Looking Forward

SupplierDiversityLBack before there was DNA, ancestry.com, or genealogy or libraries sponsored by the Latter Day Saints families often told tales of ancestors that may or may not have been true. Sometimes the stories were so compelling that they were handed down from generation to generation, thus spreading unfounded myths about the folks who were long past. Thus it was with my own relations who had all kinds of theories about who we were and from whence we had come.

One of the more popular ideas was that my maternal grandfather had actually been born in Cleveland, Ohio of Slovakian parentage, and that only my maternal grandmother had been an immigrant from Eastern Europe. With help from a first cousin I have determined that both of my grandparents were born in the Slovakian territory of what was once the Austro-Hungarian Empire. I have seen their names on ship manifests and now have proof that they entered the United States at the port of Galveston, Texas. My grandfather eventually became a naturalized citizen and I have copies of the document detailing when and where that happened as well, Oddly enough there are still relatives who refuse to believe the evidence that my cousin and I have gathered, preferring instead to insist that Grandpa was in fact an American citizen by birth. Some family fables refuse to die.

I recall a time when a Jewish friend of my mom’s declared her certainty that we were the descendants of European Jews. Her only clue to the veracity of that statement lay in our appearance and mannerisms, as though there is some stereotypical methodology for determining such things. Imagine my surprise when a DNA test revealed that I do indeed have a trace of Eastern European Jewishness tracing through my veins. It was a rather exciting discovery and one that my mother and her friends seemed to believe even before I had found the grain of truth.

It’s far easier in today’s world for me to learn that I am not a descendant of Native Americans as my paternal grandmother had always claimed. My high cheekbones are more likely derived from my Slovakian family members than from some Southeastern tribe. Still the stories of our Native American ancestry were part of my Grandma’s repertoire, and I suspect that she truly believed that they were true. The fact is that the bloodlines through her go straight back to Great Britain and then lead to Normandy and Norway. There are no Native Americans anywhere, but I grew up thinking that I must in fact be from one of America’s earliest people simply because my grandmother always told me so.

I bring this up because Senator Elizabeth Warren has been skewered again and again for claiming that she is of Native American descent. If her family is like mine she no doubt heard these things while growing up and had no reason to believe that they were untrue. We listen to our elders and we buy into their tales, never really thinking that they may be telling us falsehoods. I suspect that they actually believe those half truths themselves, leading to even more certainty that their stories are indeed true. It is little wonder that Senator Warren took the word of her relatives and saw herself as a true Native American, especially considering that she haled from Oklahoma where it was far more likely that her ancestors might have intermingled from many different groups.

I had an aunt who often noted that we were a biracial family from some point in history when our ancestors might have been African American. She would gaze into the mirror and see her jet black hair and brown eyes so dark that they almost resembled nuggets of coal. Somehow she decided that her physical attributes were indicative of blackness. She went to her grave feeling certain that she was a mixture of white and black ancestors, and I have to admit that her tales were so exotic that I half believed them even though the skin of family members from that branch is almost colorless save for the splotches of freckles that dot their arms and legs and faces. Eventually my DNA test totally squelched my aunt’s idea, but there was a time when the uncertainty made me wonder.

We all long to know our histories, but in many ways they don’t matter all that much in the grand scheme of things. It is what we are now doing that determines who we really are, not the stories of people that we never met and maybe don’t even know about. The most important thing about each of us is how well we have evolved into kind and just individuals who use our talents to the best of our abilities. It is in the attitudes and ethical values that we learned from our parents and pass down to our children that we find the essence of who we are. In fact I often think of how my mother always felt that knowing one’s genealogy was of far less importance than gazing into the future. She had little or no desire to look back or to define herself by ethnicity or race. She truly believed that we are all essentially the same with only minor variations over which we have little control. It was the human mind that fascinated her and the potential that we all possess to use our intellect well.

