Buried Treasure

This is a time of year that’s full of memories. As I get older, they become more important. Hanging on seems critical. Memories are like handles to help open all of the drawers and cupboards to find what I need. What I need to make it. Everyone needs to find something to help them make it through days that can be hard, lonely or full of worry.

“Poverty is apt to strike suddenly like influenza, it is well to have a few memories of extravagance in store for bad times.” ― Graham Greene

Memory is like a buried treasure.

Christmas was like magic when I was a child, mostly because of my grandparents. They did a thankless job helping to raise me. Theirs was a homemade world. Christmas was very much a season of lights, smells and anticipation. My grandfather erected in his front yard a wooden, cut-out, life-size Santa in his sleigh – like a billboard – with all the colors of children’s fantasies. It was lit up with spotlights each night. We couldn’t wait to see it and knew that the days were counting down until the presents could be opened.

How Did the Tradition of Christmas Trees Start? | Britannica

There were hand-made decorations everywhere – even the potty seat had a peek-a-boo Santa! There was an artificial Christmas tree eventually. I remember making fun of it, asking what animal had been sleeping on it during the year. It seemed to be flattened out on one side. At home we had a fancy silver tree with gold decorations. It sat in the front window with a rotating multicolored light shining on it. Children weren’t allowed in the living room much. This was the 70’s. Dark wood, gold and avocado green reigned supreme.

Cookies, queso, tamales and a twenty pound block of cheddar cheese were always a part of the Christmas Eve festivities. I think a business client must have given the cheese each year. It became an annual race, to consume it before the mold started to grow. When we gathered to eat or “appetize” before the Christmas presents, it was always a race. I don’t remember what anyone else received. I don’t really remember giving much. It wasn’t until much later in life, as an adult, that I started playing the game from both sides. It became so much bigger and better when I did.

“The family. We were a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another’s desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together.” ― Erma Bombeck

When I remember the events and experiences from my childhood, the ghosts of Christmas past, I realize that these were built by real people who worked to keep traditions and practices up and running. My memories were productions – the meals, the staging of decorations, rituals associated with gifts, and all the other actors deeply involved (even the uncle asleep in the chair).

I regret not doing a better job as a young adult on the work of building memories with and for others. It was always too much trouble. I wasn’t mature and couldn’t see the value of extra time, more effort and paying attention to all the time that was being invested. Right now, I’m living off that treasure. I only wish I had been awake long ago to gather more coins in my war chest.

Large Pirate Treasure Chest

What sort of treasures are you burying right now in the lives of those around you? You too will reap a reward in days to come. No matter how much trouble it takes – especially these days – it’s always going to be worth it. Someone will one day need those precious memories that right now seem so common and trivial. I’ve been spending days and days around here setting up Christmas. No one will see it but me – save for two days when family visits. But I now know it’s worth all the trouble. I’m rehearsing memories from my own recent past and arranging others for the future. It’s worth all the extra time and trouble (even though my tree and cookies just don’t really meet the standard).

“As with marathon runs and lengths of toilet paper, there had to be standards to measure up to.” ― Haruki Murakami

I put a small white Christmas tree on the front table today. It can be seen from the window as the lights come on at dusk. The tree has been a part of our Christmas memory since 2016. It’s a recent addition. My wife decided one year that she wanted to have a big white Christmas tree. I think she had a tree in every room of the house. Christmas was her season. The year we got the big white tree, she had brain surgery during the semester break. Recovery in the hospital took longer than planned and she missed Christmas and her tree that year. Her best friend, wanting to make a memory, sent her that small tree we now have in the front window. It lit up her room in the ICU that year and now, each Christmas, helps us to remember so much more.

Is it Too Late to Say Thank You?

“The thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest.” ― William Blake

