Promote Love

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I have only recently returned from a ten day camping trip with dear friends. For most of the time I had spotty phone service and little access to the Internet. It forced me to forego my addiction to receiving instant news alerts and to reading political comments and commentaries during this election cycle. I found that my vacation from the noise and chaos of the world allowed me to quiet the anxieties that I sometimes feel about the state of the world. It also helped me to slow down my responses to events that might otherwise have angered me. By listening to the wind, the birds, and the beating of my own heart rather than the chaos that has become so commonplace I found a kind of wisdom and ability to calm my emotions. It made me realize that the world really is too much with us. We have in many ways become as raucous and disturbing to the peace as the flock of crows who sometimes babbled overhead as I sat near a beautiful lake eating my meals.

If I were to only be exposed to my friends and the members of my family I would never see or hear hate. The people in my sphere are good and kind, just as I found the individuals that I encountered in my travels to be. Most of us only desire to live our lives with as little drama and ugliness as possible, but we are all too often reminded again and again that there are indeed tortured souls who are filled with murderous anger and venom. I often wonder what has made them this way. Surely they were at one time innocent children. Were they abused, taught to be hard hearted? Did their minds become infected with illnesses that were ignored and left untreated? Were they abandoned by society in some way, alone and afraid? What led to their evil acts of violence? Why did they feel compelled to hurt innocents who had nothing whatsoever to do with causing them to have so much anger seething inside of them? How did their minds become so tortured?

I have come to believe that much of the murderous rage that we witness is caused by the twenty four seven barrage of information and talk that is suffocating us. Headlines are created to garner our attention. The more salacious they are the more likely we are to be curious about them. Yes, we have a president who stokes the fires, but the news outlets are more than happy to constantly give him the attention that he so voraciously seeks rather than learning how to ignore his rudeness. Perhaps if they took away his audience he might change his ways.

We can’t watch an awards show without hearing unwanted political commentaries from people who somehow believe that their opinions should matter to us. There is to much talk, talk, talk, most of which resembles a disagreement among kids in middle school. Seemingly all of us are guilty in one way or another of judging people by the ways in which they vote. We are at war with those with whom we disagree in ways that are destructive to our society, our friendships and our families. Instead of seeking common ground our words are used mostly to insult and push away anyone who differs from our own ways of thinking. Sadly, the level of self righteous indignation is fueling the violent responses of those whose minds have somehow become twisted, incomprehensible and filled with hate.

So what can we do to help the situation? Simply turning our backs on the problems will do little. We cannot ignore the reality that something must be done, but we also need to approach the matter in a way that demonstrates our willingness to value the differences that we have. We can indeed reshape the environment, but it will not be easy nor will we rid ourselves of all evil. The one thing that we can control is the way in which we choose to react to people who appear to be so aggrieved that they are shouting in true pain. Rather than insulting them, perhaps it is time that we ask them what they really need.

On a recent Sunday the Gospel story told of Jesus traveling to Jericho where He encountered a blind man named Bartimaeus  who begged the Lord to pity him and help him to see. The crowd yelled at Bartimaeus and told him to be quiet. They wanted nothing to do with the wretched man, but Jesus stopped, listened to his pleas and healed him.

We need to follow that example. It is so easy to just write someone off because we do not like what that person does or says. We meet their anger with our own and often hurl insults at them or even turn our backs on them, leaving them to grow more and more isolated and desirous of vengeance. We tell ourselves that helping people who are overwrought is none of our business, sometimes even when they are members of our own families.

I read an ironic description of the man who sent pipe bombs to democrats. It was from one of the members of his family. The man told of how sweet the his cousin had always been. He then went on to note that things had changed in the last three to five years. The world fell apart for the man now charged with attempted murder. He lost his business and had to file for bankruptcy. He was living inside of his van which was plastered with outrageous political messages. He worked as a pizza delivery man, a job usually populated by younger individuals. He had frequent run ins with the law and made unrealistic boasts about his talents. Those who knew him realized that something was very wrong and yet they did little more than shake their heads. He had not seen many of his relatives in over five years. Still, nobody seemed willing to reach out to him and ask what they might do to help him. He turned to a strangers in a twisted political world for the comfort that he sought. What if instead, someone who truly loved him had been willing to ask him what he needed? Might the direction of his life turned just by being noticed? 

