A Dream Deferred

I am certainly no Langston Hughes, nor do I presume to offer commentary on his great work. Yet, the title, A Dream Deferred, seemed to fit my thought process for this post. (ref. Langston Hughes “Harlem” 1951) After several conversations with my peers and young people around me, it would appear that the events of our society has put many dreams on hold. People are waiting for the Pandemic to end, for things to get back to normal, for bipartisan politics to take place, for their finances to improve, for a conducive opportunity, and a number of other things. Thus, the dreams are deferred, (postponed, put off for a later time) but for how long?

Can we really afford to put off our hopes and dreams and wait for a better time or season? If COVID 19 has taught me anything, it is not to count the days too far in advance. January 2020 was the beginning of a new year with promises to be better than the year before. We all were marching through the days taking so much for granted, and then March changed everything. No longer could we take our elderly family members for granted, not longer could we take our jobs and income for granted, no longer could we take our health or our friends for granted. Nothing was concrete, everything was elusive. The things we put off until spring, or until a more perfect opportune time never happened, mostly because we were in a “wait and see mode.” Here we are, more than a year later still waiting to see what’s going to happen next.

Don’t get me wrong, I too have some deferred dreams. The books I had hoped would be ready for publication are still on the shelf of my soul. It has not been easy to continue writing under the haze of grief and despair. Even blogging has been a challenge. Yet, those of us who could muster up the courage continued to press on. I am amazed at how many new businesses were launch during this time. I’m in awe of the people who decided that this was the time to achieve their goals in art, music, or literature. These people found hope in the midst of peculiar circumstances. They didn’t give up. They didn’t postpone. They met the challenge head on. They decided that now was as good of a time as any. One person declared, “If COVID takes me out, at least I will have given it my best shot!”

There’s a scripture that says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” (Proverbs 13:12 ESV; some people believe this was Langston Hughes muse) Without a dream or hope, we can become depressed and sick in heart and mind. Mental health disorders have been unmasked during this time of social distancing and sheltering-in. The news stories about new strains of the virus scare us. No one wants to return to wearing masks and distancing ourselves from love ones, but we have a say in how we will respond to the various messages of the airways. We can decide to seek out relationships, to achieve our goals, to be proactive in mental and emotional healing, and to work toward achieving our occupational and or vocational desires. We can be like those entrepreneurs who launched their dreams into reality and experienced life at a new level. We have the ability to change our immediate circumstances by allowing hope to come to the surface of our thoughts and acting on it.

In the last two months, I have been writing more. To my surprise, the more I write, the more I want to write. I started dreaming poems and stories again. I hope to bring two new works to publication this summer. Will I? I don’t know, but I do know I will be giving it everything I’ve got. Writing is a part of who I am. When I defer writing, I am putting my entire being on hold. That is not mentally or emotionally healthy for me. Are you postponing living? Are you putting off being your true authentic self? Have you put yourself (your hopes, goals and dreams) on hold?

For years I have been trying to get my mom to go to the salon with me for a pedicure, manicure, and a facial. For years I have heard her say she wished to have a professional arch her eyebrows and shape her nails, but she would never go. I finally got her to go to the salon on my birthday. She reluctantly got a pedicure with reflexology. Afterwards, she was so elated. She described her experience to me with a big smile on her face. She regretted not doing it before and pledged to go again and get the works. My mom is 89 years old and this was her very first trip to the salon. I tell you this story because your dream deferred doesn’t have to be a big thing. It can be a small thing, a typical thing, a thing that seems ordinary to others, but for you it is a desire that needs to be fulfilled. It can be the thing that makes your “tree of life” grow. It can be the thing that brings you satisfaction and perhaps joy as well.

Are your dreams deferred? Why? Do you have the ability within you or your scope of influence to change it? Is there someone in your life who can help you do whatever needs to be done to get there? I encourage you not to put off for a day which you have yet to see the things you can do today. That’s like trying to spend money you do not have. Cease the day!

I wish you health, wholeness, and joy as you strive to achieve your dreams.

From the publication of his first book in 1926, Langston Hughes was hailed as the poet laureate. This volume is a treasure-an essential collection of the work of a poet whose words have entered our common language. Amazon.com

Story Connections

I was listening to the radio yesterday; this guy was talking about how people relate to stories and anecdotes rather than statistics and algorithms. While it was a very interesting NPR program, it got me to thinking about why I’m so passionate about writing narrative poetry and short stories. Stories connect people. The common human experiences of love, pain, hope, dreams, sorrow, tragedies and victories connect us to one another regardless of the artificial divides we use to separate ourselves. That’s why the best stories are the ones where we can picture ourselves partaking of the events, adventures, or relationships.

I write to connect one generation to another – stories of ancestors, forerunners, and trailblazers. I write to remind the next generation that there is both good and bad in the struggle, and there a legacy of overcomers. I also encourage others to write their stories, if not for publication, for posterity, because people – our children and multiple generations to follow – will relate to your story, your community, your traditions, your struggle, and your survival.

We tell stories to share a part of ourselves. When you tell your story, it can’t be denied. All the listener or reader has to do is receive it. Whether they choose to believe it or not, they have been the recipient of your truth (or your perspective of the truth). Funny thing is, I have a hard time convincing people that all of my works of fiction are not about me. All stories are made to make the hearers/readers feel something. Sensory language appeals to their five senses and their emotions.

Two weeks ago, I had an opportunity to share a story with members of a writers’ group. The story is entitled Compatible Voices. It a story about finally meeting the man, a business associate, I had been talking to over the phone for a number of months. (This was some years ago.) Somewhere along the line, we began flirting during our calls. Over the phone, we seemed very compatible. Finally the day came when we had an opportunity to meet face to face. We were both excited and looking forward to making the connection that might have led to a more formal relationship. Unfortunately, I was a disappointment to him, and he was a disappointment to me. Our disappointments covered a gamut of character flaws and assumptions: fidelity, racism, stereotyping, integrity, and honesty were out of skitter.. The interesting thing in reading this story was the reactions of the group.

