Sentimental Tears

I don’t know why, but I find myself crying more frequently and easier than ever before. I’m not talking about the occasional tear that slides down your face during a touching scene in a movie; I’m talking about sentimental tears that seem to flow at the most inopportune times. Tears based on memories. Tears based on hopes. Tears flowing out of love for people, places, and things. Sentimental tears.

Sentiment is defined as the “exaggerated and self-indulgent feelings of tenderness, sadness, or nostalgia” according to the New Oxford Dictionary. Am I being self-indulgent? When the tears well up, it doesn’t feel self-indulgent. It feels like I’m out of control. It feels like being overcome by unexpected emotions whether sorrow or gladness. It feels like a good thing, yet I find it a little embarrassing – a little too revealing.

There doesn’t seem to be just one thing that makes me feel the tenderness of the moment, or the sadness of the situation, or recapture the nostalgic memories of times gone by. I was watching the news the other day and some charitable organization gave a grandmother a check to take care of her ten or twelve grandchildren. (She was their legal guardian.) I cried. I didn’t know that lady or any of her wards, but it moved me to tears to see her helped and happy. I was reading a mystery novel that ended with the mother being reunited with her kidnapped daughter. I cried. I knew it was fiction. I knew that this story probably did not represent what it would be like in real life, yet it moved me because I thought about the amber alert I had received that morning. A cousin posted videos of her family feeding the homeless in Sacramento. As she scanned the area tears ran down my face. There were so many people living outdoors. It made me so proud to see them sharing their blessings with others, and it also made me realize how blessed I am.

All these sentimental tears made me wonder whether this is one of the things missing from our society, since I’m convinced that sentiment and empathy go hand in hand. According to the dictionary empathy is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” Sharing the joy or the sorrow of someone else means you can put yourself in their place/their position. So rather than being self-indulgent, what if we allow ourselves to indulged in the particular feelings, whether situational or emotional, of others. Another definition of sentiment is “a view or an attitude toward a situation or event.” What if our attitude or view was: “Lord, it could have been me.”

On the weekend, my mom and I went to the grocery store and the pet store. As we exited the parking lot, we saw a family holding up a sign. There was a father, a mother, two young children and a baby in a stroller. The sign said: “We need food and diapers. Please help.” My mom said, “Let’s get this family some diapers.” So we headed back to the grocery store. It was then I realized we had no idea what size diapers to buy. We ended up getting a grocery store gift card and a visa gift card. (One from mom and one from me.) When we drove back to the family and gave them the cards, the father and mother cried with gratitude and joy. We cried seeing their joy. We were happy to help because it could have been one of us, or my children, or my neighbors, or anyone from the Beloved Community. COVID-19 has crashed our economy. Any one of us may be one check away from holding a sign in a cold parking lot.

At first, I just wanted to stop being so soft and stop the tears, but now I realize I don’t want to become hardened. I don’t want to hear stories, or see people and feel nothing. I want to hear, see, and feel kin to my fellow citizens and make a difference where I can. How about you? Have you cried for the community lately? Have you rejoiced with happy tears with those who rejoice? Have you cried the tears of sorrow with those who are grieving? Maybe it’s time to shed some sentimental tears. Let empathy show you how.

Be safe. Stay sane. Empathize with others. See yourself as part of the Beloved Community.

Search for the Beloved Community: The Thinking of Martin Luther King Jr.
Search for the Beloved Community examines the thinking of Martin Luther King Jr. and the influences that shaped it. Amazon.com

The Best Present is Presence

How you ever realized you were not listening to the person that was talking to you when sudden silence penetrated your line of thought? You sit there thinking, am I supposed to answer or say something. If you are really honest, you will apologize and admit you didn’t hear the last last thing they said. True is, you were not listening; you were not present.

In this time of COVID and political and financial tension, we need to be present with the people around us. “We’re in this together” should be more than an empty slogan. As we approach the holidays, gift giving adds to the tension. Yet, one of the best gifts we can give is our presence. One more bow-tied box of trinkets mean nothing to the person who feels alone. Nor can we take for granted that we will have another chance to convey our love and affection when things are “back to normal” (whatever that is). Presence is a “gift that keeps on giving.” When we are truly available, truly present with the people we love and care about loneliness peels away.

Living without touch (physical contact) has been one of the most difficult things for me. I love hugs and holding hands and gentle touch. I miss hugging my adult sons when they stop by to check on us. I miss hugging my teenage grandchildren and passing quick tags of affection when they walk by. I miss placing my hand on top of my friends’ hands to let them know I understand and I care. It’s very hard to tell my young students we can not touch because of social distancing. (An elbow bump is not the same. There is no intimacy.) These gestures of affection have been the signs of presence for me; these were the signs of bonding, caring, and empathy. Yet, they are no longer viable due to the potential spread of COVID. However, this doesn’t mean that these things are lost. We can still demonstrate presence. We can still find opportunities to show that we care and we are together in this fight for social and emotional bonding. Eye contact, active listening, and sharing physical experiences such as a walk in the park are the some of the ways we can demonstrate presence.

