It’s Never Too Late

Follow-Your-Dreams

First I loved to read and then I loved to write. First my father inspired me and then my high school English teacher helped me to believe in myself. I headed to the University of Houston determined to major in English, hoping to become a writer but convincing myself that I would most likely earn a living by becoming a teacher.

I was enchanted by the written word. Reading for my classes was a source of joy and then authoring papers became my passion. If I had been totally honest I would have admitted that my ultimate dream was to become so proficient in the art of writing that it might have become my profession. Instead I believed the naysayers who shook their heads and assured me that becoming a published author with enough income to live was akin to a sandlot ball player getting a spot on a professional team.

I hedged my bets by minoring in mathematics and securing certifications for teaching. I not only never got an opportunity to teach English, but I also never had the pleasure of writing for a fee. I admittedly enjoyed being an educator and have no regrets after a long and happy career. Still, the idea of actually being paid for doing the one thing that most enchants me is alluring. I sometimes wonder if I would have made it as an author or a journalist if I had not been so afraid that I might fail. After all, I had a class with a young man who began his journey to professional sports playing at a Houston city park. Clyde Drexler certainly had skills but he had to be willing to take risks to show the world that he was a champion.

I sometimes chide myself for being so overly cautious and for making excuses for my unwillingness to follow the less certain path. I might easily have continued writing even after I had secured a job as a teacher. Stephen King initially supported himself and his wife by working as a high school teacher. He wrote in his free time and submitted manuscript after manuscript until Carrie finally caught a publisher’s eye. He did not find excuses to abandon his passion but I certainly did. For a very long time I stifled that little part of myself that brought me so much joy because I believed that even thinking that someone might want to read what I had to say was silly. I hid behind a wall of apologetics while my heart longed to be free.

It was not until my children were grown, my mother had died, and I had retired that I allowed myself the luxury of writing again. At first I was so fearful of what people might think of my ideas. I wrote and rewrote passages to tame my thoughts, make them more acceptable to a wider audience instead of letting my heart speak. I had so often told students that the best writing has a very personal voice but I broke my own rules. It was only after I enrolled in a one day class at Rice University that I understood that I must overcome all of the trepidation and negativity that resided inside my head. I had to be myself on paper just as I had so unselfconsciously done when I was writing for my professors in college. They had seen the possibilities and had encouraged me to continue to develop my craft. I had believed that they were only being kind. I convinced myself that they were flatterers and the real truth came from people who insisted that I be practical, realistic.

So here I am at the age of seventy one suddenly shedding the my protective facade and showing myself as the person that I am with blogs written five days each week. I have become almost fanatical in my devotion to writing every single day. It is as though all of the pent up emotions that I failed to put on paper in the past are flooding onto the blankness of each new page. I am fearless in my adherence to the truth. My voice chatters on and on and on.

I may never earn a dime from my words. I may never receive an invitation from Oprah or Ellen to speak of my musing or the books that I hope to write in front of millions of  people, but I have finally made writing a priority in my life for no other reason than it seems to be something that I need to do. It feels oh so good to finally grow up and be my own person. Ignoring the clang of negative voices that we all seem to encounter has been one of the most freeing experiences of my life. Writing has sustained my optimism during Covid-19.

I remain devoted to my thousands of students. I don’t believe that I would have been a particularly interesting or empathetic author without knowing them. They have been a source of inspiration for most of what I believe and do. I would urge them as they grapple with decisions about their own lives to listen to their hearts and follow the passions that speak to them. Take some risks and see where they may lead. There is nothing more wonderful than finding one’s true self. I found mine in being a teacher and now I have expanded my world through writing. Go find your dream. It is never too late.

(This blog is dedicated to a young man with the initials H.F. who is struggling to find himself while he watches his peers graduate with advanced degrees, work at extraordinary jobs, purchase homes and begin families. He is quite gifted and talented in his own right and I hope that he reads this and is inspired to take some risks to embrace his own passions.)