We will never know. Indeed he may have pushed everyone away in spite of their efforts. Sometimes evil cannot be persuaded to change. That is when we must punish violent acts. Still I think that it would benefit all of us to begin to approach the sound and fury that surrounds us with more compassion and less anger. I think of an episode of the famous literary detective Hercule Poirot that I watched not long ago. In it he solves a murder before it even takes place, saving an unfortunate friend whose life was falling apart from total ruination. It’s time that we return to love, even for those that we do not understand,. We must notice the suffering people among us even when they appear to be ugly and unhinged. Let the crows be raucous. We should be kind. Promote love even for those we do not understand. Maybe in the process we will prevent evil from taking root in a misguided and tortured mind.

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We just paid off our truck. It was exciting to know that we’d have one less expense each month. Then, of course, the air conditioner on it went out. It seems that we needed a new condenser. “Ka-ching, Ka-ching!” There goes a nice chunk of change, but air conditioning is a must in my part of the world. Speaking of which it’s time to replace one of our almost twenty year old air conditioning units in our house. It’s actually had a great run all things being equal. I can’t complain too much about finally having to give in to replace it because we’ve gotten by rather nicely for a long time. Things really do fall apart,  and the twenty year mark seems to be the point as which all of the problems begin to show.

I laugh went I see the repair trucks in my neighborhood. It’s as though everyone is experiencing the same problems all at once. We’ve all had to replace our roofs, paint the exteriors, and call in the air conditioning crews. The people next door had foundation problems which scares the bejabbers out of the rest of us. Their repair was rather quick, but I don’t even want to imagine the cost. We just replaced a whole houseful of leaky faucets, and the jacuzzi on our bathtub decided to quit running. In the spring we got a new hot water heater and a whole lot of new carpet because the hot water heater leaked all over the house. By the time we get everything repaired we may be able to settle down for a very long time because most of the moving parts in our home are once again brand new.

I have to admit that I despise having to spend the money on such things, but I feel blessed that I am able to do so. I often think about a tour that I took in Chicago to see homes built by Frank Lloyd Wright. I remember that one of the ones that we saw was in a dreadful state. The guide explained that it was owned by an old man whose teacher retirement income did not allow him to fix things. He spent most of what he had on exorbitant taxes and the rest on food and medical bills. Our tour host mentioned that there were people who were infuriated that the once majestic home was falling apart, and they had tried unsuccessfully to purchase it from the owner. He was unwilling to sell because a member of his family had lived there since it was built by Mr. Wright. It was a matter of honor to the old guy not to just give it away, no matter how much pressure was being exerted to compel him to do so. I could not help but wonder why some generous group interested in the architectural history of Chicago did not simply volunteer to make the needed repairs in the name of conservation. I also realized how difficult it may sometimes be for the elderly to keep their beloved homes.

My grandfather had to sell his house after my grandmother died. He had exhausted his savings on her medical care. He survived by renting a room from a widow who decided to get a roomer so that she might be able to keep her own home. Together the lady and my grandfather kept her tiny place in good condition. They had found a way of feeling safe and happy by combining talents and resources, but not without sacrifice.

My own mother struggled mightily in her later years as well. She had quite proudly paid for her home and about the time that she thought that she would have some extra cash in her monthly budget all hell broke lose in her house. The oven quit heating. The dishwasher broke down. Her plumbing went haywire. She needed a new roof. Her house required a coat of paint inside and out. The carpet became threadbare. She was so overwhelmed that she essentially gave up. We did our best to help her with things by having painting parties and such, but there was so much to do that she became embarrassed to ask for help and often just hid the problems.

Every city and town has homes that have not been kept up to standard. It’s easy to complain about them as eyesores, but we often miss the point that they have become so because the people who live in them do not have the money or the skills to repair them. I suppose that’s why I so love the Habitat for Humanity program started by former President Jimmy Carter. Really good people volunteer time to help those who can’t help themselves. Often the recipients of the goodwill are older people who simply live with what they have regardless of how inconvenient things become. Providing them with a secure place to live is the least that we can all do as a community.

I recently saw a news story about an elderly woman whose home was inundated during hurricane Harvey. Over a year after the event she is still living with a shell of a home. She has no walls and walks on concrete floors. Even her plumbing is not working properly. She did not understand how to get help from FEMA and has passed the deadline for assistance from them. She plans to make one very small repair at a time until one day everything is back to normal, but it is obviously a very slow and overwhelming process. Hopefully someone who knows how to do such things may offer time or materials to hurry the process. It’s incredibly sad to know that people in our midst are struggling so.