Looking someone in the eye can communicate more than you think. It’s so wonder philosophers consider our eyes “the window of the soul.” My youngest granddaughter taught me this. One day she asked me if I was mad about something. I answered, “No, of course not! Why would you think that?” She said, “Your eyes and your eyebrows look mad.” Even when I have on a mask I am able to communicate a smile to my students. Without a word, I can communicate sadness, love, or longing to my family members. My eyes can tell you: I hear you, I’m with you, I understand, I need you, I’m here for you.

Active listening is so important (even before COVID). It helps us to truly know that we are understanding what is being communicated. When you respond to what the speaker says instead of just adding your own points you are not only demonstrating presence, you are demonstrating that what the speaker has to say is important to you. Language can be very complicated. Different words can mean different things to different people, especially when you add slang and colloquialisms. Repeating or paraphrasing what someone says can clarify the meaning of what they are saying. I recently learned when my young co-worker says, “I was feeling some kind of way!” that she means she was disturbed by a situation or conversation. During this holiday season, we may all be “feeling some kind of way” – a way that we need to communicate. We all want someone to feel or at least empathize with what we are feeling.

Recently, I shared a short story with a friend over the phone. Writing is typically the way I share experiences with others. However, there is something to be said for physical and emotional experiences that are shared in other ways. My godson and I have walked together for miles, not only sharing conversation, but sharing the environment and atmosphere of where we walk such as: cemeteries, wooded paths, and urban and suburban neighborhoods. We share our interest in the history of our surroundings, as well as the nature of it. These shared experiences are unique to our relationship and cause us to be present with each other in a way that others may not fit or understand.

Finding a way to share experiences during these strange and precarious days is critical if we really want to feel like someone is in this with us. Facetime, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, etc. offer one kind of experience, but meeting in an open air, social distancing, “I’m with you” way, is a totally different experience. It adds a sense of normalcy. It adds a sense of physical presence. My seventy nine year old girlfriend meets with two of her friends in an open-air market once each week. Then they go to the park across the street, sit in the large gazebo and chat. This is a joy for all of them as they live alone and have no nearby family. Each week, they have something to look forward to – being present with one another. (Now that parts of California are on lockdown, they may not get to meet for some time. I hope they will become phone buddies.)

Presence is an essential present for this holiday season. Isolation is one of the primary causes of depression and hopelessness. Loneliness (even before COVID) is one reason people feel disconnected and misunderstood. This past week, a dear friend’s nephew tried to commit suicide. On that particular day he called his parents and told them he loved them. He called an aunt and told her he was sorry to disappoint her he was not going to be a doctor like her. (He looked up to her and always said he would be just like her.) I don’t presume to know what they thought or how they responded to his calls, but I do wonder if anyone had been present when he was trying to communicate prior to this day. Luckily, his aunt picked up on the warning signs and was able to call the paramedics in time.

I want to give some material gifts this year, but more than anything I want to be really present when people (family, friends, neighbors, and even some strangers) reach out to me. I want to be mindful of what is happening and what is being said. I don’t want to miss opportunities to grow and savor relationships. I want to give the gift of presence as one of the best presents that I can give. How about you? Will you give the gift of presence this holiday season. Presence can be one of the best presents you have to offer.

Be Present! Be safe! Stay sane! Reach out! Happy Holidays!

How to Live in the Now: A Practical Guide to Living in the Present Moment
Learn how to:
Live your life in the present moment  
Let go of anxiety and worried thoughts  
Create deep connections with others  
Stop seeking approval and be yourself Amazon.com

Don’t Wait Too Late!

Have you every put off talking to someone about matters of the heart and waited too long? Have you ever wished that you had told someone the truth and waited too long? Have you ever known the facts, but kept them to yourself until it was too late to make a difference? Probably, your answer is yes to at least one of these questions. Our reasons for not acting or speaking up vary. Perhaps we didn’t really want to get involved in the drama. Or maybe we didn’t feel it was our place. Sometimes, the timing just doesn’t feel right. Whatever the reason or excuse, we feel awful when we’ve waited to late and the opportunity is gone. All of the wishing we can conjure up will not allow us to seize those moments in time again.

Recently, my cousin was found dead in his home. According to authorities he had been dead for more than a week before anyone found him. It was deemed a heart attack. When we were notified it was quite a shock. Yet, something remarkable had happened prior to that difficult news. Two weeks before this event, this cousin had called my mom. He had talked about his childhood and his memories of her as his babysitter. He had apologized for not staying in touch, and not visiting even when we were in the town where he lived visiting his dad. It was a joyous conversation. My mom was filled with happiness, and he had promised to come to see her around the holidays. My mother and I were amazed at his openness and the gladness in his voice, especially since we had not spoken to him since the death of my uncle several years before. There had been hard feelings at that time without any reconciliation.

