Discovering Myself and the World

Accidental-Discoveries-In-Medicine

When I was nineteen years old I took a gigantic leap of faith by marrying my first sweetheart, Mike. At the time I did not even have a driver’s license and I was intensely shy, insecure and innocent of the ways of the world. Somehow I felt that I was doing the right thing and that there was nothing risky about my decision. I can only imagine how worried my mother and mother-in-law must have been as they considered the multiple ways in which Mike and I were not truly ready for such a major step in life. To their credit both of them blessed our decision and quietly supported us in the background. I realize now just how wonderful they both were as they managed to watch over us without a hint of their worry.

So many young people in my age group were being tossed into the maelstrom during that era, particularly the  males. With a military draft and the war in Vietnam there was an uncertainty that made the world feel as though it might blow up at any moment. Somehow it felt as though it was important to grab any form of happiness regardless of how risky doing so might be, I also felt totally confident that Mike was a very good person and that hitching my hopes and dreams to him was a wise move.

I discovered so much about myself and the world around me in those early days of wedded life. I met people who were very different from the ones with whom I had grown up as a child. My new found acquaintances tended to be a bit more rough hewn and uneducated but I found them to be delightful. They taught me how to survive in a sometimes rowdy world. They helped me to develop the courage that I never knew that I had. They were the salt of the earth, the kind of folk who never turned their backs on anyone in need. They worked hard at jobs that had once seemed menial to me and celebrated life with an appreciation for the smallest of joys. They showed me how to appreciate all people, not just the ones who appeared to be more like me. I doubt that I would have been as successful as an educator had it not been for my accidental kinship with them and for their homegrown wisdom I will always be grateful.

I discovered how fortunate I have always been. I lost my father and my middle class lifestyle when I was too young to really understand  but I was still surrounded by unconditional love from my mother, my grandparents, my aunts, my uncles, my cousins and truly compassionate neighbors and friends. I have always known that I am never alone no matter how dire the circumstances of my life. Again and again there have been wonderful souls rallying to my side whenever I needed them. This realization has made me stronger than I ever believed that I might be.

My relationship with Mike has been unbreakable. Together we have traveled through the joys and sorrows of reality. We’ve stumbled a bit here and there but in sharing with him I have discovered one of the secrets to a good life. I learned how to be flexible, generous, loving, understanding in the day to day give and take of married life. I realized that there was more to achieving my dreams than deciding what only I wanted. I learned that we are always engaged in a symbiotic relationship with all of humankind. Anything that we choose to do has some kind of impact on others, often in unconscious ways. True love actually is patient and kind. It does not compete or envy or boast. It is guided by compassion, forgiveness and a desire to help each other to achieve together. I discovered how to treat all people through my relationship with Mike.

I have not designed a methodology for teaching that is followed by much of the world. I did not find a cure for a fatal disease. I do not write for a worldwide audience. My life may seem small and insignificant but I can honestly say that it has been an exceptional one. My greatest discovery has been knowing how to find happiness even in a moment of darkness.

I realize that life can be harsh and difficult to endure but there is always a silver lining to be discovered if only we search for it. Losing my father taught me to cherish the people that I love and never take them for granted. Caring for my mother during her struggles with mental illness showed me how to find help and to speak the truth. Almost losing my husband to a deadly disease when we had barely begun our life together made me more appreciative of relationship and the need to nurture them every single day.

In my seventy one years I have stumbled upon many discoveries that may appear to be insignificant but are in reality a way of knowing myself and understanding the world. I can’t think of anything quite so important as feeling a oneness with my fellow humans. It provides me with optimism and the will to keep moving forward. It reinforces my certainty that marrying my soulmate regardless of my youthful age was one of the best decisions I ever made. Stepping out into the world with someone in whom I gave my full trust has been a glorious adventure of discovery. 

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.)

Celebrate Our Young

It seems like years ago since I attended a concert of music from Game of Thrones with three of my grandsons. It was a lovely evening with a happy crowd dressed in t-shirts and costumes celebrating the series. We sat outdoors under the stars listening to a performance that brought back memories of watching the story of power and intrigue unfold over the course of many years. It was fun and innocent. None of us had any idea that within a few months so much would change in our real world. On that night we were mostly filled with the joy of being together.

