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. 

The Beat Goes On

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I have always found the story and the music in The Lion King to be profound, particularly the crowd favorite The Circle of Life. Indeed without ever realizing it each generation endures similar challenges, common growing pains, battles to deal with the perceived problems of the era. There has always been a tension between the old guard and the new, a feeling that somehow the two worlds are incapable of fully understanding one another.

I’m a bonafide Boomer, okay? I was a free range kid on steroids like most of my friends. We went outside early each day and played wherever we chose until dark. I remember Halloween nights when my brothers and I would trick or treat until well after ten because our Catholic school gave us a holiday on November first. We lived on our bicycles and spent entire days roaming the nearby woods along the bayou with our friends. We stepped on nails and broken glass with our bare feet that were usually caked with dirt and dust.

Life seemed uncomplicated back then but it really wasn’t. We all knew someone who had become crippled from polio. Perhaps it was one of our teachers or a fellow student or even a neighborhood kid who mostly lived in an iron lung. Going under our desks for air raid drills became so routine that we appeared to have forgotten the underlying worry that there might one day be a nuclear attack on our country. We watched science fiction movies that portrayed giant bugs and creatures mutilated and transformed by nuclear fallout and read a satirical magazine with a hero named Alfred whose mantra was, “What, me worry?”

We lived in fairly ordinary little houses that were usually under twelve hundred square feet. We shared a single bathroom with our parents and siblings, requiring strict rules about using up all of the hot water. There was normally one phone for the entire household whose central location made it almost impossible to have a private conversation of any kind. One television was also the general rule and a parent determined when it might be turned on and what programs would be watched. Things like sodas and sweets were delicacies that we did not often see. If we had siblings of the same sex we learned how to share a bedroom and a tiny closet with them. Vacations were a luxury and those who actually flew somewhere on a plane were the exception rather than the rule.

Our teenage years were marked with the usual angst of overcoming the challenges of puberty but our worries about the future became increasingly more complex. There were people in our midst fighting for rights that should have been theirs from the beginning of this nation. We were becoming more and more embroiled in a war that we did not understand but which used our peers to do the fighting either willingly or unwillingly. We watched the violence that seemed to be growing all around us while hearings chants of “Never trust anyone over thirty.” The times seemed so tumultuous and the changes were coming too slowly to keep up with our impatience.

By our college years we witnessed friends being drafted into the military and sometimes being shipped to that war that grew like a virus. We attended the funerals of friends who had been cut down in the flower of their youth. Some of us began to feel that our elders had somehow lost touch with the new realities of the world. We scurried to rallies to hear a charismatic soul named Eugene McCarthy who pledged to end the insanity only to become dispirited when he did not make it to the presidential nomination of his party. We watched the “silent majority” of our elders elect Richard Nixon, a man who seemed clueless about our own fears.

Along the way we became members of the over thirty generation. We had families of our own that required our attention. We set to work building our lives and in what seemed like a blink we were middle aged and our own children were coming of age as Generation X, a group seemingly without a cause that was in reality more like us than anyone ever realized.

Now we are the seniors of society, sometimes caught between the generation of the healthiest of our parents and our middle aged children. Our grandchildren, the millennials, are experiencing the same sorts of fears and disillusionments that once ruled our own thinking. They are as anxious for solutions as we once were. We have had the time to understand that we were no more unique than they are. We have finally found the wisdom to view those old photos of our parents, the so called “greatest generation” and see that like us they were once filled with visions of a grander world. That spirit is in our human DNA. It is something that we might trace back to the beginnings of time. Those seasons mentioned in the Bible are real, just as the circle of life is infinite. 

We push and we pull and we judge one generation after the next when the truth is that each group attempts to do its best. We make mistakes and manage victories. The world spins on its axis and revolves relentlessly around the sun. As nature does its thing we humans do ours until it becomes time for the next generation to try its own ideas. We grapple with our elders and lecture our youth during a lifetime, so often forgetting the simplicity of the best plan of all, to love, listen, laugh and respect one another. The beat goes on.

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. 

