The Seven Greatest Appreciations of Life:  Friends and Family

Adults and kids sitting on the grass in a garden

The famous French philosopher Sartre said that, “Hell is other people.”  What I think he meant to say was that “Friends and family could be hell.”  A number of years ago the mother of a good friend of ours passed away.  The fight between her siblings over who was going to get what was vicious and resulted in a permanent schism between the siblings.  I was commiserating one day with her over our very dysfunctional families.  I noted, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we had normal families?”  My friend replied, “We do have normal families.”  I knew exactly what she meant.  Years earlier when I was attending support group meetings for men who were violent and abusive, we would always hear newcomers say, “My family is so screwed up.  I wish I had:” (Pick one)

  • A more loving mother
  • A non-alcoholic father
  • Parents who did things with us
  • A father who was not a gambler
  • A mother who was not a drug addict
  • A mother or father who was not always gone
  • A mother or father who was not abusive

The more seasoned men in the group would listen to these plaints for awhile but eventually tolerance would run out.  Then you would hear someone say, “If you want a happy family, turn on TV and watch “Leave it to Beaver” or “Father Knows Best.”  The rest of us would sagely nod our heads.  In our milieu, healthy happy families did not exist.

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” ― Leo Tolstoy , Anna Karenina

downloadWell, you are probably thinking, “You can’t always pick your relatives, but you can always pick your friends.”  This is absolutely true, but how many people do you know that have lifelong friends that they can trust and rely on in an emergency?  I could start a long list of friends that I have left behind over the years for one reason or another.  I have ex-friends who became rabid Trump supporters whom I said goodbye to.  I have ex-friends who said goodbye to me, and I never knew why.  I just did not hear from them anymore.  I have other ex-friends who I could no longer relate to for one reason or another.  Friends seem to me to be like annual flowers.  They pop up for a while and then they fade away.  I have five good friends left.  I would have more, but some died early and one committed suicide.

You may be scratching your head now and thinking, “What does this narrative of misery have to do with appreciating our friends and family?”  One answer is that I do not like to sugarcoat things.  Most of life is composed of the good, the bad and the ugly.  I Latino-Family-small-1-850x566have put the bad and the ugly out first so that you would not simply hear a chorus of how wonderful friends and relatives are.  The truth of the matter is that as in most of life, you often have to take the bad with the good.

“The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for.” ― Bob Marley

Another point for acknowledging the bad side of things is that it helps us to appreciate the good side.  If things were always great we would never appreciate the bad.  We love the sunny days more after the rainy days.  We enjoy a good movie or a good painting because we know what a bad movie or a bad painting is like.  We develop models in our heads for the good and the bad and they are to some extent a mirror image of each other.  The Yin and Yang of life is a push and a pull.  Happiness, joy, and good health are more appreciated when we have experienced the opposite in our lives.  We appreciate good relatives and good friends more when we acknowledge some of the “mistakes” that life has dealt us.  We rise above life by dealing with the bad, putting it aside and saying prayers of thanks for the good friends and family in our lives.

asian-american-family

Family:

I do not know how many “Leave it to Beaver” families are out there, but I do have many friends who have had loving fathers and mothers.  Their families might not have been perfect, but they learned good values from their parents.  The other night we had two friends (Tom and Nancy) over for dinner.  We started talking about some of our family.  Since we were all over 70, our fathers, mothers and several siblings had all passed away.  We shared some of the good things we missed about these relationships.  Our conversation prompted me to ask, “What are the three most important things you learned from your parents?”  The discussion on what we learned was heart-warming and lasted nearly an hour.

Portrait Of Extended Family Group In Park

The answers to my question elicited several traits that we had all absorbed from our parents.  Among the common ones were a value for hard work, education, and honesty.  Tom mentioned that he learned, “You should always finish your work before you play.”  I could hear the same words echoing from my father.  Karen mentioned that she learned the value of frugality from her mom.  Nancy added that she learned caring from her parents.  This was seconded by both Tom and Karen.  I added that I learned to be accepting of other cultures and races.  My father was intolerant of racism and prejudice.  I grew up fighting for the under-dog as a result of what I learned from my parents.

