Wednesday, June 24, 2015

June 24, 2015

When are we going to decide that enough is enough? When are we going to understand the cause of it all? We sit back, in our living rooms, in horror and watch the news on television, as once more, hate reigns supreme, as once more hate steals lives. We shake our heads, and think that some folks are just out of control. Why are they doing things like this? They never used to.

But it’s more than that. You can’t watch a newscast anymore without at least one item being about someone hating on someone else. My goodness, just look at all the cases of road rage we’ve seen highlighted lately! Road rage is an example of where hate comes from. It comes from anger, unchecked and unmanaged. It’s the symptom of a disease, and one that wasn’t in existence a couple of decades ago. Anger turns to rage and rage, to hate. And that’s the name of the disease: virulent hate.

I don’t think the greatest danger to humanity (sorry, Mr. Bill Gates) is the threat of a pandemic of flu or Ebola. It’s the pandemic of hate, and it’s already got a toe hold in our world.

There’s an election coming in the United States, and with the increase in election rhetoric, there’s an increase in hate. You only have to surf FaceBook and see how many people on a regular basis post memes that have hate-filled messages. Yes, you have a right to your opinion, and yes, a constitutional right to free speech. But don’t use that as an excuse. Please don’t use that as a license to spew hatred.
What you are doing is slowly but surely poisoning our society.

Here’s how. Every time someone does or says or supports something hateful, a tiny bit of the hate toxin is released and enters the atmosphere. It travels around, infecting people one by one by one. Those who might otherwise have felt disgruntled, but kept it to themselves, those who are angry and trying to manage their anger, are invigorated by the hate they breathe in, and emboldened by the hate they see others spewing, and so they think it’s fine let their anger grow, to jump right in and hate on everyone, too.

Hate breeds hate, and pretty soon, people are desensitised to the hate being thrown about, and so, to get the same thrill, these haters have to go to the next level of hating, becoming even more virulent and hate-filled.

The blame for this doesn’t lie “out there.” The truth is we’ve done this, all of us. We’ve allowed it to be okay for people to scream hate, to post hate, to show hate. We have created an atmosphere that allows for a young man to go into a church and kill people who are engaged in Bible study. To kill them because they look different than he does.

Until we stop demonizing those who are different than us, until we stop stirring up rage and hate and fear as weapons of choice in the war of ideologies, events like what happened last week in Charleston are only going to continue.

We have to stop the madness. It’s on each and every one of us to stop this madness now. So feel free to disagree with another’s politics. State your reasons, clearly, convincingly. Disagree with the way some people run their businesses or even their families. Be honest, be forthright. Tell us why you are FOR someone or something, and not why you are AGAINST someone or something else. You can say anything you want to say. But as a matter of conscience, don’t demonize those who hold opinions or lifestyles different than your own.

God doesn’t hold any particular political party affiliation. Trust me on this. It’s right there in black and white, in a book I read often.

Stop spreading the hate. It’s time to return to civility and self control and common sense. We’ll all be happier, and yes, healthier, when we do.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

 June 17, 2015

I’ve recently come to the conclusion that Mr. Ashbury and I are on the very precipice of turning into a couple of old fuddy-duddies. It’s true! Time has sped up and, unlike when we were younger, each new year now brings measurable differences in how well we remember things, how much energy we have, and the length of our respective fuses.

I can recall visiting David’s parents when they were getting into their sixties. My father-in-law wasn’t the least bit shy about letting his inner curmudgeon step out and shine. My mother-in-law, for her part, was no slouch either when it came to getting her point of view across. She was just quieter about it, and more clever, as well.

Sometimes listening to the two of them yammering back and forth was the most fun we would have in a week. Dad wasn’t just set in his ways; he was thoroughly convinced that his way was absolutely the only way—and it didn’t matter one whit what the topic of conversation was at the time.

My husband and his father had often been at odds, not just when David had been a kid, but when he was a husband and father himself. Growing up, there were times when his father had been so rigid in his thinking, that it was no wonder my husband felt resentful. For example, have you ever heard of another kid being told that saying “trick or treat” on Halloween was unacceptable? My husband was instructed to be polite, and ask, “Do you have anything for Halloween, please?”, instead.

My father-in-law knew what things should cost, and the fact they cost more just meant someone was crooked, and he wasn’t going to stand for it! On one memorable occasion, his wife sent him to KFC to buy chicken for the family dinner. The price, in his mind, was outrageous. He came back with one container of fifteen pieces of chicken—to feed thirteen people. But he was right, and that was that.