Looking back, I wonder if he knew or felt that his time wasn’t long on this earth. I wonder if he thought about my mother’s age and thought that her health might not hold up. I wonder if he simply thought it was time to make things right while he had the chance. Of course, we may never know the answers to any of these questions, but I do know I’m glad he didn’t wait to late. Imagine the regret it would have left with my mom. Whatever his motivation was, all hard feelings were canceled; there was no place for regret or guilt. Our grief is not discolored by the anguish of irreconcilable differences. We are thankful for the last words spoken and the renewed sense of family.

Certainly, death doesn’t have to be the reason for waiting to late. We can assume people already know we love them or that we are thinking about them. We can be saving our intentions for a special occasion like their birthday, or their anniversary, or retirement party. Yet, if COVID 19 has taught us anything, it’s that times may never be the same and opportunities may not present themselves as they once did. My advise to all of us, myself included, is don’t wait too late. If it is within your power, take care of the words unspoken, the affections unoffered, the facts withheld, and the mission of the moment while you still have time. Don’t live with regret. Don’t add sorrow to your grief. Don’t allow wedges of discontent to destroy opportunities of unity and joy. Don’t wait too late to make a positive difference in someone’s life, especially your own.

Be safe! Stay sane! Seize the day!

It’s Never Too Late: Make the Next Act of Your Life the Best Act of Your Life
It’s Never Too Late to . . .
Begin Again
Make Sparks Fly
Leave a Good Thing
Have a Party
Change the Ending, Then Change It Again
Is it time for you to rewrite your story, unearth your hidden passions, and live with a renewed purpose? It’s never too late. Amazon.com

Little Things – Huge Meaning

A child gave me two yellow tulips that I watched spread open over several days. (I didn’t know that would happen.) A friend gave me a box of blue earrings that she said made her think of me. (They were my favorite color.) My mom made me fried eggplant, one of my favorites. My husband sent me a text message – love note – for no particular reason. My oldest son sent me a video of African children dancing with great joy and purpose because he thought I would enjoy it. The cook at my job brought me a huge bowl of homemade macaroni and cheese. (She makes the best I’ve every had.) My co-worker called me over to the window to see to two beautiful birds that neither of us could name. What do all these thing have in common? They were small gestures, “little things,” that had huge meaning and value in my life.

Every little act of kindness pays great dividends. You never know what can turn a person’s day around. It may be a little thing that cost you nothing. It may be a small gesture that took more time to think about than it did to perform. Yet, the impact of these small acts may be phenomenal. You may change a person’s outlook or lift a person’s spirits, as well as your own. Depression may be pushed aside, and sadness turned to a lingering smile. In fact, the dividends may continue for several days like my watching the flowers open, or wearing my blue earrings over and over again.

If you asked any of the persons I mentioned above did they do anything special for me, they would probably answer, “When?” It’s funny how people who reach out with kindness rarely see themselves as special or different. They simply follow their thoughts of friendship and love with action. They seen to get joy from helping, serving, and giving to others. They have that uncanny ability to put themselves in the place of others. They think: I would like this, so my friend, child, spouse, neighbor, coworker will probably like this too. It’s great to have these types of people in your life, because they spread a little cheer everywhere they go.

The truth is, we could all be those types of people. One of my dearest friends always says, “Sharing is caring and caring is nice!” The little things I’m talking about are just ways to show how much you care. A phone call, a greeting card, a text message, sharing a moment in nature or prayer, sharing a song or a memory – these things only cost a small amount of time on our part. Yet, the recipients will receive your small act of sharing and caring as a huge investment.

One of my former co-workers loved my white chili, so every time I made it, I’d make her a small batch. She was delighted; she’d start eating it for breakfast. It made me happy to see how glad she was to receive it. It was such a small token of my friendship. Sometimes, I’d surprise her with enough to take home to her family. This act of love cost me practically nothing. Yet, it meant so much to both of us.

What can you do to bring cheer to someone else? Can you give them some grocery store flowers? Can you send them pictures of beautiful nature scenes? Can you ask them to join your Zoom fellowship or take a virtual class with you? Can you buy some yellow golf balls or a favorite drink or beverage? Maybe you could read a passage from your favorite book or share a poem. If you are into to technology, you could send memes or share videos and tweets.

Whatever little thing you do, trust me, the results won’t be little. The results will be huge. My grandmother used to say, “It’s not the gift, but the thought that counts.” It’s taken many, many years to figure out what she meant by that. The thoughts that come from giving and receiving the kindness – little things – can be lasting, because they communicate love and care.

Stay safe and share the little things.

