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ASDF…JKL, Semicolon

In junior high school, a concept that no longer exists, we were required to take a course in typing, to prepare us for the future.  We each sat in front of a typewriter, a machine that no longer exists, that had no letters on the keys.  Instead we had to look up at the blackboard, replaced by white boards, with a chart that had all the letters on the keys. We were not allowed to look down at the keyboard but had to learn which fingers were used for which letters.  Home base was “a,s,d,f—j,k,l,;” The thumb was only used to hit the space bar! I got pretty good at it and could type a lot of words a minute- which was how we were scored- words per minute and accuracy, another obsolete concept.  You always indented 5 spaces to start a new paragraph, and after a period you had to have 2 spaces.  Simple, easy to understand and easy to read!  All that has changed over the years.  My life is like the typing class!  Things were simple and consistent giving me a sense of security and comfort. 

     But just lik….ooops

But just like typing, life as changed as well.  Things that I used to feel comfortable with and safe have evolved to things that are not as comfortable for me today.  I would like to say Change is my middle name!  But I would have to change my first name to Can’t!  Of course I know change is inevitable, I grew taller, went through puberty, my voice changed, hair styles changed, friends moved on and new ones entered my life, I couldn’t wait to be older!  Sorry I spent so much time wishing for that one!  Life goes on……and most of the time we don’t even realize it is happening.  The changes just get incorporated into our lives and we don’t even realize it.  

I have been thinking about my Aunt Eleanor, who was born in 1907 and lived to be 99. In her lifetime there were incredible changes, advances in every possible field and life in general. I wish I had asked her how she dealt with it. From horse and buggies, to motor cars, from walk up apartments to elevators, ice boxes to refrigerators, it is mind boggling.  But through it all she survived and prospered.  She went from being a tatter in the garment district in NYC to being a key punch operator for Horn and Hardarts.  No such jobs exist today.  Things are constantly changing. As kids we used to make crank calls. Picked a number from the phone book (remember those?) called the number and when the person answered we would ask, “Is your refrigerator running? and when they would answer yes we would suggest they better run after it!  Harmless!  Today I get crank calls all the time that there is a problem with a bill but they can fix it if I send them $200. in gift cards. I’m too smart for that, but there are many people, especially seniors who get scared and do it.  I guess my point is that change isn’t always good.

I wonder what Aunt Eleanor thought when a man walked on the moon?

I have adapted to change out of necessity!  Can’t say I like it all but I have to learn to live with it.  At my age now, with my body working slower and my mind in rhythm with my body, things can sometimes be difficult.  I have a lot of friends who are pretty technical and can ride with the tide all of these computer advances, while a smaller group of us have to be pulled along into acceptance whether we like it or not.  My friends schedule activities and say they have to check their phones.  Phones are for calling people not for keeping track of stuff!  I, however have to wait to get home and check my wall calendar to see if I am available on that date.  Laughter and jeering subside after a few moments.  I also get all my bills through the US Post Office, an admirable institution and neatly pile all my bills on my desk until it is time to write the checks and record them in my little register to make sure I don’t over draw my resources.  You should hear my friends then……guffaws, you still write checks????  Yeah! I still write checks and still balance my checkbook, how else do you know how much money you have?  I can take being the dinosaur of the group and being the brunt of all the jokes but it is one place where life slows down and I can comfortably deal.  I will let you in on a little secret… I still double space after a period and no amount of joking will make me change.  And even though I have learned to text on my phone, I can never do it with my thumbs.  My one pointer finger sends all my messages and I’m proud of it.

Call me old fashioned, I have been called a lot worse.  I sit on my back porch with a glass of wine and my dog and in that peace and quiet, I take solace from that one brief moment where nothing seems to change, and all is good with the world!

Doing the Two Space

It’s interesting how we all criticized our elders’ resistance to change – until we became them! Is it possible that each generation enacts change partially to distinguish themselves from their forebears?

A lot of change is effective technical or cultural enhancement, but a portion is simply fashion…  like demonizing punctuation (and maybe the two-space guidance after a period). That sort of change for change’s sake leaves me cold if I can’t see a tangible benefit. In fact, I see a degradation of information by eliminating periods or other markers which help stage manage communication. A continued trend toward simplification in language increases the speed of communication, but not the quality. If you figure that George has inserted those two spaces between sentences at least 100,000 times in his life, you have to conclude that it is a pretty well-worn behavior – and that he’s really good at it. So why change? 

Needless change distracts from other important tasks – and it’s made more difficult by ‘proactive inhibition’. That’s when the old behavior competes with the new resulting in a lot of inconsistency. It’s worse, when the change is not much different than the old behavior (one space after a period). Change is also practice. The temptation is to stick with the tried and true (e.g., adding two spaces after the punctuation). It not only (literally) makes a statement, but it also expresses homage to those who taught you – a mark of loyalty. And it sets the azimuth of reality at a comfortable angle.

Yet, there are plenty of innovations that are worthy of adoption – perhaps even necessary for safety and survival. Years ago, I took a class with Margaret Mead titled Culture and Communication, in which she underlined the speed of cultural acquisition – the ability of disparate cultures to integrate breakthroughs introduced in far-away places. Good ideas travel quickly! However, she also believed that the rate of change was rapidly accelerating, leaving some individuals incapable or unwilling to make the leap that cultural change demands. Her example (at that time) was how the children raised on TV differed from their WWII predecessors who lived in a world of radio and print communication. I wonder what she would have thought of the generation raised by the holy trinity of internet, wi-fi and cell phone?

To large degree, we all tend to stick with the tried and true, but what might work at low-tide, is a losing proposition at high-tide. Settling-in can also mean sinking under. Some of my older friends eschewed computers and internet service as unwanted complications — and found that neighbors knew more about their children’s activities (through social media) than they did. They discovered that vaccination appointments had to be made online. One could rightly argue that there should be safety nets for the vulnerable (or simply stubborn) segments of our society, but the message is clear that it is unwise to ignore the tidal influence of change.

“We’re Only Haunted…” by Bridgett Devoue

we’re only haunted

by the things

we refuse

to accept

Embracing Change

Experience has provided the opportunity for me to understand and embrace change.  Like George, I don’t always seek it or relish that which is thrust upon me, but I accept that change is inevitable and ongoing.  Nothing really stays the same.  Just like the saying that you can’t step into the same river twice, everything around us, including us, is in a constant state of change.

I remember watching my grandmother forcefully resist change.  What she was taught and what she taught her children was the right way.  She was certain that her definition of manners and discipline were everlasting and the modern, more casual behaviors with dress, how children treated adults, and dating outside one’s religion would lead to society’s downfall.  Her children’s taste in music was questionable but listening to and watching such wanton people as Elvis Presley convinced her of the demise of my generation.  And when Russia launched Sputnik in 1957 she knew that climatic anomalies were the consequences of dabbling in areas we weren’t meant to be.  She knew what she knew and no logic or other forms of reasoning were going to change that.  When I entered my twenties, I vowed to remember the things I so loved about my grandmother but not to close my mind to an ever-changing world and isolate that part of myself from my children and grandchildren.

Fast forward to today and I find myself better understanding from whence she came as well as George’s happy place on his porch, with his dog and a glass of wine.  But I also appreciate that my high school typing class allows me to use the computer with relative ease and my enthusiasm for learning new things has endured these many years so that I look forward to the latest IPhone, the software updates on my Tesla, and learning the sport of pickle ball in my seventies.  I admit I sometimes vacillate between the “simplicity” of the good old days when there seemed to be fewer choices that then seemed limiting but now feel less complicated, and the wonders of today’s limitless technologies that help make our lives easier and medically, more repairable.  And I also realize, that it’s how I bring myself to each change that I face, that helps decide whether it is friend or foe.

Change is inevitable

Growth is optional

– John C. Maxwell

“Change is the law of life, and those who look only to the past and present are certain to miss the future” -John F. Kennedy

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On Listening

The need to be heard is deeply embedded in me.  When I feel the listener gets what I’m trying to convey (even if they don’t agree) a physical sense of contentment comes over me.  On the flip side, when my words are ignored or replaced with the listener’s own story or interests, a combination of anger, upset, and frustration consume me.  It’s the way I’m wired.  

As a result of being this way, I purposely remind myself (because I still forget to follow my preference for being a good listener) to use one of the seven habits of highly effective people created by author Stephen Covey: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.  I actually prefer to listen first.  It helps me determine whether it is a good time for the other person to engage in an open dialogue or not.  What I hear gives me clues about what they are interested in and enables me to make a connection before I enter into a dialogue that might be important only to me.  Often, I’m not even aware that I’m doing this.  Only now, as I develop this piece on listening, am I cognizant that this seems to be what I do and why.  

I’m not sure why I get so frustrated by those who appear to be disconnected from what I say or disingenuous when they ask me a question and then choose to ignore my response and follow a strand that leads them to tell their own story.  I remember vividly, being in a meeting with about 15 school administrator colleagues and the topic was an issue that I felt was extremely important to the future of the district.  We were asked to prepare our comments ahead of time and we would all be given a chance to present them for discussion before a decision was made. When it was my turn, I spoke with what I felt was intention, clarity, and passion.  When I finished the facilitator simply said, “Okay” and when on to another person.  There was no asking if anyone had any questions, how they felt, the pros and cons of my proposal on the issue, or even a thank you for my thinking.  It was as if I hadn’t even spoken.  I didn’t know it at the time, but my friend and colleague seated next to me said he felt me rising out of my chair and, sensing my immense frustration, rubbed my back as one would do to a small child who was about to explode with rage.  The final decision appeared to be a fait accompli and therefore, in the end, none of our ideas or suggestions seemed to matter.

As I thought about that incident throughout my career, I vowed never to allow any of my constituents to feel dismissed or unheard.  Of course I had no control of how people might feel and even though I worked hard at getting to understand what my staff and teammates might be saying, I’m sure I missed some along the way.  But I realized that as long as I tried to understand and acknowledge their meaning and intention, they should never feel as dismissed and unheard as I did at that meeting.

