonder what I’m buying? Mostly liquids and searching for flour. I never make a visit that I’m not conscious of my past trips and what life was once like, as I walk out to the parking lot and sing a little tune. The store seems to be a shadow of the past too – why can’t I find lemon Propel? My search for flour is like hunting for the Holy Grail. Surely the rhythm of life will return again, like those cicadas singing in the trees all summer.

Who Owns Your Grocery Store? - YES! Magazine

Have you found a place to recollect those thoughts of yours?

As I look back, I think prowling the aisles of the store was sort of therapeutic at the end of the day. That sounds strange to many people. I wander up and down the rows and think about what’s needed to make something good. I notice all the characters pushing their carts, out and in the way. I talk to myself and try to go unnoticed. Students of my wife often would come up and introduce themselves. Beats me how they figured out who I was? I try to dress incognito.

“Be willing to be a beginner every single morning.” ― Meister Eckhart

The grocery store remains a very interesting experience. All sorts of characters, myself included. There was a lady today clogging up the access to the shopping carts, she was all dressed up in her hazmat outfit scrubbing down everything in sight with her diaper sized medical wipes. I just stood there and watched. It seems that one out of every seven people are completely unaware that there is anyone else on the planet. Probably new tasks, like disinfecting everything (or searching for keys in a giant purse), disrupts automatic actions, like moving out of the doorway. There are many new routines we have all have to now include.

How To Stop Losing Your Keys With This Cheap Accessory

I went to Target to buy a new pillow. I keep buying cheap bed pillows and just replacing them. I’m probably not making wise decisions. They lose their umph quickly. My first night on the new pillow, dramatic increase in REM sleep! I’ve got a Fitbit tracking me every moment, awake and asleep. That was my goal.

What story is your life telling right now?

When my daughter was a preschooler, we used to visit the neighborhood Target. They had just invented those super size stores. What an adventure I remember us having. Just getting out of the house. Maybe that’s what we all need to do more of these days. It’s probably time for everyone to get back to those little adventures in life.

“My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours… it is precisely through these stories in all their particularity, as I have long believed and often said, that God makes himself known to each of us more powerfully and personally. If this is true, it means that to lose track of our stories is to be profoundly impoverished not only humanly but also spiritually.” ― Frederick Buechner

The grocery store is like the modern town square. Only now, we are having our products delivered to the front door or the trunk of the car. I have even had my pizza dumped through my car window. Less interacting with real people face to face. So many friends are working from home. Much more convenient, and safe for now, but there’s a cost. We probably won’t feel all the effects for some time. Be careful, don’t replace essential human interaction for automated convenience.

My college students are attending in record numbers – no one wants to skip class for some reason. My theory is that spending so much time locked away has brought out a need to be with others. It’s a normal human need. We are social creatures. Remember God’s declaration? “It isn’t good for the man to live alone.” – Genesis 2:18

▷ Happy group student cafe college Images, Pictures and Free Stock Photos

What’s your trip to HEB look like?

More trips to HEB means more things I’ve forgotten. Why not some vegetables? Probably need to bump into some more characters.

I’m making trips to get a pillow, light bulbs, butter and mouthwash. I forgot the laundry detergent. If I don’t write things down I’m hopeless. Maybe that’s the better explanation for all my trips. These trips are always going to be strange for me. But they will also be a way for me to walk a familiar aisle.

I’m taking road trips with friends, sharing meals, face-timing with my family, and trying to do more social events (concerts, sports and plays). I want life to get back to the way it was, but I don’t want to be the same person. I want to be wiser and more aware of the people around me.

 

“Miracles can only inhabit the reality of our awareness when we surrender our need for the familiar to our desire for the limitless.” ― Eric Micha’el Leventhal

My Three Lessons

when somebody goes far - bhatti | Sad Picture | Lover of Sadness
“Suffering introduces you to yourself and reminds you that you are not the person you thought you were.” – Paul Tillich (1886 – 1965)

I ran into a friend the other day. We hadn’t seen each other for a couple years. Despite the masks and the quick interaction, it was clear to me that he was suffering. I knew that things hadn’t gone well for him lately. He was putting on a brave face as men are trained to do. To be honest, there are several of my friends who are suffering these days. It doesn’t escape any of us.

Over the past couple of years I’ve written here and there about my own experience with suffering. I don’t think I’ve put it all together like this before.

My wife and I fought cancer for several years. During her last few years this beast had traveled to her brain. That was a hard fight. Several surgeries into her brain and even carefully aimed radiation beams, all in the valiant effort to slay that dragon. Being in Houston, we were blessed to be able to have some of the newest available treatments. Her last summer was spent here in hospice. It was very difficult for all of us as she faded away. She was in peace.

That fall, after she got in the boat and left for heaven, I was back teaching classes. Then the global pandemic hit in the Spring. We all scrambled to reorganize higher education. Two years later (for me) we are all just now trying to get back to a sense of normal. Guess what? It’s been four weeks and we are all reporting record class attendance. No one’s absent?? Everyone wants to get out and be around others!