Random Acts of Kindness by [The Editors of the Conari Press, Daphne Rose Kingma, Dawna Markova]
The original collection of inspirational true stories about acts of kindness and generosity of spirit—with suggestions for living more compassionately. Amazon.com

Purposeful Nostalgia

When I am writing I often use nostalgia as my foundation – using sensory language to recapture an event or an emotion. Its important to me to preserve history while presenting scenarios that are relatable to a younger generation – translating a memory. Little things, like baking cookies or playing in the yard, can come from an ancient story, but at the same time foster or conjure up a moment as reminiscent as yesterday. These desires come out of the oral tradition of my youth. My ancestors were wonderful story tellers.

My great grandparents, great aunts and uncles, and their friends would sit on the porch in the cool of the evening telling stories (memories) of their various life adventures and encounters. I learned early on to keep quiet and take it all in before some grown up noticed there was a child in the midst and stopped the story. Their stories fascinated me. Their stories painted pictures in my mind of places and people I would never see and experiences I would never have. These stories gave me insight about the kind of people I came from – people who endured, resilient people, determined people. I could see them in their youth. I could see them in their travels. I could see their relationships with others, and little by little their stories became my stories.

In my desire to retell their stories, I realized that I had my own stories to tell. So I began adding my stories to their stories; I started creating new stories with a nostalgic feel even in fiction. In a sense I honed my ability to be purposefully nostalgic. I would like to encourage you to be purposeful in conveying your memories and experiences to the next generation. Imagine the stories that will come out of 2020 – both before and after.

You have had many experiences that your children and grandchildren can not imagine. (Nieces, nephews, and other relatives too.) You have seen and heard things that bear repeating. You, and other members of your family, have encountered opposition and opportunity that could be the basis of a young person’s endurance or hope. Yet, these stories may die – never having been shared. I’m not suggesting that you become a writer, although you could, but I am suggesting that you pass on a legacy. I’m suggesting that you share the valuable lessons and experiences you’ve had or been told with a generation who will have no other way to retrieve them.

These stories can be shared while flipping through old photographs. (It’s a little sad that cell phone pics have replace photographs. Handling old pictures is a story within itself.) You can use these pictures to create a family tree while sharing the history of each member depicted. These stories can also be shared while cleaning out the basement or the attic and finding old relics that the children have never seen before like a rotary telephone or an eight track tape player. These stories can come out of pure reflection or recollection on your favorite childhood song or TV show. (Maybe you have some old dance moves to go with the story.) There are stories about first loves, current loves, pets, favorite clothes, hobbies, dislikes, national experiences, civic involvement; so many things that may now be taken for granted as the normal facts of life. Yet, the next generation is not aware of these facts.

Recently, I was sitting in the room with my mother and my granddaughter when the power went out. I retrieved the kerosene lamps and some candles to light the room and other parts of the house. My mom was in the middle of a story about why so many people are afraid of the dark when I returned to the living room. From what I gathered she was saying how dark it was in the rural parts of Tennessee where our family comes from. That led to a very humorous story about how she used to scare her mother (my grandmother) with ghost stories when she was a child. Apparently, they were walking down the road and my mom said, “Watch out you are about to walk into Mr. Jones!” who was a neighbor who had died a year before. My grandmother jumped from the path and fell into a large puddle. My mom laughed so hard just retelling this story that I could imagine how much she laughed back then. All my life I have heard stories about how my mom could see ghosts. This story shed some light on the subject because my granddaughter asked the question, “Could you really see Mr. Jones grandma?” I don’t know how long the power remained out because we were so caught up in the ghost stories that came out of that one question.

Nostalgic storytelling can be very entertaining. Nostalgic storytelling can be quite educational. Nostalgic storytelling is a valuable way to share the treasures of your life experiences from one generation to another. Just be purposeful with your intention to share and communicate the stories of the past.

Bring a smile to your face and to the face of others by sharing a few of your memories with them. Stay well! Remain healthy in body and mind.

Our Voices: From One Generation to Another
A poetry collection uplifting the voices from childhood to the present.
Amazon.com

Reevaluate the Good Ole Days

As far as I can remember there have been people who touted the “good ole days” as the best of days ever. Everything from fried chicken to motor vehicles was better in the good ole days. I used to laugh and remind my grandmother that outdoor toilets and oil lamps were part of the good ole days. Of course, my point was the good ole days probably weren’t as great as she made them out to be. (That was immaturity on my part.) The pandemic has caused many of us to look back and lament the good ole days with the same fervency that my grandmother ascribed to the years of long ago. This gave me the thought that I should evaluate the good ole days for myself as I joined the chorus of those singing the praise of the “good ole days.”

In the midst of this worldwide pandemic, socio-economic downturn, civic unrest, and political propaganda, its easy to look back to the so-called better days. Days when everyone who wanted to work had a job. Days when we could whet our appetites with whatever type of entertainment we preferred. Days when purchases didn’t require deliberation. Days when our political opinions were just another component of general conversation. Days when fear did not tarnish our faith that bigger, brighter, better days were ahead of us. Yes, the good ole days when we took our freedoms and privileges for granted. Yet, I ask myself, were those days all that I thought they were? Were they as good as you thought they were?