I have known both extremes to the behavior of listening.  I once worked with a woman who had developed such a devotion to listening to others that she never spoke of or about herself.  She deflected questions with one or few word answers and immediately defaulted to asking about the other person.  She remembered details about their last conversation and quickly engaged them.  People felt heard, cared for, and valued by her.  Somehow, for me, there was a void in not knowing her opinions or more about her own life.

There are others, of course, who have such a need to share or vent or explain that they often dominate a conversation or take what I say and link it to their own story.  Sometimes, it enhances what I was trying to illustrate but much of the time it misses my point and becomes more about them.  It is in those times that I become quiet.

I’ve learned a few things about myself when it comes to listening:

  • I need to increase my tolerances for listening, interruptions, and storytelling             
  • Less talk and more thought make conversations more fulfilling
  • Blogging gives me all the time I need to tell my stories and share my opinions

“When we listen, we hear someone into existence.”― Laurie Buchanan, PhD

The Wise Old Owl

I have a problem.  Ask Henry or Wally and they will tell you.  But there is a reason, and I know I have used this excuse before in defense of other bad habits, but it is fitting.  I am Italian.  As Henry and Wally let me know every time we are together, either by a roll of eyes or a forced cough, I interrupt, break into their discourse and have to share an idea. A jury would find me guilty. But back to the Italian thing.  My extended family consisted of about 15 free ranging Italians all hungry and waiting for dinner to be served.  Momentarily while the food was being placed on the table there was a hush that came over the dining room.  As soon as my dad sat down at the head of the table all Hell broke loose.  My aunts would announce that they weren’t really hungry and they would just pick, as they filled their plates with everything in sight.  At first the conversation was, “please pass the macaroni” and then evolved into ,”Gimme the Italian bread!”  This wasn’t done in polite courteous discourse, it soon became cruder and louder and all at the same time.  As a child I learned that I couldn’t just wait for a pause in the chatter because there was never a pause, so you had to raise your voice and as a kid occasionally stand up and point to what you wanted.  If I just waited for a pause in the conversation I would starve plus after a few minutes my mom, my dad or my aunts would shout across the table to me with, “What’s the matter, why aren’t you eating anything? ” So with that as my background it is a hard habit to break.

On the other hand, my Welsh grandfather would quote the wise old owl (not sure what scholar really came up with this so I can’t include his name in the credits) and tell my brother and I that we were born with one mouth and two ears, so we were meant to listen twice as much as we spoke. Not bad advice at all.  But being a little kid and a snarky one at that, I would always say he should come to one of our Sunday dinners and bring that owl. But Grampa would just say, “When in Rome……” which I didn’t really understand because we lived in Flushing  So breaking the habits of interrupting and speaking loudly has been a life long goal and obviously one I have not yet achieved.  I don’t do it to be rude, much of the time something that was said got me excited and I wanted to contribute and having no vocal boundaries I just jumped right in. I do admit that sometimes during a conversation, a pretty bird or an insect or something attracts my attention and I want the other people to see it too so I interrupt again.  Habits are hard to break and having little self discipline interferes with my success.  To this predicament aging is also a contributing factor. If I don’t tell you my idea right now, by the time you stop talking I may have lost it…….just sayin’.

I was a teacher for 35 years and a union president for the last 10.  So I had to listen. The union position was especially difficult because I had to listen to a teacher’s problems. If I was sitting at my desk in the office I would be pinching my knee beneath my desk reminding me not to interrupt.  And that worked for the most part.  Everyone wants to be heard. I know that and it is probably because of my insecurities that I force myself on others to be heard.  It isn’t because I’m not listening or not interested, it is just that I am convinced I have something so important to share that I just can’t wait for the pause so I watch very closely to see when the person takes a breath and jump in.

I have a lot of work to do still and I’m running out of time.  Old dogs take a lot longer to learn new tricks.  Shiny objects always attract my attention and I am so sorry to hear about your broken leg, but Look, an army tank just drove passed the house!

Vocal Boundaries

I think George is onto something in raising the issue of vocal boundaries – and crossing them in order to be heard. I suppose that in a competitive environment, you need to be assertive to make a point, even if that means interrupting or changing the topic of conversation. But is all conversation really competitive? Is conversational space a scarce resource?

George and I kid about interrupting Hen before he can say 25 words.  It’s a joke, because Hen does not blather on, but rather gets to a point pretty efficiently. We can tease Hen, because he is generally pretty tolerant about being conversationally short-sheeted. Similarly, I might roll my eyes at George, whenever he jumps in to take the conversation in a different direction. The eye-roll is not meant to be demeaning:  I (and Hen) appreciate George’s spontaneity and wit – and the conversation usually becomes more interesting. The bottom line is that we are comfortable with each other and realize that we all care enough to eventually give one another the opportunity to express a point of view, despite eye-rolls, interruptions, and lots of laughter.

Caring is the key. George’s family could cross vocal boundaries, because they demonstrated in a hundred ways that they recognized each other as people that mattered. It seems to be a different story when someone demonstrates that you are not valued enough to be allowed conversational space – and worse — gloss over your ideas without really listening. Unfortunately, I’ll bet we’ve all been on both sides of that discourse!

It seems to me that the urge to dominate the airwaves increases with age. Many of my senior friends feel compelled to share their stories — either before it’s too late, or before they forget. There is rarely a drop-the-mic moment, because the mic is held in a death-grip. I don’t buy George’s point that the urge to share doesn’t interfere with listening (sorry for the double negative!). Of course it does: the teller is focusing on the next point instead of asking questions for clarification. 

To go even further, I suggest (as many others have suggested) that the inability to repeat back what another person has said to you – in a manner that causes the other to signal that you heard correctly – is a major national problem these days. Wonder what would happen if we took a rule to share stories, one-for-one and asked as many questions as we used declaratives?

excerpt from Please Just Listen by Jessie Swick

…”Perhaps that’s why prayer works—because god is mute,
And he doesn’t give advice or try
To fix things,
God just listens and lets you work
it out for yourself.
So please listen, and just hear me.
And if you want to talk, wait a minute
For your turn—and I will listen to you.”

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Half-Hearted

When we started this blog, it was our goal to depict a first-person record of our thoughts for our friends, children and grandchildren. Maybe this record could start a conversation or provide an insight that would benefit someone. Sometimes this writing is tough for me, because I’m just an ‘everyman’, whose experiences are mostly alike to just about all the folks who read our posts. So, here’s a recent dilemma – perhaps you’ve felt the same.

I believe that most people make decisions with their heart and then rationalize why they are logical decisions. However, there are times when logic and doubt put the brakes on that decision, rendering a full-hearted decision into a half-hearted enterprise. I tend to do that frequently. A case in point:

An acquaintance asked me for a favor, a man in his later nineties. Would I act as the executor for his will as he had no family or close friend to help him? Sure, I said – of course. “Whoa”, my brain’s executive function replied – “What are you getting us into?” Well, said I, it’s the right thing to do, after all, he’s alone and I’ll just provide the administrative work to satisfy his last wishes, which were to donate his estate to a charity that helps burn victims – and to ensure that the ashes of his deceased dog get buried with him.

It started off with some bumps. I realized soon into the process, that my friend (I will call him friend, because we now have a certain relationship) has a communication style which tends to alienate quite a lot of folks. If asked a question he does not wish to answer, he simply refuses to acknowledge the query, stares straight ahead, and pretends he doesn’t speak the language (yet English is his only language). If the question is repeated, he may deflect by becoming antagonistic. This pattern makes it very difficult to deal with lawyers, who want to define the set of assets and stipulations in his will and funeral directors, who attempt to identify the conditions of being laid to rest. Later, I found out that this style also doesn’t help medical professionals who are trying to determine what hurts and under what circumstances. Clearly, his needs were less for an executor, but more for a care-giver and public relations specialist.

It became starkly apparent when my friend slipped in his steep driveway and had to go to the emergency room. From there, he was shunted to a rehabilitation center for two months. During this time, we worked through his bills and arranged a safe return to his house, with added handicapped assistance and occupational therapy. Bill-paying took some time, because my friend only pays with a credit card and only by telephone, and only when his hearing aids worked. His philosophy is that if creditors didn’t make it easy to pay (e.g., no checks, no computer, no long telephone menu, no foreign accents), well, then they didn’t need his money. Shopping also became an issue, because he has specific – and limited — tastes which are distributed among several grocery stores.

Around this time, I became half-hearted. Although I wanted to help, nothing seemed to satisfy my friend. Every problem had a particular – and not quite obvious — acceptable solution. Also, running around to different stores for special cereal, orange juice brands, bread, and non-dairy creamers is just not my thing. In addition, desired brands were not always available due to stocking and supply chain issues. Bananas with absolutely no spots, white bread with expiration dates of two weeks or more, one brand of cheese, two types of cereal in a particular volume, razor-thin sliced angus, and one type of non-dairy creamer – a gallon at a clip, were judged to standards beyond my enthusiasm level. Products and people all seemed to be sources of irritation to my friend, even those people who were helping him in some fashion. I found myself parlaying excuses for delaying my visits. I kept saying to myself, I’m supposed to be learning something from this situation, but I could not figure it out.

I was mad at myself for not really engaging; resentment was weighing me down. Being half-hearted is bad for your health. The Bible has a relevant verse about this:

“I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”

Boy, that fit. Yoda also has a verse:

“Do or do not. There is no try.” 

Well, that pinned me – either do or don’t. I realize that I needed to see this as a situation where I should be happy that I’m able to do something to help my friend… and lucky that I have a wife who is game to assist. Finally, I became content with understanding that I may never figure out what I’m supposed to learn from this experience. And as soon as that happened, I learned some things!

  1. People, particularly seniors, want to be recognized: they are afraid of becoming irrelevant; want to be seen and understood. But that’s not enough
  2. People want you to care. You cannot do that in a half-hearted manner. Showing up isn’t enough: you have to listen to their stories and be invested. Regularity and attention to detail will also help
  3. Understand that even if help is required, it is rarely welcomed. Folks may not show their best side, particularly if that have reason to come from a position of general mistrust. In my case, being judged for shopping skills was not the point. It was to ensure that I listened to my friend’s needs. Once that was satisfied, he compromised on his brand requirements
  4. Those abrasive and judgmental behaviors could easily be my personality style in similar circumstances. Look at yourself and learn to age with grace.  

