You’ll get used to it!

A southerner waking up that first morning in Wisconsin, I was sure I had mis-heard the weather forecast: “-25 deg with wind chill factor.”  Whatever that was. Surely not – people couldn’t survive that!  I switched to another channel.  Sure enough, it really was  -25 deg with wind chill.  Certainly businesses were closed.

But they weren’t.    Soon I saw neighbors faring forth, picking their way down the sidewalks.  Still incredulous,   I layered on most of  the clothes I owned, and slipping and sliding, eked  my way to the bus stop where  people  stood around casually talking or sipping steaming coffee from mugs,  like nothing was amiss.

“Is it always LIKE this?” I chattered to the woman nearest me, hands jammed in pockets, feet stamping for warmth.   She flashed a knowing smile.  “You’ll get used to it,” she said.

And I did.  Which was a good and proper thing if I planned to stay in Wisconsin.

But “getting used to it” isn’t always the answer.  In fact, I’m wondering if it isn’t at the root of some of the turmoil in our country today.

For starters, when did interrupting not only become acceptable, but commonplace?  There is hardly a “news” show that doesn’t sound like a magpie convention.  This obviously rude and irritating behavior is now widespread, and since more and more anchors  adopt the practice,  apparently worthy of emulation.

And  when did it become OK for politicians  to  lie  on prime-time TV?  When did we “get used to”  leaders that had nothing more to offer  than insults for their opponents and end up voting for  the lesser of the evils?   How would John Kennedy’s clarion call be received today? “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

I greatly fear we have lost our respect for each other and with it, our self-respect.   Perhaps  our cellphone-internet addictions have so immersed us in a  web-game-world of noisy anger and violence,  glorifying an insatiable need for power, appearances and possessions,  that we have come to believe that what matters is what the internet sells: the illusion of individual power.   In other words, “F You!”  But that is foolish. Our lives are utterly and eternally interlinked by immutable laws of nature. No  cell phone or internet game will change that.

And speaking of the “F” word,   when our kids were in college (OK, it was the nineties)  the commonplace word “suck”  was considered inappropriate in polite conversation, although its genesis was and still is,  disputed.  Use of the “F” word in public was practically unheard of.   Now it  is openly bandied about by teenagers in restaurants and  peppers conversations in popular TV shows.  Ironically, it is especially popular with young women.  Really?  Have we forgotten the connotation of the word for women?   And what if someone else simply doesn’t want to hear it shouted out on the street?   Wikipedia calls this phenomenon the “dysphemism treadmill, meaning former vulgarities become inoffensive and commonplace. Or simply, we “got used to it.”

So take it or leave it, but from where I stand, disrespectful language and behavior are just that, disrespectful.  And if  we allow ourselves to get used to disrespect, can abuse be far behind?   Don’t we deserve more?

Hold fast to what is good (1)

I began my morning walk with Jake and Jesse burdened with the troubles of our world; the famine in Africa, the injustice visited on children in wars,  petty politics, corporate greed; all being paraded in rapid fire across the TV screen on the morning news.

The rustle of the wind through the tall pines, the sun sparkling on whitecaps on the lake,  the mallard ducks floating serenely on gentle waves,  the lush perfume  of jasmine on the fence and gardenia by the garden gate – none penetrated my mood.

Jake and Jesse strained on their leads pulling me behind them down the path like an overloaded dogsled.  I had no appetite for bringing them to heel, dimly aware that  allowing them to pull on the lead  meant more work for me in retraining.  If not for their insistent  pacing back and forth to the door when it was time for their walk, I would have bagged it  altogether.

As we started  up  the hill, a golf cart came into view heading toward us, the driver braking when he saw us.  I didn’t recognize them, but it was clearly a grandfather out with a morning ride with his two granddaughters; perhaps four or five years old.  Of course, they wanted to “pet the puppies” and PawPaw was OK with it, so over they came, squatting down to eye level,  tentative little fingers touching furry black ears and and quickly pulling back with giggles and shrieks of glee.

“Look, he LIKEs me, PawPaw,”  the oldest said as Jesse licked her finger.

“Likes me too!” from the younger.

After five minutes or so of playful chatter and pleasantries,  Grampa decided it was time to go home before Mom got worried.

“Well, you know what?” the oldest asked, swinging into the cart.

“What?” I answered.

“You can come visit me sometime. And bring the puppies!”

“I will!” I answered.