As I reflect and consider the things I miss most, before social distancing and sheltering-in, there are some things that I would love to recover. Things like meeting my friends for brunch or planning a personal retreat at a resort or the monastery. Things like jazz at the High Museum or hot buttered popcorn at the movies. These social and personal choices were rewards for putting in a hard day’s/week’s/month’s work. I deserved a break from the rat race. I deserved to splurge every now and then for the things I wanted for myself or my loved ones. Your list may have been different from mine, but the sentiment may be the same or similar. There are components of the good ole “normal” days that we all miss and long for, and its hard to imagine that we may not be able to recapture those things. Yet, is it possible that we have gained something equally as valuable to fulfill our lives in the post-pandemic days ahead. (I’ve got to believe there will be a post-pandemic era.)

When I reevaluate the good ole days, I find there are some important insights to be gained. There were too many days when I didn’t have time to spend with the ones I love. There were long periods of time when I didn’t have meaningful conversation with those that I consider an important part of my life. There were too many times when I couldn’t and didn’t take the time to define and refine my personal goals. There were times when even my health took a backseat to my workload. There were far too many times when I moved through the day/week/month mechanically. Habitual routine was the only guiding force. In other words, everything about the good ole days wasn’t really great like outdoor toilets and lack of electricity.

The fact of the matter is when my grandma and other elders spoke about the good ole days, they rarely talked about things. They talked about relationships. They were recalling days when neighbors were really neighborly; when family was central to community; when children were the center of dreams for a better tomorrow; and when everyone had time for one another. I remember hating traveling with my aunt when she delivered her Avon orders. She wouldn’t just drop them off and collect her money; she would have conversation with every customer, asking about their family, their crops, sometimes even their pets. Every transaction was a social event and in my mine it took forever. If the pandemic has taught me nothing else, its taught me to value the time I invest in relationships.

Whatever the post-pandemic normal holds for us, I hope we will not lose the perspectives we have developed during the pandemic. I hope we’ll look back in reflection to the “good ole pandemic days” and recall how good it was to watch out for one another. I hope we’ll hold on to all the avenues we used to maintain relationships and establish new ones. I hope we won’t just return to the rat race, but we will take time for self-contemplation and self-care. In the same way that my grandmother wanted to bring aspects of the good ole days forward into modernity, I pray we will bring our community/neighborly habits forward into the new normal as well as improve upon them.

So perhaps the things we used to do because we deserved a break will become the things we do for a well-lived life. Perhaps the choices we make to vacation, retreat, socialize or enjoy entertainment will not be things we force into the schedule. Perhaps they will be planned as part of the schedule to enhance relationships and communication with those that we love. In the midst of our busyness let us not loose the lessons of the good ole days. Modern conveniences should allow us to enjoy life more, rather than increase our productivity to the point of not living.

Take the time to reevaluate the good ole days. Maintain the best parts of them regardless of the circumstances surrounding them. Stay safe, stay sane, stay in community.

We all want to live a life that matters. We all want to reach our full potential. But too often we find ourselves overwhelmed by the day-to-day. New York Times bestselling author Michael Hyatt wants readers to know that it doesn’t have to be this way. Amazon.com

Self Talk – Negative or Positive

The other day I had quite a long talk with myself. Before you decide how crazy I am, it’s fair to say everyone talks to themselves. The real question is do you talk aloud or just in your head. I do a little of both. Lately, I’ve become more aware of where my conversations with myself are going. Some of them deal with memory such as “what’s today, Tuesday or Friday. Last week, I know I had at least two Saturdays; this is one of the curses of the pandemic. My routines used to help me keep track of the days. Other conversation are of a more personal nature such as: “When are you going to start exercising, you know you’ve gained twenty pounds,” and “You are complacent; you should be writing.”

Lately, more of my conversation has been negative – deriding myself for not being more productive, more upbeat, more social to the levels that I know I could be, more principled, more proactive. Needless to say all this negative self-talk leaves me depressed and even more lethargic than I was before I started prodding and probing myself. Like so many others, I am tired of physical distancing, nil travel opportunities, and social activities limited to my immediate family. More than that the pandemic necessities have stymied my creativity. My blog and my other projects have slowed tremendously because my favorite writing places are off limits.

Yet, I can not allow myself to continue down this road of negative self talk. It leads to depression. It leads to anger. It leads to overwhelming grief. It leads to hopelessness. The emotions that grow out of this negativity are intolerable. It has the opposite effect of it’s intent. Why do we think deriding ourselves (or others) is a motivational tool. You really can’t encourage positive behavior through ridicule and mockery (not in yourself or others). Making myself feel bad did not trigger me to feel better or to do better in the areas that troubled me.

Truth is, everyone is trying to establish workable routines and some sense of normalcy for our lives during this pandemic. We shouldn’t blame ourselves for the time it takes us to adjust to the “new normal.” All of us should be congratulated for learning to work from home or work in a nearly empty building. We could use some praise for the way we have maintained contact and social closeness while physically distancing. We should dispense some compliments for the ingenuity and creativity that has come out of the necessity to help and train others to make the best of their resources.