Age with Grace

I was having trouble trying to connect with Wally’s half-heartedness.  I have never been in a situation like that where I have been tested.  Wally is his own worst critic and I admire how he stepped up and helped this guy out.

I aspire to be like him, Wally not the cranky old guy.  Perhaps I have never been in that position because I have been too afraid to make that leap of faith and people recognized that in me and never approached me. Wally has shared his experiences with this gentleman, and I often thought were it me I would be stomping my feet, throwing things, and cursing at the moodiness and abruptness that Wally’s generosity was dealt with by this guy. I just couldn’t ‘relate until the last three words of Wally’s text….. Age With Grace.
I immediately was enveloped in the snarky state that I am known for…. But Wally, your wife is named Linda!  Sometimes I do that because the topic of discussion is too painful to address intellectually.  I have accomplished much in my life that has made me proud but doing it with grace is not one of my strong suits.  To age with grace is quite a concept., and quite a task to accomplish.  Those of us who are fortunate enough to age, do it in various ways. Our culture doesn’t revere aging the way other cultures do, and as a result we are often taken advantage of, teased, or discounted.  Aging gracefully may be more an aspect of how those around us treat us rather than anything we do “gracefully.”  I often joke that I have earned my curmudgeon license and enjoy using it. Old people are known for their crankiness, and ornery-ness.  Our society doesn’t always treat seniors with patience and respect, and as a result many seniors respond to society without that value and respect, they/we expect.  Just look at all the hackers and computer thieves who prey on seniors to get our money over the phone or through the computer because we aren’t smart enough to know better.  Throw in some fear and add confusion and we are easy prey to these crooks.
I fear growing older more like Wally’s friend than Jimmy Carter and that troubles me.  Being alone late in life is very difficult.  Sure, I have caring kids who will always take care of me but I don’t want them to have to do that.  And having kids is different than having a partner.  You can’t talk to your kids the same as you can with a spouse or close friend.  At least to me it seems inappropriate to talk about certain things with my kids that I could easily share with someone who has known me intimately for a long time.  I guess I am quickly approaching the category of cranky old geezer and leaving behind the helpful younger caretaker who graciously gives his time to help out someone in need.
I turned 76 a few weeks ago and suddenly felt old.  Nothing changed from how I felt the day before, but the number was scary.  Sure, 76 trombones led the big parade but I don’t have a parade in me anymore.  I have friends around my age who are dealing with problems with their hands and feet, pain and numbness like I do.  I am waiting for the day to come when my kids decide dad shouldn’t be driving anymore- one of the last strongholds for seniors to feel independent Thank goodness for back up cameras because I have trouble turning my head around to see what I am backing into.  The camera allows me the security of signaling if I am in danger of crashing into anything.  But there are so many little reminders like that that seniors experience in a day, and the indignity that accompanies them.  You really have to be brave to get older, the body slowly deteriorates and so does the mind.  In the course of a conversation, we lose words.  That bugs me most of all, when you have to use the definition of a word because you can’t retrieve the word itself. I went to the, ah, you know, the heart doctor….. right the cardiologist.  So, I understand what Wally’s friend is going through.  Sometimes I wonder if he gives Wal a list of things just to see how far Wal will go to get everything.  But you can tell even with this gentleman his recent life has been very lonely and having a human to talk to every now and then is essential. I know the guy has a good heart because he wants his best friend’s ashes to be buried with him.  I know how deep that connection is.  I wouldn’t have made it through Covid without mine.  I will strive to age with grace…….or Rick, or Mary….or Fred, but perhaps that aspect of life will escape me.

With a Full Heart…

In this thought-provoking piece, Wal asks us to think about how fully we bring ourselves to the task of helping others, how we respond to those things that get in the way of making it a fulfilling experience, and what we can learn from the entire experience.  These questions also apply to relationships and work. 

There have been numerous times when I did the right thing for the right reasons but not with a positive attitude.  I was unhappy about my commitment and wished I was somewhere else, but I had given my word and felt I needed to honor it.  And while I’m sure it was apparent to everyone around me, I still felt that they should accept my unsmiling face with appreciation since, after all, I was doing what was expected.  This was not how I wanted it to be, but, at the time, didn’t feel there were any viable alternatives.

I remember one time when I was to accompany my former partner and her daughter to the wedding of her friend.  I hardly knew the friend or the groom and it was a weekend long affair.  To add insult to injury, it was one of those spectacular fall weekends when the weather was perfect for hiking, biking, or anything outdoors and I was really unhappy.  Then, I realized that I had a choice!  I decided that it would be better off for everyone if I stayed home and excused myself from the wedding event.  My partner and her daughter could enjoy the event and they wouldn’t have to worry about me sitting indoors with people I didn’t know and wishing I were somewhere else.  I assumed that this was a legitimate request as my partner had excused herself from an outing or two that she wouldn’t have liked and that had been acceptable to me.  I was wrong.  Even though I was clear and direct, they both were adamant that I should come, that I would have a great time, and they would be extremely unhappy if I didn’t.  So I went…begrudgingly, angrily, and more moody than I’ve ever been.  I was miserable and so were they.  We arrived, they got out while I parked the car, and when I entered the venue, I discovered it was actually a surprise party for me for my fiftieth birthday!

Eckhart Tolle offers three healthy ways to address such issues that move us closer to acting with a full heart and with less suffering.  He suggests that when we are faced with a situation in which we are a participant who is struggling with the conditions or circumstances of what we are doing, we can actively seek to change it, completely accept it, or leave.

In the case I described above, I did first seek to change the situation by offering to stay behind and supporting their interest in going.  However, instead of accepting the situation after I agreed to go, I feel back into a less than half-hearted position.  I made myself miserable and those around me who were, in fact, trying to surprise me with something I would truly enjoy.  I have never forgotten that lesson.  All I had to do was take a deep breath, let go of where I wanted to be, and enjoy the ride.  Instead, I not only lost those hours of living well but numerous minutes and hours regretting it.

“If you’re willing to give me
Give me your all
I like things whole and imperfect
So don’t give me perfect halves
For I don’t like to go for things
half-heartedly
and I don’t like to be gone for
half-heartedly.”

― Sherihan Gamal

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Lunch Anyone?

Not long ago, while meeting friends for lunch in uptown Kingston, I happened to park where I have many times before. Kingston is known for its old stone houses, In fact, the “Stockade” four corners is an intersection whose claim to fame is that it is the oldest four corners of original stone houses from the late 1600’s in America and survived the burning of Kingston by the British.  I parked on a side street not far from there in front of one of those old stone houses, abandoned and roofless with grass growing inside the walls.  Normally I park the car and head to wherever I’m going, but this time I really looked at this skeleton of a house.  It captured my attention.  Perhaps it was the stonework, or the sun shining inside the empty rooms with dirt floors and vegetation growing between the rock walls.  I decided to invite myself inside and sat in one of the rock chairs placed awkwardly around the structure.  I sat silently for a moment and just looked around.  I could identify the boundaries of a few rooms and tried to imagine the kitchen, living room and whatever other rooms might have been in the floor plan.  The floors were rocky also and covered in grass and weeds.  My imagination was running wild as I purveyed the scene and imagined what life was like In this house 400 years ago. What did it look like, what sounds did they hear back then! 

I could see the remnants of two chimneys, and as I looked out what once were windows I imagined what the view would be like.  Certainly different from the firehouse next door and the parking lot of a popular bakery and restaurant across the street. I imagined fields of corn, maybe a few barns or sheds.  Maybe a plow or two strewn in the barnyard. I imagined settlers tending the crops, women preparing food and doing chores.  But what I tried to imagine the most were children. We’re they out playing games in the yard or helping dad with the crops.  Those were the boys of course because the girls were helping mom in the kitchen.  My mind went to an image of today’s kids with video games, phones, and tv, not helping their parents but just obsessed with the technology.

I looked around more and wondered what life was like back then for the family.   I was always interested in history but never really thought about how different life was.  For example, were they worried about money, was there money?  They worked the farm and “sold” their crops or did they barter for what they needed. Did they have bills to pay, and how did they do that? When the day’s work was done did they all sit by the fire and talk, did they read and chat about the neighbors or the kids?  I imagine a much quieter household than we are used to.  I suspect the children listened better and knew better than to question their parents’ words. A much different vision than today’s homes with everyone on some device or other without any interaction. What was hanging on their walls, no photographs obviously, but did they decorate the walls? I can visualize the kitchen but the other rooms are harder to picture.  The kids probably lived in a loft tucked under the eaves, with small wooden beds and mattresses of straw, all home made.

Then the judgments started.  Were they better off than we are today?  Life was definitely harder, people had to be self sufficient, independent and families had to care for themselves without the help of specialists.  They had to be carpenters, stone masons, and any other skilled laborer that was needed. I think about it and wonder how I ever would have survived in a culture like that. I forgot about lunch and kind of woke up from my stupor.  I politely excused myself to the gracious hosts of this long ago thriving household and joined my friends in the noise and rush and clutter of today’s world and wondered once again who was better off!

Past Tense

I’m pretty familiar with the remnant of the stone structure that George describes. It does lend itself to thinking about times past and how people lived, particularly, since it was also the site of the Esopus Massacre. 

Imagine a great fence of upright poles surrounding several blocks of the settlement where this house stood: basically, a fortress. The stockade was built by Peter Stuyvesant in 1658 to protect the fledgling settlement of Wiltwyck, now Kingston. During the day, the men went to work the fields near the Esopus River and the gates were closed. However, there were also days where the Munsee tribe of the Lenape were admitted for purposes of trade.

On one of those days, a coordinated attack of the settlement of Nieuw Dorp (New Town) and within the stockade of Wiltwyck was commenced. Nieuw Dorp was burned to the ground and eighteen inhabitants of Wiltwyk were killed. Forty-four women and children were abducted. Thus started the Second Esopus Indian War in 1661.