 

Let’s Get Real

woman in green and white stripe shirt covering her face with white mask
Photo by Nandhu Kumar on Pexels.com

Let’s get real for a moment:

  • Nobody likes to wear a mask. They are uncomfortable and hot, especially in the humid summertime of Houston, Texas. We wear masks not because some lawmaker is mandating us to do so, but because it is the right thing to do. Our mask wearing insures a less likely or rapid spread of Covid-19. Sometimes the good of the people as a whole should be more important than our personal desires. We should all mask up and do so because it shows consideration for the people around us.
  • Our medical community is working hard to keep us safe and to provide care for anyone who contracts the virus. Neither they nor hospitals are in cahoots to keep certain medicines or therapies from us nor are they simply attempting to make more money off of our fears of the virus. In fact, they are continually communicating with one another to find the best procedures that appear to work. The fact that our numbers of dying are slowing compared to the numbers of positive cases is a clear indication that they are more and more often winning the battle with Covid-19. To insinuate that they are somehow complicit in a plot to deceive us is not just absurd, but incredibly insulting.
  • We are long past the moment to point fingers and lay blame for the destruction that Covid-19 has caused in our country. At this point who cares if China hid the truth about the virus? What does it matter if we did this or that wrong? We have to begin again from where we are. We need to look forward not backward. We must focus our efforts on finding solutions rather than making accusations. 
  • Anyone who thinks that face to face schooling will be anything like normal is living in a dream world. There will be much ado about masks and social distancing. It will become the new battle between students who push the envelope and teachers who want to protect them. Children will not be able to hug and gather in groups but you bet they will want to try. Just moving groups from one classroom to another will become a difficult endeavor. It is going to be a bumpy ride for sure.
  • Those of us who are making every possible attempt to help keep the level of contagion down get quite frustrated when we see images of people gathering in large groups without masks. We have grown weary of those who continually demand their rights without any concern for those of us who want to get out and about as much as they do. We sense that each time a beach is crowded or a huge party is held the goal of getting Covid 19 under control slips away just a bit more. Those photos of people smiling while crowded together do not delight us. They frighten us into thinking that we will never reach a point of  being able to feel comfortable with them again.
  • There are people in our midst who lost their jobs as a direct result of Covid 19. Most of them were hard working individuals before all of this happened. They went to work each day for the good of their families and they had wonderful plans for the future. Now they sit at home vying for job after job only to learn that they are in competition with hundreds of others. They are not enjoying their new found freedom from lack of employment. They are not thinking how much better it has been to get checks from the government than having to actually work. They have watched their savings dwindle and the bills piling up. They worry that they may lose their cars or their homes. The rest of us should be just as concerned about their security as we are about our own.
  • Every single death anywhere in the world is a tragedy. Just because it does not affect us personally does not in any way make it less horrific. The elderly person who dies will be missed by someone as much as the forty year old who leaves behind a family. The Hispanic who does not make it should cause us to grieve even if his immigration status was illegal. Those numbers that we see represent real people who walked among us and were loved. If we are lucky enough not to be touched by Covid 19 we should be grateful, not uncaring. We should be dedicated to doing whatever it takes to lessen the likelihood of spreading contagion.
  • We need to be willing to be creative in our usual celebrations. That child of ours can have a happy birthday without a big party. I’ve “attended” a virtual baby shower. I’ve witnessed Happy Birthday parades in my neighborhood. I’ve seen images of friends visiting elderly loved ones through glass doors and windows. I have friends who have taken RV vacation trips without gathering in crowded places. I’ve been on Zoom conferences for Easter and Father’s Day. I have “attended” mass every Sunday via YouTube. I’ve received cancellations of parties for graduates of medical school and for future weddings. I have managed to exercise every single day without going to a crowded gym. We can still find ways to be “together” without risking infection.
  • We need to spend less time listening to people running for political offices and more hearing from medical and economic experts who have nothing to lose in speaking the truth.
  • We should avoid theories of hoaxes and attempts to create a fairytale vision of the pandemic. The likelihood that the entire world has joined to make trouble for a single person is incredibly low.
  • We need to support anyone who must return to work by insuring their safety and by doing our utmost to follow guidelines that will help to slow down the spread of the virus. If we really don’t need to do something that involves taking risks, we should consider just staying home. We can do many things to support our local businesses and the economy without setting up situations that have the potential to become virus spreading incidents.
  • We all miss the world as is was five months ago. We all watched that ball drop in Times Square on New Year’s Day and made wonderful plans for 2020. We have lost many things like trips, graduations, time with friends and family, freedoms. When all is said and done nothing compares to the loss of health or life or economic security. If we can’t work together to get through this unprecedented time then we are surely doomed.
  • It’s time to get real.

Truth Is Beautiful

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Photo by Felix Mittermeier on Pexels.com

 

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.