I’m not just talking about what we say to others; I’m also talking about what we say to ourselves. We are survivors. We are contributors. We are essential, not only as workers but as mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, extended family members, neighbors, and friends. We can be proud of ourselves and tell ourselves: “I am amazing. I can do so many things. I am prepared to take the next step. I can change my circumstances. I have the resources to make a difference. Today is a new day, I can start over. Under the circumstances, I’m doing well. Its time to make some new goals. This is an opportunity to try something new.” Our self talk can be positive and motivational.

My oldest son fell through a garage window when he was in elementary school. We had just moved to Georgia during the holiday season. He received a bike for Christmas. As he was riding down the hill the brakes locked and he went airborne through the neighbors garage window. After surgery to reattach his nose and stitch up his face, he had a big Y-shaped scare on his face right beneath his eye. He was going to go to a new elementary school in our new city in January. I knew it would difficult and I knew the scare would be the object of questions and ridicule. The only thing I could thing of was to try to prepare him for both. Every morning and every night, I stood behind him as we looked in the bathroom mirror and repeated positive affirmations. These included the meaning of his name. How talented he was. How there was no shame in explaining how he got the scare. There were so many things besides his scare that defined him and it was those things that would cause him to make friends and succeed in his new school. Today he is forty-one and the big Y-shaped scare is barely visible, but learning positive self-talk has never gone away.

I had a long talk with myself the other day. I told myself: “No more negative self talk! If you want to change something, change it. If you are unhappy about something, do something about it. Give yourself a break if it doesn’t work the first time. Never be afraid to try again.” The little saying below is something I got off the internet last year to encourage my fourteen year old granddaughter. I have added it to my positive self talk as an affirmation. Maybe you can use it too.

Motivational Quote for the Classroom | Inspirational quotes for ...

Stay Positive. Stay Sane. Stay Safe!

Confronting Grief

Every day for the last few weeks I’ve been thinking about writing something for the blog, but the only thing that came to mind was the word grief. Well, of course, that’s not what I wanted to write about. Grief is depressing and I want to write something to lift people up, not bring them down. So I wrestled with myself until I gave up. Grief is on my mind, so I might as well share. As I chat with others, I found out that grief is not only on my mind, but it’s also on the mind of many others.

First, a disclaimer. I am not a counselor. I am not a life life coach. I am a writer always trying to capture a thought in print. I write from within my own heart and I write from all of my senses and experiences. So please if you need help with grief, seek a professional counselor (I do), but if you need some help putting words to your thoughts and feelings, then this may help.

My understanding of grief is that it is an emotional and mental reaction to loss, whether that loss is actual or perceived. So right now, we are living in a grieving society. People have lost their loved ones to COVID and other illnesses at a time when hospital visits and stays with family is restricted. People have lost jobs and businesses. People have lost their rituals and routines. Some have even lost their identity as it was tied to their career or their status and position in life. Children are missing their friendships. Graduates feel cheated out of their celebrations. Grief is all around us. We have been blind-sided by multiple losses, and recovery is uncertain in this far-from-normal environment.

So how do we deal with all this grief? First, we must be honest about it. Pretending we are not sadden by the events of our lives since March is only going to make it worst. When we ignore our thoughts and feeling, they have a way of showing up in our sleep patterns, our appetites, and our relationships. My husband’s biggest pet peeve is when he says, “What’s wrong?” and I say, “Nothing!” when there is obviously something wrong. We can lie with our lips, but not with our hearts. Our subconscious brain is working to solve the problem even when we are in conscious denial. Grief is a natural response. We can admit it. We can share it. We can help each other get through it when we expose its existence.

Secondly, we can release our emotions. It’s okay to cry, to pound the desk, to scream, punch a punching bag, and most importantly to discuss your feelings. Sometimes, I say, “I don’t want you to say anything just listen. I need to talk about how I feel.” We all need someone who will actively listen to us, lend us a shoulder, or simply be present with us as we go through life’s journey. When we don’t take the time to purposely express what we are feeling, it will show up at an inopportune time. We end up showing anger to someone who doesn’t deserve it, or crying uncontrollable when the occasion calls for laughter. Find a time and a place to release your emotions; to share your feelings. Others will understand. Mostly likely, they will identify during this time of pandemic and protest.

Lastly, a suggestion that sounds so cliche, I almost don’t want to write it. “Count your blessings.” As I have reflected on grief these last couple of weeks, I found myself going down the complaining-murmuring road. After a while everything was colored with the crayon of doom and gloom. I found myself sitting in front of the TV news much too much. I found myself isolating from the family I live with. I found myself not wanting to get out of bed. Everything was wrong, nothing was right. That’s a very dangerous place to be. That’s a mental health trap. Thank goodness, someone reminded me to count my blessings. Literally, I counted my blessings. (We talked about a thankful journal before. A thankful journal is very therapeutic.)

