More power than will

Engineers said it couldn't be done, but that didn't stop Henry Ford. Photo by IFCAR, public doman via Wikimedia Commons

Engineers said it couldn’t be done, but that didn’t stop Henry Ford.
Photo by IFCAR, public doman via Wikimedia Commons

“We have more power than will; and it is often by way of excuse to ourselves that we fancy things are impossible.” – Francois VI, Duc De la Rochefoucauld

“I am looking for a lot of men who have an infinite capacity to not know what can’t be done.”Henry Ford

“Ford decided to produce his now famous V-8 motor. He chose to build an engine with the entire eight cylinders cast in one block, and instructed his engineers to produce a design for the engine. The design was placed on paper, but the engineers agreed, to a man, that it was simply impossible to cast an eight-cylinder engine-block in one piece.  Ford replied,”Produce it anyway.”Napoleon Hill

Years ago, one of many doctors who evaluated Matt chose a dynamic assessment tool intended to measure not only what he was able to do, but what his potential for learning might be if given mediated instruction.  When she met to discus the results with us, she gave us some wise advice.  “Remove the word ‘can’t’ from your vocabulary and replace it with the phrase ‘has not yet learned to,’ especially when you are speaking where Matt can hear you.”

I think that’s good advice for almost any of us.  While there are things that are truly impossible for us, we are seldom asked or expected to do them. Far more often, we limit our own accomplishments by underestimating our capabilities, or being unwilling to do what it takes to surpass what we are currently able to achieve.  More than one historian has portrayed Ford’s legendary determination as sometimes crossing the line into ruthlessness.  Nevertheless, he changed history because of his refusal to believe conventional wisdom regarding what was possible.

It’s often hard to know where to focus our efforts for optimal results, but I agree with Rochefoucauld that we tend to excuse ourselves from doing what is difficult by using the word “can’t” instead of “won’t.”  Is there anything you need and want to do that you are dodging by saying “I can’t?”  Are there things you’d like to do that you haven’t tried, for fear of failure?

One year ago today:

Estimating our limits

Finished and complete

I photographed this yoked ox at Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, in October 2005,

I photographed this yoked ox at Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, in October 2005.

“For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.”
Henry Beston

Years ago Daddy showed me this quote, and I liked it instantly.  It captures perfectly the mysterious appeal that draws so many animal lovers to all sorts of creatures.  We watch in fascination as each species moves in its own unique sphere, possessed of capabilities that enable survival and usefulness to the environment.

Anyone who watches National Geographic specials about animals soon learns that nature can be harsh and even cruel.  This is why Beston’s description of animals as “fellow prisoners” seems so apt.  Whether small and agile or large and mighty, each is subject to forces beyond its control, part of a large and magnificent living tapestry.

We may be captivated by their tremendous strength, exotic beauty or astonishing grace, but perhaps it is this common bond of earthly travail that binds us most to the animals.  I find it difficult to watch any creature for very long without feeling some degree of sympathy for it.   “Caught…in the net of life and time,” we are in good company, surrounded by more varieties of life than any human mind could imagine.  Today I hope you will enjoy sharing a few minutes of your attention with at least one or two of these delightful companions.

One year ago today:

The greatness of a nation

The indispensable ingredient

Cruising is a continual feast, but I guarantee that some of these people were complaining. Taken on board the Celebrity Summit, March 2010

Cruising is a continual feast, but I guarantee that some of these people were complaining.
I took this photo on board the Celebrity Summit, March 2010

“It is literally true, as the thankless say, that they have nothing to be thankful for.  He who sits by the fire, thankless for the fire, is just as if he had no fire.  Nothing is possessed save in appreciation, of which thankfulness is the indispensable ingredient.  But a thankful heart hath a continual feast.”  — W.J. Cameron

Have you noticed how quickly we come to expect, and then demand, blessings that we were once thrilled to have?  Nowhere is this more evident to me than in the increasing number of comforts and conveniences we think we MUST have, but could actually live without quite easily. I think many aspects of travel fall into this category.

For example, cruising can be one of the most inexpensive ways to see a lot of different places without having to pack and unpack.  The food and entertainment choices abound, and in all the cruises we’ve taken, the things we enjoyed far outweighed the things we weren’t crazy about.

Nevertheless, many seasoned cruisers are terribly hard to please. Go to any cruise review website and you’ll find people griping about all sort of things, but a lot of it will be about the food.  It seems to be some sort of status symbol nowadays, to talk disdainfully about “chain restaurant food.”  Maybe I’m too easy to please, but I don’t understand this sort of ingratitude.  It’s as if people become desensitized to abundance, and caught in a cycle of perpetual discontent, always demanding more in either quantity or quality.

