If Only We Were Taught These Things at an Early Age…

In this wonderful country of ours (and yes, in spite of all the bad things that are happening right now, it is still a wonderful country), we tend to focus on staying young rather than growing old gracefully, bountifully and beautifully. This is the exact opposite of many countries and cultures throughout the world; people are raised to respect their elders and to assist in their care later in life. In many countries it is considered shameful to put their elders in nursing homes or assisted living. Additionally, aging and dying are considered natural processes that are part of life, and are discussed within the family. In Africa, for instance, death is considered part of the natural rhythm of life, and children are raised to understand that this is nothing to be frightened about. There is no shame in aging, nor fear in dying.

Some cultures who still practice reverence and respect of elders are these:

  • In Greece, all elders are respected because of their long time upon the earth and the wisdom they have gained.
  • American Indians were raised within their tribes to call every woman “Mother” and every elder man “Grandfather.” They revered their elders and came to them often for advice; it was a ready treasure trove of wisdom and experience from which to draw.
  • In India, respect and love are always shown to elders. In fact, many generations may share the same living space, and it is a practice that brings joy and comfort to them all.
  • The Chinese cultures also revere their elders; in fact, turning 60 and then 70 are cause for major celebrations which can go on for days. There is pride in being older.
  • Both Taoism and Daoism believers live by this philosophy: “Since life and death are each other’s companions, why worry about them? All beings are one.”

#1 Thing We Should Be Taught at an Early Age:

Aging and death are natural stages that humans experience. Aging means that body parts will wear down, and we may not be able to run and jump as we did as children. Our skin will sag, we will lose some (or all) of our hair, our nails will become harder to cut, we may not be able to eat the foods we used to, and gas will become a constant (and often noisy) companion. Knowing that we will age may help us to take better care of our bodies and keep them active and strong.

#2 Thing We Should Be Taught at an Early Age:

We should understand from an early age that elders should be respected if for no other reason that they have lived a long time and have experienced many things. It should be a no-brainer that children and young adults would be able to tap into all that wonderful knowledge and experience to learn what to do and not to do. It’s a win-win, really–young people get valuable advice that will help them in life, and the elders get to share their wisdom and rejoice in being needed and cherished.

#3 Thing We Should Be Taught at an Early Age:

Despite what many people think, bad moods, bad luck and bad feelings aren’t just hanging around in the atmosphere, waiting to drop down on us without warning. Many things that happen to us are not of our doing, nor are we targets for misery. The truth is that we can learn to control our moods. Once you now that and practice it, the whole world looks different. Examples:

  • You wake up in a bad mood. So who says you have to stay in one? You say *out loud, “I feel GREAT! Today is going to be the BEST DAY EVER!” Repeat until the dark clouds go away.
  • Through no fault of your own, you got laid off. Shockingly, this could be the wake-up call you needed to change careers. It may be the universe’s way of getting your attention, thereby forcing you to open a new door. You say *out loud, “I always wanted to do/be/try <insert business/career here>; now’s the time to do it!” Or whatever new door you want to open but couldn’t because of the job you had.
  • Someone care deeply for hurts your feelings. You feel hurt, betrayed and angry. You say *out loud, “Hey, this isn’t about me. He/she probably had a bad day or something happened to make them unhappy. They lashed out at me because they were upset about something else. I don’t need to take this personally.”

Also, as the neat-o prize in your particular box of Cracker Jacks, here is an **exercise you can do as often as you like during the day to clear your head and heart:

Stand up, and starting at your knees, sweep both hands down in front of your knees, then move your hands toward each other (still at your knees) until they cross. From there, swing your crossed hands all the way up and over your head, then uncross your hands and sweep them down so that your hands are hanging by your knees. This clears energy literally from knees to head. Do it as often as you like for clarity. (Plus it’s fun!)

We may not have grown up learning these three things, but we can learn them now. Just these new ways of thinking can make a huge change in our lives and how we live them.

Just a thought.

*The “out loud” part is important. When you hear yourself affirming something positive, your very cells respond in a positive way. It can literally change your life.