Thank you for sharing your dinner.
Thank you for the phone calls, even the one’s I didn’t return.
Thank you for coming over to visit.
Thank you for sharing nachos even when I know you wanted something else.
Thank you for not saying a word when you knew I needed to stew some more.
Thank you for being nice even when I wasn’t very nice to be with.
Thank you for making my sister feel good about her decision.
Thank you for loving the people that I love so much.
Thank you for buying my lunch that day.
Thank you for sending me that song.
Thank you for picking up my mess and never saying a word to scold me.
Thank you for laughing along with my stupid stories you’ve heard too many times before.
Thank you for having the guts to tell me the truth.
Thank you for praying for me, again and again.
Thank you for hanging out with my friends even when it’s not a very fun evening.
Thank you for putting up with my family.
Thank you for keeping secrets.
Thank you for going with me to all those rock concerts (that weren’t that much fun for you).
Thank you for telling me the truth about that shirt.
Thank you for not telling my mother the truth about that dress.
Thank you for spending extra time with the kids so I could have a break, even when you deserved one too.
Thank you for sharing your weakness with me.
Thank you for letting me apologize, too many times.
Thank you for not making be feel guilty.
Thank you for sitting with me and not saying a word.
Thank you for sitting with me in the hospital.
Thank you for waiting until we’re alone to let me know…
Thank you for remembering to contact me – just when I needed it.
Thank you for that note and not an email or text.
Thank you for being persistent – and for knowing when to back off.
Thank you for cleaning up another one of my messes – again.
Thank you for sitting and listening with such patience while I talked too much.
Thank you for helping me figure out my phone.
Thank you for letting me remember what really matters.
Thank you for helping me when I didn’t even know I needed help.
Thank you for being such a good example for me and my family.
Thank you for asking for forgiveness.
Thank you for that gift, it means so much to me.
Thank you for not having to be asked.
Thank you for giving me a ride that day and telling me your story.
Thank you for holding my hand.
Thank you for bringing those meals over when I didn’t realize how much I needed.
Thank you for being a good example.
Thank you for telling me how important I am, even when we both know you’re really just being nice.
Thank you for helping me solve that problem, and making me think I did it on my own.
Thank you for listening to me when I don’t really know how to say it.
Thank you for making me feel more important than is true.
Thank you for going to a lot of trouble to help others I care about.
Thank you for sitting next to me when it seemed like others didn’t want to.
Thank you for those lemons.
Thank you for making sacrifices for the benefit of others.
Thank you for sharing a wonderful adventure I never would have done on my own.
Thank you for waiting patiently for me.
Thank you for walking across the hot parking lot to just say hello.
Thank you for remembering me.
Thank you for helping to tie my shoe.
Thank you for that book, it meant so much.
Thank you for reminding me what really matters.

“St. Augustine said, “The very pleasures of human life men acquire by difficulties.” There are times when the entire arrangement of our existence is disrupted and we long then for just one ordinary day – seeing our ordinary life as greatly desirable, even wonderful, in the light of the terrible disruption that has taken place. Difficulty opens our eyes to pleasures we had taken for granted.” ― Elisabeth Elliot

Crumbs on the Counter

I think the crumbs that keep appearing on my countertops are trying to teach me something…

One of my wife’s last big projects was to redo the kitchen and bathroom. This entailed black granite countertops. I think she got taken to the cleaners on these but that’s a different post. She got an updated look and that’s what she wanted. I’ve now got countertops that can’t be cleaned. Who invented this kind of product? Someone text me his number!

Keep Your Kitchen Countertops Sparkling with These Tips | Foodal

These days, a major part of my life is spent wiping up the crumbs that have collected on these jet black surfaces. My son has had tremendous success on one of those carnivore diets. I seem to have accidentally fallen into a Bulgarian grain only diet – most of it ending up on my counter tops. I was never told that when you start living by yourself – there’s no one else who’s going to pick that up. Secretly, I believe that someone else is sneaking in here behind my back leaving all this clutter scattered about. My haunted ice maker sure makes enough noise to convince me that I’m not really alone.

“Have you ever heard the wonderful silence just before the dawn? Or the quiet and calm just as a storm ends? Or perhaps you know the silence when you haven’t the answer to a question you’ve been asked, or the hush of a country road at night, or the expectant pause of a room full of people when someone is just about to speak, or, most beautiful of all, the moment after the door closes and you’re alone in the whole house? Each one is different, you know, and all very beautiful if you listen carefully.” ― Norton Juster

Sometimes the crumbs are what I need to sweep up, get done with and banish. Other times, I notice, there is a permanent residue about me. Things leftover that don’t go back in the refrigerator. For some reason, my wife and I filled our house with all sorts of clutter. This practice of ours never actually dawned on me until I began paying more attention to the homes of others, that I thought were more similar to Zen monasteries. But all this stuff does have it’s meaning. There are extended family memories and our own 35 years of marriage scattered all around.

I’m looking at all these wonderful photos of my grandson as he gets older and his personality develops. What a character, and I’m not biased at all. I look over almost simultaneously and see a photo of his grandmother holding him and I wish so much, so hard that it hurts.

“He was still too young to know that the heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good, and that thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burden of the past.” ― Gabriel García Márquez

Most of my days I spend surrounded by people who are too young to know…I remember how long I spent being too young to know much.

Bread-toast-crumbs-kitchen-counter-countertop - Finding True Magic

What do the crumbs on your counter look like during this pandemic, this political civil war, this economic white water raft trip heading who knows where? People I know are still getting sick, getting engaged, having babies, fighting cancer, working even harder to get along, dying, trying to make another day count. The turmoil of life goes on even in the eye of a storm.

How many hurricanes til Christmas?

Lately I think about my grandmother who never had a dirty dish in her sink, ever. I would stay with her and before an article of clothing would hit the floor (lazy teenager) it would be in the washing machine. She never allowed any crumbs in her life or anyone else’s who was visiting. I’m still being inspired by her work ethic.

These days I notice I’m having some trouble getting busy with the crumbs that must be swept up around here. That work ethic needs a recharge! I’ll get the energy and then do a big wipe down all at once. A deadline at work will loom and come near like a big ship in the dark sea. Then I jump up and get it done. I think being accountable helps with keeping the counters in life swept up. Deadlines and the rare visitor can also get fires lit when necessary.

Sometimes there are just seasons of life when the rhythm section has taken a break.