I wrote down all the things I was thankful for, all the physical, financial, spiritual, emotional, and mental blessings I could think of in that moment. Everything was not going to hell in a hand basket. Everything was not awful. There was lots of good, wholesome, healthy, and joyous stuff – people and things – in my life. In the midst of my losses, there were some great gains. I won’t name them all to you, but suffice it to say, I found a few reasons to smile.

I hope this reflection on grief is helpful to someone. You are not alone. Grief is taking its toll on our world right now. In the midst of it, remember it hasn’t taken everything. If you are reading this, you have the ability to see, to understand, to critique (lol), to feel. If there is anyone you can call, you have a friend or family member available to you. If there is a path or a sidewalk nearby, you can experience nature, you have the ability to move around whether by legs or wheelchair. Share your grief in community. Share your joys in community. Count your blessing in community. It’s in community that we will heal!

Continue to confront life and be safe!

Good Grief: A Companion for Every Loss
For more than fifty years Good Grief has helped millions of readers, including NFL players and a former first lady, find comfort and rediscover hope after loss. Amazon.com
Broad enough to encompass many forms of grief, this book reassures kids that they are not alone in their feelings and even suggests simple things they can do to feel better, like drawing, dancing, and talking to friends and family. Amazon.com

Take the Time to Share Your Life

There are so many things we can share with one another from our lives and the way we live. It is something we don’t think about. So often we assume that everyone is living like we live. But each of us bring our own customs, traditions, and worldview to the choices we make in life. Each of us have our own stories to tell and our own experiences to share. During this time of physical distancing and quarantine, we could take this opportunity to share our lives with others, especially the next generation.

This week I shared an author interview with my granddaughter in California. She called me by Face-time and I turned the phone toward my computer screen so that she could see and hear the interview sponsored by the Decatur Book Festival. (These events happen every Tuesday, it’s really worth checking out if your are a reader looking for new authors or if you are an author seeking to hone your skills.) While we we chatting about the author’s comments and how we could move forward in our own writing, my granddaughter posed a couple of questions out of left field.

“Do you think I could have grandma’s recipes or cookbooks,” she said. “I don’t know,” I replied, “you’ll have to ask her. She went on to explain that she was trying to make my mom’s bread pudding recipe, but something was missing from the way she did it. She went on to say she wanted all the recipes, and she wanted the special pinches of this and that that her grandmother added to the cookbook recipes to make it her own special concoction. Then she asked about my husbands breakfast recipe. I said, “It’s just potatoes, onions, spinach, and eggs. She laughed. “No! It’s not! He puts in mustard, and pancake syrup, and peanut butter and spices.” Obviously, she had made it with him at some point. This side conversation got me to thinking about the things we could share from our lives and experiences.

My great grandmother was a midwife. She practiced homeopathic medicines long before it was call that. I often wish had written down some of her remedies when I had the chance. One of my first cousins told me about an experience he had when his mother and his grandfather passed. He felt it was supernatural. I really want to get with him to write his story. My mom has been able to recreate herself and her skill set many times over, including now. (Now, she is mass producing masks for college-bound students.) I’d really like to know what motivated her to try so many different things. Many people know my husband as a fine artist, particularly as a painter in oil and acrylics, but he is also a sculptor – a skill that the pandemic has brought back to life. He has signed up with a non-profit to teach art to juveniles in a second chance program. These are just a few examples of things that could be shared from our lives and the lives of others.

Our family has lived communally for many generations. I have learned that this is not typical of all families. We take it for granted that great-grand parents, grandparents, and parents have been there for us, and since they were, we try to be for the next generations. Yet, one of the major differences between us and them is that they shared their stories. We have allowed ourselves to be so bombarded with activities and busyness that we have not taken the time to share our stories. (Especially, before the pandemic.) Why do we do things the way that we do? How did we come to live where we live? Who influenced our decisions, our career, our lifestyle, and hobbies? (Did you have time for hobbies before the pandemic?)

The pandemic has decluttered our lives, so now we have the time to share our experiences and our stories. There are a plethora of ways to share. We can create our own cookbooks. We can record our genealogies and create a family tree. We can sketch family faces or make caricatures of family members. We can write a story explaining how we came to our faith or how we reached our political views. We could can our favorite fruits and vegetables and distribute them as gifts. We could build a memorial bench to place in the family garden or flower bed. We could compile photos of the “good ole days” and label them with the date, the event, and the people present in the photo. We could interview the oldest person in our family, our church, or our special interest group and share that story with everyone.

There is probably an inexhaustible list of things we could do to share a part of ourselves with others. This is not just a plan to keep busy; it’s a way to pass on a legacy. It’s a way to share the things that really matter to us. My husband asked my other granddaughter what would she put on his tombstone when he died. (I know it’s a morbid question; you’d have to see their relationship in action to understand.) She thought for a few moments and then she said, “It was nice knowing you!” I’m convinced that this epitaph would be very appropriate because he has shared so much of himself with her that she can really say she knows him. Now is the time when we can really help someone to fully know us before we are gone or before we resume our busy, cluttered lifestyles in the new normal.