It was a pretty dangerous and difficult existence 350 years ago! 

While I do believe that happiness is relative – people will find purpose and satisfaction in any given time period – I don’t have any yearnings to live in earlier times. Eric Sloane chronicled the diary of fifteen-year-old Noah Blake, originally written in 1805. Circumstances still do not seem so appealing:

March 27:  Father was wrong about the weather, for it snowed again today. We kept within the house, sharpening and making ready tools for the year’s farming.

March 28: Snow stopp’d during the night, but it is very cold. My window glass is frosty and my ink froze.

April 9: Flooding all but washed our bridge away. Father says the new bridge beams are seasoned and ready. When the waters subside, he shall begin to erect it. We are shaping up the abutments.

Focus tended to be on the many tasks that needed to be completed: plowing, mending, transporting stone for the bridge, building sheds and mills. It’s clear that neighbors needed to stick together to finish larger tasks – a real positive, given the reality of today where folks might not even know their neighbors. 

Kids like Noah had friends – and helped their parents with tasks. Faith was a social glue as well: many of Noah’s entrees highlighted church services and the opportunity to visit with a girl his age. I have a church pew taken from a demolished church which dates to 1804… I know this because children carved their names and dates into the back of the pew – likely during a service. I was struck by the neatness and skill of the graffiti. 

While I admire the craftsmanship that was in the DNA of folks 200 years ago, I would not want to live in that time: if for nothing else, think of the learning resources we have at our fingertips – we are ignorant only if we want to be. So, thanks for the efforts of our forebears – they had challenges and enjoyments suitable for their circumstances – but I’m happy to be in this present… even with its problems.

Excerpt from The Present by Adelaide Anne Proctor

Do not crouch to-day and worship

   The dead Past, whose life has fled

Hush your voice in tender reverence

   Crowned he lies, but cold and dead:

For the Present reigns, our monarch,

   With an added weight of hours;

Honor her for she is mighty!

   Honor her, for she is ours!

Hard But Simple

I often think of living life in the days described by George’s visit to the late 1600s “Stockade” in uptown Kingston.  It generally finds its way into my thoughts when I’m cutting and splitting firewood, repairing a piece of furniture, or working in my vegetable garden.  During these physical exercises, I find myself more focused.  I am less distracted from the daily interruptions, less likely to daydream, and more attentive to the task at hand.  However, I do wonder what it would have been like to conduct these chores without the power tools I use to carry them out or the consequences of failing to cut enough wood to cook and heat the house or to successfully grow enough vegetables from the garden to feed the family.  Never-the-less I get a great deal of satisfaction feeling I am capable of managing to provide the bare essentials for myself if I need to.  

Fourteen years ago, I built a run-in (a roofed, three-sided shelter) in the woods at a campsite I created behind my house. The process entailed getting lumber from a local lumber mill delivered to an area near the front of my house.  From there, beams, flooring, siding, roofing, hardware and tools had to be moved to a location 700 feet away.  The traverse was down a very steep 300-foot hill, across a 18-foot bridge spanning a small creek, and up a 100 foot hiking trail that included two switchbacks.  At the time, I didn’t have any vehicles that would assist getting the materials from the bridge to the site.  Occasionally, I enlisted a friend to carry some boards with me.  Most of the time, I pulled, dragged, and rolled each item inch by inch to the designated target. It reminded me of what life might have been like, back then.  Fortunately for me there was no pressing deadline and I had battery powered tools to use at the site.  It was a most rewarding and instructive experience.  In fact I often felt more personal satisfaction during this project than in the work I did as an educator.  I loved teaching and being a principal but the good work we did was always the result of a collaboration of people.  This experience allowed me to feel a sense of individual accomplishment but also to understand the value and necessity of working as a team.

And, from time to time I would fantasize what it would be like to have to provide myself with food, water, and winter warmth, if the modern systems we all use would suddenly become unavailable.  Before I moved, I had a cadre of friends, each of whom had unique skill sets that would enable them to manage through such a scenario.  I often thought of the interdependence that existed during the time period George describes.  I’d like to think that those friends would see the value in setting aside our drive to function independently and would band together to help each other through challenging times.  As much as I enjoy my lack of dependency on others there is a strong appeal for communal living that seems ignored today.  I wonder if we were all forced to provide for our basic needs, would we seek to work in concert.  I can only hope we would.

Living with our wits and our hands is hard work.  Knowing that our work is to provide food, clothing, and shelter while living in community with others, seems simple in determining how to live our lives.

“It is not more bigness that should be our goal. We must attempt, rather, to bring people back to the warmth of community, to the worth of individual effort and responsibility, and of individuals working together as a community, to better their lives and their children’s future.” – Robert F. Kennedy

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Temagami

Even when you’re ready to look deep inside and to make the commitment to do what’s necessary to be your best self, it doesn’t necessarily mean you really are.  In my case it was only the beginning of a very long process that took thirty-five years for me to realize significant change.

Around the time I turned 40 I was an assistant principal in a small city district and was part of a team of administrators who had been frustrated with the traditional professional development experiences which often lacked substance and follow up.  As a result, little if anything in our behaviors or work procedures ever really changed.  Rather than simply complain, a few of us decided to search for consultants who had the reputation for developing highly effective leaders and creating opportunities for systemic change. That’s when I met Rod Napier.  He sat before our small committee and made his presentation.  We were truly impressed and felt he was the one who could provide us with a unique experience and one that would not only guide us into a more cohesive organization but in a way that would invite authentic communication between and among our more than 50 administrative members. 

When we told him he was our choice candidate he looked at us and asked us a question.  “Do you really want to change?” he said.  Of course we replied; that’s what this is all about.  He smiled and said we didn’t understand.  “Do you really want to change?”  We smiled back and said yes we do.  He then stared into our eyes with a look of seriousness that was almost threatening.  “Do you really want to change?” he said a third time.  This time, we had no immediate response.  We wondered; Were we simply looking for better professional development that would be exciting and helpful but that fit neatly into our existing way of doing things or were we willing to commit to something that would rock the boat, take far out of our comfort zone, and bring us on a journey few leaders in any organization had taken before?  After much discussion and time to think we decided to move forward and, with Rod’s help, convinced the Board of Education to sign a three-year contract that would surely shake up the status quo and quite possibly put our district on the course of a great and unknown adventure.  And before we could begin, I was hired by another district to lead my own school as principal.  Ugh!  Was this to be a missed opportunity?  I called Rod and explained my situation.  It was then that I learned about The Temagami Experience.

We landed on Langskib Island on Lake Temagami in Northeastern Ontario in a small seaplane in early August. Twenty of us were flown in, five at a time, for the purpose of learning about leadership.  We were twenty strangers known only to the three guides who led the program.  We left behind our names, our occupations, and our family status.  Each of us knew nothing about each other except what we looked like and the pseudonym we had chosen. The setting was a one-mile perimeter wooded island with several bunk buildings and outhouses, a rustic building where meals were provided, and the lake for bathing, swimming, and fishing.  The approach was to participate in Native American rituals that would enable us to uncover our authentic selves, reveal our strengths, weaknesses, and blind-spots, and to create a plan to transition our newly learned insights into positive action upon our return to families and work.  The training was intense.  We worked non-stop individually, in small groups, and as a whole depending on the activity.  

For ten days and nights we stripped away preconceived notions, experienced the extreme vulnerability of a sweat lodge, the deep inner journey during a forty-hour vision quest, the infinite beauty and raw harshness of nature during a multi-day canoe trip, and the power of clear and direct feedback about how our words and actions impacted others.  I went into this experience pompous and self assured and emerged with few affirmations but acutely aware of my self-deceptions and narrow views of people and the world.  At the same time I felt fear and support, uncertainly and conviction, and immense sadness and joy.  At forty, when I thought I had arrived and finally grasped how life worked and ought to be, I now knew I had just begun to understand. Thus began a process that would continue to upend what I thought to be truth, over and over again.

I went back the following summer to a part two experience with some of the same participants but mostly new strangers from former years.  The experience further pushed our physical and emotional limits with a fire walk, honest reflections on how we were able to act, or not, on all that we had learned the previous summer(s), and with more individual intensives.  My solace was that all of this took place in nature.  We essentially lived and worked outdoors in a place where descendants of the original natives to the land still lived and practiced their way of life and where the untouched night sky was so completely filled with stars, silence, and wonder that there was no sense of, or connection to, the civilization we had willingly left behind.

In truth, while I believed I was drawn to Temagami to affirm my well being, the fact was I was quietly struggling with who I was, the choices I had made, and the underlying question of wondering if I was enough.  I don’t believe in coincidences.  I believe that opportunities present themselves at just the right times.  And, if we’re ready and willing to seize them, we get to continue the process of moving toward the best versions of ourselves.  For me, the journey continues…

“I Go To Seek A Great Perhaps!”

-Francois Rabelais-

A Gaia Moment

George and I were initially unsure how to respond to Hen’s post, so the three old guys met over coffee to discuss. Hen elaborated on the week’s experience that he had at Temagami. It clearly was an immersion event, aimed at obtaining a sharper personal assessment. During the week, participants did not disclose their names or professions, but adopted pseudonyms. Various physical trials and exercises were presented — as extreme as walking on a bed of hot coals. 

Yet Hen, while hinting at these activities, focused mainly on the personal growth he achieved and the worth of the group feedback sessions. He arrived with a certain view of himself – and left with a challenge to change a particular behavior. In fact, each participant had to post a “bond” against a pledge to incorporate a stated change: be it becoming less judgmental to completing a doctoral dissertation. The bonds were forfeit if the behavioral contract was broken. 

Now, neither George or I had any similar experience to write about. But Hen’s discussion mainly elaborated on how this immersion week – and other experiences – acted as a tipping point in altering the way he views what is meaningful in his life. Now there’s a handle that both George and I could use!

