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.

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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)

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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.

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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.

Republicanville USA — 2056 CE

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I live in Republicanville USA.  It is a small town of about 1,500 people in the rural Midwest.  Today in my town, all the women are barefoot and pregnant and all the men are stupid and misinformed.  It wasn’t always this way.  Things started to change about 75 years ago, when Ronald Reagan became President.  My town had always been very progressive and liberal but we started hearing more and more about how we were being taken advantage of by the poor, those on government handouts and those too lazy to work.  The Republicans who in our town had always been a minority began to grow in numbers.  The more we heard about welfare cheats and welfare freeloaders and those on drugs taking advantage of us, the more my town embraced a new concept of democracy.  It was more like “every man or woman for themselves” rather than “all for one and one for all.”

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Our U.S. democracy which had always prided itself on a separation of church and state seemed to forget the reason for this partition.  Increasingly, a group called Evangelical Fundamentalists became more popular along with their criticism of many progressive institutions.  Republicanville USA moved more and more to the right.  The concept of unbridled capitalism became enshrined as a religion and many people began opposing “big” government and taxes.  The Republican Party preached that the marketplace could provide for all social, physical and economic needs of U.S. citizens.  My town moved even further to the right.

trump-state-of-the-unionThis conservative trend was already well underway when in 2017, a billionaire real-estate developer named Donald Trump became the 45th President of the United States of America.  In addition to the hard core conservative beliefs of many mainstream Republicans, Trump added the once discredited idea of American Isolationism.  We would now put America first, no matter what.  No more negotiations with other nations unless it was clear that we got the better of the deal.  We would build a big wall to keep Mexicans and other immigrants out and we would renege on our trade deals with China and Europe.  About the only country that Trump liked was Russia.   Eventually, he agreed to give Alaska and parts of Canada back to Russia.

Trump came through on his promises to the Evangelicals that he would make America White again and put women back in the bedroom where it would be okay to grab their pussies whenever you wanted to.  Minorities were targeted for deportation and women libbers promoting abortion or equal rights for women were arrested in wholesale sweeps and sent to special detention centers for chronic complainers and protesters.

I would like to describe in somewhat more detail what my town is like now in 2056.  Things are a lot different than when I was born in 2017.  I will divide my discussion of these changes into three areas:  Family, Education and Social Issues.

Family:

another-day-in-paradiseI am 39 years old and have two children.  I have never worked (at least outside of the home) as women have not been allowed to work since 2022 when they passed the “Women in the Home Law” as it was popularly called.  The Federal government passed the law and it was ratified by every state and municipality in the nation.  Some places tried to hold out but the government cut off all funding to them until they capitulated.  This law effectively outlawed women working.  It also barred women from the military.  Ten years later (2032) they passed the “Mandatory Birth Act.”  This bill proscribes that every woman (physically able to) must give birth to at least two children.  Any woman who reaches the age of 32 and still has not given birth to two children is forcibly removed to a National Birthing Center where she will be artificially impregnated and kept confined until she has had at least two healthy children.  Sickly or unhealthy children are sent to Disposal Camps where they are “recycled” per official government propaganda.  No one is quite sure what happens during recycling but the children are never seen again.

Many gay women resisted the Mandatory Birth Act and the National Suicide Rate went up dramatically.  The “Fathers” (as our political leaders are now called) made it very clear that the country would be better off without such deviates.  Since women were no longer allowed in politics, the leaders of the nation decreed that they would all be called “Fathers” instead of being referred to as politicians or legislators as they once were called.

My husband works at a local mill where they make t-shirts for Japan, China, Brazil and some of the more developed t-shirt-workersnations.  Since banning imports of such items, we have created millions of jobs making goods that were once made in low wage countries.  The demand for such goods has skyrocketed but now we are providing them.  Unfortunately, the wages and education needed for such work is still low.  My husband did not finish high school but most men in our town do not.  The Fathers have repeatedly stated that real men don’t need higher education.  (I will talk more about education later.)

When my husband is not working, he spends most of his time watching football, baseball, basketball, golf or hockey.  I ammen-watching-game not allowed in the living room when his sports are on except to bring in some beer or chips.  This does not really bother me much as I have plenty to do with the kids, housecleaning, cooking and all.  I have my own TV in my sewing room where I can watch any of the approved programs for women.  We have 30 different “Women Only” channels where I can learn more about cooking and cleaning and how to be a good wife. There are some good romances and family drama stories that are occasionally on.  I look forward to watching these when the kids are in bed.

Our two children, Mary and John are 12 and 15 respectively.  Mary is in a finishing school for girls where they are preparing her for being a mom and wife.  She takes subjects such as homemaking, cooking, cleaning and parenting.  She has one more year to go before finishing school.