The person from the Decatur Book Festival that was doing the interview I mentioned early asked the author several questions posed by the audience: “What would you say influenced you to become a writer? How do you balance this passion with your work as a doctor? Were there relationships in your life that help you craft your characters? What appeals to you about the historical time you wrote about (time around the Haitian earthquake)? Who, if anyone, did you pattern your life as a writer after? If you could talk about any one thing that we haven’t asked you about, what do you want everyone to know about you or your book?

Here’s a question for you? What is the one thing you would share with your family and friends if given the opportunity? If something came to mind, I encourage you to make a way to share it. Just as the answers to the questions posed by the interviewer were important to us, an audience of strangers, your story will be important to others. I’d love to hear some of your ideas, no doubt so would the people who love you. Take the time to share your life.

Be safe! Stay well!

Remembrance
This is the author and book that was featured in the interview. “Stunning. … Family is at the core of Remembrance, the breathtaking debut novel by Rita Woods.” — The Boston Globe. This breakout historical debut with modern resonance is perfect for the many fans of The Underground Railroad and Orphan Train. Amazon.com
Dad Share Your Life With Me
Mom, Share Your Life With Me

Available at Amazon.com

Closing the Distance

We were all hoping the Corona-virus would be conquered by now. We were praying for a large downswing in the curve. Instead it is still running rampant, and we are still called upon to socially distance ourselves. Unfortunately, this is taking its toll on our mental and emotional health. (At least those of us who are obeying the mandates of medical experts and the CDC.)

Social distancing is suppose to mean keeping at least 6 feet between you and another person. Perhaps this was a poor choice of words. Perhaps we should have called it physical distancing. After all, we are social creatures. We need companionship. We need our sense of community and family. This innate need and desire has not gone away in the face of a pandemic, nor should it. What we have to do is modify our social behavior rather than nullify it.

I decided to have a family cookout. Our entire immediate family was present. There were no hugs, no handshakes, and no kisses. Each person arrived wearing a mask. Each person proceeded to the bathroom to wash their hands. We headed to the patio where each person sat or stood with enough distance between them to satisfy the health considerations of the elderly among us. We laughed, we talked, we ate, we drank, and we reminisced days gone by. All of our utensils, cups, and plates were disposable. I’d like to think a good time was had by all. This is just one of the ways we closed the distance in our family. It did my heart good to see with my own eyes that my sons and their families were doing well. (All of them have been working outside their homes throughout the pandemic.)

Yesterday, I talked to a friend in southern California. She told me that she and four of her friends went to the neighborhood park, mask in place, and had a great two hour visit under the trees. She said each of them enjoyed this short visit so much because all of them live alone and longed for human contact. This friend is over seventy years old. She does not have internet access so her interactions have been limited to telephone. (We were on the phone 3 hours. It was easy to ear how much she needs social interaction.) She also shared with me that some places there have made drive-in movies in the parking lots of Walmart stores to provide an outlet for social activity. I was happy to hear that my friend was finding ways to close the social distance between her and her friends.

Staying home, cutting ourselves off from all human contact, especially for those who live alone, can weigh heavily on the soul. Depression and anxiety can grow in a way that destroys the joy of living. I’m writing this short blog to remind us that there are ways to come together safely.

We don’t have to be socially distanced in a way that leaves us in solitude each and every day. We can find ways to close the distance, while keeping some physical distance between us. Here are a few suggestions: Walk around your neighbor, speak to neighbors and others who are outside in their yards; better yet walk with a friend. Drive to the lake or to a community you’ve always wondered about, then call a friend and tell them about everything you saw and felt. Offer to Face-time and elderly person’s children and allow them to have a conversation on your phone by putting it in a plastic food bag. Share conference call numbers for prayer meetings and bible studies with the people you know. Set up a drive-in movie in your church or club parking lot. Invite a friend to the park for a foot race. Set up a conference call to exchange recipes or gardening tips with your friends/family. Go to the golf range with a companion; hit a bucket of balls.

You may still need to wear your mask, use your hand sanitizer, and maintain a proper physical distance from other people, but you can still be a social member of your community. Stay connected while you stay safe and close the distance between your family, friends, and neighbors.

PS: Connect your doctor or a mental health professional if you are feeling depressed and anxious beyond what you can handle. This is a necessary distance to close.

Walter is a good storyteller. His stories will make you laugh and cry — and sometimes pray. He knows the pain of failure and the joy of being rescued by caring friends. In these stories you will find inspiration, laughter, hope and encouragement. Walter hopes that you will find a story that moves you to give thanks for the people who held the rope for you when you were a “basket case,” and inspire you to hold the rope for a hurting friend. Amazon.com