Focus On the Good

gallery-1447109043-thanksgiving-movies-indexThere are people who seem to be intent on making virtually every tradition that we enjoy political, including the Thanksgiving holiday. Some even refer to it as a day of mourning rather than a way of showing gratitude, because to them it represents a time when land was taken from the indigenous people who originally roamed freely across North America. I suppose that they have a point, but I believe that this day should be honored as a way of focusing on bringing family and friends together in a spirit of gratitude for the blessings that we have enjoyed instead of decrying the injuries and insults inflicted on us and on previous generations. The truth is that if we keep going back far enough in history we find violence, subjugation, theft of property and egregious acts in virtually every society. A quick review of today’s world events reveals evidence that as people we humans still have work to do. While there is nothing wrong with admitting that we have erred in the past, there is something a bit sick about continually beating ourselves up over things that we did not do and cannot change. Our only recourse is to learn from the mistakes of history and move forward with a more inclusive determination to live in a world as just as possible. To turn our backs on the very healthy idea of being grateful for any and all good that we have experienced is to lose the spirit of a celebration whose intent was to inspire the very hope that we most need.

We humans used to wander from one place to another searching for food and warmth. We had little need for ownership of land. It was a free range world for the most part because there weren’t that many of us. From time to time our ancestors clashed and we have the evidence of skulls cracked by manmade implements to prove that even then we didn’t always get along so well. Once we quit following herds and found a way to settle down and grow crops the idea of the survival of the fittest really kicked into place. We had not yet thought of the concept of contracts and deeds to prove ownership, but that would eventually come and as populations grew there were those who rose to power and took advantage of their positions to accumulate wealth. The social strata has almost always included haves and have nots. Even the most communal groups appear to have individuals running things and possessing just a bit more than everyone else. Over time there were land grabs taking place all over planet earth, with fighting and enslavement sometimes occurring even among and between indigenous tribes.

When the New World was discovered it appeared for all intents and purposes to be a land of opportunity and resources. Princes and potentates all over Europe made claims and sent adventurous citizens to help stake out ownership. More often than not the people who agreed to relocate to uncharted territory were those who had little reason to hope for good lives in the places where they were born. They tended to be poor and were often persecuted for their religious beliefs. The truth was that they were often considered to be the “riff raff” and encouraging them to colonize the newly claimed land was a convenient way to be rid of them while increasing the power of the monarchies and governments in Europe. We often forget this inconvenient truth whenever we consider the history that ultimately lead to the making of the United States of America. We rarely hold Spain or Portugal responsible for the scourge of slavery in the New World and yet it was their big idea and they imported it to most of South America in an even bigger way than its reach in the north.

The original pilgrims who came to Plymouth were a hated and motley crew back in Europe. Their religion was despised and even illegal, so they had moved from place to place back home hoping to find a sense of peace that had long evaded them. The idea of coming to the New World was one of desperation that wasn’t as well thought out as needed. They were unable to scrounge up a full complement of like minded souls willing to leave all that they had known behind, so they enlisted a few families who were running from the law. As they crossed the Atlantic the leader of their group realized that they had to create a compact that would bring a bit of order to the excursion. Sadly the entire plan appeared to be doomed by brutal weather and disease. By the time that the survivors of the trip had begun the task of settling on the land more than half of their fellow travelers had died. It seemed as though they had fled from one inhospitable place to another that was even more frightening. In desperation they formed an alliance with a group of native people who were warring with other tribes intent on taking their land. For all intents and purposes it must have appeared to be a free for all to the Europeans, but at least for the time being they were able to practice their religion and escape punishments.

We all know the rest of the story and realize that the imperfections of those who came to this land were as varied and profuse as they are today. Mankind has yet to figure out how best to live in harmony, and so there are tensions between people all over the world. We Americans have made many efforts to be a more democratic society, and for the most part immigrants still arrive at our shores hoping to build better lives. My maternal grandparents came only a little over a hundred years ago in search of opportunities that never would have been afforded them in the place in which they were born. They and their children were frequently treated badly and they struggled to make it, but they indeed found the comfort that they sought. Many generations later their descendants are success stories in the country that made it possible. Our family has much for which to be unendingly grateful. To focus instead on the injustices that befell our grandparents and parents would be to miss the very point of why we are here today. Our grandfather understood that if he had stayed in the town of his birth we would have been dominated by governments intent on assigning him to a life of poverty in which his freedoms would have been seriously curtailed. He was willing to endure the difficulties and imperfections of the United States because he realized that here there was hope for our futures. He loved this country with all of his being and taught his children to have the same devotion. He had seen firsthand what it was like to be in a less inclusive place. In spite of the flaws, he believed that America was still a great place to be.