There were numerous other times David recalled vividly, when his father would be what he considered unreasonable. The man came from the same generation as my mother, and the two of them had one trait in common. Even if it was proven they were wrong in a decision or “verdict” regarding their kids, the words “I apologize” never passed their lips.

So, you can imagine that nothing annoys my beloved more than when I, or one of our kids, points out that these days, he’s beginning to sound a lot like his father.

I suppose it’s unavoidable. We do get set in our ways as we get older. Our response times slow down, and so our ability to keep up with all the societal changes and changes in technology slows down, too. What things cost when we were in our prime is what things should cost, in our minds. Too many times, we either think, “why, back in my day...” or sometimes, we actually even say it.

At this point in my life, I feel like if I take a break from paying attention to what’s happening around me with regard to innovations, technology, or even the news, it would be like falling off a wagon, and then racing, trying to catch up to it. I really don’t want to fall behind.

For the most part, I don’t mind this aging thing. Life—when you consider the alternative—is not really so bad. Things that used to irritate the heck out of me don’t bother me so much anymore. I don’t really mind delays, because I’ve nearly got a handle on this “patience” thing. And when that handle becomes slippery from my gripping it too tightly for too long, I pull out my cell phone and play word games on it. That helps to pass the time just fine.

I don’t even mind it when younger people I encounter along the way think that older is synonymous with stupid. You can have a lot of fun yanking someone’s chain when they can’t see you for who you really are and make dumbass assumptions about you.

I’m looking forward to the time when I’m really old, and then I can be completely outrageous. If in ten years or so, my filters are still in place, I’ll see what I can do about yanking those suckers right out of there. I figure if done right, I’ll save myself the cost of going to the movies. My life will become comedy enough to keep me laughing.

And as we all know, laughter is the best medicine.


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

 June 10, 2015

I hope you’re living your life with no regrets—or, if not with no regrets, then with damn few of them. Stuff happens to everyone: rotten stuff, stinky stuff, uncomfortable stuff, and embarrassing, oh-my-goodness-I-hope-no-one-ever-finds-out-about-this kind of stuff. Sometimes the stuff that happens to us is tragic, as in the loss of loved ones; sometimes it’s just a hassle, or it hits us hard in the wallet. Sometimes the stuff that happens to us rocks us to our very foundations, and we need to take stock, and then start all over again, rebuilding from the ground up.

All of that stuff can be dealt with over time. But living with regret is a very hard way to live, because that sense of failure, of having missed the mark, of “if only”, well, that sense never goes away completely.

And yet, as we all have stuff, so, too, I suspect we all have some regrets. I guess it’s a luxury of getting older that I can often now recognize those moments when I need to do or say something, knowing that if I don’t I will live to regret it. Or maybe it’s something I’ve learned after racking up so many of those moments, where I’ve failed to think or do or say, and have been left with a pile of messy regret in my hands. I guess like most negative things, you get to the point eventually where you say enough is enough and do all you can to avoid it happening ever again.

Life is an untidy business but I have long believed, and have often shared in these essays, that the purpose of life is not to show you a good time. It’s not all sunshine, lollipops and glittering rainbows. The purpose of life is to provide a forum wherein you grow, as person. Here is where you enter in as a babe-in-arms, and God willing, exit as a wiser older person who’s lived and loved and laughed and cried—in other words, grown to your full potential.

We don’t any of us know how long we have on this earth. My personal belief is that this life is not all, and it’s certainly not the end. It’s the proving ground. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, we figure out why we’re here. Then, armed with this knowledge, we can use our time wisely (for the most part), not passing up opportunities to live to our purpose and to our potential.

I believe in having a dream, and a goal. They are not the same thing at all, though many confuse them as being such. A dream is a pretty picture cut out of a magazine and taped up where you will see it every day. You look on it, and, when you’re feeling down, that picture helps to lift you up, remind you that all in life is not the stinky stuff, and hopefully, refuels your tank so you can get back to the battle.

A goal is a marker you intend to reach on your way to that dream. It likely will take a lot of goal-achieving, in order to come close to making your dream come true.

