Serenity

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I tend to be a person of moderation. I’ve never smoked. I drink very little and I actually get so sick when I eat too much that I avoid gluttony like the plague. I was once addicted to Diet Coke, a habit that started when someone told me that I might forestall my migraine headaches if I drank the brew regularly. I got to where I was gulping down one for breakfast, another at lunch and two more during the day. I was terrified to quit because the drink was like a magic elixir that actually kept my headaches more at bay than prescribed medications. I was so known for drinking Diet Coke that my Secret Santas often included a carton of them with my gifts.

Two years ago I decided that enough was enough. I did not like the idea of being controlled by a substance and so I went cold turkey. I haven’t touched a soft drink of any kind since then for fear that I might resurrect my habit. It has been especially difficult at movies. There’s nothing quite like a big cup of soda with some popcorn to feel content. The same is true whenever I eat Tex-Mex or a Whataburger. In spite of my urges I’ve kept religiously to my goal of shutting Diet Coke and all other carbonated drinks out of my life,

I suppose that I do not like the idea of doing anything to excess, but in reality I know that my hidden secret is that I worry too much. I’m good at telling others not to waste time fretting over things, but not so good at following my own advice. My grandfather often warned me not to take after my grandmother who was a chronic ball of anxiety. I suppose that my genes are predisposed to being concerned about what might be, even when I have no power to change many of the situations that occupy my thoughts.

I suspect that the world lends itself to being a source of worry. I think about school shootings, trouble in the Middle East, climate change, poverty, the education of our children and a hundred other things. Sometimes it feels as though we are in deep trouble. Other times I’m able to control my mind and do whatever is within my capabilities and leave the rest to those in power and to God.

Mostly I think about my family and my friends though. I want to fix things for them, help them to have perfectly wonderful lives, even though I understand that sometimes each person has to face his/her own problems. I am a fixer who is constantly tidying up messes in the world, That is in fact the one thing that I do excessively even though I know full well that it is impossible for me to be all things to all people.

I suppose that I am not alone in desiring to mend hearts, educate minds, heal wounds. It’s not bad that I do my best to be considerate of other people’s needs. What makes my efforts a bit on the cray cray side is when I obsess and feel as though I am never able to do enough. I become addicted to being a panacea as surely as I was hooked on those Diet Cokes. Just as I understood that it was wrong to need that drink so much, so it is a bit prideful and presumptive for me to think that I can solve the world’s problems if only I try hard enough. In fact, if I’m not kind to myself I don’t think I can be really effective in helping others. In other words, I need to get my own house in order first.

I suppose that it is never too late to learn how to be empathetic and loving without becoming overly anxious. My resolve this year is to begin thinking logically about what is possible for me to do with regard to the difficulties of others and then let things go as the ear worm song says. Even love and worry in excess can be lethal. It’s time for me to change what I can and leave what I can’t to those who are more able. The Serenity Prayer is going to become my mantra. For those who haven’t heard it for a time here it is:

God grant me the serenity

to accept the things I cannot change; 

courage to change the things I can; 

and wisdom to know the difference.

Amen.

If I have been able to give up those darn Diet Cokes I think maybe I can achieve a bit more serenity as well.

Opening Hearts and Minds

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I am what is sometimes known as a people pleaser, not so much because I want to impress anyone with my goodness but because I have an uncanny ability to sense people’s feelings. I have spent most of my life striving to help others to be their best selves and making great effort to see differing points of view. My work has included titles like mother, teacher, peer facilitator, dean of faculty. In those roles I focused on walking hand in hand with my charges rather than being an authoritarian. I prefer being a diplomat to executing orders. To my utter dismay I more and more often find myself in a kind of new world order in which I am constantly challenged to choose a side or be considered outmoded and ineffective. The middle ground where I have long stood so that I might extend a hand to each side is now considered the choice of wimps, those unwilling to take a stand. I find it more and more difficult to please anyone and I am often accused of being the kind of person who has actually caused most of the problems of the world.

We appear to be in a phase during which manners and decency toward all is considered passé. Tough guys, bullies, those willing to hurl insults are thought to be the new saviors of the world. Being polite and soft spoken is out. Being brash is in. Passive resistance and peaceful assembly has lost its lure. Instead shouting and insistence that all agree to a kind of tandem manner of thinking is the way of the new heroes. Sound bites have replaced thoughtful discourse.

