The inspirational messages I write for my Monthly Musings give me an opportunity to reflect on a particular theme of the month, to explore its meaning, and to present the reader with, perhaps, a slightly different interpretation of the theme. It is my goal to help everyone think a little deeper, or from a different perspective, about certain topics and to present to the reader, sometimes in humorous ways, the tools for a more detailed exploration of the subject and ways to find relationship with its meaning. As in all my writings, you will find themes of spirituality, inspiration, enlightenment, and transformation.
A time of change…
August is not a month noted for big national or international celebrations, or federal holidays. But there are still over 50 lesser-known celebrations, some of which are humorous. I’ll share just a few to give you a general idea: According to MentalFloss, August 5th is National Underwear Day, followed on the 6th by National Fresh Breath Day. You can celebrate National Tooth Fairy Day on the 22nd, and on the 24th it’s National Hug Your Boss Day. I’m thinking that many of you won’t find this celebration appealing, unless of course you are the boss!
I suggest we celebrate August as the end-of-the-summer season and our transitioning into fall.
Fall is a special season for me, as it is for many of you. I love the beauty of the fall foliage, the crispness of the fall air. While I enjoy the laid-back, less-structured summer days, there is something about the arrival of fall that is revitalizing. We have had our vacation trip(s), done our outdoor grilling, spent time at the beach or in the mountains, gone camping, and perhaps visited our out-of-town friends and relatives. Some of us may have traveled abroad.
This is the time when children, parents, and teachers begin to gear up for school. August means shopping for school clothes and supplies, for selecting new lunch boxes, and wondering what the new teacher/school will be like. It’s a time when we see some anxiety in both children and their parents. It’s a time when parents make major transitions, changing their own routines, creating a more structured environment for the family, accommodating their children’s study and outside activities needs. Adults who are not parents may also have to adjust to a change in their routine at work and in their personal life, such as starting the morning commute earlier and possibly changing their work schedules to accommodate coworkers with children in school. But summer’s end doesn’t have to be a depressing time. Families can continue in some of their summer activities for a while longer, including cooking out, camping in the backyard, having overnight sleepovers, etc.
My favorite way of looking at August is to let go of some summer activities and begin to anticipate new experiences with the coming of fall. I encourage you to make a self-assessment about what went well during the summer, what you enjoyed most, what didn’t go so well and what you would want to work on improving next time. Then let this go while you eagerly await the fall, accepting the transitions it brings, anticipating the changes in the seasons and in your own life. Fall, like the other seasons, brings opportunities for transformation in our own lives. Integrate this new awareness into your everyday life, and see how it changes your way of being in the world. From this new perspective, decide to add some new adventures to your life as the fall season begins.
For example, learn to play a musical instrument; take up yoga and/or join an exercise class. Find a book club that interests you and sign up. Learn to play bridge or other games. Join a choir. Volunteer some of your time to a community group which is caring for the disadvantaged or feeding the homeless. Plan to do some traveling, if it’s only short trips. Commit to spending more quality time with family and with special friends. Take long walks. Enjoy the glorious fall foliage. Resolve to find more time for nurturing yourself. Embrace the transformation in yourself that the transition of summer into the glorious fall can bring.
If nothing on this list appeals to you, give some careful thought to compiling your own list. There’s no end to the number of possibilities that can help you move forward into the fall with anticipation, enthusiasm, and joy. This in turn will help you to grow mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
Fireworks and Friendships…
July is a very special month for celebrations. We start off with a bang – July 4th, Independence Day.
July 4th has been a federal holiday since 1870, but this historic document, the Declaration of Independence was drafted by Thomas Jefferson in 1776, as the thirteen colonies claimed their independence from England. This eventually led to the formation of the United States as an independent nation. For more than 240 years we have paused on this date to celebrate our liberties and our freedom from tyranny. And we honor and remember all those who gave their lives to give us this precious gift.
How do we celebrate? Fireworks are associated with July 4th and many cities present a dazzling display of fireworks that light up the nighttime sky. (The Hatch Shell on the Charles River in Boston is my favorite July 4th place for a concert, with breathtaking fireworks displays over the river.) Many towns and small communities have their own parades and fireworks displays. And don’t forget the parades and concerts shown on television.