So on this day I am thankful to be here. I feel gratitude for the education that I was given. I appreciate the freedoms that I have. I am blessed in knowing that I may work to create changes that will make our land an even better place. I appreciate the tremendous diversity that brings together people from all over the world. Like any person or family our country is imperfect, but we continue to strive toward a more perfect union of souls. Today I am looking not at the bad, but considering the good. In that regard my world is bountiful. I know that evil doers still exist, but they are far outnumbered by decent and kind individuals. I have faith that our nation will continue to evolve and become a kinder gentler place. We have work to do, but what we have accomplished so far is a testament to the ascent of mankind. Today I praise God for the mere fact that I am still here with the opportunity to be even better tomorrow than I was yesterday.   

A Reason, A Season, A Lifetime

people-come-into-your-life-for-a-reason-a-season-or-a-lifetimeToday is a day for counting blessings. I have many reasons to be thankful and all of them involve the people that I have known. From the moment of my first memories I have been surrounded by good loving souls who cared for me and made me feel safe and secure. I have to admit that I have only rarely felt the pain of abuse from another human and in each of those cases I enjoyed the freedom to walk away. I have observed hate in this world but have not been the victim of it. Instead my life has witnessed kindness, loyalty, understanding and genuinely unconditional love over and over again.

When my baby brain awoke my parents were there doting on me, along with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors and friends. I recall riding in my grandfather’s Plymouth coupe with the earthy aromas of pipe tobacco and leather engulfing my senses as I watched him steer the car so confidently with his big laborer’s hands. I remember watching my grandmother rolling dough and allowing me to cut little round circles that would become big fluffy biscuits that melted in my mouth along with the homemade butter and jam that she slathered on them. I can still see my other grandma padding across the room in her bare feet carrying enamel cups of sugary coffee for her guests.

When I think of my aunts and uncles they are still young and beautiful in my mind. They sit around a big table playing poker and squabbling like loving siblings from a large family are wont to do. Then I think of my cousins, the ones who are more like brothers and sisters, who always seem to have been stalwarts in my world. We are filled with wonder and imagination, inventing games and entertaining ourselves for hours without any adult supervision. How we loved each other as children and how we still do as adults!

I enjoyed the times that we spent with my parents’ friends, especially Mr. and Mrs. Krebs. Sitting in a circle listening to Texas Aggie football games on the radio was a regular fall weekend event. We munched on cinnamon toast and popcorn while a lone voice narrated the action. I wouldn’t give up those times for anything. They were wonderful.

Eventually Daddy was gone. I would miss listening to his voice as he read fairytales to me or chuckled at the Sunday funny papers. Me and my brothers and mother would have to move on without him. Mama became our everything all rolled up into one beautiful package. She kept the faith with Texas A&M and there was never a Thanksgiving Day that we missed tuning in to the gridiron clash between the Aggies and the Longhorns. She would time our dinner so that we would be able to pay careful attention to the game. It was a tradition that we cherished and followed until the game was scheduled for another day and then the two teams played no more.

We found so many genuine friends in our neighborhood after our father died, people who literally watched over us and made sure that we always had whatever we needed. They made me feel quite special with their frequent displays of kindness. As a young child they provided me with multiple examples of how to be a good and upright adult. Mrs. Janot shared her afternoon programs with me in air conditioned splendor. Mrs. Bush demonstrated a rare courage that I greatly admired. Mrs. Frey took me and my brothers under her wing along with her own five children. The Limbs were models of hard work and moderation in all things. The Cervenkas were fun. The Sessums quietly did small favors that were actually huge in my mind.

School was like heaven for me. With one exception my teachers were always angels. I loved them so. Many of the friends that I made have followed me into adulthood and of late I have become reacquainted with others whom I had lost along the way. I find that we are very much alike for having shared the same experiences when we were growing into adults. We have good values. We were taught by our parents and teachers to always be ethical and fair minded. As far as I can tell most of us ended up being model citizens, employees, spouses, parents. We learned from the best.

Eventually I met my husband and we fell madly in love. Ours has been a grand romance from the beginning mostly because we cherish each other as unique individuals. We are both independent and do not always think exactly alike. The differences that we have  make our lives more interesting. My Mike has always treated me with unquestioning respect. He encourages me to be the person that I want to be. He is loyal and undoubtedly my very best friend. I have loved him every single day for almost fifty years. In turn, I received a second set of parents on the day that we wed. My in-laws have helped me in some of the most difficult times of my life.