**I learned this from the incredible Noreen MacDonald. Visit her web site at http://noreenmcdonald.com.

My Role in Life

Back when I was single, my role in life used to be pretty clear-cut. My priorities were these:

  • Being self sufficient
  • Holding down a good job I liked, and make decent money doing it
  • Having reliable and not too expensive health care
  • Being owned by at least one cat
  • Reading and writing frequently
  • Making jewelry and music
  • Having a nice, clean, organized home
  • Having a good relationship with family and friends
  • Having a decent relationship with a nice man

Notice that the “nice man” is last? Wonder why?? I don’t care if you are straight or gay, with or without someone permanent in your life; relationships are HARD. They are not for the faint of heart, nor are they a fun toy you can pick up and play with then lose along the way.

Years and one failed first marriage later, these days my role in life is also pretty clear-cut:

  • I am extremely lucky to be married to a decent, kind, loving and understanding man (that would be the Crankee Yankee)
  • I am very lucky to have great relationships with family and friends
  • I have a good part-time job I enjoy and the money is ok
  • I and the Crankee Yankee are owned by three cats
  • I read and write even more frequently than I used to
  • I still make jewelry and music

That said, here are some of the not-so-wonderful realities of my role(s) in life:

  • I am the full-time day and night checker of locks (the Crankee Yankee always thinks he will be coming back in “soon” and will lock up “then,” even at 11pm when he is asleep in his recliner)
  • I am the constant picker-up of wads of paper towels, used Kleenexes, fur balls, ripped-out newspaper/magazine articles, and more
  • I am the wiper-up of spills on the stove, the counter-tops, the floor, and often, cat vomit (anywhere)
  • I am the finder of lost pairs of scissors, pens, and many other items which are never where I put them originally
  • I am the one who goes out in the cold dark to check that the car and truck are locked up
  • I am the leaver of notes reminding the Crankee Yankee to lock up, pick up, etc. (currently there are three signs up–one in the kitchen, one on the porch, and one downstairs–I don’t think they are even on his radar any more)
  • I am the one who writes dates, appointments and meetings on the “mutual” calendar, which is largely ignored by the Crankee Yankee (‘oh, you’re going out with the girls this Sat.? I have a train show and need the car.’)

If you’re in a relationship for the long haul, there are going to be bumps and flat tires along the way. That’s just the way it goes. For all the times I’ve gotten so steamed at the Crankee Yankee I could throttle him, I am always secretly thankful that we don’t have the kind of “f*ck you” cash that would allow either one of us to take off.

A spat of anger doesn’t last, nor does the cheap china you fling out the window in what my late mother-in-law would call politely “a fit of pique.” I like to call it “venting,” the current term for “if you say one more word to me I’m going to <insert something horribly painful here, usually involving the aforementioned husband’s lower forty>.

So, as to the different roles in my life, here’s the most important one: first and foremost, I am me, and I am in charge of how I feel about everything and everyone. I can choose to be constantly irritated at some of the Crankee Yankee’s predictable behavior, or at the weather, or at someone at work or the traffic. OR I can choose to roll better with things that have bothered me in the past. Moreover, I can do this without guilt.

It just takes practice. I am learning to respond to an uncomfortable or difficult situation by saying out loud, “this is not my problem, nor is it my fault.” (Of course, that’s only true if it really isn’t my fault!) All I can do is to make sure I’m being honest with myself, and realize when something is worth fighting about. More often than not, it isn’t.

If I can revamp the Serenity Prayer, it would go like this:

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things and people I cannot change; the courage to change those things about myself that I can, and let be those things about others that they cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference, and the peace of mind to accept it all.”




Spring in Motion

The brilliant yellow forsythia

Seems to scream “Am I bright enough for ya?”

Kitten-face pansies all look up

To drink the sunlight as from a cup–

Tiny blue bells litter lawns newly green

And daffodils sway along with the fuzzy sheen

Of  trees dotted in green and pinkish bud.