I try to remember not to complain when I’m feeling angered by the continual parade repairs. Sure I have to spent disgustingly enormous amounts of money, but I always find a way of doing so. I do not have the worries of so many who work hard all of their lives only to find themselves struggling in their later years. Not only should I be grateful, but I think I should give regularly to organizations that actually help those who can’t. We have to share our good fortune so that others may live more decently.

Our Mothers, Our Angels

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I recently participated in a podcast dealing with the question of how to form meaningful relationships. As I told my own stories I realized how much I had learned about compassion, gratitude, courage, loyalty, trust and other important morals from my own mother and those of my friends and cousins. I suppose that in many ways I lived a kind of unblemished childhood with the exception of my father’s untimely and unexpected death. From the many women that I encountered, the mothers of my peers, I learned the lessons of being someone on whom others might depend. These were wonderful women who opened their homes and their hearts to me little realizing what an impact they would have on my own development and worldview.

I have sadly been reminded again and again of what these ladies meant to me as they one by one die from the diseases of advanced age. Just last week I learned of the death of the remarkable mother of one of my high school friends. I had only met this woman once, but in that brief encounter I was taken by the way in which she welcomed me and made me somehow feel quite special. I would tell people about her and that brief encounter from time to time as the years passed. It was only in reading her obituary that I realized what a truly stunning life she had lived, and I felt proud to have known her no matter how fleetingly. 

The women who were my role models were children of the Great Depression. They were young and on the verge of beginning their lives as adults during World War II. Their early years were often punctuated with sacrifices that few of us born in the second half of the twentieth century will ever completely understand. In spite of varying hardships they all maintained a strong sense of optimism and can do spirit that followed them into their roles as mothers. They passed down their love of family to all of us, both male and female. They were devoted to their children without hovering like helicopters. They worked hard to maintain a sense of peace and contentment inside their homes. They rarely complained, instead celebrating the blessings that they had, regardless of how small they were. They were an exceptional group, and it pains me to see their generation slowly leaving our earth, because they were living breathing angels who gave their all to be certain that we would have good lives.

These were not women who were always barefoot, pregnant and under their husband’s thumbs, even though many of them never worked outside of the home. They were strong and able to overcome incredible challenges. They worked for the betterment of their little corners of the earth through jobs, volunteer work, keeping their families safe and happy. Often their responsibilities included elderly parents for whom they lovingly took into their homes. I used to enjoy visiting with the old ones who became part of the big extended families of my friends. It was not until my own mother came to live in my home in her final year of life that I realized the difficulties of caring for an adult day in and day out. The women I had witnessed had always made it seem so easy.

The women who continue to inspire me thought it natural to pitch in whenever someone was in need. They’d bring food, condolences, and a helping hand to any tragedy. They were not the least bit afraid of long hours of back breaking work. They did whatever needed to be done with little fanfare or need of accolades. 

If I were to make a list of the women who taught me how to live a purpose driven life it would begin with my own mother but then continue almost endlessly, for I always found something remarkable about the generation that came before me. Mrs. Barry showed me what love and loyalty really meant when she stepped forward to help me during my mother’s first mental breakdown. Mrs. Daigle taught me how to be the consummate hostess regardless of who came to my door. Mrs. Bush demonstrated courage over and over again, even in situations that might have overwhelmed a lesser soul. My aunts showed me how to keep family close. Mrs. Janot helped me to understand how to balance the daily toil of living with fun. Mrs. Frey demonstrated how to fully utilize my own talents and creativity. Mrs. Wright helped me to discover my own worth. Mrs. Loisey was my teacher who showed me the impact of a great educator. Mrs. Pryor helped me to understand the possibilities found in giving myself to the community. Mrs. McKenna brought beauty and music into my life. Mrs. Martin showed me the new worlds to be found in books. Mrs. Brochtrup seemed to be a living saint whose faith inspired me. Mrs. Caldwell, Mrs. Gallerano, and Mrs. Cash made my life more fun and interesting by spending hours  guiding me in Girl Scouts and on our school’s drill team. Mrs. Mandola was elegant and made me feel that way as well. All of them had a way of making it clear that they genuinely cared for me. They listened to me and valued what I had to say. They understood the importance of every relationship, but probably never realized what an enormous impact they had on me.