During the intermission I had a lengthy conversation with my grandson Jack who is a student at Texas A&M University majoring in computer science. He will graduate in May 2021 if all goes well and will soon be entering the very adult world of work. On the night of the concert he was very much engaged in thoughts of the coming presidential election. He had done his homework on each candidate of the democratic party as well as the presumptive presidential candidate Donald Trump. He was well versed in a number of issues that he believed would have an enormously consequential impact on his future and that of his peers. I was impressed by the depth of his understanding of history and his research into the economic, environmental and social problems that he believed should be foremost in voters’ minds as they make the all important decision of which individuals to trust with the leadership of the country.

While he and I agreed on most things I tended to have a much more conservative view of how to deal with the most pressing problems while his ideas were more radical. Without mentioning what I was thinking I politely listened while somewhat patronizingly thinking that he would soon enough learn that most people are disturbed by revolutionary sounding ideas. Nonetheless he was so passionate and so armed with facts and data that I found myself thinking about our little discussion for weeks after that evening. I even did some research of my own and I found that he was not off base in terms of troubles with higher education, an uncertain economic future for his generation, and major concerns about the environment that are being mostly ignored. I had to admit to appreciating the fact that he cared enough about our nation to want to make it stronger and more secure for the future, not just the here and now.

Interestingly I engaged in a bit more emotional repartee with my granddaughter Abby on Christmas Day. She too knew her stuff and felt compelled to curb my own ignorance of certain ideas. Perhaps the two of us became a bit more territorial in protecting our beliefs but once again I found myself pondering all that she had said and I did a bit of studying and soul searching in the ensuing days and weeks.

Then there was a pandemic and an upheaval of the world so rapid that we were hardly able to keep up with what was happening around us. The economy which had appeared to be so strong reacted in ways that my grandson had actually predicted. Our inability to adjust quickly enough to contain the virus harkened some of my grandson’s doomsday scenarios that I had initially thought to be rather extreme. The veil of civility in our society seemed to be torn in two and I witnessed the kind of divisions and ugliness of which my granddaughter had spoken. I realized both of these young people were far more in tune with reality than I had been in my fantasy world that sought blue skies and happy thoughts as a way of dealing with troubles. I found myself realizing that dismissing our young as immature, fragile and out of touch would be a huge mistake.

If we really study the history of the world we learn that the most revolutionary ideas that change the landscape often come from those who are quite young. Jesus was only thirty three when he was crucified like a common criminal because his teachings seemed so radical. Upstarts like Alexander Hamilton and James Madison played key roles in the American Revolution. The list of thinkers who challenged the way we view things is long, but the common factor in each case is that sometimes a young person is able and willing to upend the status quo. Perhaps it is because they have not yet become rigid in their thinking or because they are willing to experiment and take risks. We would be wise not to dismiss them without consideration. After all it was a young boy who saw that the emperor had no clothes, and only he had the courage to voice that truth.

I hear so many older adults insulting the knowledge and logic of our youth. They imply that most teens and twenty somethings are ignorant of the way things are supposed to work. They push their ideas aside with a kind of disdain. They act as though it takes aging to reach a point of logic and leadership. They want things to stay the same or even to return to an earlier more nostalgic era. They have somehow forgotten or neglected to learn that the arc of history is long and ever changing. We not only can’t go backward but undoubtedly would not want to unlearn the truths that have improved our lives from those of our ancestors. The future belongs to the young. Our goal should not be to control their minds but to encourage their thinking and innovation.

A few years back I was greatly disturbed by President Obama’s idea of changing the systems for space travel. I felt that he was dismembering NASA in a way that would preclude a promising future for unlocking the secrets of the universe. I watched our astronauts hitching rides to the International Space Station and I was angry. I did not believe that the idea of continuing our exploration with private companies would lead to anything but failure. It seemed as though a nail had been driven into NASA’s coffin. I could not have been more wrong.

During the height of the pandemic the most promising and optimistic event was the SpaceX launching of a rocket that took American astronauts safely to the International Space Station and returned them back to earth with precision. The combined forces of SpaceX and NASA proved to create a powerful resurrection of our national space program. It had an energy that had been dwindling at NASA for years. It demonstrated that doing things the way they have always been done is not necessarily the best way. Innovation and out of the box thinking is what has always kept the world moving forward.

Our young people have ideas. They love our country and our world. They are anxious to make a better life for all of us. They may sound a bit frightening in their enthusiasm but we should never hush their voices. Among them may be the very ideas that take us to the next level of realizing true greatness. Celebrate our young.

Healing Our Wounds

man with fireworks
Photo by Rakicevic Nenad on Pexels.com

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.