Tommy:  A Boy for all Seasons

This is a story about my best friend in high school.  His name was Thomas Donnelly.  This story took place over fifty years ago.  I still think of the influence that these events have had on my life.  Many of you will be repelled by the story that I narrate.  If you can suspend your morality, you might be able to accept that the culture I grew up in made these events very normal even if you do not consider them to be moral.

Street Corner Gang

It happened one hot Saturday afternoon in the summer.  I was hanging out on our Manton street corner.  As with all Italian teenagers, we hung out in a certain geographic area and this association led to our identity as the “Manton Gang.”  Manton was a suburb of Providence R.I. and a primarily Italian neighborhood.  My father was Italian and my mother was Irish.  It was just the reverse for my best friend Tommy.  His mother was Italian and his father was Irish.  Nevertheless, anyone with Irish or Italian blood was accepted into our street corner gang.

At fourteen to eighteen years of age, few of us were interested in anything except gambling and sex.  Gambling tended to be a regular event on the corner where we hung out but sex was much more episodic.  Good Italian girls in the sixties still did not have sex outside of marriage.  This left us to find those “bad girls” whose discrimination did not tend towards marriage or even long-term love affairs and who were much less choosy in terms of selecting “affairs of the heart.”

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Tommy and I were sitting on the corner discussing nothing important when a blue and white 56 Ford four door Fairlane pulled up to the curb and started honking.  At first, we did not recognize anyone in the car.  Two guys were in the front seat and no one was in the back seat.  We finally recognized Dave and Bob.  Dave was an infrequent corner member but Bob was a regular.  We sauntered over to the car.  It was always important to look cool and nonchalant when we were growing up.  As we approached the open window on Dave’s side, he yelled out.  “Hey, you guys want to get laid?”

“What’s up” I said.  Dave replied, “Get in and I will tell you on the way.”  Both Tommy and I jumped in the back seat.  Bob already had shot gun.  Dave gunned the accelerator and off we went.  “Okay, so where are we going” asked Tommy.  Bob said, “Well, there is this chick and she is hot to go with anyone who comes over to her house.”  “You mean she will take all of us?  What’s wrong with her?” I wanted to know.  Bob continued, “Who knows.  She is just really open to more than one guy.”  “Well, where are her parents,” I persisted.   “She lives with her dad who is a police chief” said Dave.  “What, are you crazy” both Tommy and I said in synchrony.  “Don’t worry” said Bob, “her dad will not be home.”

new england houseThe idea of sex in our minds easily overrode any caution or concern about getting caught by her father.  We arrived at her house.  She lived out of town somewhat in Scituate which was a more rural area of R.I. in the sixties.  When we arrived, Bob said “I will go in first and check things out.  If it is okay, you guys can come in.  Bob went inside the small average looking New England Colonial house with two upper dormer windows and came out a few minutes later.  “OK guys” Bob said, “She is willing.”  We all trotted inside the house to the first room which was a kitchen with a small table and four chairs.  Dave, Tommy and I sat on the chairs and Bob headed up a small staircase.  “I will go first” said Bob “and Dave is next.  You and Tommy can decide who goes after Dave.”  “Oh”, said Bob, “her name is Barbara and she likes to be called Barb.”  No one challenged this order of affairs as it was taken for granted that since Bob had set this up, he had first dibs.

Bob went up the stairs while Dave, Tommy and I just sat and kibitzed.  I wondered what was in store for me when I went up the stairs.  Bob came down about twenty minutes later looking quite proud and content.  “She likes to talk a little before” said Bob, “so you have to be a little patient.  But be persistent and she will get on with it.”   It was Dave’s turn next and he wasted no time going up the stair case.  Sometime later Dave came down, also looking very proud and content.

Tommy and I decided that I would go next.  Up the staircase I went and into a small bedroom where I found Barb half-dressed and sitting on the edge of the bed.  She was a very attractive young girl of sixteen or seventeen years of age.  She had long brown hair and a small frame that was nicely curved.  She had a very pretty face and could easily have been a cheerleader.  She was probably about five feet four inches in height but it was somewhat difficult to tell as she was sitting cross legged on her bed.

sad girl on bed

I introduced myself.  We started some small talk and I learned that her mother had left her father some time ago and that she now lived alone with her dad.  She had no other siblings.  Her dad was very strict and would not let her date.  She said that he scared most of her friends away and was very difficult to live with.  I sensed that her escapades today were a chance for her to rebel against her father’s strict sexual codes.  She was willing to go all out and did not care about any side effects.  No birth control or sexual disease prevention even came up as an issue.

We small talked for about a half hour or so and I sensed that I had better get on with the action or she would talk forever.  A real man talks less than he acts and I had talked longer than most real men would have.  I started to lay Barbara down on the bed.  She put up no resistance and meekly laid back against the sheets.  I placed my body down over hers but before starting to remove any of our clothes, I gazed into her eyes.  They were brown and sad.  I stopped to think.  This poor girl is looking for someone to love her and does not really know how to go about it.  I would just be taking advantageous of her.  I can’t do this.  I lifted her back up and quietly left the room.  She never said a word to me and I left without another word.

Feeling very guilty, I walked back down the staircase.  I did not say much when I met Tommy.  Both Dave and Bob had gone back out to the car and were now playing cards in the front seat.  Hi Low Jack was a popular game on the corner and we played it for money whatever chance we had.  I said to Tommy, “It’s your turn.”  Tommy went up the staircase and returned about thirty minutes later.  We silently left the house and went out the front door to the car.  I never saw Barb or that house again.

guys in car

We piled back in the car with Dave and Bob.  There was some minor discussion about Barbara and how hot she was on the way back to the corner but most of it took place between Dave and Bob.  Neither Tommy or I said I word.  Truth be told, I would never have admitted to either Dave or Bob that I did not have sex with Barb.  Tommy and I were dropped back at the Manton Street corner where our friends all hung out and Dave and Bob drove off together.

Tommy and I sat in silence for a while.  I finally broke the silence and asked Tommy “well how did it go?”  Tommy looked very pensive and replied, “I did not do a thing with Barb except to talk to her.”  I was somewhat stunned as I figured that I had wimped out but that Tommy (who was one of the best-looking guys on the corner) would have scored a home run in sixty seconds flat.  I asked Tom “why?”  I did not tell him that I had also struck out.  At the time, that is how I felt.  Like a batter who comes up to the plate, takes three swings and strikes out.

Tommy quietly replied “I did not want to take advantage of her.  She was lonely and scared and needy.  She needed a friend more than she needed getting laid.”  I had felt the same way but many years ago, pride and ego would not allow me to admit that I had also not gone all the way with Barb.  I persisted with Tom “Well, what are you going to tell the other guys.”  Tom then replied with a statement that I have remembered all the rest of my life.  Tommy said, “I don’t care what they think, I have to live with myself.” 

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Over the years, I have lost touch with Tommy.  We have traveled very different roads.  Tommy became a minister and works with the poor.  I became an educator and management consultant.  Many years and many different philosophies now separate us.  But I will never forget the lesson that I learned from Tommy that one hot summer afternoon about integrity and being who we are called to be and not who the world wants us to be.

Time for Questions:

Why do I call Tom a “boy for all seasons?”  What does it mean to have integrity?  How do we go about developing integrity?  How do we increase our empathy for other people?  What does it mean to be ourselves?  Are people naturally good or evil?

Life is just beginning.

“That’s what Jamie didn’t understand: it was never just sex.  Even the fastest, dirtiest, most impersonal screw was about more than sex.  It was about connection.  It was about looking at another human being and seeing your own loneliness and neediness reflected back.  It was recognizing that together you had the power to temporarily banish that sense of isolation.  It was about experiencing what it was to be human at the basest, most instinctive level.  How could that be described as just anything?”  — Emily MaguireTaming the Beast

Joy to the World

joy-to-the-world

Tis the season to be jolly, but for many people there might seem little to be jolly about.  In one of the most famous holiday stories of all time, the central character Ebenezer Scrooge gave what has become an iconic line about the holiday season.  Scrooge said:

“What’s Christmas but a time for finding yourself a year older and not a day richer?  There’s nothing merry in that.  If I could work my will, nephew, every idiot who goes about with “Merry Christmas” on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.”A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Not exactly a fan of Christmas, Scrooge may have echoed sentiments that lie dormant in many of us.  Over the years, it seems the holiday season starts earlier and earlier.  There is more pressure than ever to buy the right gifts and to spend increased amounts of hard earned money on presents for friends and loved ones.  The airwaves and pulpits bemoan the crass commercialism that accompanies so much of the holiday season while at the same time making sure that all commercial breaks are properly inserted between the “holiday messages.”

Our churches are full of giving trees, toy drives and Christmas shoes boxes.  Perhaps giving more at Christmas to some mysteriously perceived needy children in dire need of more toys will make us feel better about ourselves for ignoring the poor and needy for the rest of the year.  Even at church, the message that Jesus meant for us gets diluted with the drive to fill the toy box.  Do we even know any more what message Jesus wanted us to hear?

the-gospelJesus talked about the three classes of good people.  The first class hears his message but has little time to do anything about it.  The second class hears the message and when convenient they try to help others and spread the message of Jesus.  The third class commits their body and soul to sharing Jesus’s message.  The third class of men/women make a commitment to doing this year round and 24/7.  For the third class, it is not a onetime thing or something to be done when they have time or are not busy.  It is a lifetime commitment to share his message with the world.

“The title, Three Classes of Men, stands for three kinds of persons in any walk of life. They might be three classes of religious or priests, husbands or wives, workers or professional men.  However, classified, they represent three levels of volitional disposition to sacrifice whatever is less than God and stands in the way of His more perfect service and love.  Viewed from another aspect, they are three states of spiritual detachment which in ascending degree dispose a man for the reception of divine grace.  Implicit in the meditation is the belief that no matter how entangled in secular pursuits and impeded in the way of perfection, a person can rise above this condition if he takes the trouble to recognize these impediments and is humble enough to pray for help to overcome them.” — Three Classes of Men by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

Most of us will watch at least a few moving holiday stories before December 25th.  From Miracle on 34 Street to the story of the Christmas Truce during the fighting of WWI, we will hear many heartwarming tales of kindness and love.  Most of these stories are similar in theme to the Christmas Carol.  An individual who has utter contempt or callousness for the Christmas message somehow finds redemption through the love and compassion of others.

quote-the-life-of-jesus-christ-is-a-message-of-hope-a-message-of-mercy-a-message-of-life-in-max-lucado-90-79-19The Joy of Christmas is a state of fulfillment, contentment and gratitude.  Through the love of others who give selflessly of themselves, we can all be free to experience a Joy that cannot be bought or traded.  It is one of the reasons that giving and not receiving is said to be the true path to happiness.  During the holidays, we are excited about the chance to give to others.  And nowhere is that feeling of giving more delightful than in watching the face of a young child receive something that we know they really wanted.  However, Joy to the World should mean more than just giving toys to tots.  There are physical gifts which we can give but there are also emotional and spiritual gifts as well.

thank-you-fatherI am frequently critical of all the toy drives that I see going on at Christmastime.  Not just because I think most kids in America have more toys than they know what to do with, but because of the message that this sends.  Why not I ask, have a “books for tots” drive?  Why not give books for a present?  Why is it always about toys?  We become so narrowly focused that we lose sight of the larger picture.

Christmas is about Joy.  But Joy does not just come from toys.  Joy comes from learning.  Joy comes from sharing.  Joy comes from helping others.  Joy comes from being present when needed by others.  Joy is not just a physical phenomenon; it is a spiritual and emotional phenomenon.  The Message of Joy that Jesus wanted to bring into the world was a message about peace and love.

I see a lot of talk these days about putting the Ten Commandments up on scrolls and even billboards.  Here in Arizona City, they have erected a billboard with the Ten Commandments printed on it.  To the best of my knowledge, Jesus said

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.  Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” — Matthew 5:17-20

acts-kindness-inspiremoreThus, Jesus did not come to replace the commandments but he did come to go beyond the commandments.  God brought the commandments to Moses but the message that Jesus brought to us is in addition to the commandments.  Jesus extended the Ten Commandments with a list that has come to be known as the Eight Beatitudes.   A beatitude is something that gives one both happiness and blessedness.  Jesus gave these Eight during his famous Sermon on the Mount:

THE EIGHT BEATITUDES OF JESUS

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure of heart,
for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Gospel of St. Matthew 5:3-10

message-to-the-worldI am continually surprised by so-called Christians who seem to revel in the Ten Commandments but treat the Eight Beatitudes as though they were bastard children of Satan.  When was the last time you heard anyone wanting to put up a statue or sculpture or sign with the Eight Beatitudes on it?  The Message of Christmas is the Eight Beatitudes.  The Joy that Jesus wanted to bring to the world can only come by following the Eight Beatitudes.  If you call yourself a Christian but you do not practice these in you daily life, then you are not spreading the Gospel of Jesus.

In this present climate of fear, bigotry and uncertainty engendered by the recent US Presidential race and outcome, the message of Jesus needs to be repeated and spread as never before.  If there was no Joy in Muddville when Casey struck out, there certainly will not be any Joy in the World until all of us, Christian, Buddhist, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Mormon, Baha’i  and others start believing in and following the Eight Beatitudes.  I am not saying this to try to convince anyone to be a Christian.  The kindness-quotes1words of the Beatitudes go beyond any one religion.  They speak to a way of being in the world and a way of treating other human beings.  Just as I have found valuable teachings in other religions, I think more Christians should be willing to share the Message of Jesus in the Eight Beatitudes.  Keep in mind though, that sharing this message will never work unless you also live by the message.  You must be the change you want to see in others.  Do you know what the famous Indian Chief Sitting Bull said when asked what he thought of Christianity?  Chief Sitting Bull replied: “I have read your Bible and the religion seems good but I do not see many White people practicing it.”

Time for Questions: 

  • When we denigrate people on welfare and refuse to support the poor and needy what Beatitude are we ignoring?
  • When we want to wage war on other countries to support our lifestyle, what Beatitude are we breaking?
  • When we have no time for immigrants and refuse to shelter those needing respite from tyranny and injustice, what Beatitude speaks to this?
  • When we practice racism and discrimination towards those who are different from us in thoughts, words or deeds, what Beatitude are we not following?
  • When we fail to speak out against bigotry and hatred, what Beatitude would challenge our behavior?
  • When we fail to treat others with honesty and integrity, what Beatitude are we disdaining?
  • When we fail to give compassion and comfort to those in need, what Beatitude should we be thinking more of?
  • When we practice narcissism and think we are better than others, what Beatitude would Jesus tell us to look at more closely?
  • Which “Class” of people do you belong to?

Life is just beginning.

“The spirit of Christmas is the spirit of love and of generosity and of goodness.  It illuminates the picture window of the soul, and we look out upon the world’s busy life and become more interested in people than in things.” — Thomas S. Monson
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Politics, Passions, Economics and Care Giving:  What is life really about?

Last week I turned 70 years old.  This was quite a milestone for a guy who once did not think there was any life beyond thirty.  This week, I attended the 52nd Nobel Conference at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter Minnesota.   I would bet Minnesota has more towns named after saints than any other state or perhaps even country in the world.  One wonders why these early Scandinavians who settled in this area of the Midwest needed to pay so much homage to saints.  Knowing as many Lutherans as I do (My spouse belongs to this crazy cult of Christians) I would have thought that they would have named more cities after composers.  We should have dozens of cities with names like: Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Praetorius, Vulpius, Schein, Schütz and of course Handel.  Is there a Lutheran who has not song the Halleluiah Chorus?  However, I digress.

Monday night this week, Karen and I watched the “Great Debate” live on Facebook or YouTube.  The debate featured the two presidential candidates for the USA in their first head to head confrontation.  The purpose of such debates is to demonstrate the candidates’ positions on key policy issues and to highlight their competency or lack of competency for the job.  However, everyone knew or expected that the debate might deal with everything from sex to gender and even past indiscretions of the candidate’s spouses.  The true wild card (besides Trump) was the moderator.  In the past, the moderators have been unable to control the debaters and this fault was even more egregious with Trump.  Thus this debate had the potential of a no-holds boxing much with no rules that would make an MMA (mixed martial arts) match look tame.

In round one, Hillary came out first and as Trevor Noah noted gave the first lie of the evening.  She said “Donald, it is good to be here with you tonight” or something like that.  The first round was tame with each candidate feeling the other out.  Like two boxers probing each other to see where the weak points were they were both careful to be courteous and to look presidential.

donald-trump-vs-hillary-clinton

Of course, as is now well known and thus shall not be endlessly repeated, the debate went downhill from there, as least as far as Trump was concerned.  If anyone thought that he could “stay on topic” or demonstrate an even rudimentary knowledge of policy and positions, I will be happy to sell them the Brooklyn Bridge.  His supporters must be either delusional or stupid.  Only sycophants or as we used to call them in school “ass kissers” like Giuliani and Christie would have thought that Trump looked anything but the sexist and bigot that he is.

Hillary won every round as Trump made a fool of himself in the following areas:

  • Appearing unprepared
  • Bragging about not paying taxes
  • Bragging about his bankruptcies being smart business
  • Continuing to insult women and call them names
  • Continually interrupting and shouting over the moderator and Hillary
  • Having no concrete plans or ideas that were practical or feasible

Subsequent polls now show Hillary back up by several points and Donald on the decline again.  However, it is too early to declare the game over as there are still too many people out there who flip flop every day and who seem to change their minds depending on which way the wind is blowing.

people-with-passion-can-change-the-world-for-the-better

People with Passion can Change the World for the Better

Traveling down to St. Peter on Tuesday to pick up my friend Vic who was going to the conference with me, I finished another one of the Great Courses by the Teaching Company.  This one was called “The Passions: Philosophy and the Intelligence of Emotions” by Professor Robert C. Solomon.  This was an audio course that you play in your car.  I have completed several of these now and the quality of these courses is very high.  The speakers are outstanding and the lectures are usually quite enthralling.  These courses make long trips much less tedious and as a bonus you learn something about life.  I learned about the importance of emotions and as opposed to my old idea that emotions (like Spock thought) were useless impediments in life.  I now appreciate how much they add to my life.  Life without emotions would be a world without color.

2016-logoOn Tuesday and Wednesday along with my good friend Vic Ward, I attended the 52nd Nobel Conference which was titled:  “In Search of Economic Balance.”  It featured many illustrious and highly respected economists such as:  Dan Ariely, Orley Ashenfelter, Paul Collier, Deirdre McCloskey, John List and several other well-known economists.  After every lecture, there was a panel discussion where the speaker and several of the other economists had a chance to discuss and interact.  Following these discussions, my friend and I debated, discussed and summarized what we thought were the most important points of each lecture.  I attended eight lectures, six panel discussions and numerous discussions each evening with Vic.

jims-apple-farmOn the way back from St. Peter, we stopped Jim’s Apple Farm when we saw a sign that said “Next exit, Minnesota’s largest candy store.”  I bought several treats for Karen and the guys at the library in Frederic. Jim’s lived up to its billing.  It may just be the largest candy store in the US. It is certainly the largest candy store I have ever been in.

I returned home late on Thursday and had a brief respite before traveling out again.  On Friday, Karen and I went to New Richmond to attend the 10th Annual Regional Caregivers Conference at the Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College.  The theme this year was “Finding Hope, Humor and Heart in Caregiving.”  The keynote speaker was Elaine Sanchez, author and co-founder of Caregiverhelp.com.

Karen and I both attended Elaine’s keynote speech and then Karen went to a session on music therapy while I attended a session on “Coping with Anger and Guilt in Caregiving” that was also given by Elaine Sanchez.  I have to say that Ms. Sanchez was one of the best speakers I have ever heard in my life.  The major thrust of the conference this year was dealing with people who are getting old (Karen and I) and how to handle people with conditions such as Dementia, Delirium, Alzheimers and Depression with love and compassion.  My background as you might know has little to do with such medicine.  However, with Karen and I both passing the 7th decade of our lives, the future has an increasing probability that one or the other of us will sooner or later face a debilitating condition that will require the other of us to provide care and support.  Thus, the purpose of attending this conference was for us to better learn the basics of caregiving for the elderly.

2016-conference-banner-for-web_post-conference-version_thin-1024x248Karen having spent thirty years of her life in Home Health Care is much better grounded and infinitely more knowledgeable than I am in this area.  Many of the ideas in the conference sessions were basic for her but for me the opposite was true.  I had my eyes opened and many of my concepts about conditions such as Dementia have now been thrown out the window.  I cannot begin to describe how much I learned at this conference and how valuable the ideas were for me.

Perhaps even more important than the knowledge and theory I learned was the fact that Karen and I are both committed to continuing our journey through life together no matter what obstacles are thrown in our way.  Karen had a mammogram on Monday of this week and when we returned home from the conference on Friday, we found an envelope in the mail from the clinic.  The results were not entirely positive and she now has to go back to the clinic for some follow-up tests.  Karen’s mother died from breast cancer so this is a particularly threatening and scary area for her.  Each day seems to bring good news and bad news and a never ending challenge to stay positive in the face of the difficulties that growing old poses.  I am sorry to tell you but one does not grow old like fine wine at least in the physical domain and often not in the mental domain either.

The week is now coming to a close.  We have visitors from out of town today and Sunday may just be the first day this week where nothing is happening.  But looking back on the week, can anyone tell me what ties these conferences, debates and courses together?  What do the subjects of politics, economics, passions and care giving have in common?  Four seemingly very disparate themes, yet a common thread clearly run through all of them.  Like a mosaic or kaleidoscope, the more I journey through life, the more apparent the interconnectedness of all life is.

Donald Trump will soon be ancient history and like Joe McCarthy will be relegated to the garbage bin of American political life.  His supporters will disappear as the political landscape is placed back into a better equilibrium with life and nature.  Hillary Clinton will become the first woman in American history to be elected president.  The clown that called her a crook and liar will become a laughing stock and an embarrassment to the people that supported him.  Few people will admit that they voted for this bottom feeder.

Life will go on.  Baby Boomers will continue to age.  Many will suffer from some form of Dementia.  The major problem of American life will turn from dealing with economic issues to how we can take care of so many elderly people who have no money and cannot take care of themselves.  It is a question that politicians, economists and caregivers must all have passion about or we will have a national catastrophe of epic proportions.  If we do not pay attention to these issues, we will have a Great Depression but it will not be an economic depression but a Depression of Care and Love for our growing elders.

Time for Questions:

What did you do this week?  Was it a good week or a bad week for you? Did you learn anything new this week?  What did you learn?  Do you enjoy life or find it boring?

Life is just beginning.

I guess we have all heard that tired old bromide “Today is the first day of the rest of your life” but if it is not then what is it?  Today may not be the first day of life for some people, it may just be the last day.

 

Kindness:  The Fourth Most Important Virtue for a Good Life

sharing-ice-cream-kids_fKindness is number four of my seven essential virtues for leading a happy and successful life.  Every Thursday I start my day with the following prayer:

  • Help me to understand the hearts as well as the minds of others and to be kind to all in word and deed.

 I confess I do not always separate hearts and minds very well.  I have a great respect for affairs of the mind but I often have much less respect for affairs of the heart.  I grew up with an understanding that logic, rational thinking and knowledge were the greatest attributes of a human being.  Compassion, sympathy and kindness were emotions that I thought would only get in the way of intellectual reasoning.  I thought Spock was hopelessly emotional despite his ability to calculate odds to a thousandth of a percent.  Spock often let his feelings get the best of him and I was disappointed with his resulting behavior.  Besides, if logic was most important, then why was Spock not Captain of the Enterprise instead of that emotional unpredictable volatile and childish Kirk.  What Captain in his right mind would leave a ship full of hundreds of crew people to go gallivanting around on the surface of some unknown planet as Kirk did every week?

2014-07-28-KindnesstoYouisKindnessThere were few heroes when I was growing up who could measure up to my standards for clear and unemotional thinking.  I grew up with a father who demanded toughness.  My father’s motto was not to “get even” but to “get one up.”  If someone hit me, he taught me to make sure that they would never think of hitting me again.  My father was 6’ 4” tall and had been a professional boxer with a 21 and 3 record.  He taught me fighting skills at a very young age.  My neighborhood taught me to disregard the “rules of boxing” and to fight with whatever I had to win.  I could easily protect myself and few people would bother me.  Somehow, I became a protector for those kids who were less aggressive and who were picked on by the ever pervasive bullies. I kicked more bullies asses then I can count.  I was always proud to help the underdog.  Paradoxically, these traits did not make me more compassionate but made me harder and tougher.

NoActOfKindnessThrough hardness and toughness I began to forge a wall that nothing could get through.  Sentiments, compassion and empathy were increasingly blocked out by my need to be tough and to not take any shit from anyone or the world.  Each episode where toughness prevailed was another brick that helped to build my wall higher and higher.  I never thought I would get married but after getting my first wife pregnant, I “did the right thing” and married her.  It was the manly thing to do.  My dad had always taught me to take responsibility for my actions and my baby Chris was a direct result of my actions.

acts-of-kindness37One day we were in a grocery store just before Christmas.  An apparently legless man pushing himself along on some kind of a wheeled board was inside the grocery looking for some money.  I walked by him with Julie (my first wife) and ignored him.  My wife turned back and started to give him some money and I said:  “Shit, don’t give him any money, he can probably outrun me.  I will bet he is just a fakir.”  She gave him the money anyway and replied “What if he is not?”  I never forgot that comment.  I am not sure why my first wife married me.  She once said that she thought all people had feelings and emotions until she married me.  We subsequently divorced but I have to say that I probably owe my life to my first wife.  She cared for me when I was suicidal and she always looked after me when I was hurt or needed help.  Through her, I began to see what compassion and kindness were.  This journey has continued with my second wife Karen who is one of the most considerate and most compassionate spouses anyone could have.  Every day I learn something about kindness from her.

Kindness for someone like me could not happen as long as the wall was up.  I can’t lie and say there is no wall anymore.  I am not overly sentimental.  I don’t like chick flicks and I will gladly enact retribution on anyone who tries to hurt anyone or anything I value.  I love Jesus for turning the other cheek and as they say “I can see where he is coming from.”  However, it is not where I am coming from and I don’t think I will get to where Jesus went.

I can say that I have tried and am trying to be a better person and to me this means a more humane and more compassionate person.  I constantly remind myself of the quote:

“What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness?” — Jean-Jacques Rousseau

As time goes by, I have seen many of my friends become entrenched in fear and uncertainty and an increased caution in living their lives.  This almost seems to be a disease of aging.  Its symptoms are fear of minorities, distrust of immigrants, intolerance towards other religions and an antipathy towards other nations.   G. B. Shaw said that “If you are not a socialist when you are young, you have no heart but if you are not a conservative when you are old then you have no brain.”

acts-of-kindness36I disagree with Shaw.  I am getting older and I still respect and uphold the values of our Founding Fathers, but I refuse to live in a gated community or allow a homeowners association to tell me what color holiday lights to put up.  I am not a believer in mincing words but I respect the rights of minorities and anyone else to be referred to as they want to be referred to.  I respect the rights of Indians to have their ancestor’s graveyards not dug up for commercial or even academic reasons and I respect their rights not to be depicted as silly mascots for some college team.   Trump and his supporters believe the US has become too PC.  They blame minorities for this.  They would like to live in a land where it is ok to call a Black person a nigger since we call Italians wops and French frogs.  A Black person they say has a double standard or we apply a double standard for Blacks and Whites.  The bottom line of all this double talk is not too much PC but a lack of empathy and compassion and kindness towards others.

cop_homeless_manYes, there are extremists who want to take Huckleberry Finn out of the library just like there were Popes that knocked the genitals off of statues in Rome.   But if you have any empathy or even the slightest understanding of culture and history, you will be less apt to say “My father didn’t own any slaves.”  That is a little like replying to a woman who was raped “Well, I did not do it.”  To which I can now hear someone replying, “Yes, but no Black people alive today were slaves, so why should they be so upset?”  Yes indeed, why should they be so upset?  If you are serious about looking at a reason, please regard the following article:

These ten charts show the black-white economic gap hasn’t budged in 50 years — By Brad Plumer August 28, 2013

“Arrested progress in the fight against poverty and residential segregation has helped concentrate many African Americans in some of the least desirable housing in some of the lowest-resourced communities in America,” the EPI report notes.

And those poorer neighborhoods have a way of perpetuating inequality, the report points out: “Poor black neighborhoods also have environmental hazards that impact health. A very serious one is higher exposure to lead, which impedes learning, lowers earnings, and heightens crime rates. While rates of lead exposure have been declining for all races, African American children continue to have the highest exposure rate.”

The economic and social conditions depicted in this article would be unacceptable if they pertained to White people and you can bet there would be a real “War on Poverty” if they did.

Caring about Black people.  Caring about minorities.  Caring about people living in poverty.  Caring about immigrants.  Caring about the hungry and sick.  This is what kindness is about.  It is not about some esoteric concept of doing good or being PC or being a patriot.

Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”  —- Matthew 19:21

“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”  — Mark 8:36

I have learned that you cannot show kindness by being hard and tough.  Being hard and tough means taking care of yourself at the expense of other people. You can be a rich business person and that does not make you a good person.  Some of the richest people in the world have realized this truth and have become philanthropists who are now more focused on giving to the world rather than taking back.  Bill Gates and Warren Buffett come to mind.  Consider the record of Donald Trump as noted in the article:  “Donald Trump: The Least Charitable Billionaire in the World.”

“Although Donald Trump has described himself as an “ardent philanthropist,” he has only donated $3.7 million to his own foundation. In comparison, a wrestling company has given Trump’s foundation $5 million. He ranks among the least charitable billionaires in the world.” — Ben Davis

kindness-ivThe people that we will remember in our lives and who make the most impact on our lives are not the rich and famous.  They are the people who most cared about us and looked after us.  They were kind and loving towards us and somehow showed that we meant something to them and to the world.  They may have been our fathers or mothers or an aunt or teacher or perhaps a close friend.  How much money they had or how successful they were did not make a difference to us.  Indeed, what they gave us could not have been purchased by money.  Money doesn’t touch us but kindness does.

Time for Questions:

How kind are you to other people?  Are you kind to strangers as well as friends?  Are you kind to the poor and needy?  Do you try to spread compassion and empathy in the world?  If not, what gets in your way?

Life is just beginning.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.” — Plato

“Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” ― Mark Twain

“My religion is very simple.  My religion is kindness.” ― Dalai Lama XIV
 

 

 

 

Patience or Why You Should Never Run a Green Light!

“You mean Red Light, don’t you?”  “No, I mean Green Light.”  From a conversation at a motorcycle safety meeting.

Patience is number three of my seven essential virtues for leading a happy and successful life.  Every Wednesday I start my day with the following prayer:

  • Give me the patience to avoid judging others today and forgive me for those times when I fail.

Augustine-of-Hippo-Patience-QuotesBefore, I explain the story behind the Red Light versus Green Light comment, let me give you a little test to see how patient you are.  I will do this by way of posing three scenarios.  I will suggest some possible paths that you could take in each scenario.  You select the action that you would be most likely to take or that perhaps you usually take.  I will then give you a score for each possible path.  The scores will point to your “patience quotient.”

checkout

People waiting in line with shopping baskets at grocery store

The first scenario involves a common enough occurrence in most of our lives.  You have finished your grocery shopping and now need to find a cashier to check out with.  Today, there are only six lanes open and the lines seem to be somewhat disproportionate in length.  Do you?

A. Try to find the shortest line before moving your cart into position

B. Simply take the first line you come to

C. Hang back and see if they will open another line

D. Get into one line but hop over to another line if it seems to be moving faster

mc-cullgreets-061611-sn-tifOur second scenario involves going to church service.  At the end of many services, the minister (Do Rabbis and Imams do this?) will wait at the door and greet the outgoing parishioners.  Do you?

A. Wait in line and wonder why the heck they have to do this

B. Get in line and look forward to greeting the minister

C. See if you can find another door to exit by

D. Say some prayers in your pew until the line shortens

Our third and final scenario finds us on our ubiquitous freeway system wending our way to some appointment that we will probably be late to if the traffic stays so slow.  Do you?

A. Silently curse the other drivers on the road

B. Try to find the fastest line

C. Simply resign yourself to being late and stay in one lane

D. Weave in and out to get ahead of the other traffic

If you selected, D for 1, C for 2, and D for 3.  You have a patience problem.  On the other hand, if you selected B for 1, B for 2 and C for 3, you should be writing this blog and not me.   All other choices put you somewhere between patient and impatient.  You decide and be honest where you are at on this continuum.

It is has been said that Patience is the greatest of all virtues, but I will not argue that point because it is meaningless.  Patience can save your life. Patience can save your sanity and Patience can save your soul.  These three facts are cause enough to consider that Patience should rank at least among the top virtues in terms of importance.  How high it should rank for you will depend on how you rated yourself on my scenarios.  For instance, if you weave in and out of traffic trying to get someplace a few seconds or even minutes faster, you not only endanger your own life but you endanger the life of other people.  You have a patience problem.

Patience can save your life because as the saying goes “Haste makes waste.”  How many people have died because they could not wait?  They were so impatient and they just had to take the shortcut.  Whether it involved shutting the electricity off before doing some repairs, waiting for someone to hold a ladder for them or taking their time crossing the road by looking both ways, impatience costs lives.  You will live longer if you are more patient.

“He that can have patience can have what he will.”  ― Benjamin Franklin

“Patience can save your sanity, because you will be living a pretty stressful life it other people’s actions can dictate your feelings.  If you get mad in lines at the behaviors of people who take too long or have too many coupons, you will be habitually angry.  If you get mad at “inconsiderate” other drivers, you will be stressed whenever you set foot in a vehicle.  If your expectations of people mean that they should help you to save time in your life, you will most likely die from a premature heart attack.

“The strongest of all warriors are these two — Time and Patience.”  — Leo Tolstoy

Patience can save your soul.  A good person is someone who can have empathy for others. Other people make mistakes.  Other people are late.  Other people may not plan as well as you do.  Other people may be preoccupied and seem inconsiderate.  If you lack patience, you will lack empathy for others.  Lacking empathy for humanity is a sure way to become calloused and soulless.  A spiritual person does not judge others and as Jesus said “

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged.  For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.”  — Matthew 7:1

So why should you never run a green light.  Well, the answer is simple.  How many times have you sat at a light and watched some frenzied driver try to beat the light and fail?  How many times have you seen someone run a red light while you were waiting to enter the intersection?  How many times might you have been killed if you had been in the intersection when the other party ran the red light?  I always make a point of slowly entering an intersection after a light changes as opposed to gunning my engine and racing though the intersection.  This simple thought of “never running a green light” has saved my life more times than I can count both when I was on my motorcycle and in my car.  This was my point at our motorcycle safety meeting that day and everyone nodded thoughtfully after I had explained why you should “never run a green light.”

Time for Questions:

How did you do on my three scenarios?  How patient a person are you?  What would you have to do to become more patient?  What is stopping you?

Life is just beginning.

“Prayer of an Anonymous Abbess”

Lord, thou knowest better than myself that I am growing older and will soon be old.  Keep me from becoming too talkative, and especially from the unfortunate habit of thinking that I must say something on every subject and at every opportunity.

Release me from the idea that I must straighten out other peoples’ affairs.  With my immense treasure of experience and wisdom, it seems a pity not to let everybody partake of it.  But thou knowest, Lord, that in the end I will need a few friends.

Keep me from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point.

Grant me the patience to listen to the complaints of others; help me to endure them with charity.  But seal my lips on my own aches and pains — they increase with the increasing years and my inclination to recount them is also increasing.

I will not ask thee for improved memory, only for a little more humility and less self-assurance when my own memory doesn’t agree with that of others.  Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be wrong.

Keep me reasonably gentle.  I do not have the ambition to become a saint — it is so hard to live with some of them — but a harsh old person is one of the devil’s masterpieces.

Make me sympathetic without being sentimental, helpful but not bossy.  Let me discover merits where I had not expected them, and talents in people whom I had not thought to possess any. And, Lord, give me the grace to tell them so.

Amen”
― Margot Benary-Isbert

 

 

 

 

A Time for Charity and a Time for Michelle (Shelly) Skow

Have you ever had one of those epiphanies or sudden feelings that the world is a wonderful place to be?  A time when you felt guilty for all of the pessimism, cynicism or negative thoughts that you had about humanity.   One of those days when you know that Sartre (“Hell is other people”) was terribly wrong.  At this moment, you know people are special and you would not want to be in any other possible world.  Well, yesterday Karen and I had one of those days.  Saturday the 29th of June. 

The day started out more or less inauspiciously.  I had received bad news from my biopsy the day before that my Gleason Score (A measure of the virility of cancer in the prostate) had gone from 6 to 7 or from mildly aggressive to moderately aggressive.  My doctor wants me to move out of “wait and see” to some other treatment mode “to be determined.”   I was not in the best of moods as the day begun. 

A few weeks before, I had noticed a flyer in one of the town store windows for a benefit or fund raiser for some local resident who had some problems.  Apparently the fund raiser was to help defray medical costs.  I see many more of these type efforts today that I have seen in the past.  Fundraisers for veterans, for animals, for sick people, for sick children.  They all tug at you heart but there are so many needy people today and one has only so much money to go around.  You give to any charity and your mail box is deluged with requests from other charities everywhere from Venus to Neptune.  I supported Obama during the last campaign and now I am get campaign fund requests from every Democrat in Congress, the Senate, the House and the Moon who is running, planning to run or has run for office.  It’s enough to make you switch parties except the Republicans would probably be no better.  Everyone asking for money, more money and even more money!

Nevertheless, my thoughts about Michele (Shelly) Skow the subject of the fundraiser here in Frederic were sympathetic and I thought “Heck, let’s go to the fundraiser and help out with whatever we can.”  I mentioned it to Karen and she was receptive.  I should add that I had no idea who this woman was nor I have ever met anyone who was related to her or who even knew her.  I put a note on my calendar to remember the date.  Saturday afternoon (The fundraiser started at 3PM) I reminded Karen we had planned to go to this fundraiser.  She asked me what it was for.  The paper that I had given her with information was nowhere to be found and I had to admit I did not remember.  I only knew it was a good cause.  I told Karen we could find out when we got there.  We briefly discussed how much we could afford to donate and off we went.  To Hackers Bowling Alley and Restaurant for a fundraiser for a woman I had never heard of before three weeks ago. 

When we got to the parking lot, we were quite surprised.  It was packed with cars and people were parking across the street.  I noted “Wow, she must really know a lot of people.”  We walked in and looked in the hall.  There were a number of tables set up for wristband donations, food with a donation box, raffle tickets for a large number of prizes and a silent auction.  We looked for a box to put a check in and decided to put it in the box with the wristbands.  We passed on the bands but left our check in the box.  We then headed to the food area. It looked like most potlucks one encounters in our area.  Rolls, Sloppy Joes, beans, and lots of the usual deserts, brownies, cookies and coffee were in abundance.  We picked up plates and each grabbed an assortment of edibles.  I had to remind myself that this was not about food but about helping Shelly.  

We took our plates to some tables which were occupied but not as full as some others and found a couple of seats across from an elderly looking couple.  I think everyone looks older than me.  Somehow I never grew up mentally.  I asked Karen what she wanted to drink and I headed to the bar.  The selections were to be expected.  I ordered a light beer for Karen and a regular Bud for myself.  Now if you know me, there is almost nothing I loathe more than the standard domestic Bud except a Bud light.  I am a fine connoisseur of small batch beers hand made with love and thought.  Of course, knowing that such beers did not exist at Hackers, I was okay with swilling down a Bud.  I just hoped none of my legions of fans would see me drinking a Bud.  The bartender (I noticed a sign next to their tip jars that all tips would go to the fundraiser), passed me two cans and popped the tops for me.  I handed him my credit card which he handed back. “We don’t do plastic he said. There is an ATM across the street.”  With some mild irritation (Who doesn’t take credit cards these days?), I headed to the Holiday Station.  I was suddenly conscious of how kind and thoughtful the bartenders were that they would give up their tips to help add to the fundraiser.  Probably someone they did not know either.

When I entered the Holiday, I said “Hi,” to the young woman who was at the cash register. I see her a lot there and she is always friendly.  She said “What are you up to today?” I replied “I am at this fundraiser for Shelly Skow, do you know her?”  She said “Nope.”  Then a very funny thing happened, she said, “If I give you some money would you put it in the donation box for me?”  I said of course and I took some cash from her hands.  I finished getting my money from the ATM and headed back to the bar at Hackers. I paid the bartender for the two “beers” and left a dollar tip.  I then took the Holiday Station clerks’ money and put it in one of the donation boxes. I must admit I peeked to see how much she had given me.  I was quite surprised at the amount.  She had given me 8 dollars. Now eight dollars might not seem like much to you but I know that this woman is a single mom raising a child on a Holiday Station clerks’ pay.  Eight dollars is not a small amount to donate to someone you do not even know.  And she was not even getting any Sloppy Joes.

Back at the table, I found Karen talking to the two people we knew from town (the only two people we had seen that we knew at this point) and she had asked if they knew Shelly.  Another surprise, they did not.  They simply saw the notice and wanted to help out.  Shortly after, another friend from town came over to our table and upon asking the same question, we received the same reply “Nope, never met her and do not know her.”  I started a conversation with the “elderly couple” across from us, thinking they might know of Shelly.  I thought perhaps they were grandparents or even great grandparents.  But no!  They did not know Shelly either.  They came for the simple reason of helping someone out who needed help. 

After finishing our gourmet dinner of chips, beans and Sloppy Joes, (Did I not mention the Buds?) we decided to go over to the silent auction table.  There were a surprisingly large number of items and Karen decided to bid on a potting chair.  She put a bid in slightly above the last bid.  She remarked on how nice the chair was and how nice she thought it would look in our garden.  I thought, “She will never win with a bid only five dollars above the last bid”, so I upped the bid when she was not looking by about 10 dollars. This meant that anyone wanting this item would have to go up 20 dollars more than the bid before Karen.  I thought this was good strategy.  I did not tell Karen at the time that I had “outbid” her. 

We left the fundraiser and headed home.  We both took a short break at home and then we headed up to a place called “Log Cabin Hollows.”  It was too nice an evening to say inside and we wanted to see if they were going to have a Saturday night music jam.  About 15 years ago, a brother of a man I know in town started these music jams out at this resort and campgrounds.  We attended one about two years ago and it was fun.  Not quite like the music jams at the Minnesota Bluegrass Festival or the ones in Mountain View, Arkansas, but still some good music you could listen and dance to without your eardrums breaking.  As we drove up to Log Cabin Resorts, Karen and I discussed the fundraiser. 

I was already quite surprised at the number of people we met who did not know the recipient.  I was also very surprised to find so many nice objects that were donated by the local merchants and townspeople.  These merchants are not Wal-Marts or Costcos.  They are small town local stores who have been suffering from a poor economy and the competition coming from “Big Box” retailers within a few miles. There is a joke that every store in town is for sale and has been for several years.  This is not just a joke but reflects the hard economic conditions up here and how difficult it is for local merchants to make a living.  Many of our local stores are for sale.  Nevertheless, places like Daeffler’s (our local meat market) who donated all of the meat for the Sloppy Joes and a “basket” of food as well for the auction gave more than generously.  Karen and I were touched by the compassion and kindness exhibited by people for someone many of them did not know and had never even met.  And when I think of the Holiday Clerk who also wanted to help out and would give a good portion of her income to do so, I can only be grateful to live in a world full of such kind and generous people.  

The newspapers give us a daily diet of evil and mayhem.  The Tele adds to the store of menace and murder that we are endlessly confronted with.  Serial killers threaten us from the pages of most novels that litter the NY Times best seller list only to be replaced by an even more twisted and malevolent killer.  A new trial replaces the last gory trial that dominated the news for six months or so.  Everywhere we turn, we see evidence of the depravity and inhumanity that the media must want us to believe is the world we live it.  However, it is all a mirage.  We are living in a fantasy world of carnival mirrors that reflects a reality that does not exist.  The illusion we see shows us a depraved, destructive, disastrous, execrable, foul, harmful, hateful, heinous, hideous, iniquitous, injurious and loathsome world that no one in their right mind would want to live in. 

I have never been nor probably ever will be accused of being a Pollyanna.  I have no rose collared glasses and I grew up in Brooklyn NY.  I am Italian and Irish and my father was a Post-Man back before we had Post-People.  Nevertheless, I believe that 99.9 percent of the world is good.  I might even be low in my estimates.   If you think of a world with this much good and this little evil, then what would this world really look like?  I think this poem by Aileen Karg sums it up:

A World of Wonderful People

We live in a world of wonderful people
throughout the universe.
We live in a world of wonderful people
where friends are friends with us.
With “hellos” here and “hellos” there
and “How are you today?”
“I hear the stock market’s down,
but there’s plenty to go around
and there’s health and happiness we see,
in the likes of you and me.”
We live in a world of wonderful people,
who love and work and care,
for beauty, strength and honor,
we find it everywhere.
We find just what we look for,
we find it every day,
in this world of wonderful people
God gives to us along life’s way. 

By Aileen Karg

Well, this morning I got a call.  I won the potting chair at the silent auction.  I told Karen and she was excited.  I said she can place it in the garden but I get to pick the flowers.

Time for Questions:

How can we see the real world when we are bombarded daily with images of evil and depravity?  What can we do to help others see the real world?  How can we fight the cynicism that surrounds us?  How can we make a difference in the world?  What if we rejected all of the pessimism and turned off the TV and News and never bought another serial killer novel or movie?  What does it do to our children?  What will they believe about the world when they grow up?  Is it what you would want them to believe? 

Life is just beginning:

PS:   If you would like to send funds or donations to help Michelle (Shelly) Skow, send a check in her name to me and I will make sure it finds its way to her.  She has a Facebook page at

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Prayer-Chain-for-Shelly-Skow/115295908661959

My address is:  John Persico, 202 Peake Avenue South, Frederic, WI:  54837

 

 

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