Turtles and frogs emerge from the mud,

And ducks and swans and geese all flock

To the pond to nibble the juicy weeds and talk

Of families they plan to have and nests to make–

Long-legged blue herons stalk and rake

Through the shallows and dry reeds

And catch the fish on which they feed–

Red-winged blackbirds swoop and fly above,

Searching out nest sites for their lady-loves–

And everywhere is the sound of waking life

Bursting through the long cold winter’s strife.

It’s Spring again and fair skies bring

The sunshine, soft rain, sweet nights and breezes

That waft perfume from the new flowers, and teases

All the senses that have been struck dumb

And crushed beneath Winter’s heavy, cold thumb–

All are awake again, and joyful song and sound

Fly on the wind and on the ground,

Until the air is filled with Spring’s eternal, abiding song–

“Life is short, and we haven’t long

To make more flowers, birds and beasts

And enjoy spring’s and summer’s joyful feast!

Remember that fall and winter come too fast

Let’s make the most of life before it’s past–

Be happy, be fruitful, be loving, be strong,

And enjoy each warm and lovely day before it’s gone.”





Less Tapping, More Yapping

I have never texted anyone in my life, and don’t plan to–ever. While I understand the efficacy of it; instead of calling each and every one of your loved ones to tell them you are home safe from a trip, you text one list and boom–you’re done. But it isn’t for me. First of all, I despise “text speak,” such as “ware U at?” Shudder. Second, my thumbs have more important things to do.

So, how about we just TALK with people? How hard is that? How can people be so chatty while texting, yet have so  little to say to an actual person?

I think we lose a lot when we allow technology to replace human contact. Not only does that minimalize the gift of gab, but nearly excludes it. Actual talking conveys so much more than words; it is the gestures, the posture, the eye contact and the sheer physicality of another human being that makes speech important. Speaking directly to another person is human contact.

Since the advent of personal computing devices; tablets, iPhones, Google watches and their ilk, our culture has shifted to a place never before experienced by mankind. I do understand and appreciate the advances we have made, and many of those devices are lifesavers for shut-ins, the disabled, and so on. Like any invention, there is always a good/bad ratio.

Let’s just talk about the ramifications of being able to hide behind a screen identity in the case of teenagers. Again, technology is great for the awkward and ill-at-ease; you can stand there and fiddle around with your device and look busy. Back in the dark ages when I was a teen, you had to just stand there, not knowing what to do with your hands, looking awkward and weird at the same time.

But the downside of all this technical social media is how rampant and vicious bullying has become. It has assumed a new and terrifying personality never seen before: cyber bullying. All of us have been teenagers and know what agony it can be; you are still trying to figure out who you are and emotions run hot and tender. Say you are a teenage girl at that gangly stage where you are all knees and elbows. You haven’t discovered your own style yet, and don’t have the “right” clothes to fit in with the cool kids. You aren’t a stellar student, and you don’t play sports, so right away you stick out like a goose among cute and fluffy little chicks.

These days where nearly every kid at least carries a cell phone, you are an easy target for cyber bullying. Mean girls can snap naked pictures of you in the shower and send them out into the teenage cyber jungle. You can slip and fall in the lunchroom, and end up on your butt with literal eggs on your face and snap: you’re out there in the cybersphere on YouTube, and the laughs keep on coming.

Even kids who have strong and loving families with lots of support have a hard time with this. Even if you are the rare teen who is both different than the pack and is comfortable with who you are–it is hard  to see yourself in an awkward moment on the net and know that the whole school is laughing at you. All too often, we read about teens who simply cannot take it anymore and take themselves out of this world. How immensely sad this is, and how unnecessary.

My take on this? If there was a real effort to re-establish plain old face-to-face talking instead of relying constantly on this or that device, that we would be better for it. Better for us as people, as a culture and as a nation. When you  can see and know what damage your words have done to someone; I don’t care how hardened and “whatever-ish” you are: you KNOW you have caused harm. Also, when you can see how a few kind words can lift another person, you know you have done a bit of good.

Think back on the people and the words that have changed your life. It is said that we may not remember so much the words spoken to us, but we will always remember how they made us feel. That right there will last a whole lot longer than seeing “ware U at?” on your personal device.

Just sayin….



