Tuesday, November 20, 2018

On the Road Again

my wife and i will be traveling for the next couple of days and will not have internet access.  i will try to post later in the week when we return from our trip.  until then, may we all have a happy thanksgiving.  shalom.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Let Every Heart Rejoice

what is happiness?  lately, some events have occurred that caused me to feel sad and hurt.  yet beyond the sadness and the pain, i've been surprised that i'm still a happy person.  i can address the suffering without the underlying sense of well being in my life going away.  at the end of each day, i go to bed glad that i'm alive and filled with a sense of joy and accomplishment and looking forward to the new day that i hope will come.  i can't account for this happiness, because it's something that's relatively new, something that has happened over the last two or three years.

my wife and i have been through some difficult times: making a move that was physically and emotionally draining, having to adjust to a new locale where people have different customs and points-of-view and where the climate and topography are not what we're accustomed to, separating ourselves from old friends and our church, living farther from our daughter and her husband.  despite the pain of these adjustments, i've still been happy.  it's hasn't been nearly as hard to give up so much that is familiar as i thought it would be.  our lives are filled with so much natural beauty, and many of things we enjoy most, like a variety of good restaurants and wonderful shows and concerts, are easily accessible.  as we looked at our calendar for the coming weeks last night, it was filled with day trips to places we love and events we look forward to participating in.

but my happiness is more than these superficial activities, more that the busy-ness of every day life.  i can't describe it, but i know that it is something that is different within me that i wish i had experienced throughout my life.  part of it is, i suppose, an awareness that passing joys and pains are just that--passing.  they are not the core of who i am.  while i may enjoy a concert of beautiful music as it happens and have fond memories of it far into the future, the joy that it brought and continues to bring is not the source of happiness.  my happiness is far deeper and much more a part of the "me" that i am.  it's something i don't fear losing, because i know that it can't be taken away by external events.

as i go forward, i hope that this sense of happiness deepens and that i can share it with others.  may each of us find such happiness.  may others be made happier by our own happiness.  may we see fleeting joys and sufferings as passing moments in our lives that leave our basic happiness intact.  may lovingkindness and respect flow from us because we are filled with lovingkindness and respect for ourselves.  shalom.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

A Time to Every Purpose Under Heaven

it is that time of year when the trees are covered in leaves of red, yellow, and gold just before they fall to the ground.  here in the mountains, fall has been especially colorful this year, and, as we drive through the countryside or look from our deck, we see displays of nature at its most beautiful.  we've had our first frost of the season and the first freeze is predicted for later in the week.  the pilot on the gas logs has been lit.  the flames have danced in it for several evenings already.  the hvac system has been switched from cooling to heating.  daylight saving time has ended, and all the clocks in the house have been reset to "real" time.  we're already a week into november.  before we know it, thanksgiving and christmas will be over.  2018 will soon end.

there's something magical about autumn.  you breathe it in as the crisp, clean air enters your body.  the cycle of change that occurs each year takes precedence over the humdrum of everyday life.  i'm reminded that there are large arcs that govern our existence.  the changing seasons are a part of these patterns.  like the regular rhythm of nature, our lives have a rhythm.  we move from the dependency of infancy to the increasing independence of childhood and adolescence to young adulthood, then middle age, followed by becoming elderly, and finally our lives end as surely as the year comes to an end as december becomes january.

i've reach the next-to-last stage in my life's cycle.  like the characteristics of the seasons of the year, each phase of life has its own beauty.  i must say that old age has been a wonderful time of life for me.  i have the luxury of planning my days without being governed by a clock.  i can rise when i please and go to bed when i please.  i can eat when i'm hungry, rather than eating to conform to someone else's schedule that is imposed on me.  i can plan my days around what i want to accomplish rather than what an employer tells me i must accomplish, and, if i want to be lazy, i don't have to accomplish anything at all.  i have a freedom that i've never had before.