While I enjoy these celebrations, my favorite part of July 4th is the family and close friends who gather for cookouts and backyard barbecues. I love the casual, friendly, laid-back atmosphere, the sharing of stories and news, the quickly-organized games and activities, and the aroma of barbecue, hamburgers, and hot dogs. For me, there is great beauty and intimacy in this aspect of the holiday. Which brings me to another favorite celebration in July. We’ll skip over more than 80 other July celebrations – some touching, such as Global Hug Your Child Day, some silly, such as National Raspberry Cake Day, and some perhaps a bit wacky, such as National Body Painting Day.
Instead, we’ll go to the end of the month and, on July 30th, let’s celebrate International Friendship Day.
Established in 2011, the General Assembly of the United Nations declared July 30th as an International Day of Friendship. This was designed to foster friendships and to bridge the gaps between race, religions, and other divisions which keep us from enjoying friendships with each other. It was designed to support communities and to work towards world peace. Woodrow Wilson said, “Friendship is the only cement that will ever hold the world together.” And, in studying the importance of friendships and social contacts, researchers in recent years have discovered that people with strong social relationships live longer.
We need only watch TV or read a newspaper to be aware of how little attention seems to be given to building bridges, making friends, drawing all-inclusive communities. When we try to think of what we could do to promote friendship on a global scale, the task feels too daunting. But, on individual levels we can do and accomplish a lot. We can begin by nourishing our own friendships, by letting our friends know how important they are to us and that we do not take their friendship for granted. We can organize friendship groups in our churches and communities. We can broaden our circle of friends and offer support when they need it. We can plan fun activities with our friends and celebrate our mutual caring. We can reach out to the lonely, friendless people in our community, offering them support, comfort, and, whenever possible, lending a helping hand by connecting them with appropriate community resources.
So, on July 30th, call or send a card or email to a long-distance friend, thanking them for their love and support. Arrange for lunch or coffee with a friend close by. Look at everyone you meet for the first time that day as a possible new friend. And, finally, don’t forget to be the very best friend you know how to be. Be the kind of friend you would like to have in your life.
It’s time to celebrate involved fathers…
In addition to welcoming summer, June reminds us to celebrate fathers. The third Sunday in June is Father’s Day, which celebrates the contributions that fathers and father-figures make to their children’s lives. Sonora Dodd was influential in establishing Father’s Day. She wanted to recognize the work her father had done in raising six children by himself, after the death of her mother. She wanted the same recognition for fathers that Anna Jarvis had been instrumental in establishing for mothers. The first celebration of Father’s Day was in 1910 but Father’s Day was not officially recognized as a holiday until 1972, with President Nixon’s signing it into law. Several attempts were put forth throughout the years to make the celebration official but it was feared that, like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day would devolve into nothing more than a commercialized event.
Why is this day so important? According to the U. S. Census Bureau, there are an estimated 72.2 million fathers in the U.S. More than 39% of fathers were younger than 25 years old when their first child was born, and some 17% of single parents are men. In other words, fathers are a vital part of children’s lives and those who take their job seriously and show up each day to be a good role model for their sons and daughters need to be respected and honored.
How should we celebrate this day? Many people send cards or gifts to their father. If children live far from home, calls are made to wish their father a happy Father’s Day. Traditions also include large family get-togethers and/or backyard cookouts.
What makes fathers so important? Joshua Krisch writes (Fatherly.com) about The Science of Dad and the ‘Father Effect’. He notes that there are data-driven biological and psychological reasons why children seem to do better with supportive fathers in the home. He summarizes many of the findings about the impact fathers have on their children’s lives: Children with involved fathers are less likely to drop out of school, or to break the law. Guided by close, loving relationships with their father, children disproportionately grow up to avoid risky sex, pursue healthy relationships, to hold down higher-paying jobs, and later in life have fewer serious psychological problems.
Being an involved father makes it less likely that his teenage daughter will take sexual risks, or become depressed. It is important to remember that girls develop their sense of the ideal mate from their interactions with their father. As a result of having such a father, girls have a better self-image, higher self-esteem and less depression. The presence of a strong, loving father improves his son’s school performance, and directly impacts the emotional and behavioral stability throughout his son’s life.
Fathers can’t get a ‘pass’ on these responsibilities, nor minimize their impact. It can’t be said too often: dads need to realize that their children are always watching them, learning from them. Researcher Paul Amato suggests that fathers might ask themselves: “What are my children learning about life, about morality, and about how family members should treat one another, from observing me every day?”
Engaged, active, involved fathers are important in every stage of development. The earlier the father gets involved, the stronger the early attachment to the child. Dads living away from their children (divorce, military service, etc.) have little opportunity for enjoying fatherly interactions. But writing letters, making phone calls, and, these days, video conferencing using the internet, let a child know that his/her dad cares and wants to be involved. Financial support of his children goes a long way in demonstrating a form of caring and involvement.