For years now, someone comes to the house every other week to keep it clean. That always helps with knowing what the standard ought to be. It keeps the downfall of civilization at bay. Not having anyone else here to contribute to the crumbs, like animals or small children helps as well. But that comes with another cost. Messy counters can be lived with when there’s a little boy and his dog in the next room.

If you keep the lights off, it helps to perpetuate the feeling that there’s not really much of a mess at all. Living in a dim world has it’s benefits. My mother-in-law always liked to disturb the ambiance and turn on all the lights. Good for her. It’s easier to keep the crumbs picked up that way. It’s easier to keep from tripping over something in a strange house. It’s easier to see everyone. It’s easier to see that the cleaning lady has left that figure on the shelf turned around the wrong way. Who needs ambiance? I’m starting to leave some of the lights on around here. Those crumbs are still waiting.

There are still many lessons to be learned at this age and stage. One is that the crumbs are going to stay on the counter until I wipe them up. There’s still a lot of debris in my life. When I pay attention (turn on the light), I notice people, projects and adjustments that need some care. Maybe having black granite countertops isn’t such a bad thing after all?

“I don’t want to be a genius-I have enough problems just trying to be a man.” ― Albert Camus

What Dreams May Come?

“Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.” ― Henry David Thoreau

How To Control Your Dreams With Lucid Dreaming - Original Products Botanica  | Original Products Botanica

Of course Hamlet was speaking of death in that partial quote of my title there. Here I’m just writing about the everyday dreaming that we do at night (I’m not even going to go into those daydreams that take place while you’re stuck in traffic).

I know how to interpret your dreams if anyone is interested. It’s not an exact science. Dreams happen for three different reasons. (1) Our brain is filing away its memories – this is why people who don’t get enough sleep start to have trouble remembering when they are awake. (2) We dream because we have unresolved conflicts, worries, decisions or problems that are sometimes standing with one foot in our conscious and another in our subconscious. (3) Sometimes God sends messages to us in our dreams – this doesn’t produce confusion but clarity, peace and assurance. Unless you need a swift kick.

Over the past year I have started the practice of intentionally willing myself to dream. It happens to me in the early morning hours. I awake too early and then decide to go back for one more round of R.E.M. sleep. I tell myself that I want a dream and I want to remember it. I think because I am so close to awakening at the start, it’s easier to remember the dream. But it happens more times than it doesn’t. I’d say nine out of ten times.

“People think dreams aren’t real just because they aren’t made of matter, of particles. Dreams are real. But they are made of viewpoints, of images, of memories and puns and lost hopes.” ― Neil Gaiman

It just happened very early this morning. I dreamed that I was having to administer an exam to a class of students. But I also had another class of students next door. As I handed out the tests I discovered I didn’t have enough. I panicked – this is a common fear and one of mine in particular. I always make way too many copies. I left the building to go make more copies – also with the added worry that there was another room full of students waiting for me.

When I got outside there was a car with some people in it waiting to take me to make copies. Matthew McConaughey was driving the car. I had just seen a number of references to him while watching a terrible football game on TV Saturday. Well, he started driving but in the wrong direction. I don’t remember what he was saying, sounded like one of those weird car commercial soliloquys that he has done in the past. All I knew was that we were not going to make copies and that disaster was eminent.

Here is when I awoke.

I’m really behind with deadlines at work. I can’t seem to find my motivation. There’s something else distracting me and taking me in the other direction but I don’t know what it is yet. It’s certainly not Mr. University of Texas reciting lines from his latest Lincoln commercial! (That’s probably just deep seated frustration at someone not being able to pass the football).

“I dream. Sometimes I think that’s the only right thing to do.” ― Haruki Murakami

So here we are swimming in crises after crises. Surely the end will come, it always does. But in the meantime, we can always dream.

Be sure that you’re getting enough sleep – pollsters are telling us that some areas of our mental health are improving during the quarantine because we are sleeping more. This helps people to dream more and to reinforce memory.

Write down dreams that you remember – this can help if there’s something mysterious that needs to be resolved. Talk about your dream over breakfast with your spouse. You concrete-literalists out there, open up your symbolic thinking drawer a little. The more you ponder, the greater the chances you will stumble across some solutions.

It’s possible that one day, God may want to say something to you. It’s not beyond the realm of impossibility that he would use a dream. Don’t worry about it. He won’t contradict what he’s already said. He won’t try and confuse you. It will usually be a treasured experience. That is, unless you’re wandering off in left field and need a strong hand to bring you back home.

“I wish you to know that you have been the last dream of my soul.” ― Charles Dickens

Divide and Conquer

“Divide and rule, the politician cries; Unite and lead, is watchword of the wise.”― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

In Lebanon, Pan-Sectarian Protests Are Raging as Forest Fires Burn

I spent Saturday watching my team lose an annual rivalry game. I’d love to have beat that team – those people really need to lose!

This morning, I watched three young brothers sitting in front of me poking at one another behind their father’s back. As brothers do, have probably always done.