“I sustain myself with the love of family.”   ― Maya Angelou

Good relatives and good families infuse us with good values and good character.  You learn what you live with.  Live with honesty, hard work, and compassion and you will be a person who cares for others and who is unselfish in their efforts to succeed.  Success is more than just one person succeeding, it is an entire world succeeding.  I have always loved the line from John Donne’s poem, “And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.” (No Man is an Island, Meditation XVII, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions)

1_gMf66bZlU3a1KbSHMJLpJg

Friends:

Aristotle was one of the wisest men who ever lived.  Perhaps he was not as wise as Socrates, but he left us numerous writings which provide a guide for right living.  Aristotle wrote quite a lot about the issue of friendship (See his “Nicomachean Ethics, Books VIII and IX).  He commented that it was good to have many friends.  However, Aristotle had a typology of friendship based on three characteristics.  These characteristics were:  pleasure, utility, and virtue.

e232a636b958e0e88ab2b927e3db8531Friendships based on utility derive some perceived benefits from each other.  Perhaps helping each other with building or fixing things.  Friendships based on pleasure derive fun or shared activities together.  Friends who canoe or ski or golf together.  Friendships based on virtue derive mutual benefit from pursuing shared values and goals.  Friends who work together for a common good.  According to Aristotle, friendships based on pleasure and utility tend to be shorter than friendships based on virtue or goodness because needs and pleasures often change over time.  Our values in life are less transient and more permanent.  Friends who share your same values will be friends for life.

“I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light.”  ― Helen Keller

The value of a good friend is immeasurable.  Someone who understands you.  Someone you can trust.  Someone who cares about you and will step up in your hour of need.  Someone who will have your back when you are in a crisis.  Someone who consoles you when you are in grief or mourning.  Someone who cares about your life and wants to share your joys and your pain.  I hope that everyone reading this blog has at least one good friend.  Count your blessings if you have more than that.

downloadI have written about friendship several times in my blogs (See my Friends and Friendship: Part 1 and Part 2).  I have said that Facebook friends should not be counted as true friends.  FB friends are closer to what I call acquaintances.  Facebook can introduce you to possible friends but it will never be able to create real friends.  True friendship is difficult if not impossible to establish on FB or any other social medium.  Friendship is like marriage.  You get out of it what you put into it.  If you look at the high number of divorces today, it may blind you to the almost equal number of marriages that last for decades.  My spouse has some friends since grade school.  I have a few friends going back to high school.  We both share bonds of time and life experiences with these friends.

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”   ― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

In my experience talking to other married couples, the ones that last are the ones that invest time and effort into their relationship.  Good marriages take work.  Good marriages are not taken for granted.  Good friendships also take work.  By work, I mean taking risks to improve your friendship.  The risks can be self-disclosure, honesty, confrontation and saying no.  Good friends are not born, they are made.  And like everything in life, they require effort and maintenance.

teensfromgayfamilies_fullsize_story1

The Beatles had a song and one of the lines was, “I get by with a little help from my friends.”  Hardly a day goes by that I do not think of this line and its relevance for both family and friends.  We are social animals, and we need other people.  We need people to love and people who love us.  Our friends and family are the wellspring for giving and receiving love.   The Covid Pandemic has clearly shown the negative impacts that isolation has on people the world over.  The biggest joy that will come out of defeating the Pandemic will be when we can all freely share time with our loved ones again.

The Seven Greatest Appreciations of Life: Music

download (1)

What would life be without the things that help us to appreciate it?  I listen to a superb singer and think how fantastic it is to be able to have this kind of talent in the world.  I visit an art gallery and look at the magnificent paintings and think about all the people that have created works of art which beautify my life.  I journey to a library to find a good book to read and I am inundated with literature that will open vast new horizons for me intellectually and emotionally.  I am sometimes ashamed that I am not grateful enough for the many appreciations that life gives me.

I started thinking a few days ago that the issue of appreciation would make a good subject for a blog.  I soon realized that the subject would be good for several blogs.  Thus, I have decided to write about the greatest appreciations in my life.  Of course, life itself is a given as the greatest appreciation of all, so I will skip it for now.  There are hundreds of things that I can appreciate.  I will limit my list to the top seven things that I am grateful for or that I appreciate on an almost daily basis.  I will try cover each of these in my next blogs.

  1. Music
  2. Art
  3. Literature
  4. Travel/Food
  5. Friends/Family
  6. Health/Fitness
  7. Peace

music 1

Music:  Something to Appreciate

This week I will discuss the joys and happiness that I find in music.  Karen, my wife is a musician.  I am unfortunately not among the musically gifted.  I am left to be the audience for Karen and other people with the talent to perform.  I have hundreds of artists all over the world that I admire and listen to.  Many people have a steady diet of music from a particular genre.  I consider myself fortunate to have quite catholic tastes when it comes to music.

I love opera, country, blue grass, gospel, classical, rock, pop, blues, jazz, folk, as well as music from almost every country in the world.  Have you ever listened to Enka music from Japan or Fado music from Portugal?  There are hundreds of styles of music all over the world.  Increasingly I find what might be called fusion music that blends a multitude of styles.

the hu

One currently popular group is called the Hu.  They are a rock band from Mongolia.  They use traditional Mongolian instrumentation, including the Morin khuur, Tovshuur and Mongolian throat singing with a rock beat.  They say that they are inspired by the Hunnu, an ancient Turkic/Mongol empire.  I discovered them on YouTube and liked them so much I purchased one of their albums.  I listened to it every day for a few weeks.  I had never heard anything like it before.