sure, there are aches and pains.  i don't move as fast as i used to.  i take more pills.  i tire more easily.  in spite of all that, life is good.  it is as if i spent my whole life preparing for this time, and i'm enjoying being in the last chapter of life before death puts a period at the end of the last sentence.  last night, my wife and i pulled out our calendars and began noting the dates when we are going to concerts and going to visit family during the upcoming holiday season.  we got excited about the future that is ahead of us.  it's so wonderful to know that our lives are not bound by the requirements of getting up at a certain time to do the work that someone else has decided that we must do.  instead, we go when and where we want to go.

may each of us look forward to a life filled with expectations of good things to come, and may we have memories of happy times past.  may we appreciate each season of the year and of our lives.  may we celebrate the changes that life brings.  may we relish the living of every moment.  shalom.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

My Tears Fell Like Rain

recently, two people that my wife and i care for deeply have said things to us that were very hurtful.  one of those who said these things was voicing some longstanding grievances he had with us, grievances that we didn't understand and that he couldn't explain to us.  i thanked him for making us aware of his feelings and committed to make an effort to avoid doing anything that would cause further damage to our relationship.  the other person who hurt us spoke out of anger, that anger ostensibly arising from a remark my wife had made as we were playing a game.  in truth, he didn't really want to play and was irritated because his wife, my wife, and i had persuaded him to play so we would have a foursome, so his mind wasn't really on what we were doing together.  my wife's reaction was one of hurt, and his outburst pretty much shut down any further conversation for the rest of the evening.

my wife and i have very different reactions when someone says hurtful things to us.  i look beyond the words and try to figure out what the person's motivation was in saying words that injure.  that doesn't excuse their behavior, but it does generate a sense of kindness towards them that make my wound less painful.  my wife, on the other hand, becomes angry and wants to avoid contact with the other person as much as possible.  after a period of time, her anger subsides, and she is able to kindle a spirit of forgiveness and move on.  she has difficulty understanding how i react as i do, seeing my failure to be angry as agreement with the hurtful words that have been said, and i am troubled by what is, to me, an unnecessary anger that seems to make the hurt even more painful.

i think there is validity in both our approaches.  i tend to ignore my own feelings or to examine my behavior that prompted hurtful words directed at me.  this leaves me with a guarded relationship with the person who has injured me that doesn't go away until that person and i have a discussion about the incident and reach a mutual understanding.  my wife's initial anger and her re-examination of the incident that causes her hurt fails to put her in the other person's shoes, so to speak, and is focused entirely on her own hurt, but once she gets past her first response and a period of avoidance and cooling down, she can put the incident in the past and come to a deeper relationship with the person who caused her anger, often after a conversation with them that gets both parties' feelings out in the open.

i suppose the key to resolution for both my wife and me is having a conversation with the person who hurt us, a conversation that occurs after we have time to reflect on the initial experience.  in the heat of the moment, neither my seemingly passive reaction or my wife's intense anger is helpful in having a constructive dialogue.  it is only when we get past that initial reaction and are able to address the situation with some air of detachment, to express ourselves with some objectivity, that we are able to move in the direction of healing a broken relationship.  when the person who caused us pain refuses to look at things from our point-of-view or to accept any culpability in causing our hurt, we know that is a person who is isn't healthy for us to continue to have a relationship with, but more often, we are able to see fault on both sides and to move forward in the relationship.

may we each think before we speak words that cause hurt.  may we learn to express ourselves honestly but without the intention of causing harm to another.  may we learn to forgive without accepting blame when no cause for blame exists.  may our hearts heal through the power of love.  shalom.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Mid Toil and Tribulation

a few days ago i heard a news report about a woman who had miscarried.  her doctor had prescribed a medication that would enable her to abort the fetus without having a surgical procedure that used to be required in such instances.  when she went to the pharmacy to pick up the prescription, the pharmacist refused to fill it on religious grounds, even after she explained that the fetus was no longer viable.  in addition, the pharmacist refused to pass the prescription to any other pharmacist in the pharmacy.  the woman had to contact her doctor and have another prescription sent to a different pharmacy so she could take the medication.  as she explained on the news report, she was already distressed because of the loss of her anticipated child, and the ordeal of getting the prescribed medication exacerbated her grief.