As a teenager I read John Kennedy’s Profiles In Courage with an almost reverential mindset. I saw the heroes that he described as role models for my own life. I liked the stories of fortitude in the lives of the saints that had so fascinated me as a child. I wanted more than anything to be a fair and just individual who held tightly to the belief that each of us has an important purpose in this world. I read and reread tales of men and women who changed the world without harming others. I came to believe that the most glorious aspect of living where I do is the unalienable right of individuals to have the liberty of their own thoughts. I enjoyed the idea of bridging gaps between diverse groups. It is who I am and what I do.

It seems as though a perverse stubbornness has invaded the world. We are at an impasse with one another. Society has become judgmental without taking the time to analyze situations devoid of prejudice. Our favored leaders often hurl insults at one another. We blame entire generations for our problems with sweeping pronouncements. Some taunt the “snowflakes” while others dismiss the “boomers” as the lot that has destroyed the earth. Anger is even invading families and rending friendships in two. There is a kind of worldwide psychosis that is making all of us sick.

It has become almost impossible for me to use my diplomatic skills. Of late I seem to anger everyone whenever I attempt to consider all sides of a discussion. My efforts are derided as useless and perhaps even counterproductive. I am reminded of how souls like Mitt Romney are not the heroes I think them to be, but spineless cowards who are of little use to the world. People are demanding action and those who attempt to broker compromise and peace are thought to be a large part of the world’s problems.

As a student of history I know how dangerous such thinking can be. While mankind divides itself into winners and losers suffering prevails. The power brokers unwilling to give an inch one way or another wreak havoc on innocents. Problems fester and grow in an atmosphere unwilling to consider compromise. When people no longer listen to one another grave mistakes are made. Divisions like north and south, left and right, red and blue, Christian and atheist, Sunni and Shia, Israeli and Palestinian, educated and uneducated, rich and poor are the sources of conflict and war. It is only when we truly attempt to work together that solutions begin to arise.

I was quite taken by an image that one of my friends posted on Christmas Day. In the photo were two women, sisters from a loving family. One of them stood in front a blue car with a “Warren” sticker and the other posed by a red car with a “Trump” sticker. Both women were laughing and obviously quite happy with one another, unwilling to allow their political differences to change their feelings of warmth and affection. It was a hopeful sign for me, a reminder that when all is said and done we humans may have differing opinions of how to solve problems but we are united by love.

I’d like to believe that our current state of rage is only a temporary phase and that the peacemakers will come into fashion again. In the meantime I pray that relationships that have been broken by differences in points of view may be mended. We need each other now more than ever. Life is far too short to spend time quibbling when we might be better off finding ways to get along. All it takes is a willingness to open our hearts and minds. Perhaps that is the best resolution that anyone might make for the new year and new decade of 2020.

Each New Day

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I have reveled in my retirement from work, but I still have the urge and the energy to keep myself busy. I try to stay active because I’ve witnessed the times when people that I know became unable to get around like they once did. Admittedly I find it difficult to stay still due to a personality that is always pushing me to continue making a difference in the world. I still operate from a general routine which I swore I would never do once I dropped out of the daily rat race. Some habits are difficult to eliminate.

Nonetheless I enjoy my mornings the most. I used to hate the sound of the alarm clock announcing that I had to get a move on lest I be late for work. Now it is my internal clock and my bladder that push me out of bed in the early morning hours. If I try to catch a few more Zs I end up with a headache and dreams so goofy that they are disturbing, so I just rise and enjoy the quiet when the silence is only broken by the sounds of the birds and people beginning their daily treks. I brew some tea and sit in my front room reading about what happened while I slumbered.

I write five days each week as a kind of meditation. I challenge myself to put the random thoughts that run through my head on paper in a cohesive and meaningful form. It’s an exercise that I so enjoy and one for which I rarely had time in my teaching days. Back then I had to be out of the house by six thirty and then I would spend as much as an hour or more commuting to the campus where I worked. My mind was never ready for such a hurried and raucous start to the day and so I despised every aspect of the early hours. Being forced out of my home without time to sit quietly was horrific. Now I luxuriate in the moments that I have with my thoughts.

I’ve never been able to completely get away from working with young people. I still tutor seven students from nearby and I glory in being able to do so. They delight me with their optimism and honesty. I gain as much from them as they get from me. I find children to be a delightful diversion from the seriousness of the world. They keep me hopeful and challenge my brain to continue working. I look forward to my weekly visits with them and fill in my academic longings with tutoring sessions with my grandchildren.

As I have become older I have found more and more solace in attending church each Sunday. I look forward to my weekly pilgrimage when my heart and soul are filled with a sense of calm simply from being in the house of the Lord along with other people who have become so special to me. I never fail to leave feeling refreshed and somehow a bit more at peace.