Leadership

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My mama would never forget the calm that Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor brought to the American people during World War II. She often spoke of gathering around the radio to listen to updates, encouragement and calls for a national effort from the president. She quite proudly outlined the many sacrifices that citizens made and the overall unity of purpose that spread across the land. She would get quite emotional when describing how things were and she always ended such remembrances with tears as she described how she felt when President Roosevelt died. 

My mother also held up Eleanor Roosevelt as an exemplar of womanhood. I suppose that I grew up admiring this wonderful First Lady because of my mom’s influence. Mama told me about Ms. Roosevelt’s intelligence and compassion. I would later learn even more about this remarkable woman in books and documentaries. She was the favorite niece of Theodore Roosevelt and her influence on her husband and our country was profound. 

I’ve had a fascination with the era of World War II when my mother was still just a teenager. My interest in life during that time only increased when my mother-in-law told me stories that added to my knowledge of the incredible efforts made by ordinary people to help in the battle against Germany and Japan. In the face of early losses the American people remained determined to support the Allied Forces even if it meant enduring great privation. 

I suppose that I have always believed that the American people are living heroes and people of great selflessness and resolve. Even as I see a deterioration of those important values I am not yet ready to accept that we have somehow lost our willingness to work for a common good even when it is difficult. I still see incredible resolve and compassion in the work of our medical community that is being battered by Covid 19. In spite of the dangers and the exhausting schedules they return day after day to save lives even as they hear whispers that they are somehow hiding information or cures from us. 

I see our nation’s teachers preparing for a new school year that will most certainly be wrought with problems. In spite of concerns for the health and safety of themselves and their students they are gearing up with masks and face shields and disinfectant in the hopes of keeping everyone safe. They are marching into the unknown with the resolve to educate our children and allow parents to return to work even as they know the dangers that may lurk ahead. 

Our first responders continue to answer calls for help never quite knowing what they may encounter. Already their ranks have been thinned by the virus and sadly some of their comrades have died. Still they do their jobs just as they have been trained to do. 

The vast majority of citizens want to help beat back the virus. They wear masks, ignoring their discomfort in support of a cause bigger than themselves. they keep their interactions with others to a minimum, avoiding crowds and large gatherings. They are very conscious and respectful of other people’s needs. They listen to their doctors and follow guidelines in the hopes of keeping Covid 19 at bay. 

So why is there still so much pushback in the country and a rapidly growing feeling that Covid 19 is out of control? I suspect that the problem lies in a lack of proper leadership. More than  anything we need to see politics set aside and a united effort from national, state and local offices. A successful program will have to begin at the very top with honesty and compassion, not efforts to undo safety measures or cater to a fringe group that is unhappy. Here a a few suggestions for our president:

  • If we should all wear masks then make it a nationwide program and lead the effort by modeling mask wearing behavior whenever you are in a public gathering. 
  • Give us the data without boasts about how much better we are than other countries. This is not a contest. 
  • Help us to believe that you actually care. Do not dismiss the suffering by noting that most old people and those with underlying health issues are the ones who are dying while it’s just like sniffles for everyone else. 
  • Have some earnest compassion without ever drawing comparisons or using the “I” word. 
  • Support governors and mayors regardless of party affiliation. Help them rather than pointing out their faults.
  • Ask the First Lady to speak to us as well. She is a charming woman who seems to have a genuinely kind heart. Allow her to show it in ways other than redoing the  White House garden.
  • Ask the members of your base who are ignoring the guidelines to join in the united efforts. They will listen to you and do whatever you ask of them.
  • Help us to believe that doing the right thing is more important to than winning the election.
  • Bring us together so that we can be the kind of Americans  who helped the world the eliminate the tyrants of World War II. Let us join the rest of the world in defeating Covid-19, not to win glory for ourselves but to save lives everywhere in a spirit of cooperation.
  • In other words, pull us together like FDR did. 
  • Be a true leader and we will follow.

I want to make America great again. I want a leader who is sincerely working for the good of all  of us. Is that too much to ask?

