Peace On Earth

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We have a human longing for peace on earth, goodwill toward all people. Somehow it feels as though such sentiments are little more than an ideal, a dream, and yet we are driven to at least try to make the world a better place. Ironically much of the rancor that occurs as we do our best to create harmony arises from our differing interpretations as to how to achieve such a lofty goal. We are only too aware of limited resources and the role that they play in our everyday relationships. We desire to be fair, but we also have tendencies that drive us to protect ourselves and those that we love. The tension between wanting to be magnanimous and satisfying our need to feel safe has been the enigmatic force that pushes and pulls us, and often leaves us quibbling rather than working toward a common good.

History has demonstrated time and again that there are indeed very good people sacrificing themselves in the service of others, but there are also evil doers who care little for anyone but themselves. Somehow we have to be astute enough to identify who is who lest we fall for propaganda and promises that rely on our fears and our darker sides. At the same time we cannot be naive about the ways of the world lest we become martyrs to noble causes without the grit to overcome the darkest aspects of human nature. Progress toward the peace that we so desire sometimes requires defensive measures that invoke violence. Thus is the conundrum of human history.

Watching the news these days makes it very difficult to believe that we will ever again find a measure of calm. There are hot spots all over the planet, and they have nothing to do with climate but rather everything to do with our grievances. We have battles between rich and poor, this religion and that, the powerful and the powerless, male and female, the educated and laborers, one nation and another. It’s difficult to find a place anywhere on earth that is immune to the disagreements that result from our diversity of opinions. It can be quite disheartening to watch the rancor playing out even as we pray for love and kindness to be the order of the day. We wonder and worry about the future and what it may bring.

Then we witness the death of a very good person like George H.W. Bush. We have the opportunity to see the entirety of his life. We hear his philosophies and mull over his words. We realize that there is indeed reason for optimism. We see that in spite of sharing our own tendencies to make mistakes and wrong choices he managed to live a life mostly comprised of forgiveness, compassion and a willingness to adjust his course when he needed to rethink his ways of meeting the world. We realize that qualities like honor, service, devotion to family never really go out of style. We see that true courage is not brash or insulting, but rather quietly committed to a cause. We learn from a man like President Bush that being a leader means cherishing those that we lead. We find that embracing defeat makes us champions. Somehow in viewing the life of such a man we find the hope that we have been seeking.

I doubt that we will change overnight simply because we have been reminded of how to bring out our better natures, but somehow I suspect that we will pause long enough to rethink the course of our nation and our world. We will begin to remember what is most important and we may even learn to get along again. We will search for the good rather than focusing on grievances. We will ask not what others can do for us, but what we can do for them. Then we will be back on the path to peace.

Somehow we humans keep repeating the same choruses over and over. We fight for a time and then grow weary. We work together for a time and then grow jealous. We forget those who struggle and then remember to work as hard for them as we do for ourselves. The patterns seem to repeat themselves with regularity, but we don’t have to be caught in a wheel of fortune over which we have no control. We can become more peaceful bit by tiny bit, but it will require a willingness to open our minds and to be more forgiving,

I read a profoundly wise article recently that spoke to the idea that it is often our self righteousness that leads to the battles between differing factions. We fail to see the reasons why people believe as they do. Instead we condemn them for what we see as faulty thinking. We spew epithets at them and posture as though we are somehow better. The anger between each side only grows. Sometimes the most difficult stance that we may ever take is simply to be nice even when we are being misunderstood.

I think that this is the essence of the message left to us by Jesus Christ, and whether or not we believe that He was indeed a savior and the son of God His example shows us exactly how to behave toward one another. In this season that celebrates His birth we should learn about and think about His life because it was a model of what is best in each of us. If we do nothing more than celebrate Him as a great historical figure we should still emulate His way of life, for it was profoundly wise. He demonstrated how to find peace on earth good will toward men by embracing and forgiving even those who have wronged us. It’s a difficult task, but one that will lead us closer to the world we desire.

What’s In A Word?

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I get a big kick out of looking at all of the cute t-shirts in tourist spots like Estes Park, Colorado. Some of them are quite hilarious. On my most recent visit there I saw a shirt that made me roar with laughter. It featured two bears gazing down at a human camper who was unknowingly the subject of the bears’ conversation. One remark was, “Let’s eat. Bob.” The other was “Let’s eat Bob.” Thus noting the importance of punctuation.

Of course I chuckled over that one and would have instantly purchased the shirt but for the fact that it came in a putrid green color that made me look as though I had some kind of serious disease. Nonetheless, it made me think about how easily our words can be misinterpreted, especially in these days in which misunderstandings are so commonplace. One unfortunate word choice or misplaced comma can make a world of difference in how people view remarks. When dealing with the written word from times past it can become even more unsettling. We have a tendency to view commentaries from our own perspectives rather than taking the time to consider that there have been different ways of expressing ideas in different places and eras. What may seem just fine in a certain place or time, my appear to be rude or out of style in today’s world.

I’ve been reading all sorts of ridiculous claims from people who are finding offense in the strangest places. In one instance a national news and editorial outlet noted what they saw as blatant racism in the old Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special. The source of the angst was that Franklin, the little Black child, was sitting all by himself on one side of the table. I suppose that one might draw some conclusions about that, but the fact is that the character was introduced into the Peanuts family by Charles Shultz in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The intent of the cartoonist was to demonstrate that we are all one big family, not to discriminate. I feel relatively certain that Mr. Shultz would be appalled to think that his always loving cartoon might have offended someone.

I’ve also heard of people becoming upset with some of the classic Christmas stories and songs. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer has come under particular fire for featuring bullies and because Rudolph’s father was ashamed of him. Those who complain about it miss the point that Rudolph eventually became a hero, demonstrating that differences are powerful, not something of which to be embarrassed. Even a small child seems to understand the moral of the story, but some adults are fretting over ideas that I don’t think there are really there. What I would suggest is that those who don’t like the story or the song simply choose not to watch.

I saw a number of comments on Facebook about how virtually every well known Christmas carol might be misinterpreted depending on one’s point of view. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town might actually show Santa to be a peeping and a stalker according to one way of viewing the song. I even read a story about someone who thought that White Christmas is a homage to far right extremists. Maybe those who think such things should watch the movie with Bing Crosby and Danny Kay to set the record straight. And so it goes,,,Deck the Halls insults gays, I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus is too suggestive for children, Santa Baby is about gold diggers. It’s enough to make one run screaming from the room.

It all makes me wonder how often I have unwittingly insulted someone. I write lots of word all the time. It seems certain that I have probably made people angry when my intent has never been to do so. We live in very sensitive times.

I appreciate the classes that I took as part of my college studies. Most of my professors in English, History and Psychology classes emphasized the necessity of learning more about the lives of the people in particular places and times. Without that important background information we have no context for their actions and remarks. The world has definitely changed from one decade to another and with those evolutions have come different ways of understanding the exact same words and ideas. Grass used to refer on to the green stuff that grows on lawns. By the twentieth century it was commonly used to speak of marijuana as well was the term “pot.” The word gay once only meant a form of happiness, now it is used to refer to a group of people and their sexual orientation. We add words and meanings to our dictionaries constantly, but we too often ignore the original ways that people spoke. We forget history and react as though we are the first and only generation to inhabit the earth.

I suggest that people take a chill pill unless utterances are egregiously vile and meant to be that way. When I don’t like something I simply choose to eliminate it from my world, abut I also attempt to be understanding. It doesn’t bother me that some people do not believe in the same meaning of Christmas that is mine. I’m all for wishing people Happy Holidays, Happy Kwanza, Happy Hanukkah or whatever works best for them. Diversity is a beautiful thing, but so is a “live and let live” attitude. Let’s just spread love during this holiday and everything will be so much better.

A Move

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I know a number of people who think they would enjoy moving to Colorado, including both of my daughters. They want to go there for the natural beauty, but others that I know prefer the politics of Colorado to that of Texas, and think that they might be more content in a place with people like themselves. I have to admit that when I visit Colorado it is always fun and beautiful, but I’m also quite happy where I am in Houston, and don’t see much reason to move at this late stage in my life.

I have a cousin who set his roots down there long ago. He has told me that he had believed that seeing the beautiful mountains each day would somehow solve all of his problems. He soon learned that his troubles only followed him and that he was sometimes as miserable in the midst of enchanting scenery as he had been in the flat ticky tacky world of Houston. He would advise anyone thinking of moving in the hopes of avoiding troubles that it’s best to get things in order first, and then make the the trek.

I recently visited Colorado to attend a cousin’s wedding. We spent a great deal of time in Estes Park, Drake, Lyons, Loveland, Fort Collins and Denver. It was gloriously beautiful there and the views of the mountains were breathtaking. I tried to imagine what it would be like to wake up to such scenes every single day. it was quite cold during our visit and on one of the days travel became particularly hazardous because of snow and ice on the roads. The residents mostly drive vehicles with four wheel drives and all weather tires. Our car was not made for the elements that they face, so we had to be even more careful.  We were turned away from Rocky Mountain National Park by careful rangers who explained that our auto would be no match for the elements there.

It was exciting to see real winter, something that is so rare in Houston. Still I had to wonder what it would be like to endure weeks and months of such days. The cars were filthy from the snow on the roads and nobody had hair that was styled. In between the wind and the mandatory hats most people just gave up and made few attempts to look well coiffed. My skin quickly became dry and wrinkles that I didn’t even know were there began to show through. I more and more resembled my age of seventy than I do in the humidity of Houston.

I decided to check out the real estate to see what I might be able to afford if I were to make a change one day along with those who insist that they will one day move to Colorado. I soon found that I would have to trade my twenty seven hundred square foot home for one that was built in the nineteen forties with about fifteen hundred square feet, one bathroom, two bedrooms and a dinky very outdated kitchen. Somehow the luster of Colorado wore off rather quickly when I realized how much I would have to give up unless I was willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars more than the present worth of my current home.

Then there was the matter of the people that we met. They were all nice enough but they were actually eager to know more about Texas. They spoke longingly of how nice it would be to live in a warm climate. They imagined days without shoveling snow and grew excited when I told them that they would be able to trade in their small old houses for larger new homes. I was also somewhat surprised by the number of people that I saw smoking everywhere that I went. I suppose that it is possible that they were enjoying some pot rather than indulging in nicotine, but I never asked one way or another. I hardly ever see smokers where I live, so the sight was a bit shocking to me.

Then there is the matter of friends and family. Most of the people about whom I really care live in Texas. I would be willing to follow them to San Antonio or Austin and might even consider Dallas, but moving far away to another state just isn’t appealing. I much prefer just visiting Colorado whenever the mountains call me and I know that I must go. I don’t suppose that I need to be there every single day to cure the mountain fever that sometimes overcomes me.

I will never say never about anything but at this juncture in my life it seems very unlikely that I will ever move from the great state of Texas. It has many problems, but I still love the place. I’ve never been anywhere that has as much diversity as Houston, Texas, and remarkably we all get along quite well. I really don’t want to just be with “my own kind.” I like the great variety that is found in my hometown. Houston is vibrant and alive because of its people. That is truly what matters most to me.

I have many second homes, places that I so love that I return to them again and again. I can’t get enough of New Orleans, and I’m ready to go to San Francisco anytime. I love Boston and New York City and Savannah and Santa Fe. Colorado energizes me and brings me peace, but it is Houston where my heart is and will always remain.

It’s A Wonderful Life

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The Hallmark Channel is loved by many for its holiday movies. The plots are always upbeat and right out of a stock formula. Those of us watching always know exactly what is going to happen, but we love those films nonetheless. Many of the themes revolve around falling in love at Christmas time. I can relate to that because one of the most wondrous moments of my life happened during the holidays.

I had been dating my husband for about a year and told everyone that who would listen that I was madly in love with him. In fact, I knew after our first date that the two of us had an almost magical connection. We spent every free moment that we had doing things together and those feelings only grew. We were young and a bit naive, but the world around us was filled with angst caused by the war in Vietnam, the draft, assassinations of leaders, war protests, and attempts to find justice and civil rights for our Black citizens. It was a time of great uncertainty and a feeling that the world might blow up before our very eyes. It the midst of that atmosphere Mike and I were certain that we were in love.

Just before Christmas Mike came to my mother’s home and lead me to the Christmas tree. Under the twinkling lights, made even more delightful by the shimmer of icicles, he took my hand and asked me to marry him. I recall feeling overwhelmed by emotion, but I knew without hesitation that my answer was “yes.” It was one of the best events of my life, and yet I had no idea back then how truly wonderful our partnership together would be. If ever I had a Hallmark movie moment it was surely on that night.

We’ve had fifty Christmases as man and wife and they have always been happy, even in the most difficult of times. We were hopelessly young when we walked down the aisle but we muddled through those years when we were still practically children. On our first Christmas we purchased an inexpensive assortment of glass ornaments of various colors and put them on a tiny tree that stood on a desk in our apartment. We had seen a little Nativity set that cost under ten dollars and we splurged to buy it. I still remember how proudly we placed in under the branches of the tree. We still have the manger and have lovingly set it at the foot of our tree foe fifty years. Over that time our decorations have become more and more elaborate.

Now we have a nine foot tree in our great room and companion trees in three other rooms. It takes more than seven storage boxes to hold all of the figurines and orbs that we have collected from one year to the next. We bring back Christmas ornaments from virtually every place that we visit. We have also created collections of Swarovski snowflakes and Lennox gingerbread men. We delight over the whimsical Hallmark ornaments that remind us of bygone years. We have ornaments from friends and homemade items from our children. Every single sparkly item finds a home, even the original glass balls that are now faded from age. I’m a very sentimental sort who even saves the ones made from old Christmas cards and photographs.

Through a great deal of hard work we have created quite a wonderful life for ourselves, but that glorious feeling that I felt in my heart underneath my family’s Christmas tree so long ago has never faded. If anything it has grown even stronger as Mike and I have experienced the realities of life that can sometimes be incredibly difficult. We’ve walked hand in hand through tears and laughter and I still don’t believe that I would ever have found a better partner if I had searched the world over.

We were blessed with great families and remarkable friends. We have shared so many times with people who extend the reach of our love, and of course our children and grandchildren have been the very heart of what we cherish most. Each Christmas Day when they gather at our home I feel a burst of pride and joy that might also make a great Hallmark movie story. I truly believe that if the folks who create those films had simply followed us through the years they would have a great story to tell, one that we celebrate each Christmas.

The honest truth about people my age is that we don’t actually realize how old we may appear to others. In our hearts and minds we still see ourselves as those crazy young kids glowing with the blush of love and expectation. If I had the opportunity to go back in time to change things a bit I suppose that I would be reluctant to alter a single thing. I would be afraid that in doing so I might not be exactly where I am right now. I suspect that’s why I so love the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life. The story reminds me so much of my own. My journey has been unlike anything I had imagined in my youth and amazingly it came out even better.

As I gaze down through the years I am quite content and ready to celebrate the wonderful day when Christ was born and Mike and I made a promise to love each other until the end of our time. If I could have just one wish come true it would be that everyone would be able to find true love and enjoy a lifetime with a kindred spirit. It is indeed wonderful.

The Reason For The Season

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I’ve got my Christmas trees decorated, some of my gifts purchased and wrapped, a few of my Christmas cards addressed, and lights twinkling in my front yard. It’s really looking like Christmas 2018 is well on its way. As I celebrate this year I pause now and again to think of people that I know and even some who are strangers who are suffering and finding it difficult to find the joy that I feel. I know all too well how Christmas time can be quite difficult for those who have experienced great loss or who are watching a loved one suffer. It can be quite lonely to observe the world seeming to have so much fun when everything around you is falling apart.

As I begin my revelry I think of a family whose father died quite unexpectedly the day after Thanksgiving. They are bereft and struggling to make sense of what has happened to them. I truly understand their pain for long ago when I was only a child of eight my I awoke on a Memorial Day to learn that my beloved father had died in a car accident the evening before. My entire world crashed down around me and my family seemed to be locked in a state of chronic grief. It felt as though nothing would ever feel normal again, and when Christmas came the old rituals felt odd and out of place. It was when friends and family members came to visit that I began to understand that we would eventually be alright. The gift of love brought us through the darkness and suddenly the lights on our Christmas tree shone so brightly.

I know of a man who is so very ill that his doctors have pronounced that he is living his last days. He drifts in and out of a hazy state of mind. He is a good man and his family would love nothing more than for some beautiful miracle that would save his life for a bit longer. Sadly they know that this is unlikely to happen, and so they make their Christmas preparations with heavy hearts. It is difficult to go through the motions that have been so joyful and routine in the past. They plant smiles on their faces even while their hearts are breaking.

A few years back we were wearing their shoes. My mother-in-law lay in a hospital in a coma after suffering a stroke. While the rest of the world was partying and visiting Santa we sat in her room in a watch that would only lead to her death. We rarely left the hospital and when we did it felt so strange to see signs of Christmas all around us. It was hard to imagine the revelry that was taking place as we felt such sorrow.

That was a very strange Christmas for our family. After her death we gathered as usual on Christmas Day for dinner and the exchange of gifts. It felt as though we were in some strange out of body experiment as we so half heartedly carried on. What helped us most were the cards and letters and gifts of flowers and love from friends who demonstrated how much they understood how we felt. We were not forgotten in the rush of the season and it meant so much to us.

I know of a recently widowed woman who is attempting to find her life without the partner with whom she shared so many joys. She is hurting and more than willing to express her sorrow. She is sustained by words of compassion and indications that she has not been forgotten. It will take time for her to heal, but that time will eventually come. Until then she simply needs hugs and love.

I suspect that each of us knows of someone who is having a very hard time this Christmas. As we load our busy calendars with promises of parties and good times, we would do well to take a bit of time to remember those who are suffering. My mother was wonderful at doing that. She spent a few minutes each day just calling people to cheer them. It was a simple gesture that took little time, but when she died all of those whom she had gifted with her compassion remembered those moments and spoke of how much they had meant. I was overwhelmed when I learned just how often she had quietly brought joy for people with the simple gesture of letting them know that they had not been forgotten in the rush of the season.

I am feeling fortunate and happy this year. I plan to enjoy Christmas, but I will also take the time  to remember that it is not a joyful time everywhere. There are people who are hungry, sick, lonely, grieving all around us. As they view the celebrating their sorrow only becomes more intense. They need us to remember them and make them part of our plans.

I hope to go see my aunts who are now in their nineties and living in nursing homes. They used to decorate every corner of their homes and bake goodies for days. Now they are bound to wheelchairs and dependent on the kindness of others. I want to bring them the cheer that they so deserve. I also plan to be sensitive to those who have lost or may be about to lose a loved one as they struggle through the season. Their hearts are heavy and they are in pain. I want to do something special for them.

Christmas is a time for remembering that Jesus Himself came down for the express purpose of saving us all. If we truly celebrate in the most appropriate way we will include those who need us most when we make our plans.