I don’t need much to be happy these days. I have begun to take great delight in the most ordinary aspects of life. I now have the time to be more available for the people that I love. I enjoy a wave from a neighbor, a cute photo of someone’s child, a joke that makes me laugh from my belly. I get to read more and watch ridiculous television programs without feeling guilty. I do silly things like dressing up in costume for a party or festival. I don’t want excitement anymore. Serenity is the companion that I cultivate.

I have become more in tune with myself and with the people that I know. I enjoy celebrating their victories, milestones, and happiness. At the same time I don’t shy away from helping them through challenges and losses. I’ve finally learned how to really listen and hear the individuals who mean so much to me. I now have all the time that they may need. It feels wonderful to be able to embrace friendships without the obligations of work pulling me away.

I explore new ideas and challenge myself to remain open minded even when people’s beliefs differ greatly from my own. I have become a defender of the individual right to think about the world from differing points of view. I have lowered my blood pressure considerably by understanding that I don’t need to argue or judge or turn my back on someone just because he/she disagrees with me on matters of politics or religion. To each his own has become the gold standard of my reaction to such things.

My life is quiet, routine, relaxed. I know who I am and I really like myself. I have a group of wonderful friends, a loving spouse and an incredible family. None of us are without our flaws but I love all of us just the same. What more might I want? I go with whatever flux and flow enters my life and find ways to stay content. I look forward to each new day and the possibilities that it brings.

Dear Diary

pathtothefutureI received a lovely gift for my birthday this year from Araceli. It was a book with 200 writing prompts to help inspire my blogs. In that spirit the following is a diary entry that might be written ten years in the future. Check back in a decade to see how prescient I was.

Dear Diary,

I celebrated my eighty first birthday a couple of weeks ago. Never did I imagine myself as and octogenarian. I’m still filled with optimism and energy but I don’t get around as quickly as I once did. I suppose that I’ve felt my age more in my joints than in my brain but the glories of medicine and engineering have come to my rescue with all of the conveniences that now do work that I once had to do.

My home is kept tidy by the little robots that whir around each day. I don’t know who invented those little “Hazels and Jeeves” but they make a world of difference in my lifestyle. I haven’t had to pick up a broom or dust cloth or mop for quite some time. The self cleaning toilets are the best. The porcelain is squeaky clean all the time allowing me to concentrate on keeping my body in shape with exercise and my mind working with continual learning. I’m enrolled in an online seminar right now that makes me feel as though I am communicating with the great writers of all time. It is mind boggling to consider how much technology has changed the world.

It was touch and go on earth for a time. We all had to adjust to the changing climate but in rushed the best minds, including those of some of my grandchildren, to invent better ways of living while conserving the resources of our earth. It has been like watching science fiction unfold in reality. I always believed that we humans would find solutions to the problems and people have not disappointed. We suffered for a time and then we get to work doing whatever we need to do. I am so proud of all the people who devoted blood sweat and tears to the cause. Mankind’s intellect is such a glorious gift when it is used for the good of all.

I especially like that I can stay independently in my home without fear or inconvenience to anyone. I have a checkup with a nurse practitioner each morning via a computer program that monitors my health all day long. I felt no pain at all when they inserted the chip that sends my vitals to my physicians 24/7. The surgery that repaired my knees was almost bionic. I really enjoyed hiking in the mountains near my brothers’ Colorado cabin last summer just like I was still in my twenties. I no longer need my glasses either after a painless thirty minute procedure. It’s all quite amazing.

I’m a great grandmother now and it is so much fun. The little ones are bright and happy. I “see” them several times each week via a new kind of Skype that is almost like having them in the same room thanks to Virtual Reality. I never feel alone because all of the people that I love are just a few voice commands away and when they actually visit the new transportation systems get them here almost as quickly as teleporting. I keep thinking back to the world of Star Trek and realize that I now live in it in so many ways.

My grandchildren are doing such remarkable things. They all graduated from college and found exciting jobs in the fields that they studied. They are so sweet about coming to visit me often. I’m hosting a big Christmas dinner this month just as I always have except that now my robots are doing all of the work. All I have to do is program them and then sit back and enjoy the party.

It’s difficult to believe that my daughters and sons-in-law are nearing retirement. Where did the years go? Perhaps when they no longer have to report to jobs each day we can travel together. I’m anxious to try that new high speed plane that reaches Europe in only two hours. I especially want to see Notre Dame Cathedral now that it has been repaired. There are still so many journeys that I hope to make.