Today’s lesson in Sunday School was about a horrible family tragedy between King David and one of his sons. Absalom staged a military coup and almost took the throne – he had been plotting for several years. The whole thing started when Absalom’s older brother raped their sister. The armed conflict blew up after Absalom murdered his brother at dinner two years later. You thought your family had problems!

Have you yanked your TV out of the wall yet? It’s not just been a season of locked up and sealed off from others – with new rules and methods of interacting and places we aren’t visiting much anymore. All this is bad enough. But what about the constant skirmishes that are going on within our public discourse, on our streets, online, and even within extended families? It has been going for too long and has eaten away at our social connections. We’re afraid to even talk to each other anymore.

It’s impossible to solve collective problems when no one’s willing to talk.

I was texting with friends who live out of the country. Everyone was catching up and sharing about current events. It seemed to go on and off for most of the evening. I started to notice how often labels for people and groups were being used in these quick communications. For ourselves and for others. It’s an easy way to organize into “out” and “in” groups, us vs. them.

“In the animal kingdom, the rule is, eat or be eaten; in the human kingdom, define or be defined.” ― Thomas Stephen Szasz

Do you really think the norm is that we are too different from each other to be able to converse, work and get things that need doing done? Has that been the history of mankind? The threat of external violence or physical survival having kept us clinging to one another just until the hurricane passes. Once we get most of the basic problems of living worked out, we’ve got time and energy to start hating others who aren’t in our camp du jour?

Is that really who we are?

Are there powerful forces at work in our society pulling and pushing us up against one another in order to create conflicts? Does social conflict keep certain people in power – people who promise salvation, cures and never ending provisions?

Just wondering?

I don’t believe we are the same as our primitive ancestors. I think we have self-control. Our society is an exceptional evolution of moral progress. We are being transformed by God. You and I don’t have to sit back and be divided into warring tribes. Instead we can all do the right thing right now.

  1. Watch what you say, text, email – be extra careful during these days
  2. Go out of your way to listen and work extra hard to keep your mouth shut – and your really valuable opinions to yourself
  3. “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you…” – Jesus

Each one of us will have to go another mile and give up some of our will if we really want to keep the social order – our country desperately needs some examples in every neighborhood, place of work, restaurant and church.

“Society is always taken by surprise at any new example of common sense.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Keeping our society held together one more day is as simple as loving your neighbor as yourself.

Being an example of common sense isn’t really that hard. It means putting others ahead of yourself. It means treating people with respect, despite their opinions and actions that might disavow all attempts at respect. It means not being too self-absorbed that we try the impossible, to become the perfect example first before being just a good example right now.

“…for very strangely his officers looked upon Jack Aubrey as a moral figure, in spite of all proofs of the contrary…” ― Patrick O’Brian

If you outlive your mule, don't get another one – so funny! – Alabama  Pioneers

“Once, when I were a child, I were kicked by a small mule. Neither the mule nor I had any sense. I were trying to make the mule go one way, but the mule was trying to make me go another. I were for hitching the mule onto a plow. The mule were for nibbling grass. So, after that kicking, I learned right then and there to respect animals and peoples when they are not of the same mind as you are.” ― Langston Hughes

All in Our Family

How are you staying in touch with your grandchildren during the coronavirus  lockdown?

Maybe the root of so many of our problems is that our families are falling apart?

While our society seemed to be falling to pieces every evening on the television screen, for so many reasons, depending on who you were hearing from, I couldn’t help but think there was a basic cause. For a long time I have looked at the numbers, the outcomes, the long term effects and I honestly think that almost everything that’s wrong with our society right now can be traced back to the fragmentation of our families.

We decided during the decades of revolution (Civil Rights, Sexual, Youth, Women’s) that our own personal happiness was the ultimate goal in life. It’s in the Declaration of Independence, after all! This goal was so much easier to pursue once our economy boomed after WW2 and we could focus our attentions on inner and subjective desires for satisfaction, instead of external and objective standards of success like surviving the winter or having enough to eat.

Fragmented families started to happen because we decided that other people (our spouses and children) weren’t making us happy anymore. Instead of leaning on each other to help and making sacrifices for the sake of someone else, we started looking at our family members as sources of our own happiness. If they dropped the ball, it was time to bail and maybe find a replacement. I need to find someone who will make me happy, not I need to make someone else happy.

Here's The Number One Reason Couples Fight In The Run Up To Christmas |  Her.ie

What do families in America look like today?

During the current quarantine the divorce numbers in America are twice as high as they were a year ago at this time. What’s really discouraging is that newlywed divorce numbers are ALSO twice as high as the were a year ago! Being locked up and facing a seemingly unending crisis together is just too much for many.

People don’t just wake up one day and decide to become self-centered. Our culture is one with an economy that’s oriented around selling more and more stuff. The prevalent hook is guaranteeing happiness – buy this pillow and you’ll get a good night’s sleep, feel rested, refreshed (and so much happier the next day).

There are more couples living together than married. People who live together do so for approximately five years – then they either break up or get married. It’s not a step before marriage, not an alternative. People are afraid of the marriage commitment, of failing at something so important, at not finding happiness.