I have close friends who have recently made the dream they had since the beginning of their marriage come true. It was a near twenty year process (a real dream is never an overnight achievement), but they made it happen. They set goals, and achieved them, one by one by next. They didn’t let anything distract them from their dream, or stop them from reaching the goal they’d set for that next step on their way.

Often, achieving a dream demands that you sacrifice, to do so. For example, if your dream is to retire with a good income that will provide for the rest of your days, so that your golden years are financial stress free, well that means that there will be vacations you don’t take, fancy things you don’t buy, and indulgences you pass up. No, you don’t have to live like a monk. Instead of dinner and a movie as a night out on the town, maybe it’s popcorn made at home and a movie on your PVR. Instead of a week at a resort by the lake, maybe it’s a couple of day trips to local attractions or pools or beaches.

If asked, I would say my advice is simple: define who you are; find a dream; set a goal. Work to achieve that goal. Have some fun on the way but don’t take your eye off where you’re ultimately going. Don’t take your eye off your dream, or your purpose, or who you’ve defined yourself to be.

As I wrote that last line, an old saw came to mind. You may have heard it, but it bears sharing. It goes, “as you travel on through life, whatever be your goal, keep your eye upon the donut and not upon the hole.”

Do that, and at the end of the day, you’ll have few regrets.


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

 June 3, 2015

Life is an always vibrant and an often intriguing combination of opposites. Within the course of a week we can have moments of great joy, and great sadness. We can suffer a horrible drenching thunderstorm one day, and bask in the most beautiful combination of blue skies and sunshine the next.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to understand that one of the best tools I have for living life is the ability to “go with the flow”. If you’re a rigid sort, or if you’re excessively anal, then life can be a frustrating experience. How much better, to just awaken each day thankful to still be alive, and to say to the cosmos, “here I am, let ‘er rip.”

These past few days have seen occasions of celebration and commemoration for my family. Last Friday my brother Charles and his wife celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. It doesn’t seem possible, when I look back, that so many years have passed since their marriage began.

 I was eleven years old when my big brother betrayed me by marrying Rosemarie. That’s how it felt at the time, of course. He was my hero, and in lieu of our father who’d passed away just three years before, my sister, who didn’t seem to like me much, and my mother, who was either working or too tired from working to pay me much mind, my brother was the most important person in my life.

Not only did he get married, but his wife had sisters, three sisters who adored him! They’d probably always wanted a big brother, and their dream had finally come true. These girls were older than I by only a few years, and not being the kind at that tender age to stand up and stand my ground, I let my anger show in other ways. For a short time, I became a child who acted out.

Over the years, of course, I grew older and I matured, too. Somewhere in my mid twenties, I decided to rebuild my relationship with my brother, and my sister, this time from the perspective of my faith.

My brother’s marriage flourished, and he and Rosemarie had two sons, and now have four grandchildren. Family and friends were present to salute them this past Saturday when we attended a dinner in their honor. 50 years of the usual mixture of happiness and tragedy, of good times and bad, with no thought of “ending it”, simply living and loving and learning to get along.

There are many of us who are involved in long term marriages, but not as many as there used to be. And that, in my mind is a shame. There’s a comfort to be had from enduring together, and growing old together, a comfort not found elsewhere.

And then yesterday, Tuesday, marked the second anniversary of my sister’s passing. It’s hard to believe that two years have gone by, but they have. I think of her life, one lived inwardly, and I feel such sadness that her options were ever so limited. In her “heyday” she lived a little wild—a lot of booze and a lot of men. I learned, only after her passing, that her wild ways started very early. I never knew that, never knew that at the age of eleven or twelve that she would sneak out of the house at night, or steal alcohol from our parents. In 1960 the parental reaction to such behavior was discipline, not therapy. It’s useless to ask the question, of course, but I can’t help but wonder if her life would have been different if today’s responses to certain behaviors existed back then.

In the last twenty years or so of her life, my sister found a comfort and a place, and man who loved her flaws and all. She achieved a measure of happiness, grounded in her routines. She died far too soon, ultimately as a result of years of alcohol and prescription drug abuse.

Two family milestones, at opposite ends of the spectrum, occurred within the space of less than a week. Life is like that—full of ups and downs, good and bad, joy and tragedy.

As for me, I’ve learned to be content within whatever circumstance I find myself. And I try to live each day with not only an attitude of gratitude, but with the resolution that today, I am going to touch someone in a positive way.

That’s my mantra, and it’s one that has brought me peace.