The grandfather turned the cart around and headed up the hill.  My  earlier foggy malaise slowly dissipated  as  I watched the happy little trio, the  girls chatting away and pointing out various points of interest to their grandfather as only small children can,  a squirrel, a bird perched on a high limb, a lizard, wildflowers,  until they rounded the last curve and disappeared up the hill.

Yes.  There IS that.

It is important to remember that in our troubled, broken, scary world, there are still grandfathers taking grandchildren for a ride on a beautiful spring morning.    That is good.

And what I learned in Sunday School is as true today as it was then:   “Hold Fast To What Is Good.” (1)  Don’t ignore the pain, the trouble, but hold onto the good.  With all your might.   That is what will get us through.

(1) 1Thessalonians 5:21

Why am I here?

In her latter years, my mother used to ask that a lot.  I never knew what  to say, so I usually said something trite like “We still need you here.”  At which she would click her tongue against her teeth the way she did when I disagreed with her politics.

What was she asking, I wondered.  Did she still dream of unrealized ambitions in her nineties?   I always found the question unsettling and frankly, a little annoying.

But now that there are many more birthdays behind than before me, I think I get it.  I think she was reflecting over her long life and trying to make sense of it.  And I find myself doing the same.    What has my life meant?  At the finish line, will I be able to say I have   “fought the good fight” ?    Did I miss my “calling,” my high purpose?  The olympic swimmer,  the nuns of Calcutta, the Nobel Laureate, the musical prodigy;  they had a calling, didn’t they?  A custom made life-suit,  into which they fit perfectly.   Their one true path.  Is there one for me?

In my early life, I was sure of it.    My life would be exciting, full of high purpose, awe-inspiring.   Unlike my mother’s.  Especially, not like my mother’s.

Mind you, my mother  was not a slacker. She was a strong and intelligent woman; a school teacher, an avid reader, a seamstress and amazing gardener.   She make great chicken and dumplings and rhubarb pie. She survived two husbands and lived independently for 92+ of her 93 years.

But.  She never wrote a book, climbed a mountain, ran a corporation (or a marathon)  or held public office.  For most of her life she lived in the same community.  To my impatient, arrogant 18-year-old eyes, her life looked mundane,  aimless, pointless even.  Not mine, I vowed.  I would  set goals for myself and go about achieving them.  Simple as that.

But it didn’t quite work out that way.  My path took unexpected twists and  turns.   It  didn’t  lead steadily  to a noble destination, but instead  wound  through brambles, tangled ravines and rocky boulders.  I ran, I  stumbled,  I climbed, I  tripped,  I fell and I recovered,  with varying degrees of grace.

Admittedly, on its surface,  my life looks radically different from that of my mother.  I left home at an early age, attended  universities in distant states,  managed a demanding career,  travelled the world; accumulated a modicum of recognition for my work.  But at its core,  like my mother’s, my life was made of the usual stuff;  education, career, marriage, children, retirement.   And my path, like hers, was not the work of destiny, but the result of choices.

And  my path has  led me…. here. Not to a mountaintop and not to a swamp.  As it did my mother.

It’s tempting to  fall for the “one true thing”  pitch.  The idea that  we are  entitled to  the one true love, the one perfect career, the one true happily-ever-after is very appealing.   And perhaps it is true for some.   But my life didn’t  come with a blueprint; I made choices, sometimes wisely, sometimes foolishly, that in the aggregate defined my path.  I wasn’t always sure of my choices,  and  they didn’t always lead to the mountaintop.

If I could answer my mother  now, I would reassure her that she didn’t miss her calling.  Like me, she simply made choices that led her to her destination.   And  at the end of the day, it was not our accomplishments, as my teenage self thought,  but the accumulation of our everyday thoughts and actions that defined us. Both of us.

 

 

The Easter Bunny

As a child, I remember thinking it was weird that the Easter Bunny  brought eggs.  And exasperating that no one else thought that was a bit strange.  Being the person in the family responsible for snatching
eggs  from beneath cranky setting hens, I knew for sure where eggs came from.

Turns out, though,  there really is a logical explanation for the egg-bearing  bunny.   According to Wikipedia, German Lutherans  apparently established the tradition of the “Easter Hare.”
But far from the cuddly bunny with big pink ears, the original Easter bunny (after all these were not only Lutherans, but GERMAN Lutherans) was actually a stern judge-bunny, dispensing his coveted eggs only to those children who had been good over the Lenten season.