George describes a journey that took years to reach a tipping point. However, once tipped, change happened very quickly. Like Hen, he was freed up to approach his life in a way which gave him a sense of authenticity.

My story is far more modest – and I’ve not had a great deal of success trying to explain the sense of impact that it had on me, even to this day. It only took an evening, but perhaps it was the result of a longer process, so perhaps the context is relevant.

When you are young, you are like a stem cell: open to grow into a variety of possible outcomes. During such a time, Linda and I bonded with a group of folks who lived in an apartment unit: four females, four males, two newborns; two straight couples, two gay couples. All of us the same age, making the transition from college to … who knows what? We weren’t an extended family, but a somewhat tribal unit living in the same place.  We hung out, shared dinners, listened to music, went on a number of hikes and camping events.

One night, we started a camp fire in the midst of an easy interchange of conversation and ideas. The darkness and the fire served to bring us all into sense of connection. There is an African term for ‘dreaming the fire’ – and that is what I was doing. Then – a Gaia moment – an epiphany that we were all hurtling through space on a living entity. I could picture all of us and our structures as shallow overlays and thin macadam ribbons on an animated Earth. Each of us so tiny on this greater being, whose heartbeat could be felt so strongly through the ground: how could I have ignored that vibration up to this point? I could sense the energy shared by all objects. Full disclosure, there might have been THC in the air… but no difference… it was a visceral insight, one that I can vividly recall even now.

Now this small — and perhaps obvious – perception changed my ordering of reality in a couple of profound ways. Most important, it brought home that what I process intellectually is not as potent as what I learn viscerally. Logic and analytic skills are grafted onto older and more mystic roots. Sometimes the combination results in conflicting beliefs: what is deduced versus what is felt. I have come to believe that it is okay to ask pointed questions, but not to form a firm conclusion.

Secondly, if quantum physics is correct, what we call “we” is a part of an energy field that includes everything we perceive/measure as objects. Perhaps we are all connected in this sense. If so, I would find comfort in this thought. 

Except from Upon a Star’s Wish I Live by Travestygirl

We know Gaia’s voice, spirit evoked,
the earthen one, saliently silent, felt
as soil, fecund. We know the song
of the sun, brilliant, permeating all life,
sentient, non-sentient, in all ways
and always heard. The Universe’s,
beckoning, solemn, somber, longing

Hide or Seek

Henry’s post was a tough one for me to relate to. I was a small skinny  kid growing up.  In grade school we used to line up in size places and I was always first in line all the way through grade 6.  I was always picked on and bullied and made fun of…you know the “Georgie porgie puddnin’pie….” thing! Anyway, I kind of avoided anything physical and even as an adult a challenge to my body was unthinkable.  I just couldn’t depend on it and to put it to a test was out of the question.  I also knew early on that I was different from the other boys.  I didn’t understand how til around 7th grade when we started changing in the locker room for gym, and realization began to seep in.  In the 50’s it wasn’t acceptable, so I learned to play the game and hide to stay out of trouble.  

My point being that I could never have a life changing experience like Henry had where my stamina and strength was challenged in such a way.  So when I read Henry’s piece I couldn’t relate at first.  Reflecting back on my life, after that rough start, I went away to school, met a woman I fell in love with and lived the American  dream.  I had a career I loved, we bought a house, had kids, dogs, cats.  Life was good.  23 years went by and we started having problems, due mostly to different goals and life directions and we separated.  Why am I writing this?  After days of stewing over how I could respond to Henry, I realized some people choose to be challenged to purposely learn things about themselves and others have the challenge thrust upon them. It isn’t always a physical challenge but an emotional one can help us learn as well. It was a sad time, life required me to go on- work, kids, even the dog had to be walked and fed.  I was trying to find my way, being gay was certainly more acceptable in the early 90’s than back in the 50’s, but it was new to me.  After sleepless nights and a great deal of anguish, I decided I could no longer play act.  I finally decided to be authentic.  I subscribed to the old adage, “In for a penny, in for a pound.”  I was going to come out all over. I called my principal and told her. Over the next few weeks, I started coming out to my friends and colleagues. Some of them were not surprised, others were shocked, and still others just couldn’t deal with it.  That’s when I began to learn things about myself.  I was stronger than I ever imagined.  I had to learn to be patient.  My son had a very difficult time with it and expressed it in a typical 17- year-old manner.   I took the abuse for about 3 months until one night I just couldn’t allow it to continue and suggested he move out of my house.  I had to develop respect for who I really was before I could expect others to respect me. I learned a great deal about myself during that time.  Identifying the friends and relatives I wanted to keep in my life required acceptance of the pain and conviction that I had the ability to actually do what was necessary.  Those close to me who couldn’t accept me, I had to distance them from myself.  I would get through the pain of separation, but I could no longer live the charade, so I plowed through it.

Authenticity was the goal, acknowledgement to myself and others became my purpose, and hiding was no longer an option.  It was probably the most important decision I ever made……To thine own self be true.  I grew as a result in ways I never anticipated.  Shortly after coming out I ran for union president and was elected.  The teachers knew who I was and elected me anyway.  I began to feel comfortable in my own skin. Physical ailments I had had for years disappeared.  I relaxed, I sighed, I enjoyed things differently than ever before.  I developed a confidence I never had. And I began to live bigger than ever. . Life was good! I was comfortable in my own identity and I looked forward to new experiences like at no other time in my life.

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Friends Bearing Books

Having been laid up recently, I’ve had some time to survey my nightstand: it’s really just a landing pad for books. It points to an inescapable conclusion: friends nourish friends – and what better way to do that, than by exchanging books?

Fresh insights, new experiences, and a few laughs keep friendships alive. This post honors those friends that have chosen just the right diversity of publication to keep the conversation interesting. An archaeological ‘dig’ of the strata of printed material on my nightstand yields the following:

  1. A bedrock layer of faith-based and philosophical insights. Lee has sent an unpretentious gem of a book, Making Sense of the Bible by Adam Hamilton. I love this type of book which puts ideas in a larger context. Little did I know that the Judaic Tanakh and the Protestant Old Testament include the same material, just reordered – and that the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Catholic versions differ among themselves, as well as varying from the Tanakh and Protestant Old Testament.  Hamilton charts the process of how collections in the Bible were chosen to be in the canon: sources and timeline of the writings.

    Henri Nouwen was a world-class intellectual and steward of a Canadian institution for developmentally challenged adults. Dave provided me this slim volume, Our Greatest Gift, A Meditation on Dying and Caring. The book was written when Nouwen turned sixty and experienced the passing of several key individuals in his life. He decided to write on the theme of preparing for a ‘good death’ and introduced the idea of befriending death, rather avoiding or denying the subject. Written in his usual caring and transparent manner, Nouwen describes his journey of facing the dependency we will experience in old age – and the freedom that ‘letting go’ brings to a person of faith.

    Another Henry – my blog buddy – sent me The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman. I love this book of daily meditations/exhortations! Various stoic philosophers present ideas to ponder. Marcus Aurelius is now my hero. The depth of character and insight this leader displays in his private diary are exemplary. On the other hand, I read Seneca with a little reservation, as he was Nero’s ethics teacher – it makes me wonder why Seneca’s lessons did not take root?
  2. Adventure and true crime still rules! Friend Brigitte passes along niche volumes associated with general interests in fly fishing and sailing. Two recent books have been The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson and A Voyage for Madmen by Peter Nichols. The first story chronicles the theft of hundreds of rare bird skins from the British Museum of Natural History. The thief is a Dutchess County resident – a classical musician and nationally noted trout and salmon fly-tier. The theft destroyed the historical record of certain rare birds simply to satisfy his obsession for using their feathers in tying traditional streamer fly lures for trout. A great read with an ending I would not have predicted. ‘Voyage’ recounts the 1968 inaugural Golden Globe sailing competition of nine individuals who compete to sail — single-handed and without stopping — around the world. Building and outfitting the sailboats is difficult but facing the loneliness and extreme weather in the “roaring forties” rounding Cape Horn proves to be a psychological crucible for these sailors.
  3. The odd and unusual. I’m so glad that Brigitte has an eclectic reading palette! Two recent deliveries I never would have picked are The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm by James Napoli and Today I Learned from the Willow Creek Press. Naturally, I will pass on the Sarcasm tome to George, along with its definition of Senile: “A word whose definition you will no longer be able to recall by the time it applies to you”. From Today I Learned, I learned that Allodoxaphobia is the fear of opinions… so I’ll refrain from providing one. I’ll simply close with thanks to my friends and a poem by Emily Dickinson:

There Is No Frigate Like a Book

There is no Frigate like a Book

To take us Lands away

Nor any Coursers like a Page

Of prancing Poetry –

This Traverse may the poorest take

Without oppress of Toll –

How frugal is the Chariot

That bears the Human Soul –

The Evolution of a Home Library





I wish I could use the term evolution regarding my taste in books but that would suggest an ever-improving collection of literary works.  I learned to read with Dick and Jane, and Spot, too, but I missed all of second grade (long story), so I became a very slow reader!   My taste has definitely changed but I can’t really say it has evolved!  Growing up I read comics- sometimes Classic comics.  As a slow reader it was always tedious for me to finish a required book in a required time limit.  So I improvised!  In my early adulthood, fresh out of college with a major in Elementary Ed and a minor in Anthropology, I read every book I could find about human evolution, Lucy, indigenous peoples and their civilizations and migrations. I ate this stuff up. And for about 15 years I was on a steady diet of anthropological literature.  Then something happened.  Several teachers in my group and I got interested in this Whole Language idea where the curriculum was taught around literature.  Exhaustive work for a year before the program was to start  was needed for us to present it to our Board of Ed  I started reading every kids book that was published.  We were doing away with our traditional reading groups and basal series so we had to do research to see what reading skills were taught at the 5th and 6th grade levels in traditional reading programs,  We discovered that most basic skills had already been addressed and that at this level it was mostly inferences and more sophisticated skills  and finally presented to our superintendent.  We were given permission to proceed! It was so much fun. I began to realize how rich children’s literature is.  And it is rich without the sex and violence that so often is needed to hold adults’ interest.  We picked fiction books that coordinated with our Science and Social Studies curricula.  PEN, a writers organization heard about us and invited us to apply for a program they sponsored in elementary schools.  We applied and were approved and had a parade of children’s book authors coming in and working with our kids — not to name drop but we had Paula Danzinger, Gary Paulson, Ann M. Martin and several other big names in the industry back more than a few decades ago.  Anyway, the kids loved it.  I did a lot of reading to them.  I still hear from former students about how much they loved it when I read to them.  Of course every character in the book had a different voice including accents when necessary.  To tell you the truth, when I read for my own enjoyment I silently read in different voices and accents and also create visual images of what the characters look like. To this day I cannot read a book that I already saw in the movies because it destroys my imagination of what their voices and appearances were like.  I treasure my children’s book collection but I have moved on (better choice than evolved).