as my wife and i were discussing this situation with another couple, the husband, who had been listening with less than full attention, immediately said that he would have refused to fill the prescription just as the pharmacist had.  his wife was furious with him, because she had had a miscarriage and was forced to have a d and c.  she told her husband that he was ignorant and had never had to go through what was, for her, an experience that was difficult emotionally and physically.   she went on to say that no male should be in a position to make such a decision for a woman.  the discussion highlighted one of the great issues in our society, when governmental bodies are deciding what women can and cannot do with their own bodies.  legislatures where men are in the overwhelming majority at the state and national levels are restricting women's rights to make their own health care decisions.  the men who make up these majorities can't experience what women deal with as the bearers of children and should not be imposing their own wills on women, even based on sincerely held religious beliefs.

this is another example of what happens when religion is allowed to control the decisions made by the government, when the wall that separates church and state is knocked down.  we now have a supreme court where a majority, again a male majority, is in a position to overturn precedents which protected the rights of women and other groups in our society.  the current republican majorities in the national house and senate have already shown themselves to be ready to pass legislation that would further restrict women's rights.  the religious right sees nothing wrong with imposing its beliefs on all citizens of the usa with regard to women, the lbgtq community, ethnic minorities, and other groups that it wishes to control.  giving these zealots control of all branches of government would be a serious setback for human rights in this country, and i hope that the midterm elections will help to put the brakes on the forward momentum of those who would impose their religious beliefs on everyone.

may we embrace tolerance on a personal and national level.  may we respect the rights of all people to control their own bodies.  may love rule rather than religious zealotry.  may the freedom to practice religion not become the freedom to impose one's own religion on others.  shalom.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Where There Is Injury, Pardon

last week i became quite angry with a person who is in charge of an organization to which i belong.  after being out of town for almost three weeks, i felt that i should make a point to attend a meeting of this group.  i had missed several meetings while i was away, and i looked forward to seeing my friends who were also members, as well as participating in the organization's work.  when i showed up at the meeting place at the appointed time, i was greeted by a leader of the group who told me that the meeting had been cancelled because the paid head of the organization was out of town taking care of personal business.  a few other members had shown up, but most of the members had been informed either by email or in person that the meeting would not be taking place.

i was livid that i had wasted my time preparing for the meeting and traveling across town to attend, having arranged my day so that i would be free to attend, even though i had many other tasks that needed to be done at home.  i let the person who greeted me know how angry i was.   i reminded her that the paid employee who is in charge of this organization is often absent for personal reasons and frequently cancels meetings with little or no notice.  i said that i was tired of working in the organization when the paid staff member didn't seem to care whether the organization succeeded or failed, and i would not be returning to this group's meetings or continue my membership in the group.

i returned home and was angry for the rest of the evening.  when i awoke the next morning, i was upset with myself for giving in to anger and frustration and taking it out on another person, who simply was the messenger who told me about the meeting's cancellation.  i knew that i owed her an apology and as soon as it was late enough in the morning, i called her to apologize.  she was very gracious and said she understood how i felt.  she said she frequently felt the same way about the paid head of the organization, but she had known how this person conducted her business before taking the role she played in the group's leadership and had resigned herself to the salaried employee's frequent absences.  she told me that she hoped i would reconsider my decision to resign from the organization but understood if i persisted in my decision.

as i've thought about my outburst, i have been filled with regret for having allowed myself the luxury of becoming angry and taking my anger out on an innocent bystander, "shooting the messenger" so to speak.  as i've said the words of my morning meditation, i've been reminded of how i failed to put the words into practice.  each morning, i pledge myself not to become angry or speak badly of another, not to be rude, but in this instance i didn't live up to my words.  much of what i said and my action in resigning my membership in the organization is justified because of the leader's failure to take her paid position seriously and lead effectively, but the way in which i went about expressing myself was not justified.  i've done what i could to make amends, and i've renewed my determination to turn from anger and the actions that flow from it.  when i have the opportunity, i hope that i can express myself reasonably, dispassionately, and with kindness, while still conveying my reasons for leaving the group with honesty.

may we forgive ourselves when we fail to live up to our ideals.  may we realize that we all make mistakes.  may we learn from those mistakes and use them to reinforce the pledges we make to live ethically and with lovingkindness and compassion.  may our failings point us to a future in which we are less prone to anger and one that is not filled with regrets for expressing our feelings in an unhelpful way.  shalom.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

We Fly Just Like Birds of a Feather

yesterday a cousin and her husband came to visit.  they live about five hours away and were in the area to visit one of his relatives as well.  this cousin and i were close as children.  she is about a year older than i am and grew up in the same town where my maternal grandparents lived, so when i went to visit my grandparents every summer, we spent lots of time together.  we would play canasta and monopoly with her friends, go swimming, and to the movie.  as we got older, we naturally grew apart.  though she was only a year older than me, she was two grades ahead of me in school, and in high school two grades is a lot.

she married when she was in her late teens, and after that i didn't see much of her.  she and her husband moved away and our times together as children became distant memories.  her husband began drinking and, after a few years of marriage, they divorced.  some time after that, she married her current husband.  still, i only saw her during family holiday celebrations and at funerals.  when her father, my mother's brother, became ill, i saw more of her as she came to visit her parents to help her mother with her father.  by that time we had moved to the town where her parents lived, the same town in which i had played with her as a child and where my mother and her brothers had grown up.

i was with her father in the hospital when he died.  my cousin and her mother had left for a few minutes to grab some lunch, and they were so thankful that i had been there so my uncle didn't die alone.  no one expected him to go so soon, though we all knew that he wouldn't leave the hospital this time.  for several years after that, my wife and i spent lots of time with my cousin's mother, since we lived in the same town and saw much more of my cousin, since she came with greater frequency to check on her mother.  because of seeing each other more often and because my wife and i had become such close friends with my aunt, my childhood friendship with my cousin was rekindled.

when we traveled, we often went through the town where she lives now, and we would stop by to visit as we passed through.  we've stayed in close contact, and now when we're together we love to reminisce about our time together as children and about our large extended family.  we had great christmas get-togethers at the home of my grandparents when all our aunts, uncles, and cousins would be there, and the three of us who are the oldest of the cousins have stayed in close contact over the past several years.

it amazes me that we still feel bound together by our shared memories and long for those times long ago when we were carefree children who spent long hours playing board games and pretend games, building tents under card tables and building forts in our grandparents' back yard.  we remember taking turns sitting on the ice cream freezer on a hot summer afternoon while our parents took turns cranking the freezer or gorging ourselves with watermelon while the juice ran down our chins and over our shirts or running through the sprinklers to cool off in those days before air conditioning.  in those days we all lived either in the same town or near enough for frequent visits.  i wouldn't take anything for these wonderful memories and the friendships i share with my cousin who visited us yesterday and the other cousin with whom we stay in contact, though we don't see him very often because he lives about 800 miles away from us.

seeing my cousin reminds me of the importance of family, and the lessons we learned as children about caring for one another within the family.  may we each value those special bonds that tie us together, bonds that stretch across generations and distances.  may we remember that we are tied to every living thing in much the same way, that all of us are part of a great family.  may we nurture those who surround us, whether related to them by blood or not.  may we see every person as our father, mother, brother, sister, child, aunt, uncle, and cousin, seeking to love each as if we had grown up together in a family relationship.  shalom.