The next time I find myself griping about something that many people only dream of having (such as a car, a trip, food on the table, or the health to enjoy any of it) I want to remind myself of all the ways I should feel thankful.  That I could afford to buy whatever it is.  That I was able to see, hear, taste or otherwise enjoy it.  That I was able to make the time in my day, and in my life, to obtain and benefit from it.  I could go on, but you get the idea.

I’ve talked with Jeff many times about gratitude, and how I’m almost superstitious about it.  I always have the feeling that if I’m not grateful for what I have, it will be taken away from me.  Perhaps this attitude springs, in part, from an old folk tale that made a huge impression on me at a very young age.

Nevertheless, the importance of living with a grateful heart cannot be overestimated.  I find that when I fully appreciate something, it’s easier to let go of it when the time comes.  If I feel and express thankfulness for someone I love while they are still present in my life, I will have fewer regrets for my negligence later, and less sorrow over the loss when we are parted.

Our lives right now are so unpredictable that I have no idea what will be going on in two weeks when this is published.  However, I can say with confidence that regardless of what is happening in your life or mine, we all share one thing in common: there will be many things for which we can and should feel thankful.  Please join me today in feeling, and more importantly, expressing, sincere gratitude!

One year ago today:

No such thing

Incredible power

Magnet message 2012

I posted these word magnets in our kitchen after Jeff’s diagnosis in 2012.
They have been there for us to see every day since.

“Words have incredible power. They can make people’s hearts soar, and they can make people’s hearts sore.” – Mardy Grothe

Never underestimate the effect words can have, for better or worse.  The Bible’s book of James (chapter 3) is one of many sources of wisdom that remind us of the importance of guarding what we say.  One reason I tend to prefer reading and writing to most live conversation is that it comes with a sort of “time delay” that enables me to be a bit more cautious.

Written words have an additional benefit: they can be available to be read and seen again and again.  That’s why posters, signs and Pinterest sites are full of inspiring quotes and witty sayings with which we decorate our homes and our computer screens.

Today, I encourage you to find a few ways to post some inspiring words where you can see them often.  You can do a simple Google image search and come up with all kinds of ideas.  Letters and cards from loved ones, magazine clippings and even catalogs can provide you with plenty of material to make yourself a small index card or larger collage to feed your mind with helpful and uplifting thoughts.

So if you thought words were just for books and blogs, think again!  Use words to light up your living spaces and bring a smile to your face, or strength to your spirit.  Feel free to share some of your favorites in the comments, or send a photo of a memorable quote that you have posted somewhere in your home or office, and I’ll upload it here.  You can email it as an attached file to defeatdespair@verizon.net.

Let’s surround ourselves with words to make our hearts soar!

One year ago today:

The most powerful drug

 

Solaced and refreshed

A very young patient enjoys singing by the 82nd Airborne Division Chorus, who visited Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, Indiana, July 2008. "Songs for all ages" by The U.S. Army, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

A very young patient enjoys the vocal music of the 82nd Airborne Division Chorus,
who visited Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, Indiana, July 2008.
“Songs for all ages” by The U.S. Army, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

“My heart, which is so full to overflowing, has often been solaced and refreshed by music when sick and weary.”Martin Luther

I connect with a lot of things Martin Luther said, but none more than this quote.  There is nothing quite like music to soothe, heal, cheer, console or bring cathartic tears.  Music can reach beyond barriers that may be presented by language, illness, or disability, and has even seemingly awakened coma patients.

Music has never been more freely available than it is today, with online offerings to suit every taste and mood, along with multiple free programs that allow you to build your own playlists.  You can put together a collection of your own happy favorites for playing yourself out of a crabby mood, or calming melodies to ease tension and agitation.

If you need a quick dose of cheer, try this favorite from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, a work that never fails to lift my spirits.  This short clip is from “Autumn,” so when you hear it, perhaps it will bring to mind the energizing touch of crisp fall air, which will be here before you know it!

One year ago today:

Higher ground

For others

Looking out from one lighthouse to another.   Kathy photographs the newer lighthouse from the older one,  Cape Henry Virginia, April 2009.

Looking out from one lighthouse to another.
Kathy photographs the newer lighthouse from the older one, Cape Henry Virginia, April 2009.

“The dip of the light meant that the island itself was always left in darkness. A lighthouse is for others; powerless to illuminate the space closest to it.”
M.L. Steadman

I was surprised at the controversy that erupted when the private journals of Mother Teresa were made public, revealing that she suffered from depression and doubts.  Given the nature of her work and the sacrifices she made to continue it, I don’t know how she possibly could have avoided the periodic struggles that are almost inseparable from lifelong faith.

So often we look at those who are shining examples, and we assume it comes more easily for them than it would for us.  We think them more gifted, or resilient, or noble, or brave. “I could never do what you do,” we might say, intending it to be a compliment, not guessing that they may be silently thinking: Oh, yes you could if you had to. If you were willing.

In reality, those we see as heroes are probably not much different from the rest of us, except for their commitment to what they believe; the will to keep going no matter how their emotions may assault them.  In fact, their steadfast dedication probably means that they get far less encouragement than most of us get.  After all, they don’t seem to need it.

But everyone needs it.  We all need each other.  It may be impossible to be guided by our own lights, but we can see the beams from those of others.  Thus when we look outward for light in the darkness, we might consider the question of whether we have sufficient fuel to send forth even a small light ourselves.  Someone out there is watching for it.

One year ago today:

Bringing light

A very common phenomenon

Tony Curtis talking to a lot of people he doesn't know.  Washington DC, February 2007. U.S. Navy image in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Tony Curtis talking to a lot of people he doesn’t know. Washington DC, February 2007.
U.S. Navy image in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

“[Fame is] like having Alzheimer’s Disease. You don’t know anybody, but they all know you.”Tony Curtis

“Being a star has made it possible for me to get insulted in places where the average Negro could never hope to be insulted.”Sammy Davis Jr.

“Everyone wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant.”Cary Grant

“With fame I become more and more stupid, which of course is a very common phenomenon.”Albert Einstein

This post is for everyone who has ever felt overlooked or under-appreciated.  I suspect that includes most of us.  Today we hear directly from those who have been there and know: fame isn’t always as wonderful as it may appear to be.

If you’re reading this blog, it almost certainly means you aren’t famous.  Today, I encourage you to join me in celebrating our (relative) anonymity.  Though social media and ever-intrusive forms of surveillance have seriously compromised the privacy we once took for granted, we can still go to the grocery store without being mobbed for autographs or castigated for our political views.  As celebrities might be quick to tell you, that’s something for which to be thankful.

Go ahead — have as many bad hair days as you like, wear your most comfortable clothing, and ditch the self-conscious worries about what people are going to think of you.  Unless you have someone nearby snapping cell phone photos and posting them to Instagram, no one is likely to notice.  Besides, even the people you may see face to face probably are looking more at their smart phones or portable devices than they are looking at you.  In a weird way, the digital revolution may actually give some of us MORE privacy than we had before.

So dress for less stress, and I’ll see you at Kohl’s or Cracker Barrel or Target.  But you might not recognize me.  I would never post a photo online that shows what I actually look like most of the time! :D

One year ago today:

Awareness of an audience

 

Stored honey

It's a lot of work to store away a bit of sweetness.  Monticello, July 2014

It’s a lot of work to store away a bit of sweetness. Monticello, Virginia July 2014

“Art is the stored honey of the human soul, gathered on wings of misery and travail.”  — Theodore Dreiser

Until I was diagnosed with diabetes in 2010, I used to put lots of honey in my tea each morning.  I’ve always loved honey.  It amazes me how hard the bees have to work to make it.  Sometimes when I was young, Mama would buy honey with the comb still in it as a special treat for me, and I would chew it as if it was chewing gum.

I think Dreiser makes a good analogy between art and honey.  It seems to me that most if not all great art comes out of adversity and sorrow.  And it’s painstakingly created, even when the skill of the artist makes it seem otherwise.

Think of the lovely plein air paintings of the impressionists; they must have been difficult to create in an outdoor setting, despite the wonderful light and inspiration.  I bet that all sorts of pollen, debris and other airborne particles would get stuck in the paint.  And imagine the frustration of getting your easel and equipment set up, only to have a storm blow in just as you are getting started!

We spread honey on our toast in the morning without giving it much thought, just as we stroll past great works in a gallery and seldom reflect that we are seeing the cumulative result of countless hours of execution, to say nothing of the lifelong practice and mistakes that came before, building the mastery that left this legacy for us to enjoy.

In the same way, we may overlook the art all around us in our everyday life, offerings of love from people who manage to create beauty out of misery and travail.  I hope today you’ll be able to taste the sweetness of honey from human souls, stored to help us through the tough times.

One year ago today:

An art of balance

Tickled silly

The stage is set for the performance of your life.  Break a leg! California Shakespeare Theater, Orinda, July 2003

The stage is set for the performance of a lifetime. Break a leg!
California Shakespeare Theater, Orinda, July 2003

“Optimist: someone who isn’t sure whether life is a tragedy or a comedy but is tickled silly just to be in the play.”Robert Brault

One year ago I wrote about my precious Aunt Peggy, who has survived things that might have left less optimistic people feeling bitter.  Peggy is one of those people who are tickled pink just to be in the play, and she’s still one of the leading stars in my cast of characters.  Comedy or tragedy, her timing is perfect and her spirit is one in a million.

We all need some optimists in our life, to remind us that the show must go on, and we’re lucky to be part of the production!  Who are the stars in your show?

One year ago today:

A virtue in itself

Not yourself

Matt see himself (sort of) in a funhouse mirror in San Diego, California, Spring 1992.

Matt see himself (sort of) in a funhouse mirror in San Diego, California, Spring 1992.