At work I met the most amazing and giving people who were dedicated to helping the youth of our nation to become educated. They worked hard to bring excellence into the classroom. I admired them as much as the teachers that I had as a child. I saw them devoting themselves totally to their vocations. They might have become wealthy in other careers but they chose to serve the countless children and families that came to them year after exhausting year. Some only speak of being champions for our youth but my teacher friends have actually done the heavy lifting, often with little gratitude or compensation. They are my heroes, the people that I most admire. If life were totally fair they would all meet with the President of the United States and be given Medals of Freedom for their good deeds.

The pleasant memories of my friendships are ongoing. I think of all the fun that I have had shopping at thrift stores with Cappy, exchanging Christmas cheer with Linda and Bill, sitting at a table discussing the world with Pat and Bill, camping with Monica and Franz, playing bridge with Susan, watching our children play with the Turners and the Halls, being myself with Nancy, enjoying dinners with the KIPP gang, being with my adult former students and seeing how remarkable they have become, continuing to admire Judy as my icon, finding my first grade pal Virginia. I might go on for hours with beautiful stories of individuals who gave me their hearts.

I have been blessed with two daughters who are brilliant and beautiful and best of all, loving. They in turn married good men and together they built families that gave me the gift of seven grandchildren. All of them are the joy and the center of my universe. I revel in being with them and watching them grow. Their laughter warms my heart. I pray each day that they will know the same level of affection that I have so enjoyed.

I have been surrounded by the most incredible people at every turn of my existence. I have been blessed beyond measure in knowing them. I sometimes wonder why I have been chosen to be so fortunate. There have been times when my family was financially challenged. I have dealt with extremely difficult situations. I have not been sheltered from sadness and tragedy. Still I have only known love and kindness. At each turn someone has stepped forward to fill me with joy sometimes for a reason, sometimes for a season, sometimes for a lifetime. For that I am profoundly thankful on this day. 

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

We Need A Little Christmas Now

christmas-house-inside-decorations-e2-80-93-besthome_christmas-house-inside-decorations_home-decor_home-decorating-catalogs-theater-decor-shabby-chic-decorators-collection-coupon-diy-ideas-magazines-dI’m usually a stickler for tradition when it comes to October, November and December. I insist on proceeding through the holidays in an orderly fashion. Halloween must come first without even a hint of other celebrations to come. Next is my birthday which usually heralds sweater season and maybe even a few boot wearing days. After that is Thanksgiving and only the Friday after that feast should there be even the smallest sign of Christmas. This year I’m ready to throw up my tree, turn on some carols and enjoy a big mug of spiked eggnog and we haven’t even sat down for the annual turkey day dinner yet. Honestly I’m not sure what has gotten in to me but I don’t mind at all that some of my neighbors and friends have already decorated their trees and put lights on their houses. For whatever reason I just think we need a little Christmas and we need it now.

It’s been a tough year for anyone who has even remotely paid attention to politics. I had hoped that with the election all of the drama would be over and we would be able to just sit back and enjoy the holiday season. Unfortunately that little pipe dream is shattered. Instead I continue to hear barbs being traded between people who at one time were friends. Now we are all being cautioned not to even mention politics at the family gatherings that we will soon attend. I still harbor a fairly unrealistic hope that we will soon realize the folly of our ways and set aside the animosities that have built to a fever pitch.

It would be nice if we were to remember what the season is really all about. Thanksgiving should be a time of gratitude no matter how harsh the rest of the year has been. The fact that any of us are still standing and breathing should be enough for which to be thankful. We should not forget that we actually have a say in our government and the finalization of an election doesn’t change that. We have representatives with whom to communicate. We have the power of the pen. There are many many ways that we may live our freedoms. We sometimes forget that the pilgrims who are so much a part of the history of our annual celebration came to avoid persecution. They preferred risking their lives to submitting to the demands of a nation that outlawed their religious beliefs. Those who made it through the first year in a strange and dangerous land understood the import of their new found independence.

Christmas is all about the birth of a man who advocated a new and loving way of living. Whether we believe that He was the son of God or not, there is no denying that His words and teachings were revolutionary. His was a vision of peace, acceptance and unconditional love. We have commercialized Christmas to the point of burying His important message under a flood of consumerism instead of remembering the way that He taught us to live. Now more than ever we need His lessons to resonate with all people regardless of where they live, what they believe or how they look. Ultimately our hope lies in following the example of Jesus.

I have always loved this time of year because everyone seemed happy and ready to let bygones be bygones. It was a time for setting aside disagreements and beginning anew. The new year provided us with an opportunity to start over with a clean slate, a moment to try one more time to set things right. I find myself wondering and worrying that our natural tendencies to forgive and forget may not be as generous as in the past. There is a world of hurt out there and I don’t see it changing any time soon. Still I really hope that if we can just hurry Christmas along a bit we might find ourselves realizing that nothing is quite as important as our friendships and relations. Sure we might have that crazy uncle who has some strange ideas and there may be the long time friend who has gone a bit overboard with her newest cause but in the end we love them enough to overlook the irritating aspects of their personalities. We know in our hearts that none of us are perfect so we give the people about whom we care the benefit of the doubt as long as they seem to try.