Right now, less than 20% of households in our country are composed of a married couple and their children. This is true for 86% of African-American children. This practice is setting these children up for an almost impossible future and brings harm to society as a whole.

“Childhood, after all, is the first precious coin that poverty steals from a child.” ― Anthony Horowitz

A majority of children in America will spend part of their growing up years in a single-parent home. On average, children from single-parent homes don’t do as well in almost all measures of life (health, school, social, economic, etc.). Every semester, my student learn this yet the overwhelming majority tell me that if they were in a marriage with children and were not happy they would get divorced. Ending marriages for the sake of personal happiness is today a very strong belief and practice here in America.

Happy Single Mother and Teen Stock Footage Video (100% Royalty-free)  15559906 | Shutterstock

Even though they are working outside the home in more numbers than ever before – many more in college-prepared careers – (more women attend college than men) women still feel the bulk of the responsibility for home and family work. He’s not really sharing the burden very well.

In times of social conflict why don’t we look at our families as a possible cause?

While families in our society are in collapse, we feel helpless. What can I do to stop the flood from spilling over the levee? All you can really do is to keep loving your own family. Sometimes that means keeping your big mouth shut and just loving people in the middle of their mess. Praying for someone you love is different than talking about them to others. Criticizing never does anything good. 

“You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.” ― Frederick Buechner

 

What to Talk About When There’s Nothing to Say?

Didn't everyone standing in a crowded elevator imagine how someone could be  murdered?”– author V. M. Burns – Lana's Blog

What do you talk to strangers about? What do you talk about when you don’t really have anything to say? What do you say when silence just feels too uncomfortable?

There’s the small talk that we use when at social gatherings with strangers. I was at an event recently and talked with someone about foot surgery and the evolution of late night talk shows???  There’s also the small talk we engage in everyday in the normal routines of passing in the hall, riding the elevator, sharing over the fence and catching up before a meeting.

Small talk seems trivial, but these days, I think it’s worth thinking about. 

There’s all sorts of advice out there about how to improve your small talk so that you can be more successful especially if you find yourself frequenting social events with strangers (and need to make a good impression).

  • Make eye contact
  • Ask questions
  • Don’t interview
  • Read the room
  • Don’t converse too deep (politics, religion), stay medium (pop culture, restaurants)
  • Show your emotions, smile!

“My father has a tendency to start conversations in the middle of sentences. He’s also suspicious of anything modern – like nouns.” ― Mike Rowe

Cut little Boy sitting on the Tree by Mosuno - Kid, Park - Stocksy UnitedPersonally, I can’t stand getting stuck in social events and having to generate small talk. I can put something together and perform okay but I have much more fun sitting in the corner and watching other people interact. Especially strangers. I was walking through my neighborhood recently. It was evening, the sun was setting and I came up on a driveway with a large circle of lawn chairs filled with older neighbors all sharing. I really wanted to climb up in a tree and eavesdrop.

Maybe, for many of us, this season of quarantine has limited our access to small talk?

What about the simple talk we use every day with our friends, co-workers, neighbors and spouse? The trivial, mundane, “lovely weather we’ve been having” conversations. They pop up and then vanish like the clouds passing overhead. This kind of small talk is almost random in nature. Yet, I think it connects us to each other in all sorts of ways like the seams in our clothing.

Old people's stories more boring - study | Stuff.co.nz“My father could out-weather anybody. Like people anywhere, there were times when it was the only topic where people here felt comfortably expressive, and my father could go on earnestly, seemingly forever. When the current weather was exhausted, there was all the weather that had occurred in recorded history, weather lived through or witnessed by a relative, or even heard about on the news. Catastrophic weather of all types. And when that was done, there was all the weather that might possibly occur in the future. I’d even heard him speculate about weather in the afterlife.” ― Louise Erdrich

We are so oriented to doing business talking and venting important feelings. We use our phones to get directions, restaurant ratings and wiki knowledge. Less and less are we cluttering up our days with the small conversations, stories that don’t really have an ending or a moral. Sharing what we did, felt, the memories and bits of our story.  But I think it’s good to be reminded of how valuable small talk can be at cementing our society together, strangers, friends and lovers alike. Since March, we’ve had less and less opportunity for casual, unplanned conversations with others we pass in the halls of living our normal lives. Who can do small talk with a mask on? I think it comes with a cost.

Each time I leave a social encounter I realize how little I actually listened. These days I talk too much, without a whole lot to say. Too much isolation can produce this. I wish I could listen more to the small talk all around me. When you give time to someone else you are giving a little bit of you. It’s like a gift. So rare these days. Maybe what we all crave is someone to hear us – not what we say, but just to sit in the same room and nod, smile and acknowledge our significance. 

“In the best conversations, you don’t even remember what you talked about, only how it felt. It felt like we were in some place your body can’t visit, some place with no ceiling and no walls and no floor and no instruments” ― John Green

How To Use Empathic Listening To Cultivate Great Personal Relationships

People might be talking to others less because of perceived threats.

  • What if we get into a political debate?
  • I’m so sick of talking about this virus.
  • My feelings lately have been so down in the dumps, I’m not sure anyone wants to hear.