When you look
into a mirror
it is not
yourself you see,
but a kind
of apish error
posed in fearful
symmetry

kool uoy nehW
rorrim a otni
ton si ti
˛ees uoy flesruoy
dnik a tub
rorre hsipa fo
lufraef ni desop
yrtemmys

– John Updike

WOW, I love this poem! What do you see when you look in a mirror? How does it differ from what others see when they look at you?

One year ago today:

Exactly like me

Odd corners

This photo brings back fond memories of a quiet corner of Allauch, France, May 2008.

This photo brings back fond memories of a quiet corner of Allauch, France, May 2008.

“It is not on mountaintops that the charm of life lies, for we are seldom there. It is in nooks and vales, in odd corners, that life is spent and finds its settings.”
Wallace Nutting

Your summer vacation might now be a pleasant memory, or maybe you didn’t even take one.  In any case, you can still enjoy one of the perks of travel by looking at your present surroundings with fresh eyes.  What is there in your everyday life that you are not seeing?  Perhaps you often walk, ride or drive past an appealing house you never noticed, or your neighbor’s begonias are in full bloom this week.

I love visiting friends in their homes, because there are always interesting artifacts and appealing snapshots of their life to be found.  These “snapshots” may be actual photographs, but really they can be most anything that gives me a glimpse into some interesting aspect of their personality that is new to me.  If I have my camera, I might even ask if I can take pictures of whatever catches my eye.  My question often meets with amusement that I think that particular “odd corner” is worth photographing.  Something about the commonplace doesn’t seem camera-ready to us.

You can prove that it is, though. Grab your camera or smart phone and look around your own home, inside or out.  The toys scattered by children or pets, the notes on the refrigerator door, the items sitting on your kitchen counter…all these are potential still life compositions that will someday bring back memories for you.

Of course, you can also shoot more traditional subjects such as flowers, gardens, people or animals.  Whatever you capture in a photo, look for the charms of today, the places your life is spent.  You’re not simply preserving a memory; you’re creating one, just by noticing.

One year ago today:

Waiting to be enjoyed

 

Fuel for our journey

"Fire O" by Marcus Obal, licensed under CCA-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

“Fire O” by Marcus Obal, licensed under CCA-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

“We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey.”Kenji Miyazawa

That sounds like a good idea to me.  However, it may be difficult to implement.  As fuels go, pain is an expensive one.  And it’s not particularly clean-burning, either.

Still, there are times when we don’t have much choice.  It may be that burning pain for fuel is the least damaging option in the long run, far less damaging than storing it away where it will produce toxic fumes.  Besides which, we may not have a lot of other options available for some quick and much-needed energy.

During those times when we find ourselves running low on fuel, whether physically, emotionally or spiritually, I hope we can find ways to utilize the negative experiences of pain, sorrow or frustration, all of which tend to have lessons embedded within.  If we’re lucky, we still have a good bit of our journey ahead of us, and we can use whatever assets we find to keep us going.  Some will be more attractive than others, but all might turn out to be necessary.

I wish you freedom from pain, but when it strikes, burn it as fuel if you can possibly manage it.  Though it’s a tough conversion process, it’s worked for me in the past, and probably will again.

One year ago today:

Alchemy in sorrow

Not the same thing

Today's students, like all of us, will learn more outside the classroom than inside it.  I photographed these school children in Dominica, March 2010.

Today’s students, like all of us, will learn more outside the classroom than inside it.
I photographed these school children in Dominica, March 2010.

“They say that we are better educated than our parents’ generation. What they mean is that we go to school longer. It is not the same thing.”Richard Yates

“But knowledge puffs up while love builds up.  Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know.”1 Corinthians 8:1-2

It bothers me that formal education is becoming a status symbol, a commodity to be rated and sold as a means of achieving society’s wealth and adulation.  Never mind that the world is kept running largely by people who are unable to go to the local community college, let alone Harvard.  In the mutual admiration society that constitutes much of academia, this kind of reality doesn’t intrude until one’s plumbing goes awry, or the sanitation workers go on strike.

I’m guessing we all know many people who never got a college degree (and maybe never even a high school diploma) who were sources of unfailing wisdom, strength, humor, achievement and support.  I feel safe in assuming that many of these people were of our parents’ generation, and went to high school during a time when there was no cottage industry that existed purely to increase SAT scores.  They made their way in the world without benefit of AP courses or programs for the gifted, before anyone ever thought to talk about self-esteem.

Knowledge does not equal wisdom, and increasingly, formal education does not necessarily equal either wisdom or knowledge. I’m not knocking education; it’s a wonderful thing.  Sometimes you can even get it from a school or a university.