When Mary turns 14, she will be eligible for marriage.  Her name will be put in a marriage registry.  If she is lucky enough and pretty enough, some up and coming town Father will select her for a wife.  Men who qualify due to income levels are allowed to have up to five wives.

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My son John is not in school any longer and he works part-time.  The Fathers decried that girls did not need schooling after the age of 13.  John hopes to get a job in the t-shirt plant where his dad works when he turns 16.  He quit school because we could not afford a private school for him.  Only the rich kids in town go on to education beyond the 10th grade.  Private schools are very expensive and the Fathers do not believe in funding education any more.  It has been emphasized that education is an elitist program that creates class divisions and makes some people feel more entitled than other people.   Most young men in our town will work in one of the mills or plants.

Education:

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I have already talked about some aspects of our education system today.  Basically, most people do not believe in higher education anymore.  It is only for the rich.  All funds for public education were cut in 2035 when they passed the “Private Education Act”.  Most folks now send their kids to private schools through the 8th grade and then find work for their children after that.  Girls will be shortly married so school is not thought to be that important for them anyway.  They can learn whatever they need to be a good wife on the “At Home Wives Channels.”

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Boys from families with lower incomes can opt to go to privately funded vocational schools to learn such trades as t-shirt making, sneaker making, jewelry making, gun repair, taxidermy, and many other skills that might be in demand.  There is still some funding for such programs that is available for lower income families.  All public colleges have been closed now.  As I noted earlier, such schools were decried to be elitist and the Fathers were unanimous in un-funding them.

Boys from wealthier families go to the more prestigious private schools where they will learn such skills as: Leadership, Accounting, Business Development, Entrepreneurship and Medicine.  Law was abolished as a field of study in 2030 with the passage of the “No More Lawyers Act.”  This act basically made lawsuits illegal thus dramatically decreasing the need for lawyers in the U.S.

Courtrooms abolished “adversarial” trial procedures with the “No More Lawyers Act” and replaced the old-fashioned method of two people arguing trials with modern Computerized Forensic Tomography.  Using CFT, a cross section of the case and evidence pro and con is presented to the jurors.  All the available facts and data are reviewed and jurors vote on the verdict.  Trials are much more efficient and there is no need for lawyers.

Anti EducationLibraries are now mostly museums.  With the passage of the “Books Only Lie Bill” in 2038, all funds to public libraries were cut.  The Fathers decried that books did nothing but cause trouble and stir up discontent.  Anything citizens really needed to know could be found on the “Citizens Channels” offered by the government Department of Public Wisdom.  There are over 100 of these channels which are available on public TV.  They are on 24/7 and offer many programs for good citizenship.  Some of the programs are:

  • Disciplining your children
  • How to take proper care of your guns
  • Disciplining your wife
  • Obeying your supervisor
  • Getting along with co-workers
  • Obeying authority
  • Keeping a clean house

Social Issues:

Social issues or problems (as some people thought of them) have been mostly eliminated in our town.  Our Fathers banned minorities in 2040 with the “America for Whites Act.”  Under this act, no immigrants or people of color can live in the same community as White people.  In 2041, they passed the “Christian Only Act” making Christianity the official Religion of the USA.  All other religions were banned along with atheism and agnosticism.  The “Mandatory Religion Act” in 2042 made it a felony crime not to attend a Christian church every Sunday.

In our town, there is only one church now.  It the Fundamental Evangelical Christian Church for Christ.  We have two pastors who are both well versed in Old Testament theology.  They are fond of saying that “Heaven is for the obedient, the disobedient will all go to hell.”  We are taught that Jesus will come again before the end of the century to judge the living and the dead.  The good folks will go to heaven and the bad will burn forever in the flames of hell.

We still have crime in our community but not very much.  It is severely punished with public floggings, beatings and hangings.  Criminals are banished to work rehabilitation camps for hard labor.  Drugs are still a major problem but the new “One Strike Act” passed in 2050 decried that anyone caught with an illegal substance would face a mandatory life sentence at a penal colony somewhere in the South China Sea.

immigration-reform

Gay men still can be found but homosexuality can be punished under the “2045 Purity of Purpose Bill” with mandatory castration.  Boys are encouraged to be manly and any evidence of femininity in our boys is severely dealt with.  Our town brought back “town stocks” a few years ago, to punish any boys or men caught in homosexual activities.  These punishments plus the threat of castration have decreased the rate of homosexuality considerably in our community.