Today my reading selections are consistently fiction, choosing to live in the make-believe world than reality. Perhaps my all-time favorite book is by an author I vowed I would never read because I despised his horror stories, but I picked up Stephen King’s book, 11/22/63, and a week later I had read all 800 or so pages and was spell bound. Best book I have ever read.  Since then and after traveling several times to Italy I have been reading Italian detective stories by a woman writer, Donna Leon and her series called Commissario Guido  Brunetti Mysteries all taking place in the mysterious city of Venice which everyone should visit at some point. Then I began to hook onto a favorite fiction writer and read everything that was published by that author. Who knows what will be on my night stand next week but for now I have been pretty consistent!  And now you can see why I have no scholars or intellectuals to quote when I am trying to make a point!



The Power of Shared Reading

I always enjoyed a good comic book when reading for fun and fantasy.  Superman, Spiderman, and Daredevil were my favorite fallbacks in which to retreat and re-emerge as an offshoot of their powerful selves.  A firm believer in mind over matter and the idea that if we can conceive of it, it is possible, I always hoped to develop some – if not all- of the powers these heroes held.

In my junior year of high school, my English teacher would read to us throughout the second half of the period every Friday afternoon.  Her enthusiasm and love of the stories and their characters absorbed me and I became fully engaged and enchanted in the experience. 

Years later, like George, I would find myself reading to my fifth-grade classes a favorite children’s book at the time, David and the Phoenix, in which each character had a distinct voice that would vividly portray its character.  I remember going home each Friday afternoon with a sore throat from straining to reach deep gravely sounds and impossibly high screeches as I mimicked Sea Monster, the witch, griffins and, of course, the phoenix!  The original book sits on my shelf with partially laminated pages to keep them from falling into further decomposition and a plastic bag for good measure.  Most of the students were caught up in the story and the characters while others liked to watch the principal sit on the floor and act more like a child than a responsible adult.  You can imagine my dismay then, when I read the same book to my own children (and grandchildren) and they found none of those behaviors engaging and politely asked me if I knew of another book or story I could find the next time I offered to read to them.

Of course none of this speaks directly to Wal’s title and premise.  Most of my reading is on leadership and personal growth.  Early on it supported me in my work.  Later, it enhanced my work as a coach for those who guided schools and social service agencies.  I now realize how much these readings fueled my passion for bringing self-awareness, open-mindedness, and acceptance to all of my relationships.

For a period of ten years or so, I was fortunate to have two friends who shared the same reading interests.  We shared titles, read the material, and made time to get together regularly to discuss our interpretations in great depth.  At the beginning of each New Year, we would book a trip to a warm island location, agree on several worthy books to read, and meet for a week of beach, cocktails, and conversation.  The affirmations we gave and received as well as the disagreements we had were powerful connectors for our friendship.  I will always cherish those times.

More recently, I developed a close relationship with an educator who was and is a voracious reader.  I shared my library with him and he enriched and extended mine ten-fold.  Today we still send each other titles and summaries of what we found to be engaging and occasionally brainstorm possible venues and strategies for sharing these ideas with others.

“Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.”

Mark Twain

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Lost

I seem to have lost something very important to me.  For decades, three quarters of a century, I had a patriotic pride in our country, drilled into me by a Marine father who served on Iwo Jima and two uncles, one Navy and one Army.  We marched in parades, put playing cards in our spokes held by a clothespin to ride in and out of the marching groups in every Memorial Day parade.  We were taught to take off our hats or place our right hand over our hearts as the American Flag passed by.  The flag was proudly displayed outside our house every national holiday, brought in at night if not illuminated from below!  And always folded, placed safely in its storage spot never ever touching the floor.  I continued this tradition until just recently.

That patriotic pride has been fading gradually but recently accelerating to the point of “why bother!” On Tuesday, May 24, 2022, I put it down and can’t find it!  I couldn’t see it through my crying jags, my disbelief, my head shaking and don’t know where to look for it anymore. My dad convinced my brother and I that we lived in the best country in the world.  He fought to make that true.  I loved the thought of that but somehow I can no longer accept that idea. How could a country that regularly shoots its own citizenry be the best country?  Let alone murders it’s own children.  19 second, third and fourth grade kids and two teachers murdered in their school! I’m a little sensitive having taught elementary school for 35 years and wondering what we would have done had it happened to us, to my friends and colleagues, and my students.  And I cried!  And at that point I realized I had lost that very precious thing- pride in my country.  We’ve been here too many times before and we do nothing to stop the carnage.  We could, but we choose not to, over and over again.

My pride has been slipping away more and more of late.  So many things are anathema to being the best country.  So many citizens are uninsured, great countries provide that for their citizens.  All makes and models of citizens are equally revered in great countries- all nationalities, races, genders, gays, straights all revered equally- that is what makes a country great.  Books aren’t banned and history isn’t erased due to discomfort in great countries!  Women control their own bodies in great countries, and words aren’t outlawed in states in an attempt to erase people who make others uncomfortable.  Laws aren’t passed to make it harder for certain parts of the citizenry to vote in great countries!  

Our thoughts and prayers are fine but won’t prevent the next shooting from occurring.  We have to take action. When I misplace my keys and just sit on the couch my praying to find them won’t help until I get up off my fat ass to look for them.  Praying that another school, church, mosque, synagogue, grocery store, concert won’t be shot up will do nothing if we don’t get our legislators to protect us first and their corporate sponsors after!  A good guy with a gun does not prevent a massacre, more guns in the population does not reduce the massacres.  We know what to do, we must convince our representatives to DO IT!  And do it NOW!!!

I hope I can find my lost patriotic pride.  But right now, with the history we have with literally avoiding doing anything to help, I am afraid pride is a lost art in America.  

Got Patriotism?

George has misplaced his patriotism, because America seems to be a disappointment. Yet he fondly recounts the patriotic tradition of his family as he grew up in the fifties and early sixties – a time that produced McCarthyism; a time when all abortion was illegal; a time when homosexuality was illegal; a time that where segregation and voter suppression were default conditions; a time where fewer people had health insurance; a time when there was no gay or interracial marriage. Honestly, I’m surprised that George looks back on this time as his incubator of patriotism. It was a time that highlighted the antithesis of George’s progressive goals. He was patriotic then, but not now?

Maybe it’s the word. I think patriotism is a loaded term. People use it to justify all sorts of opinions and actions. However, if meant in the simplest sense, it’s about loyalty to a society that provides safety to its citizens and allows opportunity for self-realization.

Clearly, the carnage in Uvalde showcases an inability to provide safety to our most vulnerable — all those sweet kids! In that sense, loyalty to a government that does not take the steps to effectively prevent such episodes does strain credulity.

But patriotism is a relationship and a commitment – a commitment to pursue continual improvement. You don’t just throw in the towel and walk away. Gun violence is a problem of our own making and we can fix it.

When George was a kid, he fell in love with the ideals that America stood for. Perhaps he didn’t read the fine print that it is a work in progress. But we’re all grown up now and realize that our compact depends upon putting in the work to achieve a more effective republic – that means listening to diverse voices and differing opinions, electing action-oriented representatives, and navigating solutions which do the greatest good for the greatest number. This is constructive patriotism – and I don’t think you have lost that feeling, George.

Patriotism by Segun Adekoya MMabogaje

A man of the heart you are!

A man that agreed with the earth,

With all his being,

To love, cherish and be,

Faithful to his home

The home that houses you

At the time of plenty,

And supports you during

The time of scarcity.

Reciprocal is the law,

For a citizen that gets;

All his rights from the,

Country he is a citizen of

By birth and other ways,

To be ready to be patriotic

Pay back in the same coin,

The dividend he has enjoyed,

The right enjoyed,

In form of duties

Inclusive Patriotism

George’s loss of faith and pride in our country is understandable.  Of the civilized countries in the world we are among the youngest, least experienced, and fastest developing.  And, as with newly forming collectives where growth exceeds measured practice, we will stumble and fall, move forward and backward, and seek to gain our footing while on unchartered ground.  We are in a time of instantaneous – worldwide information sharing.  There is little to no time to process and integrate what we hear and see into manageable bites that can then be tied to prior experience from which to make sense of it all.  We act and react often in ignorance, confusion, and with misinformation.  Remaining patriotic and maintaining a sense of pride amid such chaos is hard to achieve.  Unless we blindly follow others, it is hard to bring our authentic thinking to each and every event and know whether a decision or policy or behavior is patriotic or not.  

As Wal said, we are a work in progress.  We need to recognize that in order to move forward we sometimes must step back.  We need to understand that what is so clearly right and moral and best for our country appears so through our filtered eyes.  Other viewpoints don’t necessarily mean those that oppose don’t care.  Each opinion-holder has their own feeling about what is needed and important for the good of our nation and claim their beliefs and actions reflect true patriotism. Somehow, we must find ways to stop the divisive talk and begin to listen to each other with the intention of finding common ground.  Only then will we regain our footing and move, together, toward building the country each of us will be proud to call home.

“Patriotism is not a short and frenzied outburst of emotion but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.”