Each of us is the sum of our genetics and our environment. How we approach the world is determined in a large part by our most immediate interactions. Unfortunately we have a nasty habit of dividing ourselves into groups and even attempting to rank them as though there are actually superiors and inferiors. Such stereotyping can lead to the ugliness of racism unless we avoid its pitfalls. While there is nothing wrong with taking pride in our family heritage, it is a slippery slope to believe that our family trees somehow define us as being either better or worse than our peers. We simply are who we are at birth and then it becomes up to each of us to take our mix of DNA, history, family life, and education and forge our own individual destinies.

It really is time that we be more intent on living together with open hearts and minds rather than playing classification games. Much of the trouble that the world is experiencing is derived from an illogical hatred of differences, whether they be religious or ethnic or racial. So much blood has been shed in the name of “isms.” Sometimes we humans devolve into the same kind of thinking that creates wars between rival gangs. It is illogical and even hateful. When it comes from those who are supposed to be our leaders it borders on evil.

The truth is that few of us will ever know our backgrounds for certain, and that is okay. It’s fun to find out a bit of who we are, but more important to move forward and be ourselves. We need not define who we are by the branches of family trees. Instead it is crucial that we all be allowed to develop all of the components of our makeup into the best possible versions of ourselves. At the same time, if we are right thinking, we will embrace the lovely variety of mankind, and rejoice in our differences. When we encourage the many disparate groups to offer their unique ideas and talents to the betterment of us all, the world becomes a safer and more dynamic place. Let’s celebrate our wondrous variety in all that we do.

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Love Differences

51Jt6-9T24L._SL500_AC_SS350_Being a parent is a task that is super charged with emotions. I recall one of the principals with whom I worked always telling us to remember that in most cases the parents of our students were sending us the best children that they had. What he meant by that statement was that they were working hard to do the right thing even if they sometimes made mistakes. He wanted us to be gentle and understanding with them because as a dad himself he understood how difficult parenting can be. Through the long days and nights of nurturing our offspring from infancy to adulthood we display our human frailties to them again and again. We pray that our moments of weakness will not harm their development, but rather that the strength of our love and good intentions will be the things that mold them into strong and confident individuals of  good character.

Our children are a puzzling combination of nature and nurture. Even members of the same family who have essentially been raised with identical routines and beliefs will turn out just a bit differently from one another. We sense that our little babies are born with particular traits and personalities that we attempt to cultivate to bring out their best. Some parents are masterful at helping their little ones to become happy and healthy and hard working adults. Others find themselves puzzled that their efforts sometimes seem to be riddled with problems and frustrations. The art of parenting is complicated when genetics leave our little ones with health problems and learning challenges. It’s so much easier when they appear to be little geniuses with pleasing personalities and incredible athletic abilities. We have all known such children and wondered what their parents may have done to create those incredible kids.

The truth is that many times even the moms and dads of seemingly perfect little babies have no idea why those children are so innately wonderful. I remember asking the mother of a particularly remarkable little girl to give me some parenting tips. Her surprising response was that she had six children and all but the sweet child that I knew had taxed her patience. Her conclusion was that her daughter was simply born the way she was. She insisted that she had done very little to produce such a lovey person. I have since seen a great deal of evidence that supports her theory, but I also realize that even the most potentially wonderful baby needs proper guidance to fully develop into an amazing adult.

Over time I have come to believe that there are certain keys to good parenting that may not appear to be particularly difficult to enact, but in fact require a full time commitment. Foremost is the need to love a child for the person that he or she is, a willingness to be supportive rather than directive that is sometimes easier said than done. We each have preconceived notions about how we want our offspring to be based on our own preferences and dreams. If we have been studious and mathematical we may be disappointed when one of our children struggles with numbers. If our background includes success in athletics a child who is mediocre in such pursuits may baffle us. If we are outgoing we will be confused by a shy and awkward youngster. Our job as good parents is to patiently love our children and help them to develop the interests and traits that are most natural for them while also demonstrating how to cope with their struggles in other areas. We need to provide them with opportunities to explore, and when they stumble we need to be there to help them understand how to deal with mistakes. In other words we must allow them to find their own purposes in life and demonstrate that we are behind them all the way as long as what they are doing is not illegal or harmful.