 

Facing Our Fears

pexels-photo-1134204Fear is a normal human instinct that serves to keep us alert and safe when it is present in healthy doses. Unfortunately we humans all too often obsess over our fears and turn them into anxieties that crowd our minds with dark possibilities. The worries over Covid 19 combined with civil unrest and a national election have collided into a kind of atomic bomb of concern that is affecting people in different ways depending on their personal experiences. 

Appearances are often misleading because there seems to be a continuum of beliefs about our present situation that run the gamut from near inability to function normally to outright disbelief that there is any real danger. As our society navigates through the daily updates on numbers of sick and dying from the virus and the status of protests and demands we each react in slightly differing ways that eventually seem to gel into associations and groups. Because it is in our natures to protect ourselves from whatever we deem to be problematic we end up seeing those outside of our own belief system as being part of the problem. We worry that the ranks of those who dissent from our way of viewing the situation will swell and change our world in questionable ways and so we attempt to change minds even as we realize that the only people listening already agree with us. It becomes a zero sum game that all too often results in the loss of friendships and the surprise that our relationships were so fragile that a national crisis tore them asunder with little effort. 

In truth we miss the reality that everyone is actually afraid, even those who boast of their daring and appear to ignore precautions. Each of us is demonstrating what most bothers us and political forces are playing on our deep seated worries. There are those who do not deal well with death and suffering and those who fear changes in society. There are those who fear loss of economic well being and those who fear that changes will not be enough to rid society of injustice. There are those who fear that our country is not as exceptional as we once believed and those who fear that our exceptionalism is being destroyed. The list of fears is too weighty and complex to describe in a single tract but it is enough to divide us if we allow it to happen. 

I am reminded of a time when I was beginning a new job at a new school. I was rather nervous because I only knew the principal and two women who had decided to move to the campus with me. I was slated to speak to the faculty on my first day and I stewed over what to say and how to appear to them. The principal had warned me that the environment was tense and fractured so I chose my words and even my wardrobe with great care. I wore a nondescript black pantsuit on which I placed a good luck pin that a very dear friend had given me the weekend before. It was a gold star that she said would remind me that I was going to do healing work and that God and people who knew me would be wishing me all the best. 

Things didn’t go as well as I had hoped. There was great tension among the members of the faculty and much suspicion of who I was and why I was there. I did my best to be friendly and I indeed found kindred spirits with whom I am still friends to this very day but there was a rather large contingent of people who were quite obviously wary of me so it became my goal to find out what fears were in their hearts and why they viewed me as a threat. 

It took a great deal of time and patience but by listening rather than lecturing I began to break through the icy reception I had received but there were still those who held back from accepting me as anything but a potential enemy. Nonetheless I persisted in efforts to hear their voices and one day as one of the teachers most opposed to me vented her frustrations in a tirade of anger I suddenly felt tears streaming down my cheeks, not because I felt threatened but because I truly understood the source of her pain. I took her hands and told her how sorry I was and then she exclaimed, “Then why did you choose to put us down with that stupid star pinned to your chest like you were the new sheriff in town? Why did you humiliate us before you even knew us?” 

All too often we see or don’t see another person’s reality. We form judgements from our own experiences and sometimes we are completely off base. When we see glaring differences that seem to be at odds with what we believe to be right we would do well to patiently set our preconceived notions aside and attempt to get to the heart of the fears driving each of us. We may find that we want the same things but have conflicting ideas about how to get there. 

Each of us have triggers that raise our worst fears to the surface of our minds. Losing people through death or misunderstanding are two of  mine. Unwillingness to Ignore the pain and suffering around me is another. When I react to the issues facing us those fears direct me either consciously or subconsciously just as the fears each person determines how he/she will behave. We all worry about losing something whether it be a loved one, a job, a home, a freedom or an election. If we bear that in mind when someone is ranting or seemingly ignoring the gravity of a situation we may be able to finally understand. It will be in that understanding that we achieve the common ground that we need to finally be able to work together. 