“Think Yew for Waiting–Yer Call is Very Impor-ant to Us”

Does anyone else but me feel like they are listening to Minnie Mouse when on hold? Every few minutes, this weenie little voice comes on to say “think yew for waiting–yer call is very impor-ant to us.”

Well, just speaking for me, that doesn’t make me feel at all “impor-ant.” I think I could handle the wait time better if they changed the voice to some Jersey guy saying, “yah, I know you’re still hopin’ someone will pick up and actually talk to ya, but sweetheart–it ain’t gonna happen anytime soon. Whyn’t ya just go pour yaself an nice glassa wine and maybe have some cheese n’ crackers. Call back in an hour or two, and maybe then someone’ll talk to ya. Buh-bye!”

What is doubly frustrating is that even if you do get someone to pick up and talk with you, they will probably have to go ask someone else to get the information you need and then “get back to you real soon, ‘k?” This is especially true with a lot of doctors’ offices.

I realize that businesses and doctors’ offices are busy places. Years ago, I was a telephone sales rep and understand what it’s like to deal with the public. But here’s the thing: people who call businesses and doctors’ offices are concerned about one thing, and one thing only: THEIR OWN ISSUE. They do not understand how the office they are calling works; what their procedures and policies are or how stressed-out the staff is–that’s not their purview. When staff folks become angry at callers because they don’t see things from their point of view–“Sheesh, are they stupid? Don’t they know that their test results will take at least <insert number of days here?>”;  well, that’s just about as effective as throwing jello at the wall–nothing sticks and it makes a mess.

It is a rare customer service rep or medical staff person who has the unique gift of empathy and kindness. I realize that these folks are beyond busy; also many are rated on the time they take to answer a call and deal with it. But those who do take the time to put themselves in the caller’s shoes and do what they can to listen and help are positive angels. Even if all they can do is to say that they are sorry that they don’t have the answers but will do what they can to find them–they are literally balm to the soul of that worried person on the other end.

Have we really become so busy, so self-involved and too constrained by the clock that we can longer make the time to be empathetic? I am hoping that that time is not yet, or will ever be. And just for any CEOs or their ilk who may be reading this, could you please have your standard recorded voice sound like someone who isn’t sixteen years old or who does the voice of Minnie Mouse in her spare time? We would all be grateful.

Another Gem From the Kindness Blog – George Saunders Speech

Yes, I know I am dipping once more into the Kindness Blog, but darn it–there are so many good posts! This one is a real gem; it’s long, but well worth reading. George Saunders gave this convocation speech at Syracuse University for the class on 2013.

George Saunders is an American writer of short stories, essays, novellas and children’s books. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, McSweeney’s and GQ.