I once worked with a woman whose children were identical twins insofar as appearance and DNA, but they were polar opposites in almost every other way. One was quiet, studious and talented in science and mathematics. He wanted to attend Rice University or MIT and spent his weekends closeted inside the house with close friends who bonded over experiments and research projects. His twin eschewed advanced classes in the STEM subjects and even had pronounced difficulties with mathematics. Nonetheless he was the class president, editor of the newspaper and a star athlete. He was popular and social. His weekends were spent performing community service and partying with friends. He was a bit unsure of where he wanted to attend college and what he wanted to choose as a major.

The boys’ mom was utterly delighted with both of her sons. She never compared them nor did she allow anyone else to do so. She bragged about her gifted sons even though their talents and academic successes were so very different. Eventually one of them became an engineer and the other works as a communications specialist at a nonprofit organization. They are still her two peas in a pod who are as different as night and day. She fairly beams when she speaks of them and continues to be their number one fan as they follow two very different paths in life.

My friend’s insistence on allowing her boys to become the adults that they were meant to be was not nearly as easy as just deciding to be there for them. She often spoke of teachers and even family members who would criticize her methods. She was told that the quiet twin needed to develop more social skills. She was warned that the twin who favored the arts and leadership roles might have difficulty earning a degree from a reputable university. She was thought by some to be too permissive and easygoing. She worried and sought counsel from those of us that she trusted while still maintaining her insistence that each young man would always know that her love was not predicated on pleasing her. She realized the importance of being an encourager and not a tyrant. She was a wonderfully understanding parent and when all was said and done her efforts resulted in helping two very fine young men to find both happiness and success.

It saddens me whenever I witness parents who literally inflict cruelty on their children by refusing to respect their choices. I recall a parent conference in which a father hurled insults at his son simply because the young man was quiet and awkward in his eyes. He called the boy “weird” and even said that he sometimes wondered if the two of them were actually related. He did all of this in front of the child, inflicting deep scars that would have a damaging effect. I have known gays whose families ostracized them. I have listened to them describe the pain of such rejection. I have sat with adults who recounted how inept they felt around parents who questioned their intelligence and viewed them as losers simply because they chose to pursue careers or life choices that family members considered to be inferior. I have observed emotionally abusive parents who demanded the right to be in charge even long after a son or daughter was living independently. I suspect that some of these adults have good intentions but their unwillingness to accept the differences in their children and see them as being flawed ruptures relationships and creates needless emotional distress for everyone.

Our children are delicate while also being strong. It is in our love and acceptance and support that we help them to become happy and productive adults. The rules and routines that we use as they are growing provide the structures within which they may safely grow and bloom in many different directions. As parents we have to know when to directly intercede and when to let them range freely. If we truly and unselfishly love them our instincts will tell us how to know the difference. We will learn to fully enjoy the beauty of their individuality and will watch as they take on the world in their own unique ways. It’s a rewarding process fraught with so many pitfalls. Just as we should be kind to them as they stumble and fall and succeed, so too must we feel good about our own efforts, knowing that we too will now and again falter. We’re all only human and there is nothing wrong with that. In fact it is a truly beautiful aspect of who we are.

What Would Jesus Do?

15245699_GHer name is Rosa Maria. She is ten years old and has cerebral palsy. She’s just had gallbladder surgery and is being released from the hospital with her aunt by her side. She wears a pair of pink fuzzy slippers and a balloon waves over the hospital bed on which she is being transported. She is confused and frightened because an armed man walks behind her. He is a member of ICE and is taking the little girl to a detention center because she is an undocumented immigrant who came to the United States when she was only three months old. Her mother brought her across the border so that she might get the medical care that she will need for all of her life. Her grandfather and her aunt are legal and they take her to her appointments just as she was brought to San Antonio for her recent surgery. She will go to the detention center without her aunt or her mom. She will be kept there, alone and wondering what is happening. It can’t be easy for her. She is young and innocent but she is being treated like a criminal.