I feel a bit like my grandfather once did whenever he spoke of all of the innovations that he had witnessed during his lifetime. I suppose that I often took progress for granted until it was threatened by the whims of mankind. Those years of anger and political divisions were worrisome but we finally realized the necessity of working together rather than continually arguing. We fought a kind of battle against our human failings and have come out stronger than ever. Things are not perfect but then they never really are. Nonetheless we have come a very long way in only ten years. It is truly a better world for the majority of the world’s people. We humans are slowly but surely continuing to evolve in positive ways.

If I live as long as my grandfather did I still have almost thirty years to go. I suspect that I will see many glorious advances and have the privilege of watching my family grow and prosper. There will no doubt be tough times here and there but one thing that never seems to change is the inventiveness and resilience of the human spirit along with the grace of God. I look forward to whatever lies ahead.

Bridging the Gaps

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I’m a sucker for those little quizzes that so often appear on Facebook. I know that they are about as silly as seeking the advice of a fortune teller but I take them nonetheless, mostly when waiting to see my dentist or or just before I begin a new chore. The other day I fell for the clickbait when it announced that just by answering a few questions I might be identified as a Boomer, a GenXer, or a Millennial. Being unable to resist such a tempting bit of fun I answered all of the queries as honestly as possible and learned which generation was mine, while also no doubt hitting hundreds of lists of potential advertisers. Amazingly I was told that I was indeed a GenXer, a group born about three decades after I actually was.

I’ve always been young at heart, or maybe just immature, but this month I’ll celebrate my seventy first birthday which means that in reality I am a bonafide Baby Boomer. The parents of Boomers like me got together after a long and treacherous war and decided to get down to the business of living with a vengeance. Since reliable birth control was still just a promise of the future their families filled up the earth in record numbers, and boy what a crew Boomer children were and continue to be. Just in numbers we pretty much represent virtually every personality type, political persuasion and philosophical way of thinking that ever walked on the face of this earth. Defining us is a very tricky business because just when someone thinks they have figured us out, they find those among us who don’t fit any kind of mold.

Like most efforts to generalize about a group of people, describing Boomers can be a zero sum game. We’re often stereotyped as hippies who never quite grew up. We heard all the criticisms from our elders about our long hair and rebellious ways long before we were being criticized by our children and grandchildren with taunts like, “Okay, Boomer.” Our elders called us lazy and taunted us with rhetoric that challenged our protests with phrases like “Love it or leave it.” so we don’t tend too get too bent out of shape when we hear snide comments aimed our way. We simply laugh in the knowledge that it is statistically impossible to wedge so many folks into a simple behavioral description.

We’re all what some might call old folk these days with our group slowly inching into the sixties, seventies and eighties. We’re bound to have a few old codgers among us who have forgotten what is like to be young. I’ve heard the muttered comments from my peers about the “snowflakes” among our youth. I tend to write such grouches as off to individuals who have become a bit too stuck in the past much like some of our parents were back when we were also young. It’s the way things have gone since the beginning of time. I seem to recall reading about ancient Greeks who complained about the horrible kids of that long ago time.

The truth is that all generations come in all varieties with influences from their own parents, their teachers, their churches, their coworkers, their neighbors and the media. On any given day we are all exposed to a barrage of competing ideas that we filter according to our personal needs and current states in life. The generational gaps or competitions result because one group is just beginning the adult journey and another is looking at the endgame. It makes for totally different points of view.

As I watch my elders die I can’t remember any of their criticisms or flaws. I only see people that I love dearly and know I will miss when they are gone. Watching the world change is somewhat difficult but watching a loved one grow old and die is unbearable. We Boomers understand ourselves and those who guided us more and more as the years go by. What is important to us is not not as sweeping and adventurous as the dreams of the very young. Sometimes just getting through the day without pain in our joints is enough to keep us from coming across as a platoon of curmudgeons.

I suppose that my lifetime of work with young people has given me a great deal more insight into their mindsets than many of my age may have. I have heard the earnest hopes of the young and watched their struggles to earn a meaningful place in society. They have good hearts and truly want to fix the problems that they believe are keeping us from becoming our best selves. They do work hard but life itself can be quite punishing and sometimes they get discouraged. We should not be so quick to dismiss their concerns and complaints. After all we were often ignored and insulted when we rallied for justice and equality. Our parents forgot that they too idealistically battled against evil in a war that demanded their energy and commitment as much as our causes required our dedication. Now new generations are offering their solutions for the ills that plague society and in good faith we should listen.

I suppose that we have always had the kind of misunderstandings between the generations that continue to exit today. Fortunately there have also always been those who somehow know how to bridge the gaps that form between us. The future truly belongs to the young. It would behoove us to listen to what they have to say.