But we learn the most practical and lasting lessons from life outside the classroom, through the person-to-person exchanges we have with each other, especially the ones that don’t involve grades, money, or other not-so-hidden agendas.  None of us needed the Ivy League to teach us to cook, pay bills, cheer others on, fix what breaks or volunteer to lend a hand where needed.  We learned those things by watching others, and most of the people we watched don’t have any impressive initials after their names.

Today, I hope you will remember fondly those lessons you learned from people who were teachers in the truest sense of the word.  They may never be honored with formal titles or pomp and circumstance.  But whatever good we have in our lives is directly connected to their unheralded faithfulness in showing up and keeping on.

One year ago today:

The answer to a great many things

Wildly enthusiastic

I got so excited about this greenhouse in the Tasha Tudor dollhouse that I took several photos of it. Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, December 2004

I got so excited about this miniature greenhouse that I took several photos of it.
Tasha Tudor dollhouse, Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, December 2004

“I still get wildly enthusiastic about little things…It has been after such times of joy that I have achieved my greatest creativity and produced my best work.”
Leo F. Buscaglia

More than once over the years, people have made fun of me for getting excited over things they considered minor or insignificant.  Confusing their own ennui with sophistication, or perhaps irritated at my ebullient chatter, they would make some sarcastic observation about how little it took to make me happy.

I never minded it, though, because I always felt I was the lucky one in that scenario.  How pathetic to be so demanding of life, so blind to how amazing and wonderful and crammed with blessings it is on even the worst days!

When I am feeling listless, tired or despondent, there is no better remedy for it than to get enthusiastic about something.  Fortunately for me, that’s always been pretty easy to do.  Whether it’s a video of Grady, a funny YouTube clip, my neighbor’s adorable dog, or a letter from someone I love, the little rays of sunshine can make my day.

Perhaps my fascination for miniature things, beginning with the exquisite dollhouse my parents made for me when I was a child, is a fitting parallel to my interest in almost everything in the entire world, no matter how small or overlooked.  As Sheila mentioned recently regarding the nickname she got from her own interest in life, some people might brand me as a “Nosy Nora.” No apologies from me about that — and no regrets, either!

If you are like me, capable of intense enjoyment of little things, I congratulate you — your life will never be boring, and you will go to bed most nights with a full and grateful heart.  If, on the other hand, you find yourself scratching your head over silly people such as I, wondering what it is that’s so funny or happy or delightful, please accept my sincere condolences — and think about joining the party.  Even if you aren’t capable of the giddy giggles you will see all around, you might manage a bit of vicarious joy just by watching others having fun.

What little things can you be wildly enthusiastic about today?

One year ago today:

What we enjoy

Sometimes to go

"Walking in Yosemite" by Rennett Stowe;  Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

“Walking in Yosemite” by Rennett Stowe; Licensed under CCA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

“Oh, how one wants sometimes to go from such giftlessly high-flown, cheerless human wordiness into the seeming silence of nature, into the arduous soundlessness of long, persistent labor, into the wordlessness of deep sleep, of true music, and of a quiet, heartfelt touch grown mute from fullness of soul!” 
Boris Pasternak

Probably nobody I know is more fond of a good conversation than I am.  I love reading, writing and anything to do with words.  But there are times — especially when I’m in a noisy, crowded place, or worse, when the inane chatter of a television is blaring nearby and I’m powerless to stop it — when I just want to flee into the sanctity of silence.

The images Pasternak brings together in this quote evoke, in different ways, that feeling of retreat from empty clatter.  Nature’s calm, the satisfaction of manual labor, the balm of sound sleep, lovely music and silent companionship: these are the places of respite from the peculiar stresses of spending too much time amid the “progress” of civilization.

During the long weeks of living in hospital settings over the past year, how we would long for the quiet cocoon of our home!  What a solace it can be, to escape to a secluded natural spot away from traffic, urban stress and electronic stimulation.  During the grinding heat of the summer (or the chill of winter, for those south of the equator) I wish you many moments of escape to refresh and renew your spirit.

One year ago today:

Clarity from stillness

 

 

Like an inheritance

Mama and Daddy with their aging children, January 2014

Mama and Daddy with their aging children, January 2014

“Avoid providing material for the drama that is always stretched tight between parents and children; it uses up much of the children’s strength and wastes the love of the elders, which acts and warms even if it doesn’t comprehend. Don’t ask for advice from them and don’t expect any understanding; but believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is strength and blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.”Rainer Maria Rilke

Rilke did not have an ideal childhood, but as with many others who mature beyond youthful unhappiness, he was able to see past the difficulties to the timeless treasures that are inherent in family ties.  Despite the seemingly universal  presence of sorrow and heartbreak in our lives, almost all of us have known the blessings of nurturing love such as Rilke describes.

Today, I invite you to celebrate that love, and if you are fortunate enough to have parents who are still living, thank them for the inheritance they have stored up for you, and rejoice in the boundless world that comes with it.

