Mama Says

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When I was still a child my mother often instructed me in the ways of being mannerly before we went to visit someone’s home. Among her routine admonitions was the time worn platitude, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Thus we were more likely to remain silent when we saw something that was not to our liking than to accidentally insult our hosts.

I suppose that it would be prudent to resurrect that old saw in light of the current propensity for commenting on virtually everything that occurs, often with a kind of rancor that has no place in the discussion. Because of the relative anonymity of the worldwide web with it’s platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram Snapchat and such far too many individuals feel free to say whatever comes to mind regardless of how unkind the thoughts may be. If a young girl posts a photo of herself in her prom finery invariably someone will take offense and sound off with a negative commentary that is totally inappropriate. Somehow far too many people have come to believe that their opinions matter so much that they must be pronounced regardless of the consequences.

I was watching The Today Show recently and there was a bit of a dust up over a marriage proposal and its appropriateness. It seems that a young woman was receiving her college degree when her boyfriend used the occasion to ask her to marry him. What should have been a double joy for the lady turned into a public debate after she posted the video of the incident online. The images went viral not because people thought that it was sweet, but rather because more than half of those who viewed it wanted to bash the young man for stealing attention from his fiancee’s accomplishment. The comments that followed were unbelievably blunt and accusatory, so much so that the woman at the center of the controversy felt compelled to defend her suitor. In fact she announced that it made a wonderful day even more perfect than it might otherwise have been. In spite of her protests there were still complete strangers who were enraged that the proposal had happened the way it did.

As I listened to the ridiculousness of the story I had to scratch my head in wonderment. I heard my mother’s voice in my head reminding me to bite my tongue unless asked to convey my opinion. I seriously thought that it incredibly bad form for complete strangers to seize what should have been a lovely moment for two people in love to convey their own ideas. My question for them would be, “Who asked you to critique?”

I genuinely believe that if we would revert to old times when simple etiquette was the rule, we might rid ourselves of much of the ugly hurtfulness that so plagues our society. If the young man had wanted anyone’s thoughts on the matter he probably would have inquired, and even then it would have been with people who know him and have some genuine interest in his and his fiancee’s well-being.

On the same day that I heard the story of the proposal gone unintentionally bad, I saw a cute little post on a friend’s wall. It went something like, “A real friend is someone who straightens a loved one’s crooked crown without telling the world.” I like that idea and it is one that I have always followed. It’s embarrassing to have flaws or make mistakes. Such things need not be compounded by public humiliation. There is no worse feeling in the world than having someone make a very big deal about something that should have been only a small moment of assistance.

I would say to those who have been so vehemently and publicly incensed by what they saw to be an unfortunate faux pax with regard to the proposal that it is quite simply none of their business. They have made the matter far worse than it should have been, blighting the young woman’s glorious day in ways that the man who loves her never did. That’s what generally happens when critics publicly impose their tyrannical views. If we are going to straighten crowns it should be done with quiet kindness and out of view.

For many weeks my home was under repair and I had little time for following  the news or Twitter or any of those things. I had to limit my social media time to sharing information about my blog and wishing friends and family Happy Birthday. I founds that I was feeling much more optimistic about the world in general than I had been when I was spending time encountering toxic posts and comments that needn’t have been expressed. My happiness meter went wild. Perhaps it is because I had by omission silenced the negativity that is so rampant today.

I suggest that we simply enjoy the images and commentaries of our friends and acquaintances rather than feeling some kind of compulsion to make suggestions or orchestrate critiques. Just be polite and loving. That is really all that anyone ever wants. If we feel the need to remark be certain that it is positive. Only be truthful if the person has genuinely requested ideas. It’s the old fashioned way to be, and it works rather nicely in the long run. It’s time we all took a deep breath and remembered some of those lessons our mamas taught us.

When Love Is the Way

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I used to sit next to my father listening to him read fairytales to me from the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen. It’s such a warm memory for me and I suppose that it is part of the reason that I am somewhat of a cockeyed optimist. Still, reality has a way of rearing its ugly head all too often. I put those books away for a very long time after my father’s death when I was only eight. Somehow it was too painful to see the stories that had been so much a part of the most wonderful times with him. It was not until I grew older that I realized that having those books and reading the tales inside of them actually brought me to a very peaceful place in which I was able to recall how wonderful it was to have those very special moments with my father. Instead of making me sad, the books now represent something very beautiful in my life and I cherish them and the feelings that they bring to me.

My own life has been punctuated with many trials and tribulations, but I have been mostly blessed. I have a family that has helped me through the most difficult times and friends who have been like brothers and sisters. I enjoy my own fairytale with my husband Mike. We’ve managed to be the best of friends for almost fifty years and I can’t even begin to imagine being with anyone else but him. We laugh and cry together and even find a bit of fun on the most ordinary of days. I suppose that I’ve had two Prince Charmings in my life, my father and my husband.

The world can be cruel and ugly sometimes, just as it is in some of those old stories that fascinated me. In most of them, however, there are happy endings that provide hope for humanity. The good guys win and the bad guys lose. It’s a simple formula, but one to which we all want to cling even when it seems a bit too easy compared to real life. Particularly these days its far easier to be cynical than positive when it feels as though we are surrounded by hatefulness and violence. It’s funny though how life sometimes imitates art, and we find ourselves watching a real fairytale coming true before our eyes.

The love story of Prince Harry Windsor and Meghan Markle has enchanted much of the world, and this past weekend the two became one in a magical ceremony that left us feeling more elated than when Cinderella and her prince lived happily ever after. These two have given us all reason to hope that there will be a triumphant victory over the evils that plague us. In their union there is so much love and the explicit understanding that we are all one people who need not be separated by the kinds of artificial barriers that create misunderstandings and sometimes even hate. All Harry and Meghan see when they gaze at one another is another loving heart. Their romance is the stuff of the imagination or the Hallmark Channel, and yet it is so real and inspiring.

Who would ever have believed that a member of the royal family would fall in love with an American, an actress, a woman of mixed race who had once been divorced? There were so many barriers to overcome, and yet true love won the day. None of those things mattered because their souls are in unison. They complete each other, and their feelings were on full display this past weekend in a ceremony so lovely that few of us who watched will ever forget it. Undoubtedly it was better than even the best fairytale because it was real and we all got to share it.

Harry was dashing in his military uniform with his older brother who will one day be king standing by his side. Meghan was simply gorgeous in the simplicity of her dress. Her beauty literally radiated in her smile and her eyes each time she looked at her prince. Her mother was as regal as the queen, and there was something quite breathtaking about seeing an African American woman whose ancestors had been slaves walking so grandly among royalty.

I always cry at weddings, but this one was extraordinarily emotional for me. It seemed to be joining nations and cultures, not in a political way, but through the very pure power of love. I found myself thinking of Harry’s mom, Diana, and feeling as though he had remembered her lessons just as I had always cherished the teachings that my own father had left in my heart. She had changed the royal worldview even in death, and she would have been so very proud of her son. He has become the man that I am certain she wanted him to be. I felt that she was there in every song, every word, every aspect of the ceremony right down to the Forget Me Nots in Meghan’s bouquet. She would have surely smiled as openly as Meaghan and embraced the spirit of what was happening with unabashed joy.

The union of traditions was particularly touching. Bishop Curry’s address was a stirring homage of the power of love, and a challenge to all of us to embrace it. It is true that when love is the way the world becomes a better place. That was the theme at the heart of the most romantic fairytales and it is more important today than ever. If only we were able to start a powerful domino effect that would lead to loving solutions to all of our problems, the world would be so much the better. Perhaps Harry and Meghan will be a catalyst to remind us of what is truly important.

I went to a fairytale wedding all because two people fell in love. I left understanding the power of that love and believing that there really is hope for our world. I saw my father’s smile in my mind and heard his voice reading to me. I remembered the giving nature and grace of Diana. I listened to the words of Bishop Curry and the angelic voices of the choirs. There was redemption and courage and most of all comfort in all of it. I believe in happy endings once again. We will overcome the strife that now so burdens us. Love will lead the way. 

A Time For Honest Reflection

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Santa Fe High School is practically in my back yard. I see it each time I travel to the beach in Galveston. It is situated along a stretch of road that is dotted with interesting sights, most of which are antique/junk stores, gas stations, fast food places, used car lots, bars, and many dilapidated houses and trailers with trash strewn yards. In the midst of an almost chaotic looking scene is the school, neat and orderly and usually quiet. I have at times found myself wondering who is inside and what is happening there as I quickly drive by eager to seen the sun and surf that is only a few miles away. I almost always quickly forget about my musings, distracted by the fun that I always seem to find along the Texas coast. I don’t think about Santa Fe again until I am once more driving along the highway that passes by a slice of the town. Still I consider the people of Santa Fe to be my neighbors, so it is with an especially heavy heart that I find myself grieving over the violence that took place there last week.

I believe that most of Americans are decent people, and as such we all want to find answers that will finally help to stop the murders that have become far too numerous in our nation’s schools. We want solutions and we need them sooner rather than later. Sadly it appears that we are so divided in our ideas that we may have to endure more deaths until we finally become so weary of the repeated massacres that we get serious enough to make things happen. Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the problem is that there are no easy one size fits all fixes. Instead the issues that we must face are complex and laden with many questions. We may make mistakes as we seek to move forward, but surely the time has come to at least begin to try. That requires that we quit yelling and screaming and insulting one another so that we might successfully tackle this issue, or we are doomed to repeat the deadly scenarios again and again. Our efforts will require patience and understanding and a great deal of love.

One of the things that I have noticed is that we are quick to desire almost instant passage of legislation, some of which may or may not actually work. Instead we need to bring together stakeholders at every level including teachers, administrators, students, parents, grandparents, law officers, lawmakers, and, yes, even gun owners as well as those who would eliminate guns. We have to agree to work with trust and flexibility and honesty so that the end results will be effective. If it costs a great deal of sacrifice to make the needed changes, then so be it. All of us should be willing to pay the price of restoring safety and peace of mind to our schools and places of public gathering.

Guns always seem to be at the top of the list for creating a safer world, and they are certainly a topic that must be discussed. There are definite changes to the law that might help, and we need to be willing to consider such ideas and act on them. Nonetheless, the gun is simply the means of violence, and not the only thing causing so many problems. More important is attempting to understand what the driving force for such horrific incidents may be, so that we may get to the root of the evils that are lurking among us. We have a number of disturbing cultural problems that we can no longer ignore, for they are contributing to societal woes that are creating chaos.

We must ask ourselves why young men in particular act out in such murderous ways. Is it something happening or not happening in the home? Are our educators missing the signs of a disturbed mind or just ignoring behaviors that should be addressed? Does our media inadvertently or purposely glorify mass shootings? Are the games that we allow our children to play for hours on end doing something to affect their brains in a very negative way? Are we to blame for fomenting so much divisiveness and anger between ourselves rather than demonstrating ways of getting along? Is there too much or too little religion in our society? Have we lost our way and confused our young in the process? Have our schools become too stressful or do our students need to engage in more hard work? Are we doing enough for mental illness or do we look away when we see someone who is suffering? Are our movies and televisions programs providing destructive examples for our us and our young? What is missing? What do we need?

There is also the subject of building our schools in such a way that they provide safe spaces in the event of any emergency. We may have to invest in upgrades like stronger doors and locks not just at entrances and exits but also for each classroom. Schools need to have guidelines such as keeping doors locked at all times with only faculty and staff members having keys which they must always carry on their persons. Some campuses have already instituted policies that require anyone entering to pass through metal detectors. Students must carry clear backpacks. Staff members need to inspect lockers regularly. All adults must be in the hallways during passing periods. Visitors must enter through a series of locked doors. Student clothing cannot be baggy or capable of hiding weapons. Such measures may sound over the top, but they are doable. and I have been in schools where they have been successful.

What we do not need are armed teachers. Such an idea will only compound the problems. I shutter to even think about such a situation. I can think of hundreds of ways that doing this sort of thing will actually backfire.  

At least for a time we cannot be lax, nor can we just continue to do what we have always done. We must be willing to admit that no one thing will be effective. We also need to begin to model caring attitudes for our children because they ultimately learn from what they see. Unfortunately, they are witnessing far too much rancor, and few of us are innocent in that regard.

As a mother and an educator I learned rather quickly that continually insulting or degrading someone does not result in improved behavior. To the contrary, it generally breeds discontent and urges to get even. Right now we are in the midst of considering anyone with whom we disagree or who appears different from ourselves to be deplorable. In truth we humans are simply unique individuals each of whom wants to be heard and accepted just as we are. The message we are sending our children is that half of the population that does not concur with our beliefs is horrific. With our votes we are encouraging to our elected officials to be inflexible and aggressive in their dealings with one another. We seem to want to indict entire groups for behaviors of a few whom we disapprove. We are so busy fighting with one another that we are hardly noticing the effect it is having on our children. All too often our response is to shun anyone whose ideas do not mesh with our own, rather than getting to know them better so that we might realize that they are actually good people.

We have much work to do. From what I am seeing we don’t yet seem ready to suspend all of our preconceived notions in order to ultimately do the right thing. Until we reach that point I fear that we will continue to see needless deaths. We are in dire need os thoughts and prayers, but they must begin to focus on asking God to guide us to the solutions that we so desperately need. This is a time for honest reflection.

Running

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There is nothing as stunningly lovely as watching a human or an animal in the act of running, particularly when the form and the speed are nearing perfection. The mechanics of moving fast display bodies at their utmost acheivement of beauty and adaptation to the environment around them. Runners unleash energy and power that seems to overcome the very forces of gravity. We may never be able to fly without a machine, but like gazelles and cheetahs we humans have the ability to push ourselves to move like the wind. When that skill is honed to its highest level it is no less inspiring than a symphony.

Even with our best efforts those who stand erect and run on two legs have never quite found a way to outrun some of the creatures that live around us, but we have bonded with one that has carried us from place to place and in and out of life’s events. That animal is of course the horse, and it is the one creature that I find to be the most strikingly handsome in all of the animal kingdom. Of course that is just an opinion, but one to which I have returned again and again, based solely on the feeling of elation that I always experience whenever I see a horse running wild and free. It is a sight that never fails to take my breath away.

If I seek a friend, I will get a dog, but if I want aesthetic satisfaction I must watch a horse or a group of them doing the things that are so natural to them. They are indeed among God’s most incredible creations, and even though I have never had opportunities to own one or ride one more than passingly, I have had a secret adoration of them. I have been especially envious of  those whose lives have intersected with horses, because I suspect that there is a kind of spiritual union between humans and horses that must be experienced to be understood.

Growing up in Texas I have had ample time to view horses, and I have known many people who owned such animals and enjoyed a kind of oneness with them. Horses became a kind of passion for them that has enriched their lives with a bond between themselves and their animals that releases them from the stresses of daily living. Their horses do not disappoint or become disloyal. Human and horse share a kind of friendship that belies the differences between them. I have seen the faces of those lucky enough to be with horses when they speak of their steeds and the delighted light in their eyes tells me how wondrous it must be to know what they know.

I have two grandsons who are talented runners. When they are moving down the track they leave me breathless both from the realization of how fast they are moving and the loveliness of the mechanics of their bodies. So it is for me with horses, which makes me particularly happy for my granddaughter who is now learning how to ride. She hopes to one day be a veterinarian and hers is not just a childish dream. She is already studying and planning and creating goals to realize her ambition. Learning to ride a horse is part of that objective. She understands that she must become familiar and relaxed with animals if she is to one day care for them. She must know them with all of their tendencies and traits. I admire her so for following through on her passion just as my grandsons do with their running, but I am also secretly thrilled that she will ride horses regularly as I have always wished to do.

It’s too late for me to join my granddaughter on the back of a stallion. My bones are brittle and easily broken. I have been warned by my doctors to stay away from sport that may result in a fall, so have put away my skates and sold my bicycle. I have to keep my feet as firmly planted on the ground as possible, but nothing can keep me from watching and observing. I can still enjoy the sight of my grandsons running with so much grace. Nothing is stopping me from enjoying the image of a horse running with or without a rider. It is such a glorious sight that I am able to picture it in my mind, and it always makes me smile.

We humans dominate nature and its creatures. We should always remind ourselves to be stewards of the abundant blessings that have been bestowed upon us. It is incumbent that we care for what we have and never forget to appreciate what we have been given. Life is precious whether it be a a flowering garden, an animal living beside us, or a baby in a womb. We have been tasked to make the most of all of earth’s treasures, and just as we care for our own health we must be conscious of the health of our planet and all that exists on it. I would hate to think that we might one day awake to find that the trees and flowers have turned brown or the waters are clouded with debris. Even worse would be losing our animals. Like many native Americans I believe that the horses and dogs and bears and bees are our brothers and sisters. They were meant to be as much a part of our earth as are we, and so we must remind ourselves to honor them as best we can.

I can imagine the sight of powerful horses running with precision, but I don’t want to imagine a world without them. I don’t believe that any of us are on the brink of extinction, but I do believe that without curbing our own hungers we might destroy far too much of our world. Our rule should be to find moderation in all things. Waste not want not is a very good motto. Turn out a light. Walk more. Eat less. Repair rather than throw away. Simplify, simplify, simplify. Keep the horses running. Keep humankind at its best.

Lois Lane Is Dead

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Lois Lane is dead. Well, not really, but Margo Kidder, an actress who played her, died in her sleep last week. Margo was a talented and quite interesting woman who suffered from bipolar disorder. During the nineties she had a manic episode and ended up wandering through backyards in a confused state. That landed her in the headlines and a psychiatric hospital. Somehow people mostly forgot about all of the work in film that she had done and concentrated instead on thinking of her as a “crazy” person. The truth is that once she was treated for her illness she went on to perform on stage, and in films and television, even being nominated for an Emmy for some of her work. Mental illness quite simply is rarely viewed in the same way as other diseases, and those who are afflicted with disorders often find their lives filled with loneliness as acquaintances that they once knew shy away from them.

Mental illness comes and goes in the news, but not much of substance is ever done. We speak of shortages of care and problems with laws that make it difficult for families to get the proper services for family members, but mostly it comes down to talk and more talk, but little constructive action. There are not enough doctors, not enough care facilities and not enough dollars for treatments to sufficiently deal with what is becoming a growing problem across the nation.

A few years back President Barack Obama set aside fifty million dollars to be shared by each of the states. That may have sounded like a step in the right direction, but if you do the math you realize that each area only received one million dollars, a drop in the bucket given the dire needs. In some places a million dollars is the cost of a house, and can hardly be considered a means of dealing with the many forms of mental illness that plague our society. Still, I was grateful that the president actually acknowledged the problem with some financing, even if it barely scratched the surface.

A recent study indicated that many individuals with mental illnesses go to emergency rooms to find care. While this may sound inefficient, it is understandable. I was constantly searching for psychiatrists who were willing to provide therapy for my mother who had bipolar disorder. The hunt was maddening. Some took only cash. Others accepted only certain insurance plans. Still others only wanted to work with children, or teenagers, or those in their twenties or thirties. Even when I managed to find someone willing to take her case, I often had to wait for weeks to get an appointment. If I felt that my mother was in a crisis situation the doctors almost always suggested that I take her to an emergency room.

On one occasion my brothers and I waited at a hospital with her for over six hours without receiving any kind of attention. It has been reported that many mentally ill patients will literally stay in an emergency room waiting area for days hoping to be seen, and even then there is often no room in the psychiatric ward for them. It can be frustrating beyond description because someone who is experiencing a manic episode is not patient, and in the case of my mother is most often psychotic and paranoid as well.

Imagine our anxiety when midnight came and we were still sitting with little hope of having our mother seen by a professional. Our optimism was dashed when the county sheriff showed up with a van load of prisoners all of whom had to be assessed for mental competence. Even though we had been there for six hours, by law the men in chains had to come first, and it would be many more hours before the medical professionals would get to our mother. In the meantime, she saw the handcuffs and the law men and began to imagine that someone was going to jail her as well. She became so frightened that she demanded that we leave. Of course we ended up taking her home with no medication and no help whatsoever.

When my brothers tried again to take Mama to her regular doctor the next day, they were told to return to the emergency room. They spent another sixteen hours before she was finally assessed and sent to a dreary facility in Bellaire that seemed more like a prison that a place designed to be therapeutic. It was enough to make us scream or cry.

The point is that my mother had good health insurance and still we were not able to find competent physicians to help her. I once spent five eight hour days calling all over town to secure an appointment with a psychiatrist. When I finally reached someone who was willing to help I was ecstatic. He was an incredible doctor who helped her to become well and in better shape than she had been in years. To our utter dismay the clinic where he worked decided that he was too expensive for their budget and he had to leave to work at a psychiatric hospital that would not allow him to do outpatient care. We were back to square one and my mother’s mental health deteriorated while we began the search again.

In our country we worry about so many things that are unimportant by comparison to caring for those afflicted with mental illness. We have little empathy for them or for their families. We turn our heads embarrassed by their actions when they are desperately ill. We think that somehow it is their fault that they are so often in Catch 22 situations. Only if we have to attempt to navigate through the maze of barriers do we begin to understand just how desperate the circumstances actually are. If we combine the difficulty of finding care with the stigma attached to mental illnesses the problems are compounded and complex.

I often see the eyes of my audience glaze over as soon as I bring up the topic of mental illness. It is a conversation that nobody wants to have. We are unwilling to admit our neglect and abuse of those who suffer from disorders that make them seem scary. We have yet to take mental illness as seriously as we need to do. I will keep shouting in the wilderness until I am no longer able or until we agree as a people to get something done.