Maritza lives in northeast Houston. She attends Furr High School and is one of the top students. Her modest home flooded when hurricane Harvey dumped fifty one inches of rain on Houston. The rooms are now empty and life is difficult for her family, but Maritza’s mom urges her to make the most of each day in spite of the family’s problems. Maritza is also an undocumented immigrant. She was planning to enroll with the government to extend her grace period for being here. Because of the rains Maritza was unable to meet the deadline for submitting the paperwork. She had been waiting for information from her school, but it was so damaged that it did not open in time for her request to be honored. Now Maritza worries that she will be deported and all of her hopes and dreams will evaporate. She had been on track to attend a Texas university and earn a degree, the first in her family to do so. She is a good girl who had nothing to do with her illegal entry into the country. She has studied hard and worked to be a model citizen even though that distinction is not offered to her. She had hoped that Congress would offer an extension to the young undocumented students of Houston, but they have refused.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said that it is not compassionate to offer amnesty to those who have broken the immigration laws. He and the President and many members of Congress concur that those who flaunted the rules must pay for their crimes. So Rosa Maria and Maritza and others who have known no other home than the United States presently live in fear of being sent to countries of which they have little or no familiarity. Their lives have been upended and they continually live in fear of the moment when someone will knock on their doors and take them to a detention center just as was done with Rosa Maria. Their ultimate fates are uncertain, dependent on a Congress that has shown little inclination to work together to accomplish anything, much less pass a permanent law that will protect them. They worry that they will become victims of the current anti-immigrant ardor that has taken hold of so many citizens, most of whom care little about the personal stories of those affected.

There is a kind of coldness of heart, a meanness that is sweeping the land in a so-called effort to make America great again. Many citizens view the immigrant situation through a narrow lens that does not allow for exceptions. Surprisingly a fair number of those who are so adamant that the undocumented should be sent to their original homes have never even met any so called illegals. They have little idea of the human cost of decisions that do not consider the unexpected consequences of their thinking. They suggest that they might be willing to offer a DACA like law for the young people, but only if it includes the building of a wall between the United States and Mexico and if there are strict penalties for those who came here without documentation as adults. Sadly it appears that none of those things will garner enough votes to pass, and so the fates of Maritza and Rosa Maria and others like them hang in the political balance.

I live in the Houston, Texas metropolitan area. It is estimated that that ten percent of the students in the Houston Independent School District are undocumented and were brought here by their parents at a time when they wee too young to have any idea of what was happening. They have lived here for the entirety of their lives and know no other ways. They speak English and have adopted many of our customs in addition to those of their parents. They cheer for the Astros, the Texans, the Rockets and the Dynamos. They wear western gear when the rodeo comes to town. They enjoy going to movies and shopping at the mall. They have friends at school and teachers who care deeply about them. They like to eat Whataburgers and buy groceries at HEB. They feel as American as any of their peers and yet they hide the secrets of their situations. For a time after President Obama signed DACA through an executive order they felt safe. They began to dream. Many of them went to college and earned degrees. They have been working and living decent and productive lives. Now a shadow hovers over them. They have no idea what they will become of them. President Trump gave Congress six months to pass legislation to fix the problem. The clock is ticking and no solution appears to be on the horizon. Nobody seems willing to budge from their ideologies to help them. They can only wait and hope but their fears grow with each passing day.

Rosa Maria still sits alone in a detention center without her mother or the love and protection of her family. It is heartbreaking to attempt to imagine what a nightmare this all must be for her. It is difficult to understand how uncaring the adults who have done this to her appear to be. Sometimes we need to remember that forgiveness is not a sign of weakness. One of the last acts of Jesus before He died on the cross was to forgive the thief who expressed his sorrow. I have always believed that this was a very purposeful act designed to show us that how we also should behave and to help us understand that nobody should be forever doomed for actions done in the past, particularly when they had no control over what happened. If we ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do?” I have little doubt that the answer is couched in mercy.