One year ago today:

The incredible gift

 

To build or to destroy

Matt's sweet spirit is a continual inspiration to drive out anger with love. Centerville, Tennessee, August 2007

Matt’s sweet spirit is a continual inspiration to drive out anger with love.
Centerville, Tennessee, August 2007

“Usually when people are sad, they don’t do anything. They just cry over their condition. But when they get angry, they bring about a change.”Malcolm X

“Anger is just anger. It isn’t good. It isn’t bad. It just is. What you do with it is what matters. It’s like anything else. You can use it to build or to destroy…Passion has overthrown tyrants and freed prisoners and slaves. Passion has brought justice where there was savagery. Passion has created freedom where there was nothing but fear. Passion has helped souls rise from the ashes of their horrible lives and build something better, stronger, more beautiful.”Jim Butcher

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”James 1:19-20, NIV

Today (two weeks before this post will publish) my ongoing frustration crossed over to anger, at the endless, exhausting bureaucratic delay and obfuscation that have stood for years now between Matt and an appropriate vocational program or even a day program that would give him something to do with his long hours.

His case worker and countless bureaucrats agree he needs and deserves such services. His cardiologists have put their agreement with our goals in writing, citing Matt’s cardiac health as one reason he needs to maintain an active life.  But the Commonwealth of Virginia has outdated laws that differentiate between autism and other kinds of disabilities, so doors remain closed for many young adults with autism, even as the U. S. Department of Justice works with the state at an agonizingly slow pace toward resolution of this inequity.

As it happens, the post I published one year ago had the interesting title “Jump in the lake.”  So I decided to look at some quotes about anger.  The three I chose to feature above each helped me to focus the inner turmoil that threatened to derail my entire day.

Malcolm’s quote reminded me that anger is often a manifestation of the determination to defeat despair.  Butcher’s quote confirmed my enduring belief that anger can be a tool used to achieve desirable ends.  But the scripture from the book of James, quoted above, ties it together with a wise and powerful warning: that tool should be used carefully, and not in haste.

Note that James does not say we should never speak, or never become angry.  But we should be slow to do so.  Ouch!  I am far too quick to do both. And isn’t it interesting that James ties anger and speaking together, here and elsewhere?

Anger is like fire, helpful only when well controlled.  The reason it does not produce righteousness is that it’s so easily (and often inextricably) mixed with selfishness, jealousy, recklessness, and vengeance, all of which lead to destruction.

When I feel angry, it helps if I remind myself that anger is often a sign of fear, and “perfect love drives out fear.”  Today, I’m going to make a conscious effort to drive fear and anger away, by filling my mind with thoughts of love and gratitude.  If you are struggling with anger, frustration or despair, I send you a special invitation to join me in the effort to use it to build, not destroy.

One year ago tomorrow:

Jump in the lake

This twenty minutes

It would be easy for me to postpone work with grackles all around. Common boat-tailed grackle by cuatrok77 via Wikimedia Commons

It’s a perfect time to postpone work: sunshine, and grackles all around.
“Common boat-tailed grackle” by cuatrok77 via Wikimedia Commons

Sit, drink your coffee here; your work can wait awhile.
You’re twenty-six, and still have some life ahead.
No need for wit; just talk vacuities, and I’ll
Reciprocate in kind, or laugh at you instead.

The world is too opaque, distressing and profound.
This twenty minutes’ rendezvous will make my day:
To sit here in the sun, with grackles all around,
Staring with beady eyes, and you two feet away.    — Vikram Seth

 

One year ago today:

Waiting

Unfailing love

We are surrounded by evidence of unfailing love.  Laguna Beach, July 2004

We are surrounded by evidence of unfailing love. Laguna Beach, CA,  July 2004

“The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.”
Psalm 33:5

One year ago today,  I wrote of my joy in seeing Dr. and Mrs. Rodriguez, and having a new grandson, and all the ways we had been blessed with gifts of comfort and consolation amid all the sorrows.  Now, one year later, the challenges remain, but the blessings continue to abound.

Matt is now on the other side of a risky and difficult surgery we had been dreading for five years, and he is doing well.  Jeff fights on in his war with cancer, with the emphasis having shifted to the metastatic tumors in the lungs, but he feels reasonably well most of the time, and so far is able to maintain a mostly normal life.  Grady grows more delightful by the day, and we already have been granted unforgettable times of laughter and happiness with him.

Other family members have survived scary or difficult medical crises, and we feel thankful that they all are still part of our lives.  And Al reports that Dr. Rodriguez spent some time in the hospital recently and now has a pacemaker, but at 95, that’s not so bad! Al says Mrs. Rodriguez remains the steady, encouraging presence we have always admired.  The lives of our friends and loved ones underscore the truth that God’s mercies are new every morning.

I’m sure almost anyone reading this has had a mixture of trials and blessings for the past year.  Even if the challenges have outweighed the joys, I hope you will be given abundant reminders that we are surrounded with unfailing love.  Though righteousness and justice may sometimes appear to be in short supply, they will always reappear just when we need them most.  That’s a promise.

One year ago today:

Because we are so loved

 

 

 

 

First adventure

Grady, Braxton and Bailey having some summer fun.  July, 2014

Grady, Braxton and Bailey having some summer fun. July, 2014

“I doubt whether the world holds for anyone a more soul-stirring surprise than the first adventure with ice cream.” Heywood Broun

Unless maybe the first or second adventure with birthday cake.  (Grady got a sneak preview with Megan’s chocolate cake.)  Maybe it’s my imagination, but Bailey (she’s the one on the right) seems to be demonstrating that even very young girls tend to be a little neater.

No matter what age you are, I hope you are able to enjoy these final days of summer with just a bit of the carefree fun these one and two-year-olds seem to be having.  I don’t necessarily recommend smearing icing on your face, but perhaps observing a nearby baby or two can give you the vicarious joy of diving into something delicious with innocent abandon.

If your local toddlers are all booked up, you can still give yourself permission to devour an ice cream cone or cupcake in the spirit (if not the results) of children who are too young to know, much less care, what they might look like.  Here’s wishing you a few more weeks filled with the sweetness of summer!

One year ago today:

Summer afternoon

Like a hand waving

The past beckons, but we can't go there except in our imaginations. The dining car of the Northern Pacific Railway North Coast Limited Image licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The past beckons, but we can’t go there except in our imagination.
Dining car, Northern Pacific Railway North Coast Limited
Image licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

“Time was passing like a hand waving from a train that I wanted to be on.”
Jonathan Safran Foer

This has to be one of the most evocative analogies I’ve ever known.  It captures perfectly the wistful experience of watching years roll away, just far enough from us to be out of reach.

It also symbolizes the strange affinity I feel for history; looking on from the outside yet somehow connecting to those within, wishing I knew what it was like to see things from the inside.

Trains are well suited as symbols with which to illustrate the elusive nature of time; just look at Einstein’s use of trains in explaining his theory of relativity.  There’s something about a moving train that throws our perceptions of reality slightly askew.  If we stare at a train passing, we may begin to feel as if we are the ones moving.

And of course, in one sense, we are moving.  We simply have the illusion that we are standing still in comparison, as time passes in front of our eyes.

The passage of time really does seem like a long train with countless cars we can’t enter.  We can see people waving at us from a distance that grows ever greater, until they all but vanish from our sight, but we can only join them in our imagination.

Do you connect with Foer’s analogy?  Have you ever wanted to be on the inside of that passing train, even briefly?

One year ago today:

Some things

Growing wildly

Drew and Matt explore a computer encyclopedia at Science World, Vancouver, BC, 1993

Drew and Matt explore a computer encyclopedia at Science World, Vancouver, BC, 1993

“After growing wildly for years, the field of computing appears to be reaching its infancy.”  — John Pierce

When I first read this quote, I thought, “How true!” Then I realized that what we once thought of as computers, even the notebooks and netbooks, are fast becoming obsolete themselves.  But the term “computing” can be broadly defined to include all digital technology, in which case, Pierce is frightfully accurate.

When I started library school in 1994, the internet was still primarily text-based; the World Wide Web existed, but was accessible primarily through a text browser called Lynx.  The first graphical user interface (GUI), Mosaic, was released in 1993, and was soon eclipsed by Netscape, the ancestor of today’s Firefox, though neither were widely used by today’s standards.  In those days, it might take a full hour to download a single color image.  Remote access was limited to dial-up speeds.

When our professors told us that it was only a few years before full color graphics in audio and video formats would be delivered instantly, and used by the majority of people worldwide, it sounded like a space-age dream to me.  They predicted, with surprising accuracy, many of the advances and issues we are dealing with now, including what all this digital technology would do to our relationships with each other and the world, for better and worse.

I’m probably not alone in thinking that computers can provoke levels of frustration that were unknown before the advent of all these advances that supposedly make life easier.  Still, having been a teller who kept handwritten credits and debits, and an airline ticket agent who remembers the old red-carbon tickets and color coded bag tags, I remember how quickly the early computers introduced in those fields became so essential as to cause panic when they went down.  For all the irritating malfunctions and impenetrable mysteries of technology, I love the innovations microchips have made possible.

Pierce’s quote rings true because digital technology seems perennially young, outgrowing itself far more quickly than we can.  Keeping up with it to any degree, even as partially and selectively as I do (I STILL don’t have a smart phone) demands a mental flexibility and focus that I hope will ameliorate, to some degree, the typical cognitive risks associated with aging.  No matter your age, it will be a challenge to keep up with the changes that are certain to continue.

What do you love best about the digital age?  What do you find most frustrating?  For a little comic relief, you might enjoy reading these submissions to the Haiku Error Messages Contest.  Who says technology and poetry don’t mix?