Actually, these are the conditions when talking MORE is the best medicine! During this time isolation, to one degree or another, people around us may have less to talk about and fewer people to talk to about it. Yet, even the small talk is critically important in everyone’s life. It’s worth staying in practice.

  • Call someone while you’re driving
  • Send more texts about not much at all, just how you’re feeling
  • Compose a great email to your kids and close friends
  • Write a card, how about a letter (remember those?)

Making an effort to just pass the time with others is a valuable investment in helping someone else survive one more day – reminding us all that we’re not alone.

“When you have once seen the glow of happiness on the face of a beloved person, you know that a man can have no vocation but to awaken that light on the faces surrounding him. In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”  ― Albert Camus

All The Little Things

“It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.” ― Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

It is what it is

I did it again yesterday. I went to class and got all set up. Which is not quick task. I waited and waited. No one showed up. I was discouraged. It was a beautiful day, after all. Once I realized no one was going to show up, I proceeded to unplug and pack up. As I headed to the hall and stairs my students shouted at me from across the way. They had been waiting for me in the right classroom. I had once again been in the wrong room. 

A Closer Look at Salvador Dalí | Spanish Trails“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.” ― Salvador Dali

 

I’ve written before about Automatic Thinking. Our brains can’t deliberately keep everything on the front burner all the time. That’s a strategy for fast overload. What the brain does – it shifts routine activities to what we call automatic thinking so that it doesn’t need to be completely conscious and can use effort and energy on other tasks that are more urgent and important. This is why I always seem to “wake up” in the parking lot at work having rehearsed my important speech but can’t remember at all how I got from home to there!

A lot of little things to think about all at once!

My next door colleague at work told me he’s just exhausted. It’s because he has to be conscious of everything he’s doing now. Maybe that’s what I feel as well. With so much new going on in my daily routine, there’s less automatic going on in my brain. I realize how much I take for granted in each day. Little things:

  • What’s for dinner?
  • Why did I forget to upload that assignment?
  • What day of the week is it today?
  • I haven’t heard from ________ in weeks!

What Are Your Financial “Ducks” and Why Should They Be in a Row? - Private  Client Wealth Advisors

When the semester started for me there was mostly panic as I tried to get and keep my ducks in a row. A lot is falling into a little routine now (except showing up to the right classroom!?). Some of that is healthy, some not. I am a little more aware of the taken-for-granted now. I know first hand what it’s like to be thrust into a new and uncomfortable situation. Feeling powerless to fix things makes me feel angry, frustrated and isolated. 

“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

Maybe this can help me to be more aware of these same experiences and feelings in others? Once things settle down and get back to normal (?) I hope I don’t forget. I’m sorry Herr Pastor Bonhoeffer, but most of the people I encounter each day I am evaluating on the basis of what they are doing or not doing. This is going to take some serious conscious thought on my part. I’m going to have to be far less automatic in my responses, emails and feedback that I post. 

Our current state of chaos has given each of us an opportunity to pay attention to some of the details we once sped past too quickly. 

My wife was never really very good at gardening. She always liked to get involved and pick out plants at the nursery. Choosing the right ones and actually getting them in the ground was another story. But, we faithfully went through the ritual. I remember her grabbing a very deep purple colored little plant several years ago. It looked too delicate. I didn’t think it stood a chance in our sweltering climate and sporadic watering. It struggled and strained and eventually I lost track of it, knowing it had gone the way of hundreds of its ancestors from our flower beds over the years.

“The small things of life were often so much bigger than the great things . . . the trivial pleasure like cooking, one’s home, little poems especially sad ones, solitary walks, funny things seen and overheard.” ― Barbara Pym

Image preview

There has been more watering lately in my yard. I was coming in to the house the other day and peeking out by the bed near the front door were those dark purple leaves and spindly stalks of that plant she put in the ground a few years ago. It made it after all. It was a little thing, a quick glance as I hauled plastic bags in before the rain came. A little thing that shouted so loudly, if I would stop for just a moment to hear.

I’ve got several close friends who are paying attention to family and friends in crisis right now. Some are strangers to them, others very close. I can’t help but think that this unusual time of stress and strain has also sharpened people’s focus on human need.

“Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and the wrong. Sometime in life you will have been all of these.” ― George Washington Carver

This season of fear and uncertainty has drawn our collective attention toward large crises. I’d like to challenge you to draw your eyes away from the burning dumpsters and look for little things that demonstrate God’s presence and the gifts of love all around you. Maybe that’s all anyone ever wanted – was to be loved. 

“Treasures are hidden away in quiet places.  They speak in soft tones and often become silenced as we approach.  They don’t beg to be found, but embrace us if we do happen to find them.  They are the product of completely ordinary circumstances unfolding in wonderfully extraordinary ways.  They are found hidden in the nooks and crannies of our existence; all around us if we quit allowing our attention to be captivated by that which is noisy and listen for that which is quiet and still.” ― Craig D. Lounsbrough

There are people you pass by each day. I was speaking with a number of friends from the past the other day. It made me think about all of the silly and sensible conversations we had over the many years. I realized how much I had been given by the everyday people in my past. My memory sweeps past so quickly, jumping from tragedies to monumental turns in the road. But really, my ordinary life has been constructed one brick at a time by so many, so many who knew me and so many who never will. 