Our mothers were our angels on earth, and now so many of them are our angels in heaven. I do miss them and the calmness that they always brought to me. When we speak of women’s rights and the roles of women we would do well to look to these wonderful ladies for examples and guidance. They were far more amazing than our society gives them credit for being. From them I learned what it really means to be a woman.

Gratitude

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It was during the middle of the Great Depression that a monastery in New York began offering food each afternoon to citizens who were hungry and out of work. The fare was rather plain, just a sandwich with nothing special about it, but it was substantial. Often it was the only meal of the day for some of the recipients. Those who came reacted to the meager offering in many different ways. Some were so hungry that they gulped down the food in only seconds. Others ate half of the sandwich and saved the rest for a later time when they would once again feel the pangs of starvation. There were those who took the food home to share with others. Then there were always a very few who grumbled that the meal wasn’t very tasty, somehow forgetting the gratitude that they might have shown. Nonetheless the monks continued their daily ritual giving as much as possible to the multitudes who came even though their own pantry was sometimes bare.

I heard this story a few Sundays ago and I thought of how often we tend to take our blessings for granted, and sometimes even complain when given a gift out of the generosity of someone’s heart. We are truly a land of plenty compared to some parts of the world where hunger is rampant. In such places children regularly lie dying from lack of nourishment, their bellies swollen, their eyes sunken. There are many places in our own country that offer food for those who are not able to provide for themselves and for the most part people are grateful for whatever they receive. Nonetheless we have all seen or heard of those who grumble and seek more than the charitable groups are able to provide. It hurts us when we see generosity being so under appreciated, even as we understand how deprivation can breed anger.

I’m reminded of a chapter in the classic novel To Kill A Mockingbird in which Scout describes a cantankerous old woman who lives near the Finch family. The lady invariably hurls insults at Scout and her brother Jem as they pass in front of her home. One afternoon the woman says such vile things about the children’s father that Jem becomes enraged. He later returns and cuts off all of the blooms on the neighbor’s favorite bush and breaks Scout’s new baton in half. Ultimately he is confronted by his father who chides him and insists that the he be kind to the woman because she is old and sick.

As a punishment for his egregious actions Jem has read to the cranky lady each day. He chooses Ivanhoe as his subject and visits her home every afternoon. Little by little his task becomes less onerous and the woman less and less demanding. When she dies shortly after he has fulfilled his duties Jem learns that she had been addicted to a powerful drug given to her because of her illness. She spent her last days weaning herself from its hold by listening to Jem’s recitations. She died clean and sober with her pride intact. Jem’s father insists that she was one of the bravest people he ever knew.

We never really know what is causing someone to be grumpy or inappreciative. It is easy to chide them for their seeming lack of graciousness, but if we take time to find the source of their crossness we often learn that something quite terrible is plaguing them. Sometimes it is simply the idea of wanting to be thought of as being just as good and important as everyone else. Still, on the whole we would all be better served by being more thankful for whatever we have rather than wishing for more. We appear spoiled, churlish and even a bit childish whenever we judge any kind of gift to be unworthy. Often the things that we receive from people who care about us are the very best that they have to offer, even when they are quite humble. We need to think more about the intent to please us and less about the actual object.

Each day there are probably wonderful opportunities for demonstrating a sense of appreciation. A smile is a gift. Having someone help us with a problem is a blessing. Having a roof to shelter us from the elements is wondrous. Experiencing joy and laughter is beautiful. An education is one of the greatest gifts we might ever receive. Seeing a sunrise one more day, watching a baby play, enjoying the quenching goodness of clean water, sitting under the shade of a tree are such simple things that in reality are glorious. We forget to be thankful for such things because we take them for granted, but we notice immediately when they are gone.

I used to feel embarrassed because my mother sent me to school on most days with a fried egg sandwich. I often tried to hide my meal in shame because it seemed to shout that I was poor. I forgot to be happy that I did not have to go hungry. That egg filled my belly and gave me energy for the afternoon. It was more than better than nothing. It was tasty and made with my mother’s love. It took me years to understand just how lucky I was to have that meal wrapped in waxed paper and gently placed in a brown paper bag to keep me nourished. I was silly and superficial not to be more grateful. It took me many years and many experiences to realize my folly.