When we speak of the impact a father’s involvement with children has, we do not mean just any type of contact. Low-quality parenting is not helpful. Warmth is a key factor. Krisch says that fathers who are critical, dismissive, or insulting have only negative impact. Being verbally, emotionally or physically abusive is incompatible with being a good, engaged, loving father.
Father’s Day provides an opportunity for expressing gratitude, for healing old wounds, for making and accepting apologies for past hurts and disappointments, and for practicing the art of forgiveness. This is not always easy, but it is important to do, and the rewards for this successful effort are immeasurable.
It is never too late to create a happier, more loving and supportive father/child relationship. This Father’s Day would be a good time to start!
Let’s celebrate May…
May is a beautiful month, especially for nature lovers. May 1st is May Day, which is a holiday celebrated in many countries around the world. It is an ancient northern hemisphere spring festival. Late May marks the unofficial start of summer, and for many children, the end of the school year. Winter is long gone, flowers are in bloom, and the trees are showing off their leafy branches. Summer will arrive in a few weeks, but before that happens, let’s celebrate this month. Each month has stories to tell and this month has an outstanding one.
In the US, the two big days in May are Mother’s Day, celebrated the second Sunday in May, and Memorial Day, celebrated the last Monday of the month. Memorial Day, originally known as Decoration Day, commemorates all men and women who have died in military service for the country. It is said that this holiday originally honored the Union soldiers who died in the Civil War. After WWI, it was expanded to include all men and women who had died in any war or military conflict. Flags are displayed and wreaths are placed on grave sites. The day is observed in many cities and towns with a Memorial Day parade and is often thought of as the unofficial start of the summer season.
This holiday celebration and our celebration of Mother’s Day have some elements in common. On each holiday we recognize a specific group of people; each of us seeks ways to honor, to show reverence, and to find ways to show our appreciation for those being honored, for their sacrifices for us.
Mother’s Day was the brainchild of Anna Jarvis, who, following her mother’s death in 1905, conceived of Mother’s Day as a way to honor the sacrifices mothers make for their children. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation officially establishing the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.
Today, we celebrate our mothers by giving cards, gifts, and flowers. Many mothers are taken out to eat at a special restaurant. Many children make a special effort to be with their mother, grandmother, or mother-surrogate. If children live far away from their mothers, they call. Indeed, it is said more phone calls are made on this day than any other day, and it is the most popular day of the year to dine out.
If you believe that Mother’s Day has been too commercialized and robbed of its original meaning, you are not alone. By 1920, Anna Jarvis herself had become disgusted with how Mother’s Day had been commercialized, and she actively denounced the transformation of the holiday. But, while recognizing the commercialism involved in this celebration, most of us, I think, enjoy the attention, appreciation, and affection given to us by our children.
I see Mother’s Day as an opportunity to express gratitude, to solidify our relationship with our mother, to reach out to heal any old wounds, and to forge an adult-child/mother relationship that is both healing and nurturing. This may be easier said than done for some relationships than others, but I believe it is critically important for both parent and child. No matter how difficult the effort, the rewards are more than you can imagine, enriching your life and giving it more meaning.
In keeping with Mother’s Day, I suggest two more holidays for May: National Wonderful Children’s Day, honoring those little people who will grow up to save the environment, make friends with Mother Nature, and treat our planet with more respect and reverence than we have shown it. Once that celebration is in place, I propose a National Happy Family Day, paying tribute to those families who show up every day to support and love their children, making it possible for them to grow into healthy adults, ready to face the challenges they will experience on their journey. This is an awesome task, and when it is done well, we all benefit.
It’s Spring! Time for Renewal…
For many of us, spring is our favorite time of the year. And the arrival of April allows us to welcome a period of re-birth or renewal. While this is the Easter season, you do not have to believe in the resurrection of Jesus to see nature’s own transformation, re-birth, and renewal right before your eyes. Spring is the season we talk about these terms and often they are used interchangeably. (Thesaurus.com defines renewal as re-birth; re-generation; revival; resurrection; recharging; refilling.)
Nothing is static or unchanging. Today, every academic and professional discipline recognizes change, development, growth, and some kind of evolving phenomenon (Richard Rohr). Each of the four seasons has distinct attributes that can teach us something about our own personal growth and development. Spring provides us the opportunity to look closely and see new opportunities for letting go of old habits and patterns and embracing new ways of being. Spring tells us that the dark, cold winter is over. Now, trees are blooming, flowers are showing off their beautiful colors, and birds are singing their joyful songs. The sunshine is brighter, the grass is greener, and we are putting away our heavy winter wardrobe in exchange for lighter garments which give us a wonderful degree of freedom, literally and figuratively.