“Down through the ages, a traditional form has evolved for this type of speech, which is: Some old fart, his best years behind him, who, over the course of his life, has made a series of dreadful mistakes (that would be me), gives heartfelt advice to a group of shining, energetic young people, with all of their best years ahead of them (that would be you).
And I intend to respect that tradition.
Now, one useful thing you can do with an old person, in addition to borrowing money from them, or asking them to do one of their old-time “dances,” so you can watch, while laughing, is ask: “Looking back, what do you regret?”  And they’ll tell you.  Sometimes, as you know, they’ll tell you even if you haven’t asked.  Sometimes, even when you’ve specifically requested they not tell you, they’ll tell you.
So: What do I regret?  Being poor from time to time?  Not really.  Working terrible jobs, like “knuckle-puller in a slaughterhouse?”  (And don’t even ASK what that entails.)  No.  I don’t regret that.  Skinny-dipping in a river in Sumatra, a little buzzed, and looking up and seeing like 300 monkeys sitting on a pipeline, pooping down into the river, the river in which I was swimming, with my mouth open, naked?  And getting deathly ill afterwards, and staying sick for the next seven months?  Not so much.  Do I regret the occasional humiliation?  Like once, playing hockey in front of a big crowd, including this girl I really liked, I somehow managed, while falling and emitting this weird whooping noise, to score on my own goalie, while also sending my stick flying into the crowd, nearly hitting that girl?  No.  I don’t even regret that.
But here’s something I do regret:
In seventh grade, this new kid joined our class.  In the interest of confidentiality, her Convocation Speech name will be “ELLEN.”  ELLEN was small, shy.  She wore these blue cat’s-eye glasses that, at the time, only old ladies wore.  When nervous, which was pretty much always, she had a habit of taking a strand of hair into her mouth and chewing on it.
So she came to our school and our neighborhood, and was mostly ignored, occasionally teased (“Your hair taste good?” – that sort of thing).  I could see this hurt her.  I still remember the way she’d look after such an insult: eyes cast down, a little gut-kicked, as if, having just been reminded of her place in things, she was trying, as much as possible, to disappear.  After awhile she’d drift away, hair-strand still in her mouth.  At home, I imagined, after school, her mother would say, you know: “How was your day, sweetie?” and she’d say, “Oh, fine.”  And her mother would say, “Making any friends?” and she’d go, “Sure, lots.”
Sometimes I’d see her hanging around alone in her front yard, as if afraid to leave it.
And then – they moved.  That was it.  No tragedy, no big final hazing.
One day she was there, next day she wasn’t.
End of story.
Now, why do I regret that?  Why, forty-two years later, am I still thinking about it?  Relative to most of the other kids, I was actually pretty nice to her.  I never said an unkind word to her.  In fact, I sometimes even (mildly) defended her.
But still.  It bothers me.
So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it:
What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.
Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded…sensibly.  Reservedly.  Mildly.
Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope:  Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth?
Those who were kindest to you, I bet.
It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.
Now, the million-dollar question:  What’s our problem?  Why aren’t we kinder?
Here’s what I think:
Each of us is born with a series of built-in confusions that are probably somehow Darwinian.  These are: (1) we’re central to the universe (that is, our personal story is the main and most interesting story, the only story, really); (2) we’re separate from the universe (there’s US and then, out there, all that other junk – dogs and swing-sets, and the State of Nebraska and low-hanging clouds and, you know, other people), and (3) we’re permanent (death is real, o.k., sure – for you, but not for me).
Now, we don’t really believe these things – intellectually we know better – but we believe them viscerally, and live by them, and they cause us to prioritize our own needs over the needs of others, even though what we really want, in our hearts, is to be less selfish, more aware of what’s actually happening in the present moment, more open, and more loving.
So, the second million-dollar question:  How might we DO this?  How might we become more loving, more open, less selfish, more present, less delusional, etc., etc?
Well, yes, good question.
Unfortunately, I only have three minutes left.
So let me just say this.  There are ways.  You already know that because, in your life, there have been High Kindness periods and Low Kindness periods, and you know what inclined you toward the former and away from the latter.  Education is good; immersing ourselves in a work of art: good; prayer is good; meditation’s good; a frank talk with a dear friend;  establishing ourselves in some kind of spiritual tradition – recognizing that there have been countless really smart people before us who have asked these same questions and left behind answers for us.
Because kindness, it turns out, is hard – it starts out all rainbows and puppy dogs, and expands to include…well, everything.
One thing in our favor:  some of this “becoming kinder” happens naturally, with age.  It might be a simple matter of attrition:  as we get older, we come to see how useless it is to be selfish – how illogical, really.  We come to love other people and are thereby counter-instructed in our own centrality.  We get our butts kicked by real life, and people come to our defense, and help us, and we learn that we’re not separate, and don’t want to be.  We see people near and dear to us dropping away, and are gradually convinced that maybe we too will drop away (someday, a long time from now).  Most people, as they age, become less selfish and more loving.  I think this is true.  The great Syracuse poet, Hayden Carruth, said, in a poem written near the end of his life, that he was “mostly Love, now.”
And so, a prediction, and my heartfelt wish for you: as you get older, your self will diminish and you will grow in love.  YOU will gradually be replaced by LOVE.   If you have kids, that will be a huge moment in your process of self-diminishment.  You really won’t care what happens to YOU, as long as they benefit.  That’s one reason your parents are so proud and happy today.  One of their fondest dreams has come true: you have accomplished something difficult and tangible that has enlarged you as a person and will make your life better, from here on in, forever.
Congratulations, by the way.
When young, we’re anxious – understandably – to find out if we’ve got what it takes.  Can we succeed?  Can we build a viable life for ourselves?  But you – in particular you, of this generation – may have noticed a certain cyclical quality to ambition.  You do well in high-school, in hopes of getting into a good college, so you can do well in the good college, in the hopes of getting a good job, so you can do well in the good job so you can….
And this is actually O.K.  If we’re going to become kinder, that process has to include taking ourselves seriously – as doers, as accomplishers, as dreamers.  We have to do that, to be our best selves.
Still, accomplishment is unreliable.  “Succeeding,” whatever that might mean to you, is hard, and the need to do so constantly renews itself (success is like a mountain that keeps growing ahead of you as you hike it), and there’s the very real danger that “succeeding” will take up your whole life, while the big questions go untended.
So, quick, end-of-speech advice: Since, according to me, your life is going to be a gradual process of becoming kinder and more loving: Hurry up.  Speed it along.  Start right now.  There’s a confusion in each of us, a sickness, really: selfishness.  But there’s also a cure.  So be a good and proactive and even somewhat desperate patient on your own behalf – seek out the most efficacious anti-selfishness medicines, energetically, for the rest of your life.
Do all the other things, the ambitious things – travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers (after first having it tested for monkey poop) – but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness.  Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial.  That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality – your soul, if you will – is as bright and shining as any that has ever been.  Bright as Shakespeare’s, bright as Gandhi’s, bright as Mother Teresa’s.  Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place.  Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.
And someday, in 80 years, when you’re 100, and I’m 134, and we’re both so kind and loving we’re nearly unbearable, drop me a line, let me know how your life has been.  I hope you will say: It has been so wonderful.
Congratulations, Class of 2013.”


Words, Wonderful Words!

I am deeply and truly in love with words. There are words I could marry, I love them so much. There are words I don’t care for; they conjure up unpleasant images for me. There are words I love to say; I enjoy the sound of the them and the very feel of them in my mouth as I say them.

Words have power, personality, punch, panache and pizzazz. There are words I like so much that I find a reason to use them just so I can speak them out loud. There are also words that are inherently funny–they sound funny; even feel funny when you say them:

  • Bologna
  • Bumfuzzle
  • Taradiddle
  • Snickersnee (hint: if you are a foll0wer of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, you’ll recognize that one)
  • Collywobbles
  • Widdershins

Some of the words I love just for their sheer majesty are these:

  • Chatelaine
  • Palimpsest
  • Palindrome
  • Zaftig
  • Hyrax
  • Chimera
  • Pelucid
  • Illuminate
  • Quetzal
  • Imbroglio
  • Asphodel
  • Insouciant
  • Triskadexaphobia
  • Interlocutory
  • Zeitgeist
  • Pinyon
  • Reliquary
  • Estuary
  • Pillock
  • Circumnavigate
  • Ineluctable

I purposely did not put the definitions in; I’ll let you have the pleasure of looking up the ones with which you may not be familiar. I read a lot of books, and I learn a lot of new words in this way. But here’s the thing: you get a little smug when your favorite hobbies are reading and writing; you get the false sense that you know all; or at least have a nodding acquaintance with–all the words in English language–but no. There is always something new to discover.

It hurts my heart a little when I hear words misused; it’s as if someone is attacking a dear friend of mine. Or sometimes it’s just funny, such as the time the Crankee Yankee and I were walking near a Chipotle’s restaurant. A young woman and her friend were also walking by and one of them said, “What to try Chipotles (pronounced ‘chi-POT-uls’) for lunch?”

Of course, she may never have run into that word before in her life, and shame on me for being such a word snob. (But honestly–it was kinda funny.)

My mother and I adore Scrabble, and it is a pure pleasure when one of us can use a fabulous word and get a good score with it. To us, it’s the ultimate win-win.

So does this all mean that I am a consummate etymologist? No, I’m not that dedicated. I am merely a major appreciator of words. (And just a little bit of a word snob, too.)