 

Healing Our Wounds

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We should be able to have differing opinions about just about everything as long as our ideas are not hurtful. It should not matter to anyone what religion a person follows or even if that individual chooses not to believe in God as long as nobody is prevented from having their own views about faith. Many people came to the shores of North America because they were being persecuted for holding beliefs that ran counter to those of the majority. Some were part of abused religious groups, others sought economic opportunity, and still others had encountered troubles of some kind from which they needed to flee. Eventually a band of enterprising men created a new type of government that they called the United States of America. It was to be a democratic republic with liberty and justice for all.

Sadly from the beginning there were folks left out of the equation, namely women and slaves. While there were some among the founders who thought that slavery would rather quickly become a thing of the past, the actual passage from from bondage was a long time coming. The country resisted votes for women until the twentieth century in spite of Abigail Adams’ entreaties that the ladies not be forgotten. Struggles for true equality and justice for everyone have tended to take far longer than might ever have been thought. Protests and resulting push back are as much a part of the national environment as the Fourth of July and apple pie. There always seems to be someone for whom the American experience is incomplete as well as someone who is unwilling to change regardless of the reasoning or the unfairness.

The kind of protesting and unrest that we are presently experiencing is actually nothing new in the grand scheme of our history. What makes it feel more discomfiting is its scope and reach in a time of pandemic. In truth it is often moments of economic or political uncertainty that create the rationale for publicly voicing concerns that have been quietly festering. Fears and discomfort with the status quo come to a head and boil over into protests and those demonstrations often result in violence. We need look no farther than the anger of the American colonists to find the DNA of disruption that follows years of quiet resignation. It has appeared over and over again when frustrations with inaction become too much to bear. Inevitably there will be those who choose sides and even those who decide to simply look away in the hopes that it will just go away. 

Right now any opinion that anyone holds is bound to be annoying to someone on the opposite side. Relationships are severely tested as the arguments fly back and forth. Sometimes the war of words becomes so intense that it devolves into personal attacks and accusations. Each side sees itself as being the most patriotic force for the good of all when the fact is that everyone is ignoring the obvious idea that we are supposed to embrace differences, not engage in uncivil wars. We should be able to engage in debates and then walk away as friends.

If we all truly believed that all men (people) are created equal and entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness we would want to know whenever someone or some group feels that their most basic rights were not as equitable as they should be. Taking note of their concerns would be highest form of reverence for democracy and patriotism. We would want our country to be its very best and we would understand that when one among us is suffering we  all need to render aid. We would not place our selfish interests or even our personal beliefs before insuring that the very heart of our grand experiment in freedom continually becomes a bit more perfect.

We just laid John Lewis to rest, a man who became a Freedom Rider in a time when people like him were not allowed to travel on a public bus in the deep south. He was beaten and threatened and jailed simply for sitting peacefully next to white citizens. He understood the necessity of breaking through the indifference to the horrific practice of segregation. He had to shed light on a problem that should have been obvious even without his actions. So too did women wanting to vote spend time in jail after being harassed for championing their cause in the streets of America. These were courageous souls who should be seen as the true descendents of the revolutionary spirit of old. They are the founding men and women of a more perfect union.

it pains me that we allow ourselves to be manipulated into accepting a picture perfect fairytale account of the history of the United States when the true story of brave men and women unafraid to fight for a better version of ourselves is a far more worthy narrative. The battles to make our country an honest and true example of its ideals are worthy of honor. The changes that have moved us closer and closer to being exceptional should be celebrated, not deplored. 

There are indeed outstanding moments in our history and they began with a hard fought, violent and bloody revolution against tyranny. The true patriots of our country rose again to defeat those who would have torn our union asunder and to free people who should never have been enslaved. Time and again we have mounted efforts to rid ourselves of imperfections in our freedoms and even to fight against tyrants abroad. We are moving ever closer but there are still problems to be addressed. Those who alert us to such things are in fact the very souls who love our country enough to want to make it better. We need not hark back to a more imperfect time but instead look forward to doing whatever it takes to continue to heal our wounds.