We approach this season with openness, hopefulness, and optimism. It is a period of re-awakening in nature and in our own lives. At this time we find courage, hope, and strength for our journey that lies ahead.
I experience a healing growth in springtime as I watch nature clearly renewing itself from the barrenness of winter. Each spring, nature continues to create and recreate itself from the inside out.
For me, renewal is also about the re-birth of the soul. Spring can brighten your outlook on life. It’s a good time to challenge yourself by learning something new. If you do not observe the Lenten season, instead of giving something up, try adding something new that makes you happy, contributes to your growth, and enriches your life.
Some of you may remember the old milk commercial, “There’s a new you coming every day.” I believe that’s true. We live, we grow, we make tiny little changes every day, leading someone to say, “At the cellular level, I’m really quite busy!” Those who do not fear change but instead embrace it as a normal part of life, can find this idea reassuring.
Spring allows us to see more clearly that every day is an opportunity to change our life. Every morning starts a new page in our personal story. A Buddha said, “Each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.” Springtime helps us see and remember this.
The dramatic changes that spring brings allow us to see that the key to successful self-renewal is the willingness to let go of our existing self-image and our current outlook on life, if we desire change. Spring can provide us with the inspiration to create, to renew, to liberate ourselves from old ideas that no longer serve us well. It allows us to experience the gift of letting go, and making way for new life to ‘blossom.’ What we thought was ‘dead’, in the spring, shows new life.
Nature teaches us so much, if we are open to seeing and listening. I like to think about the seasons as metaphors for the ‘seasons’ of our lives. From re-birth/renewal in spring, to a more relaxed playful summer, with vacations to the mountains or the ocean, and backyard cookouts, to the glorious fall colors showing off their brilliance before dropping their leaves as winter approaches.
Winter offers a time of hibernation, of meditation, reflection, and regeneration.
During winter, some of us stand in awe as we look at tall, stately trees stripped barren of their leaves, presenting their nakedness to the frigid elements. Throughout what seems like a period of darkness, these trees are preparing themselves for the green leaves and fruit which will come forth from their branches in the spring.
Out of darkness can come light. I find lines from the song The Rose quite comforting: “…just remember in the winter/ far beneath the bitter snows/ lies the seed that with the sun’s love/ in the spring becomes the rose.”
Let’s celebrate March!
There is much to celebrate during the month of March and I feel it my duty to alert you to some of the lesser-known celebrations you might otherwise miss. If you are a college basketball fan, you know about ‘March Madness.’ We’ve heard of The Ides of March, March 15. This day is also Everything-You-Think-Is-Wrong Day followed by St. Patrick’s Day on March 17, ‘the wearing of the green’. You don’t have to be Irish to participate. If you don’t want to celebrate Everything-You-Think-Is-Wrong-Day, wait until March 16 and celebrate Everything-You-Do-Is-Right-Day.
According to MentalFloss.com and/or HolidayInsights.com, there are over a dozen more special days for celebration in March that you may not know about. Some events are celebrated for the entire month, such as National Music in the Schools Month; National Frozen Foods Month; National Irish American Month, designated by Congress in 1995. We also celebrate National Red Cross Month and National Social Workers Month, to name a few. And maybe you should be aware that the second week of March is designated National Bubble Week, whatever that means. On some days we recognize important people such as the birthday of Alexander Graham Bell and Alfred Hitchcock.
Here are a few of my favorites:
March 1st is National Peanut Butter Day. So, if you are a peanut-butter lover, make that sandwich in celebration, and maybe throw in a little jelly! If you are not a peanut butter fan, maybe you’ll celebrate National Popcorn day, the second Thursday of the month.
This is the month we celebrate National Puppy Day, National Waffle Day, and National Eiffel Tower Day.
And if you’re so inclined, don’t forget to celebrate daylight savings time (March 11 this year) and/or the first day of spring, coming on March 20 this year. Extra-terrestrial Abduction Day is March 20, if you want to mark this on your calendar. Did we leave anything out?