During all of this dark journey, I had tremendous support, prayers, love and lots of wise counsel (just a few crackpot comments meant to be helpful). My family, friends and support system all suffered as we helped my wife fight and then held her close while she slipped away. If I had to explain to someone else, to my friend who I walked with that hot day last week, what I now know about suffering, here’s what I’d say:

God is never surprised by anything that happens to me. Even when I’m not sure what’s around the next corner. Even when nothing goes according to my own grand plans for my life. God was and is never taken by surprise to the events that happen to me – even the awful consequences that happen because of my own bad choices. Even because of the really stupid decisions that people in charge make. Somehow, there is deep comfort in this. God remains steadfast like a lighthouse, as dark as it gets. And maybe what I need when I suffer is not an explanation, but a nearness.

God very rarely is the cause of suffering in my life. A very few of those bad words of comfort that I got during those years (and sometimes now) are all about God and control. What I always do is imagine God as a father figure. This is the way that Jesus presented him to the world. His mission was to model for us this relationship. I know some people have dysfunctional father relationships. I didn’t have one at all. But when we were suffering, as I suffer now, I don’t think of God as the cause. I’m not mad at him. It helps to have people around to talk it all out with. Maybe people who are angry at God don’t always have someone near to listen?

“I am as sure as I live that nothing is so near to me as God. God is nearer to me than I am to myself; my existence depends on the nearness and the presence of God.” ― Meister Eckhart (1259-1327), German theologian, philosopher and mystic

Throughout each moment of suffering, God draws near and never leaves me to walk that dark path alone. I guess because I’m not mad at God and because I know he is certain and consistent, I know he is near. Mostly he is near in the presence of others. Now, if I hole up and stay away from everyone who loves me, it’s impossible to experience this dimension of God. Right? I went back to work, I stayed near to my church family, our dear friends and family members were here and remained (still do) on top of my life, all of this is how God works. He needs me to do the same thing with other people who come across my path and look familiar. Like my friend last week.

God is also near in what I read, when I write, walks in the evening, sitting in the back garden and listening to that night bird, and being still to hear the voice of the Spirit. God is near because I expect him to be. Because he has promised to be.

And who’s to say which is more incredible—a man who raises the dead … or a God who weeps?  – Ken Gire (on Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead)

How Long Do Two Years Take?

Silhouette of man alone and wave on the ... | Stock image | Colourbox

I just read that two years is twenty-four months or
seven hundred and thirty days or
seventeen thousand five-hundred and twenty hours or
one million, fifty-one thousand, two hundred minutes or
sixty-three million, seventy-two thousand seconds.

When there’s a global crises and everyone is acting different, locked up, face masked, afraid, hoarding toilet paper, working from home, staying six feet apart, lonely, watching way too much TV, ordering take-out again and again, lining up in cars for a vaccination, or counting off the days to normal – two years can seem to pass slowly.

Two years ought to be enough time to get on with life, to find the next path to take, but who can get through all the weeds that are now sprouting in the vacant lot that’s life as we know it? Working from home for good, retiring early, supply chain problems, school board wrestling matches, children at home or school, airplane fist fights and new variations of virus floating up from who knows where. Two years may not be long enough, right?

I’m ready for the flight director to announce over the intercom when we will be landing and I can unbuckle this seat belt that’s been constricting my life for what feels like, I don’t know, two years. When will there be time to get off and get on with what ought to be happening? Unpacking, looking at the view from the new balcony, seeing what’s for dinner, imagining the next sunrise. Isn’t it time to turn to the next page?

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing. At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.”C.S. Lewis

Two years of everything on hold while working together to keep afloat. The past few days seem like the space of two years. I can’t seem to get started on putting out all the fires that burn in any normal week. There just wasn’t time to move on. Grief needs to have its time and space to breathe and find a place. These past two years just didn’t have any time for me to pause for long – and yet I did way too much sitting like bump. Maybe just a little shock settling in every now and then.

“God has mercifully ordered that the human brain works slowly; first the blow, hours afterwards the bruise.”  ― Walter de la Mare

I recently trudged through a few airports lugging a too heavy suitcase. It wasn’t modern enough. Didn’t roll very well. We’ve all been there, right? Trying to get across three football fields full of people in five minutes lugging two sacks of cement on roller skates. Traveling for the novice is such an adventure. Two years hauling around a grief I’ve not had time or space to check.

Should You Shrink or Plastic Wrap Your Checked Luggage?

 

“The tears I feel today
I’ll wait to shed tomorrow.
Though I’ll not sleep this night
Nor find surcease from sorrow.
My eyes must keep their sight:
I dare not be tear-blinded.
I must be free to talk
Not choked with grief, clear-minded.
My mouth cannot betray
The anguish that I know.
Yes, I’ll keep my tears til later:
But my grief will never go.”
― Anne McCaffrey