It’s past time for all of us to demonstrate enough compassion and trust in our fellow man to grant people like Rosa Maria and Maritza the peace of mind that they so need. We must urge our Congresspersons to think beyond their own prejudices and find it in their hearts to model kindness for all of us. I have grown weary of the fighting and ugliness that so permeates our world. It’s time for a change and this is a good place to start.

On Becoming Mighty Women

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At heart I am a naive cockeyed optimist, a Pollyanna, someone who loves the world and it’s people and assumes that everyone else is the same way. I like and prefer being that kind of person. It actually feels good to be able to see the best in people. I’ve had to accept the fact that the favor is not always returned. Over the span of my lifetime I’ve been stabbed in the back, hated for no real reason and lied about. Nonetheless I still choose love over hatefulness, but I have learned to measure my trust a bit more carefully. I am not a fool. I just don’t allow someone else’s hangups to take me down. When someone proves to be a great deal less than honorable I find myself feeling a bit concerned about them, because surely something or someone has truly harmed a person who is unwilling to accept me just as I am.

I’ll admit to being a big ball of imperfections. I am humble in that regard, but I also submit that each and every person is flawed to a greater or lesser extent. It is the way of the world. We take on characteristics based on our genetic tendencies and the totality of our existences, so when we form relationships with new people we must always take into account that they will be different from us. That’s part of the fun of our journeys. If we keep an open mind we learn from those who do not share our same ways of behaving and thinking. It becomes an exciting adventure to enjoy the variety of humanity without self righteous judgements.

I grew up in a rather isolated community. Most of us had similar backgrounds and we rarely ventured from our tight knit neighborhood. I was one of the few kids who did not have a father. It made me feel a bit weird, and I’m certain that it colored the way I behave to this very day. My mother had to be a strong woman, and so as my role model she taught me to be very independent. As a result I have always seen myself as an equal to men. I did not have to be liberated, I already was. I suppose that I naturally gravitated to my husband because his mother was quite powerful and unafraid of the idea of being a thoroughly modern woman at a time when many females still demurred to their husband’s wishes. Thus it was almost a foregone conclusion that would marry a man accustomed to viewing women as equals and that I would raise my daughters to be mighty women who were unwilling to simply follow. I taught them to fight for their rightful places in society. Luckily they in turn found husbands confident enough to be proud of their independent natures.

It has not always been easy for any of us to feel so free to express ourselves and stand up for our ideals. We have often been misunderstood by those who still believe that women should lead more traditional roles. We anger those who do not believe that we should have so many questions and ideas. The “b” word has been hurled our way more than once without an understanding that this is the way we were encouraged to be. We are perfectly willing to love and respect those whose opinions and ways of living are unlike our own. In fact we applaud our differences, but we will not become automatons just to keep the peace. We will listen and consider alternatives, but we will not abandon our fundamental principles. It is the way we were brought up to be. It makes us quite sad that some think that we are difficult because we will not simply defer to a so called usual or preferred role for women.

We really do want to be open to everyone, but if they take advantage of our largess by pushing us into a corner or threatening those that we love, we tend to react like mama grizzly bears. We have learned that women do not have to call upon the men in their lives to take care of themselves. They have all of the tools that they need to be self sufficient. When we choose to share our lives with a man it has to be on equal terms. We will be part of a team, but never engage in a master and servant bond. Sometimes it surprises us how many people still operate under the assumption that a man will always be the head of a household, the boss, the one who makes the ultimate decisions. For decades the women in our family have been just as competent as the men, and respected for being so. We can’t turn back to bygone days. We have to be who we are.

Just as my husband accepted me as I was, and even felt a sense of pride that I was accomplished, so too have my sons-in-law been remarkable in honoring and respecting my daughters. It pleases me that neither of them have attempted to dominate the relationships. In turn my grandchildren, most of whom are male have grown up viewing the marriage contract as a partnership of equality. I suspect that they will continue the long family tradition of allowing the females with whom they may one day form a bond to be on an even footing with them. Once the idea of parity between the sexes becomes the status quo, there is no turning back.