Yes, we did. Old-Stuff Day is March 2. While hoarders might not celebrate this day, I’ve chosen to. I find ‘old stuff’ at least a helpful metaphor for cleaning out our mental/emotional closets, emptying some old mental and emotional files, dusting off some long-held ideas that have not served us well. It’s an opportunity to discard some ways we do things over and over, expecting a different outcome, only to be disappointed. Think about the same ‘old stuff’ you do every day and how you can break out of these old routines. My concept of spring cleaning is not when you clean out your closet and get rid of clothes and shoes you haven’t worn for years, or you clean out your dresser and chest of drawers, discovering things there that you haven’t seen or even thought about in ages.
Here’s my idea of good spring cleaning. I take myself off the hook by not taking spring cleaning literally but rather, seeing the concept as metaphorical. We get rid of ‘old stuff’ in order to make room for the new – new ideas, behaviors, experiences, a new way of being in the world. If we don’t make room, it won’t happen.
If none of these days of celebration interest you, perhaps you will want to celebrate National Panic Day on March 9. Suggestions for celebrating this day include: crying uncontrollably; tearing your hair out; indulging your deepest fears; letting loose with unbridled hysteria; or running through the streets shrieking like a banshee.
This might be a good month to create your own day of celebration, maybe National Appreciation Day, or National Day of Joy. I especially like the idea of a National Adventure Day, when we look at our openness to new experiences, to new ideas, seeking ways to broaden our world. I am reminded of Helen Keller’s statement that “Either life is a daring adventure or nothing.” The nice thing about all this is, you get to choose.
From Crush to Agape: How Do I love Thee?
In Sonnet 43, Victorian poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning pondered this question. Using space as a metaphor, she went on to say, “Let me count the ways: I love thee to the depths and breaths and heights my soul can reach…” Browning dedicated this poem to her husband, Robert Browning. Most of us aren’t that eloquent in our expression of love. But, can we all aspire to that kind of love in our daily lives?
For starters, we need to understand that there are several different types of love or ‘love’. These can quickly be broken down into:
I wrote about crushes in The Knack of a Happy Life. Many of us developed crushes in adolescence and thought that was love. This feeling can play an important role in adolescent development, but it’s not the stuff that real, long-lasting love is all about. A crush is an intense and, usually, passing infatuation. However, if a crush continues for too long it can become obsessive and take up more time and energy than we can spare. At its extreme, crushes that become pathological create stalkers. Our goal is not to deny or ignore these types of emotions but to learn from them and grow into a higher form of love.
Erotic comes from the Greek god Eros, the god of sexual attraction. A love that is an emotional involvement based on body chemistry. Eros looks for what it can receive. If it does give, it gives in order to receive. The basic idea of this kind of love is self-satisfaction. Though directed towards another, it actually has self in mind. “I love you because you make me happy,” is one way to think of it. Obviously, this is a conditional type of love. Many of us get stuck in this phase. Erotic love does not produce a deep feeling of connectedness and/or belonging.
Storge is a wide-ranging form of love and includes many relationship types. It is arguably more a feeling of attraction for a person (or even a pet) than strictly love. When we experience a quiet, abiding feeling for someone close to us that we feel good about, we are experiencing a form of storge love. It is a natural movement of the soul towards spouse, parents, children.
Somewhat similar to storge love, phileo love can be thought of as brotherly love. This is most often seen with close friendships. Phileo is a love that responds to kindness and appreciation. It involves giving as well as receiving but it can collapse when greatly strained, as in a crisis. Phileo love is a higher form of love than erotic love because it is about our happiness, not just my happiness.
Agape love is the highest form of love. Some say agape love is the love God has for man and man for God. It can be thought of as a universal, unconditional love. For example, the love a parent has for a child. Agape love does not depend on the merit or worth of its object. This is a love that delights in giving.
These different forms of love are not to be considered static for each of us. While agape is the highest level, most of us have experienced all of these different types of love from time-to-time and moment-to-moment. We shouldn’t think of any of these levels as automatically better or worse (good vs. bad) than the others. It is a sign of a healthy individual to assess where all of their relationships fall along the love spectrum and decide if some type of movement is necessary for personal growth and a more fulfilling relationship.
February is the month we focus on love. Valentine’s Day invites us to tell others how important they are to us; how much we love them. It is a good time to stop and take assessment of the kinds of love we embrace and to seek the highest form, a mature love that is strong enough to run the risk of losing the person who is loved. It’s not easy, but it’s doable and the rewards are immeasurable.
Give love a chance!
Making Resolutions You Can Keep
It’s New Year’s Eve, 2017. We wish everyone a Happy New Year and gather in front of the TV to watch the ball drop. This is the time for New Year’s resolutions. Every year we honor this tradition, making promises to ourselves that, for one in every three people, will be broken before January 31st. Indeed, many of us go ‘off the rails’ within a few days only to come back the next year and make the same resolutions.
Habits are hard to break, so we make our resolutions and then wave them goodbye in just a short time. With resolution making, the person resolves to change an undesired behavior, to accomplish a personal goal, or otherwise improve his life. Our goals are noble, but so often they end in failure.
For many, resolutions are just wishful thinking. Losing weight (going on a diet) is the number one resolution we make each year. We start with lofty goals but unfortunately most of us forget about them within weeks. Why is this?
Often, our goals are doomed to failure because they are unrealistic or because we lack the willpower to ‘stay the course’, or because of lack of support from family and friends. Whatever the reason, only 8% of resolution-makers will still be committed to their resolutions by year’s end. Many give up because of the struggle they face or because of too many other activities which demand their attention. 42% of those trying to lose weight said “It’s just too difficult.” This is especially true among those who set their goal to lose 30 to 40 pounds. The problem here is setting the bar too high. If you want to achieve success, lower your goals, make them realistic and doable and when you slip up, get up! Dr. Paul Marconi suggests success is more likely if you: set realistic goals; be patient; share goals with friends and family; make a schedule for at least some of your goals so other things don’t interfere.
The second most common resolution is to exercise more and eat more healthily. Here the issue is, once again, setting standards too high. Do not promise yourself you will lose 40 pounds in a month, or that you will eat only fresh vegetables and fruit, or to get eight hours sleep every night. Do not promise yourself that you will be at the gym every morning by 6:00 AM. This is not going to happen, and you are setting yourself up for failure and self-blame. I like a comment my friend made about this: “I am not one who, by nature, jumps on sinking ships.”
This year, think about how you can become one of those elite few who actually achieve their goals. If you are satisfied with yourself and your life, then you may feel no need to make resolutions each New Year. That’s not the way I feel, so each year I make my resolutions as the shouts of “Happy New Year” ring out.
Here are some of my New Year’s resolutions for 2018:
To be more loving; to practice random acts of kindness; to be more forgiving of myself and of others; and to do at least one thing each day that cannot be measured, weighed or touched. I think these goals are realistic for me and can be accomplished. My caution is that we not make our list of New Year’s resolutions as long as our grocery list!
I like the Persian poet Hafiz’ comments on this subject:
“When all your desires are distilled,
You will make but two choices:
To love more and
To be happy.”
Happy New Year!
A Peaceful World Begins With Me
“Let there be peace on earth…” the beautiful song by Jill Jackson-Miller and Sy Miller was originally written for, and sung by, the International Children’s Choir. It is a favorite during the holiday season. This simple thought, “let there be peace…” continues to touch the hearts of people everywhere, serving as one of many inspirational messages for this time of year.
But let’s focus for a moment on the second line of the song: “And let it begin with me.” The writers wrote a song about their dreams of peace for the world and how they believed each one of us could help create it. Their song, which has had an amazing journey around the world, expresses a simple, basic sentiment: that each of us can help to create a climate for world peace and understanding. It is difficult to comprehend how “peace on earth” can “begin with me.” What can I do to affect peace on earth? Finding one’s own peace is a place to start. Finding peace is always possible but it is never guaranteed. There is always the opportunity for turmoil and chaos.
It is important to become intentional about how we create peace for ourselves. Peace does not come at the expense of others. And it isn’t something you get once and keep it. It is the job of a lifetime. If you believe the importance of “and let it begin with me,” you will see that your peaceful interactions have a ripple effect and can affect those around you, much like dropping a pebble in a quiet lake. We don’t know how far our ‘pebble’ extends but we do know that there is truth to Peace Pilgrim’s words: “We’re all cells in the body of humanity.” So we don’t do this work in isolation. Whatever I do with my little cell influences all the cells around me, creating a new wider and wider circle.
The Buddhist concept of peace through non-attachment suggests that peace is the place you come to when you stop looking for or craving things. Gift-giving is a case in point. When we focus on a gift as “stuff” we are robbed of the gift of peace. To actually give ‘peace’ and be peaceful as we give to others is miraculous. Peace and true happiness are synonymous. My Jungian analyst friend says that when we stop frantically searching for that one something that will bring us peace we then find ourselves at peace. Many of us, including myself, find peace in creativity. Bringing a painting, a piece of music, a story or a poem to life takes us out of our small selves to higher, more mature, wiser selves. Creativity is one of the strongest connections we have to life. I am aware of a deep sense of peace, serenity and gratitude for the lessons I have learned from a long and increasingly happy life. What I know is that true happiness comes from a place of joy and peace within us where we have no fear of loss, no need to win, nothing to lose. Know that peace-seeking is a never-ending process and when we strive every day to release our consciousness into a place of peace, wonderful things happen. But it takes frequent reminders that we are all members of one family. So I add my voice to the song, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”
Each of us can become a note in the song of peace.
*Parts of this piece appeared originally in Wilma Magazine.
Sharing With a Thankful Heart
“What are you doing?” my friend asked her critically ill father-in-law when she arrived at his home to fix lunch for him.
With childlike mischief in his grin, he said, “I’m counting my blessings, and I think it’s gonna take me all day.”
My friend was racing around, getting ready for the Thanksgiving holiday season, and was frazzled. But his comment caught her attention. His message seemed to be: stop whatever you find yourself doing and be grateful.
It’s easy to feel so self-centered and preoccupied with daily routines and details, trying to control what we cannot, that it is difficult to remember to be thankful. Most of us go through life wanting to be thanked, to be appreciated. There is no end to the ways we can wear ourselves out seeking external validation. But being thankful and expressing our gratitude every day is another matter. We have a lack of understanding of what it means to “count your blessings.”
“I used to spend weeks preparing for Thanksgiving for my family and invited guests,” my client said. “I wanted them to be so impressed with the beautifully decorated house, the fine china and highly-polished silver, and the fabulous home-made food that everyone would be eager to tell me how impressed and grateful they were. It took me a long time to realize that this was not “thanksgiving” for me. It was about “thanks-getting.”
All of us need to be aware of our need for appreciation and never miss a chance to express sincere gratitude. I like the message I saw on a church bulletin board recently: “Want a quick get-rich scheme? Count your blessings.” The test is do I feel joy in giving or frustration and resentment because others do not appreciate me.
Thanksgiving is one of the busiest holidays of the year. More people celebrate Thanksgiving than Christmas. Travel is a nightmare for some. Families struggle to make it to the family feast. Nerves are shot, tempers flare, and, under stress, hurtful things are said. It’s difficult to remember to be grateful in situations such as these. Trying to continue time-honored traditions can become problematic. Maybe it’s time for a family meeting to discuss what can be changed or eliminated that will lower the stress and anxiety and still respect and dignify what is important to the family. There is nothing sacred, in and of itself, about a tradition. I have gone from cooking Thanksgiving dinner to ordering an entire Thanksgiving meal, to making reservations at a local restaurant. Each choice, agreed upon in advance, has been a successful celebration of the day, focusing on what we’re thankful for.
There are people who can and do model for us what thanksgiving looks like when it’s lived out daily. By embracing their inspirational messages, we can learn about gratitude from those who live a thankful life in the face of trauma, tragedy, and death. I have known such people and at this Thanksgiving season I express my gratitude for being allowed to participate in their journey.
This Thanksgiving I am particularly grateful for having been so richly blessed in the face of trauma and illness. Such abundant gifts of love, compassion, dignity, optimism, and healing have been showered on me that I cannot imagine asking for anything more, except perhaps for the gift of appreciation, for all things great and small.
I can’t do an October Monthly Musings without commenting on Halloween, not only because it’s such a cool holiday in and of itself, but also because it’s my son’s birthday.
When Eric was in elementary school, Halloween was cause for celebration. Room Mothers (of which I was one) brought cupcakes and Halloween candies for the students to each classroom. Then after school, we had a birthday party where I served a big Halloween-themed birthday cake, cookies, and candies, with which the kids stuffed themselves. I was always relieved that my son never succumbed to an overdose of sugar or diabetes!
After finally getting the icing off their faces and eating a few bites of supper, the kids were off in a group to go trick-or-treating around the neighborhood. One elderly man on my street had debated whether he would continue the trick-or-treat tradition. He found bags of candy to be so expensive. When the young kids rang the doorbell, an angelic-looking young boy with blond hair opened his bag and said to the elderly man, “trick or treat.” The man smiled, admired the young boy’s costume, and dropped a shiny red apple into the bag. The angelic smile disappeared as the boy stuck his face in the bag. “Now look what you did,” he said. “You broke my damn cookie!” That was the last year my neighbor partook in this yearly tradition.
Over the years, trick-or-treating rules have changed. We live in a more fearful world; parents are less comfortable in many communities with letting their children canvas the neighborhood alone, ringing doorbells, and yelling out “trick or treat.” Some parents walk with their young children to houses in their neighborhood. A few communities have developed alternatives such as “trunk parties” in parking lots where children in their costumes can come to places supervised by adults to get goodies. Churches and community centers hold indoor events with costume-judging and treats. In my own community there is very little activity so I simply turn off my outdoor light and lock the door. Heaven forbid I should buy 10 pounds of candy and then be forced to eat it all myself!
There’s another reason that October is one of my favorite months and the subject of my Monthly Musings: I love the foliage! The changing of the seasons with the brightly-colored leaves and the trees all dressed up in their finest makes my heart sing. After the sultry summer I appreciate the cooler temperatures, the need for a light sweater or maybe even a sweatshirt during an early morning walk. I like the feel of my hands snuggled warm in my pockets. Sometimes there’s the smell of smoke in the air from a near-by chimney, reminding me winter is on its way.
I lived in the Boston area for over 25 years and was treated to the breath-taking beauty of October foliage in the New England states. It was like nothing I had seen before or since. But here in North Carolina, especially in the mountains, there is also very beautiful foliage.
I remind myself each year that the beauty of the fall foliage will pass and we will then have bare trees and winter cold. That’s okay. It’s part of the cycle of transformation. Each season brings with it its own beauty. After celebrating winter and the winter holidays comes spring…another transformation, another rebirth of beauty and joy. At least, that’s the way I experience it.
Voices From the Classroom
For me, like most people, September means back-to-school time. Parents, teachers, and children are getting ready for another year of getting to know each other, learning, playing, and, hopefully, laughing together. It’s the latter that I want to focus on here.
I spent 16 years as Coordinator of Psychological Services and Elementary Guidance for the Quincy (MA) Public Schools many years ago. My favorite part of my job was spending time with young children, one-on-one, getting their thoughts and ideas on various subjects. Some of their observations were so amusing – and sometimes poignant – that I planned to jot them down and put them all together in a book, but time slipped by and I never did. Then, years later I retired and moved to Wilmington, NC, where, through my church, I started a tutoring program for a nearby elementary school. As part of this program I tutored in two first grade classes and began, once again, to collect funny comments and stories.
Here are a few of my favorites, collected over the years. I know that every good teacher has his/her own “collection” which provides a smile during tough moments.
My favorite definitions:
Grief: “The case your Daddy takes to work every day.”
Independence: “It’s like when a baby calf tries to stand on its own two wobbly legs and it don’t want no help.”
Favorite answers to formal test questions:
Why does oil float on water? “Because of pollution!”
Whose birthday is celebrated on February 12th? “Hammerhand Lincoln”
“Would you draw a triangle for me?” I asked a 7 year old boy. “No”, he said and handed the pencil back to me. “Why not?” I asked. “Well, because actually, triangles are not good for me,” he explained.
There’s nothing like the curiosity and honesty of six-year-olds when you’re a tutor in their classroom: “You look almost old,” the young student said to me. “Honey, I AM almost old,” I replied. “Okay,” she said and walked away. Another student who had heard this conversation came over and asked, “Are you 100 years old?” Without answering, I gave the thumbs down sign, meaning lower. “Oh,” she whispered, “I get it; you’re 99!”
And finally, one of my all-time favorites:
I was listening to a first grade boy read a book to me in the hallway outside his classroom. The book was not about travel, but obviously he had travel on his mind. A few pages into the book Jesse said, “When I grow up I’m going to live in the jungle.” “Oh, what will you do there?” I asked. “Play with the monkeys and eat bananas!” he answered, and we continued our reading aloud.
Several more pages were read before Jesse interrupted the flow by saying, “Or maybe I’ll live in Texas. Is it cold in Texas?” “I think the temperature is about the same as here,” I said. “Let’s try to finish our book before our time is up.”
Further into the book, Jesse expressed another thought. “Maybe I’ll live in Japan. Do they have large TV screens in Japan?” I smiled. “I’m quite sure they do”. “You know something, Jesse; I think you’re going to be a world traveler when you grow up.” Jesse looked surprised. “You do?” “I think it’s possible. You’re very interested in other people and places.” Jesse shook his head and said, “Well, I don’t know. I ain’t even left this place yet.”
Listen to the voices of young children. Listen and learn. They have so much to teach us if we invite them to share their thoughts.
“What are you doing?” the kindergarten teacher asked her young male student who was sitting with a peaceful smile on his face. “Dweeming and imagining,” he said.
My kind of kid…
For more inspirational messages, visit my Beautiful Short Stories page.