Take the time each day to really notice the many gifts coming your way, particularly those that are sent with the best of intentions. Appreciate each little effort, every special gift. Set aside anger or feelings of want and revel in whatever you have. You will soon find your heart filling with contentment. Even a plain sandwich will become a gourmet meal.

  

Changing the World One Person At a Time

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I watched an interesting movie, An Inspector Calls, a few nights ago that has stayed on mind. It was based on a play written by the English author J.B. Priestly and was first performed in 1945. It alludes to the impact that each of us has on the people that we encounter, even when those meetings are impersonal and brief. Each day as we go about our lives we are leaving impressions that either enrich or hurt the people with whom we interact. What we say and do is affecting someone’s psyche in deep and meaningful ways, making it imperative that we think before we act. 

All too often we are wrapped up in our own trials and tribulations, forgetting the power that we yield in even the most mundane situations. If we are irritable, taking out our frustrations on complete strangers we may think little of our actions, but our anger may in fact ruin the day of the person who is the recipient of our barbs. How we choose to treat people actually matters, and may in fact have lasting consequences of which we are completely unaware. So why wouldn’t we continually do our best to more pleasant and understanding?

According to a recent 20/20 episode road rage has become a national problem. In city after city there have been tragic cases of individuals who become so angry that they lose their composure and end up creating mayhem in the process. Far too many people are coming unglued and overreacting to snarls of traffic. Everyday folk become Mr. Hyde when they take command of the driver’s seat in a car. They forget that the automobile can become a weapon with fatal consequences when emotions take hold.

Extreme examples of people snapping and resorting to violence are still mostly rare, but we all too often use our words to tear people apart. It has become more and more acceptable to speak our minds, as though being brutally forthright is a badge of honor rather than the destructive force that it actually is. We sometimes even applaud those who utter vile things about the people with whom they disagree. It’s supposed to be a sign of toughness to be able to take an insult on the chin, but I find myself wondering how much damage is being caused by the deep hurt that is being so nonchalantly used to win arguments. Sticks and stones may indeed break our bones, but words are often even more powerful in breaking spirits.

I have to admit to feeling a bit sad these days as I see so much mean spirited behavior being bandied about without much thought. I find myself wondering how many souls are quietly hurting because of the suspension of manners in so many situations. Surely we must all be somewhat affronted by commentaries that threaten and insult. Where is the kindness that we know is far more effective in healing?

I was impressed by former President Barack Obama’s speech in South Africa upon the occasion of what would have been Nelson Mandela’s one hundredth birthday. He pointed out that Mr. Mandela understood the importance of forgiveness and understanding in leading a nation. Even though he had been imprisoned and treated badly, he chose not to hold grudges against those who had tormented him. He realized that the only way to bring his country together was to mend the divisions and bring all of the people together.

I have found that the greatest people of all time have understood the basic principle and power of love. Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and of course Jesus Christ followed a righteous path of justice, inclusion, and above all nonviolence. They were willing to forgive, to understand, to create alliances between people of different beliefs. In the final analysis we are all stronger when we come together in a spirit of forgiveness and peace.

I have a friend named Andriel who personifies the way in which each of us may play a small role in making our world a better place to be. Andriel’s life was shattered a few years ago when her beautiful daughter was killed in an automobile accident. The tragedy touched many of us, but its effect on Andriel was unimaginable. From the ashes of that time, Andriel has worked her way back to wholeness not by stewing in anger over the unfairness of her plight, but by reaching out to one hurting soul at a time and embracing them in their moment of need. She has healed herself by healing others, and continually being conscious of the power of even the smallest of her actions. She encourages  and inspires all who know her to consciously embrace and appreciate the people around them with positivity. She is a life coach who has walked in a valley of pain and sorrow only to emerge more whole than ever before. Her secret to being a joyful minister lies in opening her heart in all that she says and does, remembering how fragile each of us sometimes may be.

Andriel has advised those who follow her to spend some time each and everyday helping to mend someone who is broken. Make that phone call. Send that text. Say those words that are in your heart but somehow remain unspoken. Let people know how much they mean to you, how much you love them. Your efforts may make all the difference in someone’s life.

We don’t have to be victims of a movement of so called strong men and women who would abase and belittle us. We can do what we know is right and muffle the sounds of ugliness. There are more good people than bad. That has always been true. We have the power to change the world, one life at a time.