Adlai Stevenson II

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Defensive Living

When I learned to drive I was taught to be a defensive driver.  My interpretation of that was to be on the lookout for unexpected events that could impede my safety.  Of course when I was sixteen I believed my lightning fast reflexes and gift of invulnerability were enough to keep me safe without much need for caution.  And now, at seventy-five, after almost sixty years of driving experience and with slightly less reflex time and visual acuity I must say that driving defensively has become more and more of a daily practice.  And lately, I realize that it also applies to my daily living.

I’m fortunate to have the gift of time.  I am no longer in a rush to fit an endless and overwhelming number of “must do’s” into my day.  I am able to make the time to get up and out of the house each morning with intention and calm.  Often I’m up before my 6:00 am alarm (usually because Duke’s automatic clock sends him to my bedside just before the buzzer.) This gives me sufficient time for my morning routines before we set out to my daughter’s house to help get the grandkids off to school.  By 8:30 I have the time to journal and workout before we head off to the dog park for more exercise.  All of this is to say that I can pay attention with less distraction.

Many years ago, when my daughter was first learning to drive, one of her former classmates was involved in a fatal car crash.  In this case, she was making a left turn from a stop sign.  She looked left and saw that the oncoming car’s right signal light was on so she pulled out in front of him.  Unfortunately, he had no intention of turning and had unknowingly left his blinker on from an earlier lane change.  A similar experience, (without incident) happened to me just the other day.  Fortunately, I left plenty of room and time to avoid a collision.  I was driving defensively.  I’ve noticed that the more I let go of what “should be” and simply be prepared for things to not necessarily go as planned, helps me in day to day activities as well.  Follow up reminders, double-checking times and numbers, and taking more responsibility for getting things done, leaves me less stressed and more productive.  Of course moving from an “it’s unfair!” and blame mentality to accepting what is without all the drama, is not an easy shift for me.  It’s takes daily reminders and practice to make progress. 

Another example of this acceptance of how things are without judging them to be wrong or bad happened to me in the supermarket last week.  I often have little tolerance for people who appear oblivious to other shoppers when they leave their cart in the middle of an isle or block a section of shelf while they chat away or text on their phones seemingly uncaring about those around them.  After all, what excuse could they possibly have, I surmised.  Well, I use my Anylist app on my phone when I shop.  It has all of the items I need to buy and all I need to do is glance at my phone for my list of groceries.  So here I was at the end of the dairy aisle, checking my app and realizing I hadn’t checked off the items I had already put in my cart.  I proceeded to update my list thinking how happy I was that I actually found all the things I needed and reviewing the menu for that night’s dinner.  What took seconds to write about this experience actually took a minute or so.  As I was about to finish I looked up and noticed I was completely blocking an entire section of cheeses and a man was quietly and politely waiting for me to move so he could continue his shopping.  For all he knew I was texting my blogging buddies about an epiphany I just had in the dairy section of the supermarket (it could happen…) but he simply smiled at me.  I apologized profusely and told him how I hated when others did that to me.  He waved it off and said it was not even an inconvenience compared to all the other things he could be upset about.  I was humbled.  From now on I will seek to rethink my first response to supermarket blockers, drivers who cut me off, and desk clerks who make billing errors on my invoices and consider what I need to do to move on with a minimum of upset or “poor me” attitude.

I’ve also found that this kind of defensive living is not the notion of expecting everything to go wrong and worrying about every action I take.  It’s more about acceptance of the way things are without fixing negative labels on others for mishaps and unwanted outcomes.  I find it easier to embrace this philosophy now as an older man than I did when I was younger.  Perhaps it’s another perk of the aging process!

Consequential

Hen writes of a discipline of practice: to approach the day without assigning a limited number of acceptable outcomes and to be present in the decisions that he makes. All of which argues for assessing the consequences of the actions that one takes. Both Hen and George remember the headlong rush that life can be when we were younger. I’m sure that each of us has particular cautionary tales.

What popped into my head was an incident that occurred when I was eight years old. A group of us were playing in a friend’s front yard with balsa airplanes. Do you remember those models where wings and stabilizers slipped into slots in the fuselage – and could be launched with a rubber band attached to a stick?

One of ours had a great flight but landed on the roof of David-Charles’ house. We weren’t sure how to retrieve it. Being kids, we thought ourselves ace problem solvers. I came up with a prudent plan that we all agreed would work. It went like this:

  • Find a heavy, round stone we could throw onto the roof.
  • The stone would roll down and bring the plane with it.
  • The stone would fall down, but the plane would glide away unharmed.

Now the quality of the stone was important. It needed to be round so it would roll off the roof. We did not want to leave flat stones on David-Charles’ roof. It had to be heavy – well, because it should be a consequential stone.

Okay, so the idea was that I would hold the heavy stone in two hands and run up to the pachysandra garden that was in front of the living room picture window and fling the stone with all my might onto the roof. 

We examined the plan and could find no flaw. Brilliant, right? What could possibly go wrong? 

That was the last time David-Charles and I were allowed to play together – I mean, after the tree fort ‘elevator’ disaster, requiring stitches for David-Charles, I could understand his mother’s point of view. And I accepted full responsibility for the consequential stone laying on the living room floor, surrounded by the glass shards of the picture window.

It seems to me that I’ve had a number of those plans through the years. They seemed based on well-grounded assumptions – at least, at the time. 

I read somewhere that the parts of the brain that marry action to consequence do not fully develop until the twenties. (Now this would certainly explain the college years). And even so I have always strived for a well-ordered life. But whether the fault is in our stars, morphology, or a few slippery peptides on the DNA chain, I have some reservations about my ability to apply a strong over wash of rationality to all my decisions. 

Jumping in the Shower

In my youth, i.e. up to ago 50, I did everything in a hurry.  In fact our language reflects this youthful energy and idiomatically reflects our hurry.  Each morning I would “jump in the shower.” Then I’d “grab something to eat,” probably “gobble it down,” and then “run to the store.”  Our culture encouraged us to speed up and our youthful energy matched the expressions we used to indicate our hurry. 

At 76 (I always round up my age in hopes someone who thinks I look like an old 75 might just say that he doesn’t look bad for 76!) But i digress!  I, as Henry suggested, have time now to digress, it allows me to plot my next move. Impulsivity is no longer my friend.  So at 76, I no longer jump in the shower but rather carefully raise my leg over the edge of the tub holding on to the secure towel rack while carefully testing for the slip factor of my foot on the porcelain surface of the tub.  No longer can I grab something to eat, it requires thoughtful concentration and review of whether or not it is healthy, or redundant (didn’t I have that yesterday?) or in need of intensive preparation!  And forget about running to the store- start the car, let it idle for a few, buckle my seatbelt, check my rear camera and thank the manufacturer for that gift, as turning my head far enough around to see out the rear window is no longer an option!

Defensive living today requires thought about most things.  I no longer carry my laundry basket down the cellar stairs cause I don’t want to wind up like that lady who fell down the stairs and can’t get up.  So I use a soft laundry bag and toss it down from the top of the stairs, hold the railing and proceed down the stairs carefully.  I had a friend who had just retired from teaching, was taking her laundry down to the basement, missed a step and hit her head on the cement floor and unfortunately passed away.  That had a profound effect on me. Having broken my foot twice in a year in the same place also causes me to do some defensive moves to prevent self-harm.  I am especially careful on frozen winter mornings where I place my feet on my carefully thought out and executed journey to the store!  

I guess I still do the same things I did in my youth but with consideration for aging moving parts that have become brittle over the years!  It isn’t so much worry as it is an awareness of what could go wrong with one careless move.  Cautious consideration of what I am about to undertake is always a good move.  I now avoid the poison Ivy growing in my shrubs that I am trimming rather than forge ahead full steam, consequences be damned. But I sure do miss the swashbuckling nature of jumping in the shower, grabbing a bite and running off into the sunset!  At least, as Henry suggested, I have the luxury of time to allow myself this privilege!

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MM/DD/YYYY

“I am very impressed”, said the surgeon – “about how much damage you’ve managed to do to your hip. “You need a full replacement, so let’s see how soon we get you scheduled”. Two thoughts occurred right on top of one another: a) boy, am I lucky to have an option to reduce the pain, b) wow, I am officially old.

I admit to being a surgery rookie – fortunate to have avoided hospitals since my tonsils were removed, so many years ago. So many years ago, that Robbie the Robot was the toy of the year. But now, I am joining the Society of Waiting Room Junkies, an exclusive club of seniors who inhabit a labyrinth of calendar conflicts almost totally devoted to medical service. I figured to be pretty good at this, as my working life taught me to wait productively in airports, but I have to admit that doctors’ waiting rooms have their own vibe. Mostly, older and infirm individuals emit auras of fading energy, but I have witnessed some full-on, call the cops outrage with the administrative process.

Problems tend to arise when patients do not understand insurance-speak or waiting room ethics… and some admins tend be unaware that folks may need to be ‘socialized’ into appreciating the specialized tasks assigned to various members of the medical team: front desk reception (‘what is your birthdate, please’), intake nurse (what is your birthdate, please’), medical history admin, phlebotomist, x-ray tech, surgery scheduler (‘what is your birthdate, please’), co-payment processor – oh, and the physician or PA.

Since western medical practice is a symptom-oriented approach, specialists exist for every symptom. Your medical team wants to know (in addition to your birthdate) the names of your urologist, cardiologist, nephrologist, neurologist, oncologist, physiatrist (yes, that’s a thing), psychiatrist, ophthalmologist, dermatologist, proctologist, and pharmacist. In addition, your team will be pleased to hook you up with an anesthesiologist. Look at all the new friends! We may have not found the cure for COVID, but we have certainly cured loneliness in our lifetime!

Obviously, I speak with tongue-in-cheek, observing a rite of passage that people of a certain age must cleave to, or not survive past that certain age. We are fortunate to have excellent healthcare, even if at times the process gets in the way of the service. How nice it is to encounter the upbeat nurse, the skilled practitioner, or the pleasant fellow traveler… they keep us keepin’ on!