One year ago today:

Exquisitely dependent

More like rivers

Sunset on Mud Island, Aug 27 2011, Memphis, Tennessee Photo by SportsandHistoryReader521 CC BY-SA 3.0

Sunset on Mud Island, Aug 27 2011, Memphis, Tennessee
Photo by SportsandHistoryReader521 CC BY-SA 3.0

“At the time I did not know that stories of life are often more like rivers than books.”Norman Maclean

Jeff and I spent the first four years of our marriage in Memphis, Tennessee, while he attended dental school there.  I loved the city for many reasons, but what I loved most was the Mississippi River.  The downtown skyline went right to the river’s edge where it stopped abruptly, with lovely parks on the banks offering expansive views of the waterfront.

I had little experience with rivers of any size, but even so, I could see that the wide, steadily flowing river in front of me was exceptional.  What impressed me most was how relentlessly it moved; I had heard talk of rivers as slowly winding along, but this one always appeared to move faster than I expected.  I had never seen anything so immense travel so smoothly.  The ocean moves in waves, but as the legendary song says, “that old man river just keeps rolling along.”

When I read Maclean’s words about life being more like a river than a book, I thought of the Mississippi as I used to see it from Memphis.  So many adjectives come to mind that underscore the truth of Maclean’s observation: mighty, unceasing, changing, often beautiful, sometimes hard to contain.  Just as we can never step in the same river twice, it is impossible to arrest the forward motion of our lives, no matter how ideal we might find our present circumstances.

When we are young, we imagine that life will have a familiar narrative such as we have read in stories: a well-defined beginning, middle and end, with a fairly predictable outcome, notwithstanding a few plot twists here and there.  We think of ourselves as owning our lives, as we might own a book, holding it in our hands, finishing one chapter and beginning another when we choose.

How much more apt is the image of being swept along, moving a great distance in a relatively short time, traveling in one direction, never to return to the territory that lies behind.  The force of a river can be destructive, but throughout history, rivers have given birth to cities and civilizations, providing life-sustaining water that nourishes even as it erodes.

None of us can see what lies around the bend.  But the views are breathtaking, in every direction we look.  Today, I wish you time to enjoy the journey, and loyal traveling companions who share the joys and sorrows.

One year ago today:

A fascinating vitality

Stand ajar

Amy's open gate, a fitting symbol of her open heart.  Winnweiler, Germany, August 2005

Amy’s open gate, a fitting symbol of her open heart. Winnweiler, Germany, August 2005

“The Soul should always stand ajar
That if the Heaven inquire
He will not be obliged to wait…”  — Emily Dickinson

There has been much conjecture about Dickinson’s relatively minimal social contact, which was unusual for a woman from a prominent family.  She has been labeled a “hermit” or a “recluse,” but perhaps she was simply an introspective woman devoted to nontraditional pursuits, and she understood that staying busy with too many tasks would hinder the sort of inner and outer explorations that inspired her writing.

As with most good poetry, there are many ways to interpret the poem from which the lines quoted above have been drawn.  Regardless of how her imagery is interpreted, she clearly is urging readers to remain open and ready for whatever gifts Heaven may confer.  Perhaps one way she allowed her own soul to “stand ajar” was her habit of favoring quiet contemplation and contact with nature over an active and lively social calendar.

Just as there are many different personalities and temperaments, so there are various ways of remaining open and ready to receive blessings.  Whether one is an introvert or extrovert, it’s a pretty safe bet that being too busy, hurried or distracted might get in the way of sensitive receptivity.   What are some ways we can allow our souls to “stand ajar” and be ready to hear the music over the noise?

One year ago today:

Going to the desert

Along the road

Slow down and enjoy the scenery! Bar Harbor, Maine, June 2012

Slow down and enjoy the scenery! Bar Harbor, Maine, June 2012

“I regret less the road not taken than my all-fired hurry along the road I took.”
Robert Brault

As hard as it might be for some of us to believe this, if we live long enough we will look back on this particular time in our lives and miss at least a few of the people or things that are part of it.  Though we may recall this phase of life as difficult, sad or even horrible, there will be something good about it to remember.  And if these are relatively good times, we might not realize quite how good they are until we can see them from a few years’ distance.

So often we speak of “getting through” something as if we are eager for it to pass quickly.  We “get through” school, job training, our children’s diaper years, or the financial strain of their college years.  Almost always, these times pass far more rapidly that we expected, and we are left rather breathless in amazement, wondering where the time went.

Whatever is in store for you today, I hope you won’t try to get through it too quickly.  If it’s a good day, I wish you the ability to savor every minute.  If it’s a hard day, I hope you will be able to see a few gems sparking in the muck.  Take them out, rinse them and save them.  They are precious now, and will be even more precious later.

One year ago today:

No time

 

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