Still we are not yet there as a society, and so as women who have come to expect acceptance it is always a jolt to learn that not everyone has yet reached that level of liberation. We are appalled whenever we are bullied by a man. We cringe when we witness another woman being mentally or physically abused, and refusing to leave her oppressor. We are especially astonished to hear of instances of sexual harassment or injury, and the frequency with which such situations are hidden out of fear. We cannot understand why our sisters would turn on us and call us vile names just to gain the attention and affection of a domineering male. We still weep for women who have not yet found the freedom that we so enjoy.

Do not misconstrue my comments. My mother, mother-in-law, daughters and I passionately love our husbands. We enjoy a deep relationship that transcends any ideas of subjugation or mindless devotion. Ours have been powerful unions based on mutual respect and trust. As such they are healthy and fulfilling in all regards. I believe this is how the marriage of two people was always intended to be.

I suspect that my husband and I have weathered forty nine years of wedded bliss because we have always supported each other one hundred percent. If I wanted an advanced degree, my spouse moved heaven and earth to encourage me. If he desired to risk changing to a more enjoyable but lower paying job, I found ways to tighten the budget to provide him with that opportunity. We constantly listen and discuss and compromise and decide together. We also make it a point to learn together as well. We open our minds and our hearts to the beautiful variety of thought that makes our world such an exciting place to be. We find it wonderful that as our family grows ever larger we are introduced to new people and new ways of thinking. It makes us all better, and it all began with our mothers who broke the mold of restrictions that once dictated how women were supposed to be.

I am as proud of my daughters as any mother has ever been. They have forged their own pathways. They are literally two of the best wives and moms that I have ever witnessed. They are good and faithful daughters, neighbors and friends. All the while they have not sacrificed their own identities. When they gaze in the mirror they are able to see their own convictions. They are even better than I taught them to be, and I’m certain that their grandmothers are congratulating each other in heaven as they happily realize that they were the role models who started it all, the trailblazers who ignored the negativity and became mighty women in their own right.

Stepping Back

earth-from-space-westernI possess a rather odd and illogical dread of odd numbered years. I suppose that my superstition began because almost consistently the most significant people in my life have died in a year marked by an odd number, or some especially dramatic and tragic event has taken place in times ending with a 1, 3, 5, 7 or 9. I quietly take a deep breath every other New Year’s Day and then heave a sigh of relief when we return to a reckoning in which an even number denotes the passage of time. I tend to laugh at my silliness and don’t really believe that there is some kind of curse on years not evenly divisible by two, but it’s a difficult  habit to kick when a coincidence of bad karma occurs again and again just as I feared that it might. God knows that this year of 2017 has been rather strange and difficult for virtually everyone, but there is in fact a silver lining that is almost always hidden in even the most trying times.

We have dozens and dozens of platitudes about our human resiliency and the notion that the hardest moments in our lives often bring out the best in us and the people around us. Loss and trauma are no small things and their after effects often linger for decades, but those also tend to be the very instances when the overwhelming goodness of humans becomes the most evident. It is when we feel as though we are in our lowest valleys of despair that we learn that we are not alone, for heroes appear of whom we were often not even aware.

I just finished Mitch Albom’s novel The Five People You Meet in Heaven. I had never before read it because I was miffed that Mr. Albom had appeared to have created a best selling story that was similar to an idea that I had. I had to set my pettiness aside because two of my grandsons are reading the tale as one of the assignments for their English class. I sometimes help them to demystify the intricacies of literature and so I needed to be familiar with this particular book. I found that the theme and the writing style were far more interesting and less maudlin than I had supposed. The thread of the story reminded me that life takes so many unexpected turns that may seem negative at the time, but often contribute to our betterment without our even realizing it. It is when we are most challenged that we witness the true courage of the human spirit.