Organ Recital

When I was in my forties I had a phone conversation with my colleague Jack.  He asked about our health insurance coverage to see if I had any knowledge of reimbursement for a procedure he had scheduled.  One thing led to another and soon we found ourselves immersed in a completely health-obsessed exchange of body parts, broken bones, previous illnesses, and surgeries.   He paused, chuckled, and then said we sounded like two old men who talked about little else than their medical conditions – he called it the Organ Recital!

Ever since that day I remain observant when I find myself pulled into such a conversation and seek to make it more about gathering information rather than enjoying it as a new mode for social entertainment.  And now Wal’s post reminds me that, in fact, I am an old man who will have more and more medical issues waiting for me on the horizon.  The question remains how much of the “concert” I choose to participate in and/or listen to.

As Wal points out the challenges that lie ahead include more than just the condition of eroding body parts; they include the endless stream of paperwork, administrative error or incompetence, and waiting rooms that bombard us with a myriad of conversations and germs!  I’m thinking that George’s approach from his previous post will likely serve him well; expect the worst and you’ll likely be surprised that it wasn’t as bad as you expected.  And, as Wal reports, sometimes these conditions can lend themselves to pleasant surprises when we might experience highly respectful and efficient check-in and follow-up services and the opportunity to make a positive connection or two.  I try to combine my optimism for the latter with preparedness for an experience that might require much patience and a Zen mind.  After all, if this is the new normal for “Old Guys” then it makes sense to adapt and accept it.

I think the part that I have control over is whether I make these medical interventions a symphony I play in regularly or an intermittent recital I can leave behind when the visit is over.  Perhaps if I choose to bring my playful and curious nature to this venue rather than become an organist playing and replaying the same old song, I might just continue to enjoy the music!

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing.”

-George Bernard Shaw

Relatively Speaking…

Everything is relative! I just had a major revelation about everyone’s fixation about my glass being half empty all the time.  It just occurred to me to get a smaller glass and pour my concerns into it and magically my glass is FULL!  Not half full but all full (say it slowly and enunciate so it doesn’t sound like ‘awful’) See?  Relative!

In our youth our social life consisted of parties, big events and social gatherings!  Every weekend was filled and work took up our weekdays!  Life was busy and full (not half full), fun and laughter were the currency of those gatherings.  Life was good!  In our mid-life prior to the crisis, our social engagements quieted down slightly. Our social calendars were filled with weddings, christenings, work related parties, road clean ups.  Life was getting softer, quieter and cozier.  Life was comfortable if a little quieter.

The Golden Years, which sneaks up on you mercilessly, changes the nature of our social calendars.  The weddings and christenings are finished for the most part, gatherings become less frequent but the one commonality we all face at this stage is the maintenance of our physical bodies.  Life can become concerning.  They say in your mid-fifties your ‘check engine light’ comes on and predicts the ailments and medications soon to be arriving at an organ in you! The friends you maintained over the years are in the same boat and remain faithful at your side, sympatico to what you are going through.  Hence the conversations Henry refers to as organ recitals.  Now here’s where my new revelation about my glass kicks in.  You begin to see your week is filled with blood work, X-rays, appointments with specialists, Medicare physicals where you get extra credit if you remember the four special words in their right order! But as Wal pointed out, the new socializing opportunities are in the waiting rooms of all these new and exciting locations.  New friendships develop as you run into the same person you met at your general practitioner’s office pops up the following week at your cardiologist’s office! “How is your son doing with the divorce?” Or “Social Security thinks you died?  I have a friend that was declared dead by them and he had to be resurrected!”  Meeting new people is always fun and the conversations are so much more interesting than in our youth.  So you see, everything is relative!  Just a little digression.  Wal and I have the same general practitioner so I had to fill out that list of specialists as well, so after I listed my Cardiologist, Nephrologist, Dermatologist, Therapist, Orthopedist, in my snarkiest printing I added one that wasn’t on his list….I figured since they want to know everything about me I listed my Veterinarian too!  The doctor asked me if I was trying to be wise and I told him I didn’t have to try, it came with old age…

What, Me Worry?

It all developed at lunch on Monday with Henry and Wally in our old stomping grounds in New Paltz.  Henry came up north from his new digs in Delaware and it was a nice reunion.  My idea took shape at lunch as it often does when the three of us begin conversing about ideas, emotions, and feelings. This time though, due to my vast storehouse of scholarly research, I am finally able to quote an authority with substantial credentials in the field of psychology, intelligensia, and a myriad of other fields too numerous and hard to spell to mention.  In the words of the world reknowned intellect of Dr Alfred E. Neuman, “What, me worry?” I reply, HELL YEA!

I learned early on that worry was my friend!  If I worried strong enough, and painted the mental picture dark enough of whatever event led to the worry in the first place, chances are when events unfolded I would be pleasantly surprised.  Deep relief sighs would emanate from this small 5 year old body and the world order could return to normal.  That practiced and improved living technique got me through most of my informative years. It started mal serving me as I grew into my adult years and took on more adult responsibilities. But old habits and practices die hard. 

Glass half empty and half full began to be used to describe me.  I couldn’t see the half full part.   But I had to try cause I was no longer the only one who had consequences of my actions. I hoped I could find a better way! I had to find a way to trade worry for hope.  I hoped that the situation  would improve, but I worried it could be much worse!  I worried that intense worry could lead to real anxiety but then intense hope that never came to fruition could lead to the same place.  Henry, Wally and I discussed how useless and unproductive worry is. There is nothing beneficial that comes from worry, nothing to take away that improves one’s life.  I can see that.  Nothing tangible, nothing helpful, nothing material changes with worry.  So if that is the measure of an emotion, we should ban it from our emotional index and lock it away.  

Hhmmmm, But……..with more reflection, when I dredge up hope from my thesaurus I wonder, is it not just the other side of worry?  If I hope too much do I not risk incredible disappointment?  Just like worry, what do I take away from hope that is tangible, helpful or material?  And if the answer is “nothing” then what is the difference?

The difference is that I am human.  Hope springs eternal! Hope and worry are tools we use to get through our lives.  The use of one over the other may help to label us and define us but I’m not sure one is anymore productive than the other.  Try to get through a conversation with someone without either using the words hope or worry!  I dare you….As for me, I am more comfortable with worry because over the years it was a tool of survival.  I can’t discard it now!

Elpis

George, I get it – I’m a worrier as well. I think that what Hen and I were trying to say is that worry can be helpful if it spurs a motivation to set a plan of action and assists you to examine all the possible options to relieve your situation. My normal approach is to make lists of all the worrying problems I face and to do my best to break them down into digestible bites. But I’ve also used worry as an ‘amulet’ to imagine the worst-case scenario in order to console myself that anything short of that would be a positive outcome. Call it a hedge against disappointment. James Reston coined a term ‘preventative worry’ which fits in that case.

You’ve raised a point about the relationship between worry and hope. I think an old myth holds part of the answer. The story about Pandora addresses the situation where the gods have given Pandora a box that holds a number of spirits. The box – more accurately, a lidded clay jar – isn’t quite a loving gift. She’s told not to open the jar, although it is a foregone conclusion that she will. When she removes the lid, the Furies are released upon the world, causing all sorts of havoc.  But one spirit gets stuck under the jar’s lid – Elpis, the spirit of hope, which remained inside Pandora’s vessel of clay.

If it stopped there, I might have surmised that our vessels are strengthened by hope in the face of chaos. I was surprised to learn that elpis can be translated not just as ‘hope’, but as an expectation of the future, be it positive or negative. In that context both worry and hope are simply expectations. Expectation is a way of toting up the probabilities of success. Therefore, it makes all kinds of sense that individuals cycle between hope and worry as they evaluate their changing landscape. Perhaps both hope and worry serve you well, given the state of play at any given moment. It’s probably also true that excessive worry, just like false hope, never solves a problem.

I like poetry… it’s amazing that such descriptive and profound thoughts can be captured in a few lines. I’m going to try to find a poem for each post that makes some sense about the subject at hand. Here’s one by Mary Oliver:

I Hope You Don’t Worry Too Much

It seems to me that worry precedes anxiety.  That is, a worry is a lower level baseline for a concern that often grows in scope and intensity to actions that are indicative of anxiety, fear, and anger.  After examining what worry and hope mean to me, I came to the conclusion that I often skip the worry stage and move directly into anxiety.  

I don’t believe that I’m a worrier.  I have learned to anticipate and prepare for what I need to do each day with hope that they turn out as I have anticipated.  And, I do so with less and less dependency on how it actually transpires.  For the most part this works well for me and I don’t “worry” about how my day will turn out.  Of course I do have certain parameters that, if not met, move me swiftly into an anxious and much less easy-going mode of operation.  For example, (and by the way I wasn’t always like this,) I like to be early to a scheduled event or appointment. (I would also add that George and Wal are also early-to appointment-people.  In fact, if it’s five minutes before we’re scheduled to meet and one of us is not yet there, some of us would argue, it’s time to WORRY!)  This takes the “worry” out of concern for something out of my control that could make me late – traffic, unexpected phone calls, etc. However, if I’m reliant on someone else to get somewhere on time and they have a more laissez-faire attitude about timeliness, I move directly into an anxious mode.  My brain fires in multiple directions from blame to fear to anger.  This is not a place I want to be and I’m working on letting go of the outcome once I know I’ve done all I can to stick to the timetable.  I’m fairly certain I’ll never completely overcome this glitch but I hope to make progress in both the frequency and intensity of my unwanted reactions.

And since I used “hope” in the previous sentence I’ll explain my relationship with this word.  I see it as a desire for something good to happen.  I often use hope when I wish someone a good trip or a speedy recovery from a medical situation.  I like the word.  It feels optimistic, positive, and light.  For me, it doesn’t carry the same level of intensity of a worry or concern.  It’s a preference for something nice or pleasant to happen but usually not designed to counter a worry that something bad will take its place.

One last thought on this subject.  I sometimes find myself using wonder rather than a word like worry.  For example, I wonder if this rejoinder is too short.  I’m not really concerned if it is.  And, if it is and my blogging buddies tell me that it needs to be fleshed out more, I’d do so.  No worries!

Here’s hoping you all have a pleasant and worry-free day!