And as for the eggs, early churches abstained from them during Lent.  And lacking refrigeration, the only way to keep them from spoiling was to boil them so they could eat them  after the fast was ended.  And  they probably decorated them as part of the celebration.  So that explains a lot.

But   I still find an Easter bunny (especially a chocolate one)  distracting to the Easter message of resurrection and hope.   I don’t think the idea of the Easter bunny is harmful to children; I just think it shortchanges  them  because it misses the life-giving  Easter message of hope; the gift of new beginnings,

I don’t have fond memories of the annual  Easter egg hunt, where my basket always needed help from the Sunday School teacher.  In retrospect, I know this was because of my uncorrected myopia, but still, I think I would have preferred to learn about the Easter Lily.

PEACE

 

This Lent, I promised myself to spend time each day away from the busy-ness of life, seeking peace – in meditation, quiet walks, reading, listening to music.   But then, as it has a way of doing, bit by distracting bit, sticky note by stick note, life happened..

So some days the best I can do is to let peace find me.

 

We need to talk..

Southerners are storytellers. We love to tell stories, outrageous, convoluted, highly embellished, wandering stories. Always alert for imagesan opening in the conversation, we leap at the chance to insert a favorite story. Stories are part of our that elusive quality, southern charm. For the most part, they are just that; charming. But when we tell them to ourselves, that’s a problem. I know. I spent much of my life doing that.

Stories are often told  to curry favor – a blatantly underhanded but sometimes successful, tool to get one’s way.   Sometimes  we’re just being kind. “What a beautiful baby”, is so much better to hear than, “Do you plan to get cosmetic surgery on that nose?” And  sometimes we tell stories to ourselves to keep going thru hardship – that’s called denial.  Denial gets a bad wrap these days, but  it can be useful on occasion.

But telling myself stories is treacherous, as I have recently been reminded. For years, I have been living in my own comfortable bubble. Sure that all “reasonable” people shared my world view; my concept of right and wrong, my standards of civility and morality.
And then November 8 happened. Like many of us, I was “flattened” by the news and struggled to come to grips with my fear  for our country’s future.  But many of my friends were ecstatic at the news!  Friends with whom I have celebrated, commisserated, shared confidences, assuming that we also shared world views. Confused and impatient with my reaction, they were optomistic for the future; anxious to put behind an era in which they felt forgotten and marginalized.  How could I had been so deaf to the people around me? Consumed by my own “busyness,” secure in my own little bubble. Blithely assuming they shared my beliefs, because, well, they’re my friends!

On the first day of English literature class at Berkeley, the professor announced, peering over his black rimmed seventies glasses at us “I’m going to threaten every one of your core beliefs. I am going to challenge everything you hold dear.”

It was a moment I will not forget. Still today I remember the cold terror, the icy knot in my stomach. I see myself in the semi-circle of
one-armed desks, cornered, threatened; that country girl from Louisiana, outclassed by the sophisticated kids from Eastern prep schools. I gripped the edge of the desk, fighting the urge to bolt from the room. But I couldn’t leave; I needed the credits. So I stayed, bracing myself for 10 weeks of rancor and humiliation.

But instead, the course introduced me to different ways of viewing the world.  Far from feeling defensive, I was fascinated to learn how other people, other cultures, came to believe as they did.  And  it turned out at the core, I wasn’t all that different from those fresh faced kids. We agreed more than we disagreed on most importantimages-1-copy things.I actually made new friends. During those weeks I discovered that some of what I  “believed,” I had simply absorbed  from people around me without much thought.  But most of what I believed was not changed; just the opposite!  A deeper, more critical understanding only strengthened them.  And most importantly,  I learned I could live in harmony with those with whom I did not agree; and they with me.

If there had been a good alternative to facing the perceived threat of English 101, I would have grabbed it. And missed a formative educational experience on which I would rely many times in my life, an experience not to be missed. It’s a small, oversimplified example.  But it illustrates the point.  As  families, communities, as a country, I hope, I pray we can  uniteface our fear of confrontation, talk and listen thoughtfully. I think we will be rewarded by the outcome. I refuse to believe we are a country of self-righteous pedants or unthinking bigots. We are bigger than that.

But first –
We need to talk. We really have no choice.


Instead of a book, this week I’m posting a link to an outstanding and timely  Ted Talk by Rob Willer  on the art of civil and productive conversation between liberals and conservatives.  A must read. Here’s the link.  http://bit.ly/2kdTjNw

 

 

 

One woman's view of a Southern life

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