Nobody who is suffering really wants to hear that what they are enduring is God’s will or that what doesn’t kill them makes them stronger. In the midst of tragedy we are mostly overwhelmed and struggling just to make it from one day to the next. Sometimes it feels as though our entire lifetimes are riddled with challenges that keep us perennially weary. Like Eddie, the protagonist of The Five People You Meet in Heaven we may even feel as though we are dying a slow death. We fail to see what is really happening in our lives. We are so fixated on hurt and betrayals and losses that we never realize the thousands of ordinary moments when people are loving and sacrificing for us. We are driven to react more by the ugliness that we see than the goodness that is far more overwhelming. We become locked in a struggle to unravel the old conundrum of deciding whether the glass is half full or half empty.

As an educator I often encountered problems that were so trying that I began to question my abilities. I would stew over my powerlessness to reach the hearts and minds of everyone of my students. I tended to focus on the most terrible incidents of my daily routines in the classroom rather than recalling that I had done well more times than I had failed. Like most humans I was unforgiving of myself in my quest for a perfection that is in fact nonexistent. We innately know that none of us will get through life without enduring or even creating total mess ups now and again, and yet we upbraid ourselves for our very humanity. It takes a great deal of living and self reflection to ultimately learn how to be kind not only to ourselves but to our fellow men and women as well. The wisest among us are those who take the hard knocks without beating themselves just for being normal.

It has almost become a blood sport to criticize people and actions that we do not fully understand. We sometimes hide our own insecurities in a cloak of smugness, pretending to be more righteous than we really are. The best among us are less likely to do that, and we often secretly long to be more like them. We all know someone who seems to maintain an almost angelic optimism and an ability to keep a cool head when everyone else is melting down. If we take the time to learn more about such individuals we generally find that they have worked hard to be self aware and nonjudgemental. They actually choose to take life’s blows in stride. Theirs is a very conscious effort to stay calm and carry on even when the disappointments that they face threaten to push them into the abyss. They allow themselves to be fully human and to find the good that is always present even when it is unseen.  Nobody ever escapes the trials of life. There is no Garden of Eden anywhere, but there are ways to step back just enough to get a wider view of what is happening and to witness the big picture of the world around us. When we are able to do that we almost always see that we are surrounded by more love than hate, more goodness than evil, more hope than despair.

In an era when we feel as though the very earth is wobbling it is especially confusing. We worry that mankind has gone mad, and there is certainly evidence that a significant proportion of our species is behaving badly. Still we have to remind ourselves that the sun is still rising and providing a new day to set ourselves straight. We have to inhale and truly see the brave souls who wade through high water to rescue the stranded, the courageous who run toward the bullets to aid the wounded, the friends and strangers who surprise us with their largesse. We are essentially a human race with the same blood tracing through our veins, the same desires for happiness, the same generous spirits. We cannot allow the ugliness to overtake the beauty of who we are as people. We shouldn’t have to go to heaven to learn the important lesson that each of us has significance in the flow of history and that our collective impact on life is far more dramatic than we might ever have imagined.

Perhaps if we all were to become more self aware and more conscious of all of the people around us we might find more hope even in odd numbered years or stressful times. We would gain a more realistic perspective of what is really happening in the long run. We would realize that it is incredibly rare for anyone to be always bad or always good. We might begin to enjoy more moments of clarity and insight if we learned first to look for the true meaning of what it means to be human. We might even find that those platitudes that sometimes irritate us exist because there are grains of truth and wisdom to be found in them. Mostly we will find the peace we seek when we take more time to number our blessings big and small.

I always think of how confused and unpleasant the world may appear to be from the vantage point of being in the middle a crowd on a noisy street. If we instead travel into the vastness and solitude of outer space we look down on a blue planet that is stunning in its beauty. It is as though in seeing the entirety of the earth we are able to finally understand how remarkable it truly is. That is what we must also do in assessing both ourselves and our fellow travelers in his journey between birth and death. It is a breathtaking experience to see all of the events of our lives put together forming a whole. Look carefully and you will see how truly beautiful we are.