Truth Is Beautiful

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I want to be left alone. I want to fix things that are broken. I want to just be happy. I want to express my anger about the state of the world. I want to turn away from conflict. I want to have the courage to stand firmly with my principles. I want to get along with everyone. I want to speak out when I see injustice. I am caught in a conundrum, a moment in time when I might cling to wishful thinking or face the realities that I witness happening around me. It would be so much easier to turn off the news, ignore my Facebook and Twitter accounts and just live peacefully in my home blissfully unaware of any difficulties stalking humanity. Unfortunately my curiosity would no doubt get the best of me if I were to make such a choice and ultimately I would be compelled to seek information and truth. My delightful ignorance would be interrupted and once again I would begin thinking about the actual complexities of life.

I’ve been watching the bots and the trolls at work on social media and on YouTube and Internet sites that purport to speak the unvarnished truth. They rile us up with doctored images and false stories. I often wonder from what hole in the ground they operate. They take many forms and present themselves with many names and faces and then spread their poisonous ideas like a virus. I wonder if they are laughing at us as we accept their premises. Do they take delight in watching us turn on one another as we share and discuss their often outrageous posts?

Much of our thinking these days is being directed by anonymous souls who live in faraway places. They purposely want to pull us apart and sadly they are quite good at what they do. It does not help at all that even some of our leaders are as addicted to their devious propaganda as we are. Instead of seeking accurate sources of information we too often find it easier to just cling to a single phrase to sum up the knotty realities that daunt us. We prefer quick fixes and quick answers and then divide ourselves into warring camps when there is a strong probability that there is a much better middle ground. We do not have to settle for “either/or” anymore than I must choose to be either uninformed and content or knowledgable and dissatisfied with the status quo.

We rarely have honest discussions anymore. Each side is busily planning a response to conflicting points of view rather than carefully listening to the other side. It is as though we are engaged in a national debate competition designed to find winners and losers rather than to determine ways to find answers. We see ourselves as opponents rather than understanding that we are all engaged in an attempt to make the world a better place. One side is demanding change and the other is worried that change will cause loss of some kind. One side is revealing uncomfortable truths about history and the other is concerned that talking about such things is hateful.

By now my readers know that my mother suffered from mental illness as did her mother. It was a carefully guarded secret in the family with much denial defining the reaction to what had taken place. Since I was the person first charged with getting help for my mom I had to face truths that were painful. For more than a decade I hid my mother’s situation from the outside, pretending that all was well. Whenever my mother needed care I called in sick to my jobs and told my bosses that I had a very bad bug. Nobody beyond my closest family members and confidants had any idea of my mother’s chronic cycle of bipolar disorder. We tiptoed around the truth of the situation.

It was not until I finally hit a concrete wall that I blurted out my story to a random coworker and finally received the understanding that I needed. I no longer had to hide my secret in the shadows and with my openness came valuable information and comfort. While some people looked askance at my new found honesty most began recounting their own experiences with mental illness. I soon learned that I was not alone and I began to develop a network of individuals who supported me in the care of my mother. I doubt that I would have been capable of dealing with her sometimes frightening behavior for decades had I kept the situation under wraps. My openness and the willingness of others to hear me even when it felt uncomfortable gave me the strength to care for my mother for over forty years.

Sadly there were still those who squirmed when hearing about my mother’s situation. They chose to ignore her symptoms and to engage in a game of pretense. They even believed that I was in some ways dishonest and hateful for talking of my mom’s illness. They could not understand what they saw as my betrayal. They preferred to act as though the great big elephant in the room was only my imagination.

In many ways this is what I see happening today. There are many who are unwilling to discuss and tackle harsh realities and others who would rather cling to a rosy picture even if that image is not true. They worry incessantly about changes that will require sacrifices and do not want to hear of skeletons in the closet of history. They simply want to be left alone, be happy, turn away from conflict, just get along in a superficial manner.

Sadly we would all love a utopian way of existence but since Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden we humans have had to endure more difficulties and unhappiness. Nonetheless whenever we pause long enough to actually work together everyone improves just a bit more. Even baby steps can make a difference. Perhaps the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement are the concrete walls that have hit us all in the collective face. They are urging us to begin the process of hearing what we need to hear and not just what we want to hear. Even seemingly ugly truths can become beautiful when we use them to make the changes we have needed all along. Truth is beautiful.