Life is far shorter than we dare to admit. The nice thing about Christmas is that it gives us the perfect excuse to get together with family, friends and neighbors. We gather around the warmth of the tree and munch on cookies and worry about the diets next week. We feel the joy of lighting up someone’s eyes with a special gift. We finally take the time to pause from our labors long enough to laugh and relax and enjoy the company of people that we may not have seen for a long time. Somehow philosophies don’t seem to matter that much when we are exchanging hugs and remembering times spent together.

So I’m all for getting the Christmas show on the road as soon as possible. I may even put up my tree before Thanksgiving, something that has been akin to a mortal sin in the past. If hurrying Santa Claus elicits just one smile that might not otherwise have been there it will have been worth the effort. I want to go the the Nutcracker ballet and see the lights in the zoo. I plan to blast carols from my radio all day long for the next six weeks. I’m going to make cookies and fudge and have them ready to give to my neighbors. I can’t wait to hear the ringing bells of the Salvation Army and I plan to contribute to every red bucket that I see. I pledge to chase the Grinch and Scrooge out of town. It will be all Elf for me, sugary and sweet and happy as can be. “Away with predictions of doom and gloom,” I say. “We’ve got this!” I don’t intend to let anyone steal my joy. I’ll even don fur trimmed shorts if the weather stays warm.

It’s A Wonderful Life particularly speaks to me this year. We are all George. The world needs us. It is up to each one of us to be the change and the optimism that we wish to see. We can start by doing up Christmas in the very best way and then taking that spirit with us all throughout the new year. If there is anything that I have learned it is that we may get knocked down but there is always a way to get back up again. My challenge to everyone is to begin celebrating starting today. Do something that makes you or someone else feel good. Don’t limit yourself to twelve days or a month. Carry Christmas in your heart everyday.

Lemon and Honey

i282600889615528908._szw1280h1280_I’m in the throes of my annual bout with laryngitis. Unfortunately we have yet to have really cold weather to kill off whatever allergen is responsible for my yearly froggy voice. I can’t recall ever enduring weak vocal chords on Thanksgiving Day but thus it was yesterday. The timing was most unfortunate because I had the opportunity to converse with relatives in a marathon of conversation. My swollen larynx let me down. By the end of our big family celebration I had become a fly speck on the wall by default, simply listening to whatever everyone had to say. When I tried to talk I was only able to muster a creak or a croak. In a strange twist of fate my affliction lead to one of those profound serendipitous moments of reflection when a kind of pleasant epiphany overtakes the brain. 

I found myself simply watching and listening to the chorus of conversations and activities taking place all around my brother’s house. At first I heard only a cacophony of sounds but as I earnestly settled into observation mode I began to sense the harmony of love filling the corners and the rooms. My extended family is a diverse bunch to say the least. My sister-in-law was born in China but grew up in Taiwan with her siblings who have become as much a part of my family as they would have if we were connected by blood. All of my nieces and nephews were there along with their children. I noted a range of skin hues that went from a lovely dark olive to a milky complexion festooned with freckles. The eyes of those present were mostly brown just as mine are but a few among us boasted lovely shades of blue much like my grandmothers had. My sister-in-law and her siblings wore dark bountiful heads of thick healthy hair and those who carry the more European genes had lovely golden blonde curls.   Continue reading “Lemon and Honey”

Sharing Gratitude

i282600889615420934._szw1280h1280_For most of us in the United States of America this is a wonderful time of year. We pause from our routines for a time to gather with family and friends to express our thanks. Loved ones travel from near and far to be together. We feast on traditional recipes and let our diets lapse for a bit. All across our nation there will be hugs  exchanged, stories told, sounds of laughter filling the air. We will stop just long enough from our labors to remember what is truly important in our lives and to show our gratitude for the blessings that we enjoy.

But wait! While the vast majority of us paint such lovely pictures for ourselves and our families there are always those whose Thanksgiving is not quite so rosy. The hospitals will still be full as we celebrate. The waiting rooms in the ICUs will be as packed with worried souls as they ever are. The doctors and nurses will be working as usual, winning the battle for some lives and losing others. For those pacing the hospital halls and fretting over someone that they love there will be little time for feasting and watching football. Some will have to say their final goodbyes. Sickness and death will happen just as it does every day of the year. There is no moratorium even on special holidays.   Continue reading “Sharing Gratitude”