Well, I could tell you a great deal more about life in our town in 2056, but I have cleaning and cooking to do.  Furthermore, if anyone knew I was writing this I would be in big trouble.  Under the “Against Propaganda Law” passed in 2041, no one may criticize the government, any Fathers or any laws without official authorization from the local town council.  I could be publicly flogged or worse for saying these things.  Thus, for now I will just hide this away.  I don’t mean to be either a coward or a complainer.  Our Fathers say this is the Golden Age of America and that we are living in the greatest Christian country in the world.  Who am I to argue?

Time for Questions:

Are you living the good life?  Do you live the life you dreamed of?  Do you think you have a right to your dreams?  Do you think other people also have a right to their dreams?  How much authority do you think a government should have over your dreams?  What kind of dreams do you have for your children?  What do you call progress?

Life is just beginning.

“No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal.  He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves.  But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?”  ― George OrwellAnimal Farm

Dear Friends and Family, Our Holiday Message and Greeting to You All.

anniversary partyAs we celebrate the birth of Jesus and the start of another New Year, we also look back at the celebrations of 2014.  Foremost for us was the joint celebration of our 25th wedding anniversary and Karen’s 70th birthday.  It’s so hard to believe both of these numbers.  Our 25 years of marriage (plus 5 dating years) have been so full of adventure, laughter, and love.  But, just in case we don’t make the ages of 93 and 95 for our 50th, we thought we’d recognize the interim event.  Having friends and family travel and stay with us for a few days really was special.

Jeanine (our sister)  came from Rhode Island, Peg (Karen’s “best friend” from grade school) came from Chicago and Xibo and Mary, our friends from Shanghai were able to come from San Francisco where they now live Jeaninemost of the time.  The party brought a nice combination of new Wisconsin friends and “old” ones Peg and Kathyfrom Minnesota.  And Karen got a picture of herself, Peg and Kathy (her “best friend” from high school) who all turned 70 this summer.  They look terrific and that 70 number is starting to be less scary.  We are also celebrating John’s successful recovery from two surgeries this year.  The report after his prostate surgery is that he is cancer free.  Then, about the time he was feeling “almost” as energetic as usual, he needed hernia surgery.  Now he’s back running in the Casa Grande Mountains.

Ice SkatingWe’ve settled into the snow bird routine well.  It’s a bit schizophrenic to leave one set of activities and friends and walk right into a second set, but it definitely keeps life interesting.  Karen misses her dulcimer buddies from WI, weekly coffee get-togethers and her Pilgrim church family.  John misses his “library guys” fellowship which start most of his mornings and the “green and blue” of WI.  But, when it’s time to return, Karen misses her Zumba/Curves group, our First Karen and MeganPresbyterian friends and the mountains plus her new tradition of Lefse and Christmas Cookie baking days with Megan.  New traditions combine with old as John continues to make an annual Jesuit retreat and Karen finds music and choirs wherever she is.  John has been working hard at marketing his consulting business and teaching while in MN.  Karen takes her work with her and does ICD-9 coding for Select Data and home health consulting with Alstar Consulting Group.  Be sure to check out John’s weekly blog at http://www.agingcapriciously.com.  He is very proud of his blog and puts about 4-6 hours per week in researching, writing, editing and publishing the blog with music and pictures to enhance his message.

Orphanage childrenIn-between “commuting” we participated in a mission trip to Puerto Penasco, Mexico in March with a group who support an orphanage in Sonoyta and a thrift store/meals program in Puerto Penasco.  The orphanage houses children who are unadoptable as their parents are still living, but Puerto Penascooften incarcerated.  They are beautiful, happy children, but there is little funding available and they need so much.  Karen did manage to put down the 2 year old boy who wanted to be held and snuggled for the whole time we were there.  As we go to the dentist in Sonoyta, it gives us an opportunity to bring things at other times before our next trip in the spring.  In June, we spent a week in Kentucky for music week.  Karen played her dulcimer most of her waking hours and John toured the area more fully Jim Beam Distillery 2and Karen Dulcimerchecked out a few more Kentucky bourbon brands.  During the fall commute to AZ, we spent 2 days in Colorado viewing the cliff dwellings at Casa Verde National Park.  In November, we spent a weekend in Tucson with our MN/AZ friends Dar and Denny to watch the Day of the Dead parade.

Grandchildren keep getting older which is so much fun to watch.  Juli’s Garrick (22) is a cast member now for the Renaissance Festival and Emily (14) is delightful.  Susan’s Zach (18) is in his first year of college in Rochester MN—and playing year around baseball and Sam (15) is busy with sports and school in Northfield.  Juli is co-leader of the Hastings Paranormal Society; Susan is still at HealthPartners as a pharmaceutical buyer; Kevin is in San Francisco at LinkedIn as a Systems Engineer and Megan has a new training position with Multiple Listings System.

Wishing you and your families a Blessed Holiday Season and the best for the New Year.

John and Karen

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