41R8ajbaNKL._SR600,315_PIWhiteStrip,BottomLeft,0,35_SCLZZZZZZZ_FMpng_BG255,255,255

Yesterday on NPR they had a music session with the noted African American operatic baritone Will Liverman.   It was an interesting conversation.   There has been a systematic exclusion of information concerning Black singers and composers in the realm of classical music.  Mr.  Liverman talked about his upbringing and how surprised his parents were that he became interested in opera and classical music.  He pursued his interests and has become one of the great operatic singers of our time.  Will observed that many great Black composers were virtually unknown to the public and even in the music world.  He decided to remedy this with an album of songs by Black composers.  You can find his album on Amazon and many of Mr. Liverman’s songs on YouTube.

The music world is full of variety, mysteries, contradictions, challenges, and respite from a world all too often full of dreary news and mayhem.  I have briefly touched on some of the variety in the music world, but what are the mysteries?  Well consider the talent that it takes to become a good musician.  Many people think that musicians are simply born with the talent.  A little knowledge of musicians will soon show you that music is a combination of talent and hard work.  Few of us will ever know if we could have been a great musician because most of us do not have the discipline to put the effort into music.  This includes me as well.  I am amazed at the practicing that Karen does each week.

Karen performing with the Tucson Dulcimer Ensemble

Tucson Dulcimer Ensemble Visits The Fountains – The Fountains at La Cholla in Tucson, AZ

Karen has taken dozens of classes to help develop her skills.  There never seems to be a time when she will simply quit and say, “I have become good enough.”  She is always working and striving to become better.  Every year she develops more skills and then challenges herself with more difficult pieces, not to mention adding more instruments to her repertoire.  And here is the mystery.  Where do these people get the energy and courage to keep on challenging themselves?  Most of us would rather listen to music.  We marvel at the fantastic talent that is in the music world, but we seldom understand the practice, discipline and hard work that is involved.  I gasp in amazement at a man like Jake Shimabukuro whose fingers move over the ukulele faster than I can see.  I cannot comprehend pianists that can play an entire Beethoven symphony without looking at a music sheet.  These are all mysteries to me.

What of contradictions?  The music world is full of contradictions.  Talented players and singers who never seem to achieve the stardom they deserve.  One-hit-wonders who can create a dynamic song that tops the charts but are never heard from again.  Five-year-old wunderkinds who display abilities that defy logic.  Singers who develop followers that worship the ground they walk on.  Performers who last a few years, disappear for many years, and then make startling comebacks.  Singers who are still in the music business in their eighties.  Artists who seem to have little talent but make tons of money.  The music world is full of contradictions.

jennifer-hudson-anthem-020221-getty-ftrjpg_1o4bv8v9qnefu14me1myuyws80

What of the challenges I refer to?  For a musician, the world is one giant challenge.  Can you imagine getting up in front of 100,000 people or more to sing the national anthem?   Can you imagine facing the expectations of an audience that has paid a minimum of 100 dollars a seat to hear you perform and some may have paid thousands to hear you perform?  Could you handle the pressure?  Can you imagine a road tour?  Leaving your home for a year to travel the world and play in dozens of different venues in front of many different audiences.  I get anxious not sleeping in my own bed for one night.  I think the challenges also show up in the chaotic drug filled life that we often see in some musicians.  Stars like Elvis, Michael Jackson, Prince, and hundreds of other great musicians who met an early and untimely death.  Is it any wonder?  The challenges may be too much for anyone.

Finally for me, the respite that music brings to my life could not be purchased for a million dollars.  It is said that “Music soothes the savage beast.”  Music takes the stress out of my life.  Music is like meditating.  It is often better than eating or sleeping.  I can watch an Andrea Bocelli performance, and everything is okay with the world.  Music helps me to forget the vicious daily news, the angry divisive politicians insulting each other, the legal eagles trying to entice me to sue someone, the maniacs on the road in a hurry to go nowhere.  I can forget the dreams I had that never materialized as I listen to Rhiannon Giddens sing, “Wayfaring Stranger” or Miley Cyrus sing, “A Man of Constant Sorrow” or Bob Dylan sing, “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall.”

I fear I have not even begun to explain the joys, beauty and wonders that music can bring into our lives.  The subject is so deep and wide, that my short missive here does not even begin to do it justice.  My goal is to inspire and entice you to find more time for music in your life.  It is truly one of the great appreciations that life brings us.  Sean Combs said that “A life without passion is unforgivable.”  It is even truer that a “life without music is a terrible shame.’

Next week I will talk about Art and what it can do to help us appreciate life more.

 

%d bloggers like this: