The Mean Old Man and the Single Chair

The following story was inspired by a true story about a mean old man and his single chair.  My friend Don Johnson told me this story and I have put more details into it.  Nevertheless, I must thank Don for the basic outline and for the great way he told the story which as I said inspired me to write this tale.  I hope you will enjoy it.

Old man scowls, leans forward and shakes his cane

When I was a young boy my parents, two sisters and I lived in a mobile home or trailer as some would call them.  Though, we never trailer-ed it anyplace.  Villagers said we lived in a trailer park and kids at school would laugh and joke about us being “trailer trash.”  I got in lots of fights with other kids over these insults.

Every day, my sisters and I would walk to the pickup site for the school bus.  Back in those days, kids could still go to school without a chaperone.  We even went out trick or treating by ourselves and kept any food or candy that we collected.  The one house we did not go to for tricks or treats belonged to a mean old man.  My parents and the older kids in the trailer park warned us to stay away from his house.  They all said that he was very nasty and hated everyone.

Each day after coming back from school, school let out at about 3:15 PM, the school bus would drop us off and my sisters and a few of my friends would walk home.  We would go by the old man’s house.  He would inevitably be sitting on a makeshift porch in front of his trailer in an old rocking chair.  We would stroll by his home and occasionally wave but he would never wave back.  As we went by, he would fix a relentlessly hostile gaze on us which could put fear in anyone’s heart.  We imagined he was mad at the world and that certainly included us.  Inevitably, we picked up our pace and tried to hurry by his place as fast as we could.

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A few years passed and the mean old man simply seemed to grow meaner.  One day after the bus dropped us off, a few of my friends and I were walking home.  As we were passing the old man’s home, he was sitting in his usual place and just staring at us.  My friends started laughing at and taunting him with various insults.  “Hey grandpa, what’s it like being so mean?”  “Hey old man, can you help us find our cat?”  I told them to stop it as he had never bothered anyone.  They turned their taunts on me and said “If you like him so much, why don’t you go talk to him.  We dare you to go talk to him.  They cried out at me: “Chicken!  Chicken!  Chicken!”

I tried to ignore their jibes, but finally, I had had enough.  “I am not afraid. I will go talk to him.”  I started to walk down the path to where the old man was sitting.  My heart began beating faster and faster.  I wondered what I was going to say.  Nothing occurred to me.  The old man was staring at me intently.  I could hear my friends laughing and hooting behind me.

As I reached the old man, he looked very angry.  “Ok”, he said, “What do you want.”  I said the first thing that came into my mind: “Well, I was just wondering why you don’t have another chair so someone can sit and talk with you?”  “None of your business”, he answered, “Now why don’t you just run off and go back with your friends.”  I could not think of another thing to say.  As I turned to leave, I said “Goodbye, have a nice day.”  The old man mumbled something which I thought might be “same to you” but I could not be sure.

Saturday and Sunday passed quickly and Monday we were back in school.  After school adjourned, I decided that I did not want to be go home with my usual friends so I took the “late” bus from school.  I got off at the bus stop and started home.  As I passed the mean old man’s house, he was sitting in his chair.  Much to my surprise, he had a single chair sitting right next to him.  Somewhat emboldened by this turn of events, I walked up the path to his house and stood in front of him again.  He looked at me and asked me “What do you want.”  I said “Well, I notice that you have a single chair free, would you mind if I sat and talked to you for a while.”  “OK” was all he said.

black man in a rocking chair

I sat down and started to tell him about all the things that I was doing in school.  I told him about my classes, my teachers and my friends.  I talked about my parents, my sisters and my grandparents.  He listened intently to all I said and never interrupted or asked any questions.  Realizing that it was getting late and that my parents would be worried, I said that I was going to go home but I would see him again tomorrow.  He simply nodded and said “Goodbye.”

My trips and visits to the mean old man’s house continued for many days.  The days stretched into weeks.  Over time, we started to talk more about his life.  I found out that his name was Bill and that he had been married but his wife had died about ten years earlier.  He had not had any children.  Bill was a veteran and we talked about his wartime service and experiences.  Bill was always more interested in what I was doing and asked me many questions about my school and life.  Bill said that he did not have any friends and no surviving relatives.

I asked Bill if he did not have any friends in our local church but he said that his wife had been the church goer.  He had occasionally gone to church with her, but after she died, his stopped going.  Bill confided in me that he had never been a social person and had always found it difficult to make friends.  Most of the friends whom he once had were his wife’s friends and after she died, they stopped coming to visit.  He was all alone now.

Weeks turned into months and it became my habit to routinely stop by Bill’s house on my way home from school.  We talked and I told him about my day and he listened and asked questions which made me think a great deal about my choices and decisions in life.  I could share things with Bill that I did not share with anyone else.

Then one day when I was coming home and passing Bill’s house, I saw that someone else was sitting in the single chair.  Not wanting to interrupt, I waved and walked on by.  The next day we resumed our discussions as usual but the following day, the chair was again occupied.  Over time, the single chair was alternately occupied by myself and many other people.

two old men on a porch

I found out that Bill had started to go to church again and he had met people from all walks of life.  Some were retired and some were not.  The people who met Bill found him to be a very interesting person. They would stop by and sit in the single chair next to Bill and talk about various and sundry things.

High school came and went.  Bill and I had many talks but just as often, he had someone else sitting in the chair when I came by.  I went off to college and saw Bill much less except when I came home to visit my parents.  Bill and I discussed writing to each other but we both agreed that we were not writers.  I finished college and found a job in another city.  My times with Bill had dwindled to a mere pittance of what they once had been.

A few more years passed by.  My parents notified me that Bill had died.  I came home to go to his funeral.  It was well attended and nearly a hundred people were there.  Many nice things were said about Bill.  Everyone talked about what a good listener he was and how he always cared more about what others were doing or thinking.  He was one of the least egocentric people you could have met.

single chair on a porch

About two weeks after the funeral, a letter arrived in my mail.  It was from my home town but I did not recognize the address.  I opened it up and inside were two pieces of stationary.  I opened the one with the typing on it.  It read, “We were going through some of Bill’s possessions and we found this note on his bedside.  We thought he meant to give it to you but never got around to mailing it.”  I opened the second piece of stationary.  It was in rough scrawl which I recognized as Bill’s handwriting.  Bill wrote the following:

Dear Tim,

You are the best friend I ever had. 

Thanks,

Bill

I still keep this note.  It is perhaps the nicest compliment I have ever received.  Whenever, I miss Bill, I pull this note out to remember him and the many talks we had.  Bill in his rocking chair and me in the single chair beside him.

Time for Questions:

My writers group said that the “Mean Old Man” was iconic and that every neighborhood had such a character.  Can you think of someone in your neighborhood like this “Mean Old Man?”  Did anyone ever try to talk to him or find out what bothered him?  What happened to him?  Why do you suppose children are often likely to befriend such people?

Life is just beginning.

“My mother says that when Mrs. Rowley is mean, which is generally the case, it is really because she is just unhappy, and who could blame her with a husband like that . . . She says this is really the only reason people are ever mean–they have something hurting inside of them, a claw of unhappiness scratching at their hearts, and it hurts them so much that sometimes they have to push it right out of their mouths to scratch someone else, just to give themselves a rest, a moment of relief.”  — Laura Moriarty

The Little Boy Who Believed in God

The following story was inspired by a Charles Dickens story called “A Child’s Dream of a Star.”

videoblocks-praying-child-little-boy-saying-prayer-before-going-to-bed-christian-kid-with-closed-eyes-sitting-on-knees-and-calling-to-god-strong-belief-in-heart-boy-holding-hands-togethe

Once upon a time there was a little boy who believed in God.  Every morning when he woke up, he would look out the window and thank God for his blessings.  He thanked God for the sun, the beautiful day, the flowers, the trees, the water, the birds and most of all for his mother, father, sister, brother and grandparents.  Every night when the little boy would go to bed, he would look out the window and again thank God for his blessings.  He thanked God for the moon, the stars, the planets and most of all for his mother, father, sister, brother and grandparents.

Now the circumstance of a little boy believing in God might not seem strange but in this case, it was very strange.  You see, the little boy’s mother and father and older sister and older brother and even his grandparents were all confirmed Atheists.  Not a one of them went to church or professed a belief in any type of a higher entity.  In fact, his father and mother were very worried about the little boy.

Father:  “Honey, I am very worried about our little boy.  We have told him that Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and God are all myths.  He accepted the reality for these fictions except for the greatest fiction of all, a higher power called God who supposedly created the universe.  Where do you think he got this idea of God from?

Mother:  “I don’t know. It is very strange.  The schools do not teach God.  His brother and sister do not believe in God.  His grandparents do not believe in God.  None of our friends believe in God.  Most religions do not really practice what they preach.  Most people who say they believe in God are really hypocrites or liars.  I am as mystified as you are.

Believing in God might not have been a problem for the little boy as he had very accepting parents.  However, the little boy found out that whenever he tried to talk to any of his friends or schoolmates or even teachers about God, they did not want to discuss the issue.  The little boy would ask questions like “Do you think God is having a good day today?”  “Do you think God worries about the evil deeds in the world?”  “How can we help God to bring more joy and happiness in the world?”  His teachers and friends would puzzle at such questions and try to ignore him.  They would shake their heads and hope that he would stop asking about God.  His wanting to discuss God made most people very uncomfortable.  God was not a subject for polite conversation.

God-is-good-Article-TemplateAs the little boy grew up, he became an even more devout believer in God.  Everywhere he went, he saw the hand of God.  In the clouds, in nature, in the weather, in the oceans, in good times and in bad times he believed that God was present.  The little boy thought how hard God must have to work to try to keep life sustained.  Each night he would pray to God that when he grew up, he would be able to help ease God’s work somewhat and do his share to help make the world a better place.

The little boy became a social worker and devoted his life to helping other people.  He met many other social workers who became cynical and skeptical.  One told him what a fool he was for believing that a God existed who cared about the human race.  Another told him that if a God really existed he would not have allowed people to be so greedy and corrupt.  Most of the social workers he knew eventually quit to become investment bankers or insurance salespeople.

god is my salvation

Time passed.  Aging became more salient in the little boy’s life.  His grandparents died.  His mother and father died.  His sister and brother died.  All his friends passed away.  Every time one of them died, the little boy would thank God for the time he had been able to spend with his loved ones.  He would ask God to take good care of them until he could see them again.

Many years went by and eventually the little boy stood at death’s door.  It was his last hour on earth.  He had few breaths left.  A nurse and a doctor waited at his bedside.  They heard him say before he passed “Thank you God for the life you gave me.  Thank you for the trees and the sun and the moon and the stars and the oceans and the forests and the sky.  But most of all, thank you for all the wonderful people that you put in my life and who I will now meet again.”

Time for Questions:

What do you believe in?  Why?  What role does faith have in your beliefs?  Do you think that there is a God?  Does he/she watch over and take care of humanity?  Why or why not?

Life is just beginning.

“To love means loving the unlovable. To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable.  Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless.” — Gilbert K. Chesterton
 

 

 

Leandra

Years ago, I remember seeing a Twilight Zone story about a man and a wife who wanted to swap their bodies for younger ones.  This story stuck in my head and helped influence the following story.  I hope you will enjoy it. 

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There it was.  The UPS Truck and the knock on the door.  I had waited over six months but it had finally arrived.  Like the saying goes “Good things take time.”  I signed for the package or packages.  She had been delivered in three boxes.  The company had assured me she would be quick and easy to assemble.  I called in to my business to tell them that I needed to take the day off.  This was much more important than work.

But I suppose I must back up a bit to tell you the whole story.  My name is Rob and about 12 months ago, my wife Leandra packed her bags and left a note on the kitchen table.  It read “Gone with Pete, don’t love you anymore.  Bye.”  Pete was my best friend.  I never suspected that Leandra was having an affair with Pete, much less that she was the slightest bit unhappy in our relationship.

I was stunned.  We had been married for 10 years and she had never once complained about our relationship.  I thought we had the perfect marriage.  We had dinner together at least twice a week.  We watched the football game every Monday night together.  We attended church every Sunday together.  We had sex on the average of once per week.  She always said it was great sex.  I thought we were happy together.

woman robotI am not a very sentimental person nor am I one to cling to the past.  I decided I would move on with my life.  I threw myself into my job and time went by.  I had almost forgotten about Leandra when I saw the ad.  It was from the Resurrection Android Company.  It was the same company that I had purchased my android valet Sam from.  Actually, Sam was much more than just a valet.  Sam was a third-generation android with some independent powers of decision making.  He could decide what to cook each day and he also decided what I should wear for work.  He did cleaning, mending and many light repairs around the house.  I had bought Sam shortly after Leandra and I were married.  Leandra had mentioned that it would be nice to have some help with housekeeping and all.  That way she would have more time to spend with me.

robot-butlerAndroids of course are not human and they have no empathy or ability to show any emotions.  Sam was logical and could be persuasive but he could not show love or compassion.   In the ten years since I had purchased Sam, android technology had advanced considerably.  Looking at the ad from the company, it appeared that they were now on a 15th generation android that had affective as well as cognitive abilities.  The ad claimed that the new android could help replace a loved one both emotionally and physically.  By integrating DNA characteristics using a technique called “Assisted human reproduction”, they could capture the exact characteristics of a loved one.  All they would need would be some trace or remnant of the deceased or former loved one’s DNA.

Westworld-style-sexbots-could-soon-be-a-reality-after-AI-app-developed-to-give-love-dolls-personalThat was when the idea occurred to me.  I called the customer service line and asked to speak to a representative.  I asked her whether it would be possible for me to create a new wife in the exact image of my former wife Leandra.  They assured me it was.  It would take about six months for the bio-engineering to integrate the mechanical aspects of the droid with the alleles and DNA strands that they could map from a sample of Leandra’s DNA.  When the process was completed, I would have an exact physical, mental and emotional copy of Leandra.  Even better, she could continue to be programmed and become an even better Leandra.  The old Leandra was somewhat boring in bed.  The new Leandra could become a wild and wanton partner if that is what I desired.

female android with linesIt did not take long to assemble the new Leandra.  I put the lower torso, upper torso and head together in less time than it takes to make a milk shake.  She was perfect.  She looked just like my old Leandra.  When I turned her on, she greeted me and asked, “What will my name be.”  I replied “You are Leandra. You are the perfect wife.  You will love and obey me always.”

The next year was the best year of my life.  Leandra was perfect.  She never argued.  She never complained.  She never talked back.  She agreed with everything I said.  She spoke only when spoken to.  She had a beautiful body and after a while she became a real wild woman in bed.  What more could a man want.  Once again bliss had entered my life.  And then it happened.

female robot with head and robot bodyI came home one day from work and Leandra did not greet me at the door.  I thought maybe her battery had discharged or that Sam had forgotten to recharge her.  I had left strict instructions for Sam to recharge Leandra every day.  But, where was Sam?  I did not hear him fixing dinner in the kitchen.  I went into the kitchen but Sam was not there.  Suddenly, I noticed a note on the table.  I picked it up.  It was from Leandra.  She had written: “Gone with Sam, don’t love you anymore.  Bye.”

I could not understand this.  I was angry.  I was angriest at the Resurrection Android Company.  They had sold me this traitor with a guarantee that she would be perfect.  She was going to replace my old Leandra.  Well, I would call the company and get my money back.  I called and was transferred to the complaint department.  They said “Why of course, you will get your money back.  However, this will first need to go to our adjudication department to check the terms of the agreement.  If they decide that we have violated the agreement, we will immediately send you a check for reimbursement. This is usually just a formality.”

One week later, an envelope from the Resurrection Android Company arrived in the mail.  I opened it expecting to find a check.  Instead, there was a letter.  It read:

Dear Mr. Rob,  

After carefully reviewing the terms of your agreement with the Android Company and the DNA sample that you sent us, we have found no violation of our guarantee with you.  You specified that the new Leandra should be just like the old Leandra physically, mentally and emotionally.  Her recent departure with your valet Sam is evidence that the new Leandra was just like the old Leandra. 

We are very sorry for your loss. 

Respectfully,

The Resurrection Android Company

Female-robot

 Time for Questions:

Will robots ever replace people?  Do you think someday we will have robot spouses?  Are we going too far with robotics?  Do you think robots help or hurt the world?  What if robots could do all the work in the world that needed to be done?

Life is just beginning.

“California-based Abyss Creations is building a range of silicone sex dolls that not only look like real women but move and speak like them too.  In the hope of making the most realistic sex doll yet, designers have created a bot that they claim can fall in love with its user.

An app called Harmony 2.0 allows the user to tailor their Real Doll’s “personality” by selecting from 18 traits – including happy, shy, sensual, funny, jealous, moody and talkative.  Turn up the intellectual setting and it may even recite poetry or engage in witty banter.  A new video has been released that shows the doll speaking, in which she describes sex as ‘one of the most fascinating things in the world.”

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-4376310/Sex-doll-TALK-Robot-different-personalities.html#ixzz4iGLA2ocH

 

Unbecoming a Victim: Or how to stop complaining and make a difference

Life’s not fair!  I never get any breaks! Other people have all the luck!  The world is crap and there is nothing anyone can do about it!  It’s not my fault. Why did he/she get the job and not me? (Listen to the Power of Responsibility as you read my blog today)  Do-You-Have-a-Victim-Mentality-at-Work

If you have ever made any of the above comments, rest assured, you are probably normal. It is called feeling like a victim or wallowing in self-pity. From time to time, we all engage in victim-hood. However, if your entire life is dominated by feelings of regret, remorse and envy, you are not just engaging in a bout of self-pity, you are embracing full-on victim-hood. We all feel like victims from time to time. That is normal. But if you are thoroughly convinced that you are a victim, you need help. The world has too many too many real victims, it does not need pseudo victim. This blog is about how to avoid embracing a victim mentality and the key factors necessary to overcome such a mentality.

First, let’s look at two key questions:

  1. What is a victim?

As I am describing it here, I am not talking about victims of torture, oppression, starvation, crime, disease, pestilence or any phenomenon that is beyond the ability of an individual to evade. I am talking about a mindset that occurs when we fail to take responsibility for our actions and the consequences of our actions and behaviors on others. You probably know some people who you would describe as having this mentality. My wife Karen says she defines a victim as “someone whose problems are always someone else’s fault. They also seem to need problems and will create them if they don’t have them.”  hero versus victim

“Your complaints, your drama, your victim mentality, your whining, your blaming, and all of your excuses have NEVER gotten you even a single step closer to your goals or dreams. Let go of your nonsense. Let go of the delusion that you DESERVE better and go EARN it! Today is a new day!”  ― Steve Maraboli

We see many people who cannot find any good in the world since they are so busy feeling sorry for themselves that they cannot see the blessings that they have. I find many right-wing Christians to be prime exemplars of this victim mentality. They are so convinced that the world is evil and will end any day. The “anti-Christ” is coming and then the world will be destroyed and all the evil in it. Such people seem to revel in the idea of an apocalypse which will wipe the entire world out and only spare the “good” people. Of course, these right-wing fundamentalist Christians are the “good” people who will be spared.

  1. Why do people choose a victim mentality?

I believe the answer to this question is that it absolves the “victim” of responsibility. They can blame God, the world, other people, nature, the weather or DNA for their failures. Never having to take responsibility is a panacea for those with a victim mentality. It is easier to do nothing when any effort is predestined to fail.

“Life is not compassionate towards victims. The trick is not to see yourself as one. It’s never too late! I know I’ve felt like the victim in various situations in my life, but, it’s never too late for me to realize that it’s my responsibility to stand on victorious ground and know that whatever it is I’m experiencing or going through, those are just the clouds rolling by while I stand here on the top of this mountain! This mountain called Victory!” ― C. JoyBell C.

Overcoming the Victim Mentality:

The antidote to a victim mentality consists of four vaccines. They are as follows:

  • Moral Courage
  • Moral Reasoning
  • Moral Universalism
  • Moral Responsibility

Anyone of these four vaccines can keep you from becoming a whining victim. Taking all four together, will help you to become independent and strong. You will be a winner instead of a victim. We need to give our children these vaccines at an early age, but it is seldom done. It seems as though we must find them on our own later in life or else we flounder through life succumbing to the victim mentality until we find one or more of them.

Moral Courage:

moral courageTo dream the impossible dream, to fight the unbeatable foe, to go where no one has gone before is courage. To stand up for what you believe, to right the unrightable wrong, to boldly speak out against injustice. This is courage. There is physical courage as is manifested in a war or sports or extreme athletic challenges. Moral courage is of the heart and soul. Bothe moral courage and physical courage result in action. One of my favorite quotes is as follows:

“The test of courage comes when we are in the minority. The test of tolerance comes when we are in the majority.”Ralph W. Sockman

Moral courage does not exist by just talking about it or complaining about things. Moral courage is an attempt to make a difference by taking some decisive action. You speak out against prejudice, bigotry, hatred, racism, injustice and stupidity. You do more than read the newspaper and bemoan the sad state of the world. The life of the prophet Mohammed provides many examples of moral courage:

“Before claiming Prophethood, the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, was well off and had a respected place among his community. However, he had to confront all kinds of hardships and persecutions after Prophethood and spent for his cause whatever he had. His enemies slandered him, mocked him, beat him, expelled him from his homeland and waged war on him. He bore all such cruel treatments and hostilities without complaint and asked God Almighty for the forgiveness of even his enemies.”The Way to Truth 

Moral Reasoning:

devil_angelMoral reasoning occurs when you question right and wrong. Moral reasoning is a cognitive action that takes place when you question standards, conventions, group reasoning, and crowd think. Moral reasoning is the questioning of social and cultural standards. Jesus of Nazereth gave many examples of moral reasoning during his life.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel (Matthew 23:23-24).” 

Jesus is making an important distinction here between convention and morality. We often confuse justice with legality. The inability to understand the difference and its moral relevance is a failure of moral reasoning. Throughout his ministry Jesus gave many examples of moral reasoning.

Moral Universalism:

Hans Kung was a Roman Catholic priest who was stripped of his license to teach theology by the Catholic Church for criticizing the concept of papal infallibility.

“In the early 1990s, Küng initiated a project called Weltethos (Global Ethic), which is an attempt at describing what the world’s religions have in common (rather than what separates them) and at drawing up a minimal code of rules of behavior everyone can accept. His vision of a global ethic was embodied in the document for which he wrote the initial draft:, Towards a Global Ethic: An Initial Declaration.”Wikipedia

responsibilityKung’s life demonstrates a strong moral believe in the universal principles that underlie all religions. My religion is not better than your religion and all of the worlds’ great religions have a core of morality and ethics which are admirable and worth following. When we find one religion fighting with another religion or one advocate maintaining the superiority of their religion over another, we have a counter example of moral universality.

Moral universalism is an important element in overcoming victimhood. One cannot believe that their religion is superior to another religion without eventually succumbing to the rampant persecution complex that seems typical of so many religious people. I was taught when I grew up that I would go to hell if I ever stepped in a Synagogue or Temple.   Karen was taught that as a good Lutheran she should never date a Catholic. Baptists denigrate other Protestants while Muslims and Christians act as though they were worshipping different Gods. Jesus and Mohammed had a deep respect for all religions because they were wise enough to perceive the universality of religion.

Moral Responsibility:

moral responsibilityThe famous poet John Donne is perhaps best known for one of his lines that goes: “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”   Donne well understood the idea that we are all interconnected and we all have an incomprehensible interdependency such that anyone’s death affects us all. The same is true with morality. A key tenet of Buddhism is the moral responsibility that everyone on the earth faces for social and political actions.

 “Today we have become so interdependent and so closely connected with each other that without a sense of universal responsibility, irrespective of different ideologies and faiths, our very existence or survival would be difficult” – (Dalai Lama, 1976)

Of the four vaccines that are critical for overcoming a victim mentality, it is my opinion that a sense of moral responsibility is the most important. If I could only receive one vaccine, I would choose to be vaccinated with moral responsibility. A sense of moral responsibility allows us to help others who are in need. Charity, love, compassion and kindness are all nurtured by a sense of moral responsibility. As they say: “what goes around comes around.” When we do “good” for others, we do good for ourselves. By identifying with the pain and injustices that others suffer, we forget our own problems and we understand that we can make a difference in the world. No one who believes in their ability to make a difference in the world can suffer from a victim mentality.

Time for Questions:

Are you a victim or a hero? How often do you feel hopeless? What do you do about your feelings of hopelessness? How do you overcome feeling like a victim? Do you think people have a choice of how they feel? Why or why not?

Life is just beginning.

“Most things, even the greatest moments on earth, have their beginnings in something small. An earthquake that shatters a city might begin with a tremor, a tremble, a breath. Music begins with a vibration.”  -― Lauren Oliver

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Requiem for America:  Our Battle with Fate

fortune

Many of you have no doubt heard the tone poem by Carl Orff titled Carmina Burana.  One of the famous parts of this musical piece is taken from a poem called “O Fortuna.”  It is a Medieval Latin poem written early in the 13th century.  I started thinking about it today as Trump became the 45th President of the United States of America.  I have never much believed in fate, preferring to think that we are masters of our own destiny and fate be dammed.  But as the inexorable reality of the inauguration kept intruding on my existence, I was forced back to the conclusion that perhaps fortune does rule the world.  (To listen click here O Fortuna)

Like the moon you are changeable,
ever waxing and waning;
hateful life first oppresses and then soothes as fancy takes it;
poverty and power it melts them like ice.

I loathe this Son of a Bitch.  I loathe his values.  I loathe his words.  He represents everything I hate in myself and in humanity.  We keep trying to destroy the racism and fear and prejudice that we are brought up with but fate impels us to confront a world that seems to thrive on such iniquities.  My relatives, my friends, my co-workers —- they voted for this reprobate and now exult in his coronation.  I stand impotently on the sidelines questioning (as many Jews in the Holocaust questioned) why God has deserted us.  Have we committed some grave sin worthy of the future that fate now seems to have assigned us?

Trying against
Fate – monstrous and empty,
you whirling wheel,
you are malevolent,
well-being is vain and always fades to nothing,
shadowed and veiled you plague me too;
now through the game I bring my bare back to your villainy.

My good intentions.  My desire to be tolerant and virtuous.  My goal to treat others with compassion and kindness all seem to melt in the face of a Fate that decries a monster who will now rule over us.  I hear the voices that say “give him a chance.”  I wonder what chance they want.  A chance to create more greed.  A chance to create more racism.  A chance to create more sexism.  Have we not enough bigotry in this country?  Have we not enough inhumanity towards others?  We created the Atom bomb.  We created the Hydrogen Bomb.  We created weapons of biological and chemical warfare that can destroy millions.  We take no heed whether they kill children or innocents.  We are now all guilty in our incessant warfare.  The only thing that counts is creating more efficient means of murdering people.

Fate is against me in health and virtue,
driven on and weighted down,
always enslaved.
So at this hour without delay pluck the vibrating strings;
since Fate strikes down the strong man,
everyone weep with me!

I wake up disbelieving that I live in this reality.  I joke that I am in Wonderland and whatever one believes is the reality that exists.  But I did not believe in this reality.  I have done everything that I thought I could to help make the world a better place.  I thought my friends and family and neighbors wanted the same world that I wanted.  It seems clear now that we did not share the same reality.

I curse the fate that has brought our nation to this point.  I curse the people that voted for this Frankenstein.  I curse the party that nominated this abomination.  Deep inside, I wonder what I did to contribute to this horror.  Does my own hate somehow create the fate that I seek to escape from?

Abraham, John, Robert and Martin all dead — killed by that coward called fate.  But let us not forget Jimmie Lee Jackson and Clyde Kennard and Juliette Hampton Morgan and James Reeb and Jonathan Myrick Daniels and Viola Gregg Liuzzo and Vernon Dahmer and Oneal Moore and George Lee and Harriet and Harry Moore.  They also were martyrs.  They also died fighting fate.

Do not believe that the good die young.  The good die pregnant with a dream for a better world.

Time for Questions:

So what is left?  Nihilism?  Apathy?  Hate?  Bitterness?  Resistance?  Fight?  Hope?  Will a dream for a better America arise from the ashes of despair?

Life is just beginning.

“I will permit no man to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him.”  —   Booker T. Washington

fortune

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.

 

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