In the chaos and crises, make time to pay more careful attention to the people around you, what they are saying and NOT saying. 

I saw a quote the other day from the writer George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans 1819-1880). It made me think, and keep thinking about all the people that surround me who accomplish so much for so many by the hundreds of little acts of service and kindness. Never thinking about what they do, as natural as the wind blowing through the grass. Their hidden lives make all the difference in the world. They always have.

“..for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” George Eliot, Middlemarch

Instead of trying to change the world, try making today count. Try making someone else’s life count for just a minute or two in that brief interaction. Try to stop that “automatic” flow of events and instead do or say something intentional and meaningful. You don’t have to change a life, just a moment.

Keep on the Sunnyside!

Well, there’s a dark and a troubled side of life
There’s a bright and a sunny side too
But if you meet with the darkness and strife
The sunny side we also may view

Keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side
Keep on the sunny side of life
It will help us every day, it will brighten all the way
If we keep on the sunny side of life

Click on the link to the left to FOLLOW this blog

Pass it on to a friend and ask them to FOLLOW as well

“McQueen! Where are you?”

That’s what my grandson and I yell throughout his house when we are trying to locate one of his cars. He probably has a hundred. Some of his Disney cars have character names. They are easier to call out by name and then listen to see if they will honk back for us to come and find them. Losing cars is fast becoming one of his great skills in a very young life.

This is making me think about all sorts of loss. We each go through life missing people, places and things don’t we?

“Every one of us is losing something precious to us. Lost opportunities, lost possibilities, feelings we can never get back again. That’s part of what it means to be alive.” ― Haruki Murakami

I remember many years ago going back to the city where I grew up and driving by the house I lived in as a child. Everything was very shabby and run-down. The years, so many, had left their brutal mark on the whole memory I carried with me. You really can’t go home again. I drove the car away quickly, I didn’t want this harsh reality to spoil what I had hidden away deep inside, the joys and the pains.

The truth is – those places of memory will not last. It’s best to cherish them and not go looking for them in the present. The best way to keep them alive is by sharing with others – your family, friends and ancestors. Don’t lose those places by trying to find them again, but make them real by sharing what means so much with someone else. I’m saving those times together peering under the couch searching for cars.

As you wander through your house, especially when you pack and unpack from moving, you run across things that hold cherished memories. There are photos of loved ones and important places that hang on the wall or got pushed back in a box. My daughter recently spoke aloud about all she remembered when I pulled out some of her childhood toys. They weren’t just something new for my grandson to play with, they also bore magical history for her.

Somehow I ended up with my great-grandmothers cane. What I remember is walking with her a time or two down her long dirt road to get the mail. It was delivered off the state highway. She lived and raised her family in a whole other world. A world of pastures, sheep, horses and red dirt. I think I spent every summer of my childhood swimming and fishing in the river. See, that little tiny cane sitting by the front door of my house is filled with wonder. I was thinking the other evening about how I would explain it all to my own grandchildren. Your great-great-great-grandmother??

There are artifacts all around you, especially if you are a collector (hoarder?), that bear so much significance. This too has to be passed to others. Those memories are inside of you not attached to each item. You’re the one that must cast the aura of significance and pass it down to others.

And of course, people leave us for many reasons. Friends pass through our lives. If you’re blessed friends from the past may come back into your life again once you’ve grown by a few more pounds. There will be times in all our lives when people you love depart. Sometimes it happens all at once and other times as part of the normal course of life. But there are days and even years when these losses are almost impossible to bear. When people leave your life, with the memories of love left behind the cost is often a part of yourself.

I’ve used this quote before…

“Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell.” ― Edna St. Vincent Millay

Maybe the most important memory you promise to pass on is the ones you have with the people in you life – those still here and those who’ve traveled on to heaven. We all sat around my dining room table one night, friends from forty years ago at college. Photos were passed around the table and all the bits and pieces of long ago were reassembled and put back into place in all our hearts. Right where they were meant to be.

“Sometimes things become possible if we want them bad enough.” ― T.S. Eliot

Don’t let people slip away from your dreams. Pass on to others why they were so important and in so doing who you were (and have become). I passed on a song to my niece this week as she was recuperating. She told me it was soothing. This is her first semester away at college. My memory to share with her was that this was a song sung in a concert during my first weeks at college. The first week at college of her aunt who has been gone to heaven now for a year. When we connect our memories with others it binds us together in a wonderful web of shared hopes and dreams.

“And the memories of all we have loved stay and come back to us in the evening of our life. They are not dead but sleep, and it is well to gather a treasure of them.” ― Vincent van Gogh

During these days and weeks and months of shared suffering, separation, isolation, fear, uncertainty and some hope – work harder at remembering. Help your family and friends to stay anchored to love and faith. That means you’re going to have to do something. Maybe something each day.

We’re still looking for some cars. I’m hoping to keep searching for memories and never give up.

“The things you do for yourself are gone when you are gone, but the things you do for others remain as your legacy.” ― Kalu Ndukwe Kalu

 

 

Your Country Needs You, I Need You

2020, So Much We’d Like to Forget!

How would you describe your 2020 so far? I’m sitting just a little west of Houston right now with Hurricane Laura barreling down on the  Texas/Louisiana border late tonight. We just started the Fall Semester this week at HBU.  Like most colleges and universities in America we are doing a hybrid model with students attending and online. Well, once the hurricane predictions got more accurate, it was decided to go completely online (remote) for the rest of the week. We have students commuting from all over the region. Much better to play it safe!

Have you had time to make a list of what 2020 has really been like for people in our country (not to mention the rest of the world)?

  • Pandemic forces the closing of businesses and an economic shutdown.
  • Quarantining at home keeps people safer. Most of us have been in lock down for six months.
  • Childcare has shut down and parents have had to scramble to find other solutions – that is if they themselves haven’t lost their jobs or were furloughed.
  • Online education replaced public and private school last spring and is happening for many this fall. That means an adult at home is having to supervise what once took place in classrooms.
  • Healthcare and even deaths have dramatically changed our experiences with healthcare professionals and hospitals. You can’t be with loved ones in the hospital!
  • Veering away from the COVID crisis, have you been paying attention to the political circus? This is really the best that the greatest nation on earth can put forth?
  • For so many, the year has brought about loss in one way or another. Dramatic changes in employment, benefits, childcare, and school have created catastrophes in every social class.
  • Well of course, we’ve become increasingly disconnected from one another over the past six months. We took the physical presence of others for granted. In quarantine we only had a text or email. Even now, trying to communicate past a mask while distancing doesn’t do away with all the frustration. It doesn’t bring enough solution to our deeper problem.
  • What has your life been like in lock-down? Too much TV? Not enough church? Have you reached your togetherness limit? Who do you think you’ve become after this much change in your normal routines? Are you finding out what you’re really made of? (Considering posting some homemade music videos?)

Anyone can put together a bad news list. How depressing.

What’s needed are some old fashioned heroes.

Normal, everyday folks like you and me.

Even under the mask, someone who will carry a smile into every frustrating situation, and keep it no matter how deep the fear and anger gets.

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

Someone who will think first and speak second. Who listens carefully and tries to hear what’s behind the inflamed words and withdrawn quietness. People have been cut off from others in lots of ways. Listening is an urgent first step to helping and healing others.

We need everyday heroes who will pick up the slack in our broken political and social culture right now. That means you might have to sit on your opinion, no matter how mad you are. As uncomfortable as it makes you, loving others who are from the opposite end of the spectrum may be just what the doctor ordered.

“It’s a civic virtue to be exposed to things that appear to be outside your interest. In a complex world, almost everything affects you – that closes the loop on pecuniary self-interest. Customers are always right, but people aren’t.” ― Clive Thompson

This virus that has struck the whole world has provided an opportunity for each one of us to see what we’re really made of. It’s a crisis for each of us individually but it’s also a crisis for our family. It’s a crisis for our neighbors and our city – even though we are locked away and socially distant we’re still citizens with a responsibility to others. It’s a crisis for America. Who do you think this will turn us into?

“Democracy gives us citizens a measure of political power. That power comes with a responsibility to foster a culture that makes it possible to live and work well together for the well-being of all.” ― Diane Kalen-Sukra

*************************************************************************

I am late with posting on my blog.

Trying to get ready for the semester has had me all in a fog of panic. All my courses have to be filmed with a new laptop while I’m teaching all medically sealed up and safe for my half class each day (the other half comes on the next day). I just knew I’d fumble the ball. I went to training demonstrations and watched film clips online. When Monday arrived it seemed I knew which buttons to press. Tuesday was a different story.

On Monday, the problem was I had inserted the wrong textbook in the class syllabus and everyone was mixed up about how to launch with their assignments due that week. Ugh!  Then, that afternoon I went to my second class, got all the wires plugged in and waited and waited, no one showed up. Once the time was almost over, it was made clear to me that I had gone to the wrong room. My class had been waiting for me in the right room. Ugh!

So, I had cleared up the fog but remained lost. In the past, I never worried much about instructional technology. My wife’s EdD is in that field. I just always took it for granted that I would have someone to help me over every obstacle. She’s gone to heaven now. In two weeks it will be a year. Every day it has seemed to me as if she just walked out the door.

This has probably been what has slowed me down from blogging. It’s also what has increased my stress about jumping back into this new routine at school. I’m so glad to be back out of my hostage crisis and back with people again. But I think I’m not really aware of my constant broken heart. I’m so thankful for all the heroes in my life.

“We have no reason to mistrust our world, for it is not against us. Has it terrors, they are our terrors; has it abysses, those abysses belong to us; are dangers at hand, we must try to love them. And if only we arrange our life according to that principle which counsels us that we must always hold to the difficult, then that which now still seems to us the most alien will become what we most trust and find most faithful. How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are at the beginning of all peoples, the myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.” ― Rainier Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet