Quelling the Rage

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I’m nearing the beginning of my seventh decade of life. For nearly seventy years now I have led a rather quiet existence, which is actually the way that I prefer it to be. I love people, but need my space now and again. I am more of an observer of human nature than someone who eagerly joins particular groups. A quiet walk with a dear friend brings me far more happiness than attending a raucous party. I accept change as inevitable and enjoy innovations, but worry about ideas that throw the baby out with the bath water. I am fiercely loyal, and will go to battle for those that I love, but mostly I am a peaceful sort. I tend toward diplomacy and flexibility rather than being an ideologue. I know that I had the talents to attain fame or fortune, but I have always been more inclined to focus my efforts on the pursuit of the smaller causes in my little corner of the world. I can honestly say that I am exactly the person that I seem to be with only a few exceptions and they are minor. I sometimes lose my cool and curse in a manner that would have made my dear mother blush, but I also know how to control such impulses in public out of respect. I attempt to be fair and rational even though my nature is to let my heart rule. I am happy and content with my life.

I once dreamed of living in an upscale neighborhood in Houston like West University Place. I imagined myself driving around town in a Mercedes Benz. I actually thought that the true sign of success came with wealth. I’ve outgrown such silliness. I like my tract home in Pearland. I’ve created my own little island of comfort inside its walls. I no longer desire to spend my money on a big fancy car that will eventually wear out anyway. In fact, there is very little that I want or need beyond the hope that life will be as good for my friends and family as it has been for me.

At this point I realize that our lives are filled with ups and downs. One day we may be on the top of the world, and the next we feel shattered. When my father died I thought that my mother and brothers and I were surely doomed. I learned that it is possible to overcome even the emotional trauma of death. When I finally realized that my mother’s mental illness was chronic I had already gathered the strength, tools and allies to fight her disease. I’ve seen times when there was little or no food in my pantry, but I used my ingenuity to design a meal out of whatever I had. There came a moment when I found the confidence within my heart that I never realized had been waiting there all along. Life has been a fight at times, but I know how to gird myself and enter the fray. I’ve got some battle scars, but then so does everyone who makes it to my stage in life.

Still, I worry, not so much for myself but for those who will follow me. I see so many demanding that we choose sides in fights that really don’t even need to happen. I am more and more often identified not as the unique individual that I am, but rather as a member of one subgroup or another. I much prefer simply viewing myself as a human being with all of the glory and imperfections that the name implies. I am a member of a long history of people who have had the privilege of spending time on this earth, those who for centuries have tried to be their best and to leave a legacy of peace and progress for the young. Like them I have both succeeded and failed. I learned to hang tough and just keep moving forward with each new day. When I arise in the morning it feels almost like a kind of spiritual resurrection in which I have yet another opportunity to set things right. There is something gloriously hopeful about knowing that this is true.

Of late I see things that are contrary to my nature. People are being tried in the court of public opinion without regard to evidence or fairness. There is an anger in the air that is difficult to ignore, and the most vocal often insist that we each choose a side or be found guilty of thoughts and beliefs that we actually do not hold. Rules and mores are crumbling beneath a wave of ideas that suggest that discussions, critical thinking and compromises are not only outmoded, but actually harmful. Friend turns on friend over issues promulgated by people who seek power, and we too often fall for their methods of dividing us. I truly wonder if these trends will only end after we have been scarred and injured by the chaos. Do we have to hit rock bottom before we are willing to change?

I might easily just close my door, pull down my blinds and ignore the furor. It would perhaps be the easiest thing to do. I might just leave all of the trouble to the young folk, and just enjoy the contentment that has found me at last. Still, I feel a sense of duty to do my small part to quell the rage that only seems to grow in our nation. I search for the source but only find frustration, because it seems to me that it emanates from far too many groups to name. There is a kind of hypocrisy that has overtaken our leaders that makes me continually feel as though I am the little boy in the fairytale that my father once read to me about an emperor who had no clothes. I wonder why I can see that it is so, and so many are blind to the very idea.

I suppose that I will keep trying to bring people together, even as I see how often my intentions are misunderstood. It is worth the effort to work to end the bloodless civil war in which our country is now engaged. I may not lead a movement but I have the right and the power to voice my concerns, and hopefully we will begin to get grip on ourselves before the arguments lead to the kind of violence that once ripped our ancestors apart.

I sense that I am not alone in wanting the fighting to cease. I believe that there are enough of us to begin a quiet movement before it is too late. At least I am willing to try.

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Praying For Her Happiness

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She came to school wearing a lady’s wig. At first I thought it was a silly prank that she was pulling because the brunette bouffant swallowed her tiny face. Still she looked beautiful with her blue eyes staring from beneath the fringe of bangs that were so long that they touched her eyelids. When the students in my class began to taunt her tears welled up like raindrops on an azure lake. That’s when I knew that something was terribly wrong.

I took her gently aside and asked why she was sporting the strange headpiece. She whispered that she had to do so because her own hair was gone. We found a private area and she lifted the wig to show me her shorn head. It had been shaved all the way down to the scalp. She explained that her mother had found nits in her hair and became enraged that she had brought such foul creatures into the house. Before the girl knew what was happening her mom ordered her into the backyard and soon met her with an electric razor, ranting her disgust all the while that she removed every last shred of hair from the child’s scalp.

When the girl cried and asked her mom how she would be able to face her classmates she was told that she had brought the embarrassment upon herself. Eventually the mother calmed her irritation just a bit and brought out the wig, insisting that the girl cover her shame with the ridiculous head piece. The little child sobbed as she told me her story. She mentioned over and over again how much she loved her parent and that she didn’t want to cause anymore trouble. She just wanted to go back to the classroom and face the music from her peers. She maintained that she would be just fine and that her hair would soon enough grow again.

I was her teacher and had to report the incident to the principal and the school nurse. We learned that this was not the first time that the mother had targeted the sweet child with abusive behavior. For some reason she was the unloved one among her siblings. In spite of her sweet nature and her attempts to please, she was often harangued with guilt trips that outlined her faults. She was compared unfavorably to her sisters and made to believe that she was somehow unworthy of praise and love.

I cried about this child. I lost sleep worrying about her. There was little more that I was able to do than to emphasize to her just how truly wonderful she actually was. I was careful to show her the kindness that seemed to be lacking in her home. Unfortunately she was one of many children in my class that year who were living in abusive situations. Even the nurse’s report to CPS did little to change her circumstances. The social workers were overworked and bound by rules and regulations that prevented them from making truly setting things right.

I’ve found myself thinking about this little girl for decades. She would have been about ten years old back then which means that she is now a woman in her forties. I hope that things turned out well for her, but I fear what might have happened. She was beautiful and brilliant and as sweet as can be, but for whatever reason her mother found her lacking. She acted as though she took the abuse in stride, but in truth she was always a bit anxious as though she was always waiting for the next insult to land. She was apologetic just for being who she was.

I worry that she went from the frying pan into the fire. Perhaps she landed in an abusive situation with a man. Nonetheless I prayed that in some wondrous miracle she finally realized her own worth and managed to heal herself. I’d like to believe that she eventually became strong enough to understand that she had never been the problem. Many people have overcome such backgrounds, and she certainly had all of the natural talents to do so. Still, I know all too well how constant denigration can erode self esteem to the point of creating permanent scars.

In my career I witnessed such sadness far more than I might have wished. I always wondered what makes a parent despise a child. In all probability the mother had been somehow abused herself. Maybe she suffered from an undiagnosed mental illness. Perhaps she was simply overwhelmed by circumstances. Maybe she was just mean.

We never know exactly what to do in such cases. Children seem to love their parents even when the parents are unnaturally cruel. They prefer taking the verbal or physical beatings rather than being separated because their reality is so devoid of love. Knowing that such things are all too often commonplace was the the most difficult aspect of my time as a teacher. I grew to love each of my students and felt protective of them. When they were still overwhelmed by poverty, ignorance, or abuse I found myself wishing that I had some wonderful power to change things for them.

I have several unimaginably compassionate friends like Chrystal and Fran who serve as foster parents. I have watched them shower children with kindness and love. They have gone out of their way to welcome little lost souls into their families. They provide a refuge and a place of hope. I admire them so, because I know how difficult their roles may sometimes be. They are true angels who sacrifice physically and emotionally to help someone else’s child, even knowing that just when they become attached the little one may be returned to a questionable situation. Theirs is a goodness that I applaud, for instead of only hoping and praying they are actually doing something to ease the pain of such kids.

There are many children who are confused and battered and unloved. Perhaps if more of us were like my friends we might save them from the horrors that blight their childhood and no doubt influence their lives as adults. Whenever the image of the beautiful little girl with the absurd wig comes into my mind, I wish I had done more and I pray that she is finally happy. Most of all I hope she understood that I believed that she was wonderful.

Navigating Through Treacherous Waters

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I am a mom, a grandmother, an aunt, an educator. To perform these roles adequately I have often had to search for the wisdom of Solomon, the compassion of Mother Teresa, the patience of Job, and the understanding of Mister Rogers. There have been times when I have also had to be steadfast in my resolve to discipline the young souls for whom I was responsible in the hopes of guiding them to the right paths of honor and morality. Perhaps the most challenging task of any adult is helping future generations to find their best selves. It is a job that garners much worry and many sleepless nights, but the reward of watching an upstanding adult emerge from the confusions of teenage years is priceless.

Anyone who has accepted the responsibility of loving, teaching, influencing the growth and maturity of a young person knows how difficult it can be, particularly during adolescence. A tiny child may demand so much of our attention that we are left panting with exhaustion. While a teen is far more independent, the challenges of parenting or mentoring are even greater. As the young persons attempts to find their way the influence of peers becomes ever more important. The need to think for themselves often causes them to push adults away in favor of making their own decisions. The pull from the outside world sometimes threatens to overtake all of the hard work that adults have invested. It can be a frightening time for even the most wonderful families each time the teen leaves home to be with friends. There are dangerous situations out in the world, and the possibilities for trouble are many. As adults we hope and pray that the lessons that we have conveyed will assist our young ones in making sound decisions.

We read of raucous parties on college campuses and the sometimes horrific consequences of such events. We know from our own experiences that these kinds of things can create mixed emotions in someone not yet firmly assured of themselves. I remember a few celebrations that went way over the top, and how I waffled between wanting to fit in with the group and longing to get away as quickly as possible. Because my mother was a single parent dealing with a mountain of problems of her own I generally monitored my own behavior lest I add to her cares and woes. Nonetheless, I recall feeling torn and wondering if I looked abnormal to my friends who were partaking fully of the bacchanal. The temptations to take dangerous risks were all around me and I might have indulged under different circumstances. Luckily neither I nor my friends ever went so far as to find ourselves in deep trouble, but the thin line between doing what was right and engaging in dangerous behaviors was never too far away. For some it was simply a matter of never being caught.

I write these things because of the importance of conveying the message to our young of the need to be resolute in avoiding the pressure of a crowd. Temptations will be there as surely as they have always been. Nonetheless there are certain behaviors that they need to avoid out of decency and respect for themselves and the people that they know. They are more likely to remember our lessons if they have seen us model the principles that we preach from day to day. Words are only as good as actions. We have to show them what righteous people do.

One of the reasons that I have loved and appreciated my husband for well over fifty years now is that his mother and father raised him to be an honorable man. His father treated his mother with the highest regard. He has always been a gentleman in every sense of the word. My husband saw the love and dignity of his parents’ relationship playing out in all of his days with them. Additionally it was his mother who spoke to him of his duty as a man to treat all women with the kind of reverence that every human deserves. He fully understood that there was never a circumstance under which it would be right to defile the sanctity of any person. His parents helped to mold him into as fine a person as ever lived. It took work on their part to do so, but ultimately it was perhaps the most important thing that either of them ever did. That is what truly good parenting is all about and I was lucky enough to be the lifelong recipient of their results.

There are of course responsibilities that go along with raising daughters as well. It doesn’t hurt to insist that our young women be fully aware of their surroundings. I used to roll my eyeballs when my mother coached me on the pitfalls of placing myself in harm’s way. I inwardly laughed at her concerns, but when I found myself in sticky situations I fell back on her advice to extricate myself from potential trouble. Over time experience taught me that she wasn’t just an old fashioned soul who had lost touch with the modern world. Indeed she understood all too well that there truly are dangers in the world that we can learn to avoid.

It would be truly wrong to send our children into the fray without the necessary tools to deal with whatever may arise. It is up to us to have frank but non accusatory discussions with our teens and to provide them with the confidence and principles that will allow them to navigate even the most treacherous of waters without coming to harm. Our children are watching and listening more than we realize. We are teaching them even when we don’t try.

Finding Beauty In the Worst of Times

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My grandchildren read The Glass Castle this summer and recommended it to me. It is the memoir of a gifted writer recounting her sometimes harrowing, sometimes enchanting life with parents who at the very least were plagued by major eccentricities and alcoholism, and at worst suffered from bipolar disorder. The children at first saw their family disfunction as somewhat unique and maybe even rather fun. As they matured they began to realize that their situation was dangerous and unhealthy, and they were eventually able to break away from parents never willing to admit that their problems were real. The fairytale of denial can be enchanting for a time, but ultimately each of us encounter problems that me must face without guile if we are to overcome them.

I doubt that there is an individual anywhere on planet earth who has not felt victimized by circumstances at least once in a lifetime. Our existences are plagued by all sorts of wants and needs. We may live in grinding poverty or be afflicted with some terrible illness. We may lose a parent or child or loved one. We may seem to have no luck other than the bad variety. Our hard work may go up in flames. We may feel bullied or disliked because of our race, or religion, or sexual orientation. Each person sometimes feels as though life is cruel and difficult. To a greater or lesser extent we have all had moments of despair, longing, doubt, anger. We learn soon enough that life doesn’t always seem fair.

As we journey through the number of our days we have ups and downs, happy times and sad. We succeed and we fail. How we choose to approach each moment more often determines what our outlook will ultimately be than anything else. Some people learn early on to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and carry on no matter what happens. They understand that the power that they have lies within. They refuse to devolve into a state of despair. They take charge of their destinies by maintaining optimism even in the face of great darkness.

Think of Holocaust survivors. Those who were not killed in the concentration camps still saw great evil, destruction, horror. Few would have blamed any of them for shutting down, refusing to rejoin society. Nonetheless, most of them went on to lead full lives. They learned how to chase the demonic images from their minds. They never forgot, but they allowed themselves to find happiness and to celebrate life. Perhaps because of their experiences they actually achieved a greater appreciation for simple joys than most of us. They understood the importance of love and its ultimate power over evil.

I often think about Jesus dying on the cross. He accepted the fate of dying a horrible and humiliating death because He wanted us to understand that part of the human experience is to endure suffering. None of us can escape sickness, death, disappointments. Unless we are afflicted with a severe mental illness, we can take charge of how to react to the slings and arrows that come our way. Our road my indeed be difficult, but the best among us learn to deal with whatever comes.

I was recently conversing with a friend who was outlining some health issues that her husband is experiencing. She spoke of taking a break from her cares and woes by getting her hair done. She has gone to the same hair dresser for years and the two of them have become confidantes. In the course of the cutting and styling of her tresses my friend learned that the beautician and her husband are dealing with almost unimaginable difficulties that somehow made her own concerns seem less dire. As she noted, we don’t have to go far to find someone whose problems are bigger than ours. In fact, we are all in this crazy thing called life together, and none of us are going to entirely escape hardships.

There are many folks who assume things about certain groups of people these days. We seem to think that some among us are so privileged that they are unable to understand our own travails. I tend to believe that such thinking is cockeyed because even the wealthiest people on earth know sadness, sometimes to a greater extent than the rest of us. They may appear to have everything that the heart desires, but in truth many times they are brokenhearted. Think of the rich and famous who only recently have left this earth by their own hands because the weight of the world became too much for them to bear.

It is true that we do not receive equal shares of good fortune and tragedy. There are indeed some who appear to have more than their fair share. There are no guarantees that we will see justice at every turn. That does not mean that we should despair or grow jealous, or insist that we must take from others to make ourselves feel better. Instead I suggest that we understand that we will encounter pitfalls and even downright unfairness, so it is important to learn ways that help us to move past such things.

Life is a marathon, filled with pain and scars, but also wonders. Sometimes to get past the ugliness we have to find a tiny patch of beauty and hope. The young girl who grew up to write The Glass Castle learned to view her life from the perspective of reality. She and her siblings endured much want, but they also found the joys of simplicity. Their parents were hardly models of responsibility, but they gave the children the gift of finding beauty in any situation. That’s the challenge that we all face.

Don’t Fall For It

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I don’t know about you, but I am drowning in political ads and commentaries. I hardly bother to cull through my emails these days because they are filled with requests for funding, answers to poll questions, and bids for votes. I suppose it wouldn’t be so bad if they mostly came from local candidates for office, but I get messages from people living in Florida, California, New York and Massachusetts, and they are not confined to one party or another. I find myself wishing for a simple “go away” button that I might push, instead of just ignoring them. Without some sort of response from me the senders may actually believe that I appreciate or even care about the notices that they send me. Sadly I just toss them all in the trash and imagine that there is a virtual dumpster that is overflowing all across the land.

In all honesty none of the political propaganda that I receive ever provides me with a brief summary of what each candidate endorses or believes. Instead they are filled with dubious emotional arguments designed to either pull at my heartstrings or make me afraid. Mostly they are insinuations and outright dirty tricks against one politician or another. I mean I don’t much care for President Trump either, but do you really think I’m ready to pull the old twenty fifth amendment out of the hat to rid myself and the country of him, Elizabeth? I’d prefer instead to know why you are running for office two years ahead of time.

I’m weary of politics, politics, politics wherever I go. I can’t peruse my Facebook feed without encountering sloganeering from the gubernatorial and senatorial candidates from my state. I have to say that all of the celebrities who don’t even live here cannot possibly understand the unique needs of Texas, so why are they messing with us? Please folks, just give me the facts and be done with it. I do have a brain that is still working relatively well, so I am fully capable of making decisions if I have good information.

I turn on the television and it’s not much better. I so love the late night comedy monologues, but can’t any of you find material other than what’s happening in Washington D.C.? Such material may be funny once in a great while, but to pound on it every single night is absurd. There was even one host who recently presumed to know exactly what I was thinking. He got a standing ovation from the audience but I quickly reached for my remote and voted with my fingers.

I’m looking for a vast wasteland of nothing but pure entertainment, untinged by political persuasion. I find myself roaming titles on Netflix in search of old school movies that just make me laugh without some deep hidden motive inside the actors’ lines. I need a rest from all of the rancor and I suspect most everyone else does as well. I really am finished with all of the temptations to react each time I see something that displeases me. I see it for the bias that it is, and would simply ask those who spread such things to please stop.

I recently watched the HBO series on John Adams once again. It was a profound reenactment of the founding of our country from the viewpoint of one of our fathers. It clearly demonstrated how complex and messy politics become regardless of, and maybe even because of, the differing beliefs that we each hold dear. Our votes generally come down to quite personal philosophies and needs. It would be nice to have little outlines or charts that simply list the experience and philosophies of each candidate rather than having to cull through all of the garbage designed to play on our emotions. Unfortunately, that has rarely been the way of things even from the beginnings of our nation, and such is true virtually all over the world. We humans get quite creative when attempting to market ideas.

I’d like to believe that all we have to do is get past November and the detirous that is clogging all of my communication devices will miraculously go away, but experience has taught me that we are now engaged in never ending political campaigns. The beast has a voracious appetite for our attention and will keep devouring our time as long as we react, so maybe the thing to do is just to ignore. When the sound of crickets becomes loud enough, the problem may simply go away.

In the meantime I suggest that we all buckle up, because I fear that we are in for a very bumpy ride. Maybe if we just laugh instead of screaming we might even find some fun in observing the idiosyncrasies of our own humanity. So sit back, slip on your Nikes or not, get that trigger finger ready to mute or dump or tune out, or just chuckle in wonder. Whether it seems that way or not we are still in charge and our votes will create the kind of changes we need to see. Let’s just be sure not to fall for the antics. We’re all much smarter than that.