Some of the members of the group anticipated the ending and were already shaking their heads. Others were waiting and cried out in disdain at the end. One member expressed her sadness that this happened to me. Still others wanted more details beyond what I had written in the story. The story eventually led to a lively discussion about the intonation of voices and different dialects and colloquialisms. Although it was my story, it connected with everyone present which included multiple ages, races, and genders. The story became a conversation starter as well as a fellowship connection. Not only did we laugh and chat, but others shared stories from their past experiences. We had a great time.

You may have a story inside of you that has the same ability. Perhaps your story can heal some of your family divides. Perhaps your story can solve the mystery of someone’s behavior or attitude. Perhaps your story can bring laughter to a grim situation or bring back a happy memory in the midst of sorrow. Stories and anecdotes (and parables) can help others understand how you feel or where you are coming from in your opinions, traditions, intentions, and actions. Stories can open up worlds to help one generation see another generation’s perspective. Stories can encourage others to share their stories with you. Sharing stories can then become meaningful conversations.

The book I’m going to end this blog with today is entitled How to Heal Our Divides. As a member of the launch team, I had an opportunity to read the pre-published copy. I have to admit, I couldn’t put it down. It was so interesting to read the stories of over thirty contributors, each striving to make a positive difference in the world. While there is some content I found myself questioning and somewhat at odds with, I am excited that here are so many organizations out there working on the front lines to address the huge ills in our society. They are not just telling stories, they are doing the work that makes the stories, and those stories are making wonderful connections.

Take the time to share some of your stories with your family, your friends, your neighbors, and your co-workers. You may be surprised at their reaction. You may find that your lives are more relatable than you once thought. You may find the human connection that makes us all members of the Beloved Community.

Once upon a time . . .

Recent times have put a spotlight on the inequities, systems of oppression, and deep divisions in our society. How to Heal Our Divides highlights organizations that are taking real action to address these issues and heal divides in effective and practical ways. Take a look to see how you can help make the world a better place. Amazon.com

Shine Bright

When I was a little girl my grandmother taught me a song entitled “Brighten the Corner Where You Are.” It was a peppy little church tune that I still remember. The song has a lighthouse metaphor. The last line of the chorus says, “Someone far from harbor you may guide across the bar, brighten the corner where you are.”

Funny thing is, I collect lighthouse figurines and I never thought of that song before today. I was thinking about a friend who recently lost her sister on her birthday. (Her sister was killed in a car accident.) I was trying to think of what I could do to help comfort her. Several days before this, I had bought her a Grateful Jar (I’ll explain that one later), but now my gift seemed inappropriate in face of her loss. Then the song popped into my head, “Brighten the Corner Where You Are.”

I can’t help but wonder how many times we talk ourselves out of being a lifeline for someone, or “lighthouse” as it were. We second guess our talents, our motives, and our ability to make a difference. We doubt the receptivity of the recipient even when they are our closest friends or family. Yet, how many times have we appreciated the little tokens of love and appreciation that come our way. Why isn’t our first thought, ‘I’d like for someone to do this for me, so I’m sure it will be received in the spirit that I give it – whatever it is? It really shouldn’t be so hard to “brighten the corner.” We know when our motives are pure.

I was walking around the garden department of Walmart feeling a little gloomy. I don’t really remember looking for anything in particular, but I was standing by the bird seed and feeders. A lady walked up to me (she was a customer too) and asked if I knew anything about the different kinds of bird seed.

“Do you have a favorite seed that you use in your birdfeeders,” she asked.

“No,” I responded, “I don’t have any birdfeeders; I’m just looking around.”

“Oh,” she said, “I really want to get some seed and some feeders to thank the birds for singing so sweetly in the mornings. Do you ever listen to the birds in the morning?” To be honest, my first thought was ‘please go away,’ but since I have been taught not to be rude to people I answered her. “Sometimes.”

“I can tell you are feeling a little low in spirit,” she said, “so take a minute to listen to the birds.”

“I will,” I replied patronizingly.

“I mean now!” she persisted.

“What?”

“Listen to the birds now,” she insisted, “they are all around us.” Sure enough there were birds flying through the garden department. Some were chirping loudly, while others were searching for something to eat with a periodic tweet. I hadn’t noticed them. I stood there for a few minutes just looking and listening.

“Now, don’t you feel better,” the woman said as she walked away. You know what, I did feel better. A stranger had taken the time to brighten the corner of my depressed mind.

While I contemplated whether to give my friend the Gratitude Jar, I could hear my grandmother singing the words to that old song. So, I asked myself, ‘what can I do to brighten her grieved spirit?’ I could call her, I could send her a text, I could take her some food, I could send her a card, I could visit, I could give her the jar I bought for her. Any of these things would be an expression of my love and care. Any of these things may not have the desired effect in the moment, but at some point she would remember the intent. I could affect change or I could allow the opportunity to pass and do nothing.

I refused to allow my insecurities to talk me out of brighten the corner where I was. In fact, I became so motivated by the opportunity to brighten my friend’s corner, I decided I would brighten some of my other friends’ corners too. I bought four more Gratitude Jars. After all, some of them could be having a moment like I was having at Walmart; it didn’t have to be as tragic as my one friend. The times that we are experiencing these days can cause some dark moments in anyone’s life. Perhaps, a little token of care would bring the light back to the eyes or to the hearts of those in the sphere of my influence.

You have a sphere of influence too. What can you do to “brighten the corner where you are?” Look around. Whether you are at home, as I am, or at work, or in the marketplace, is there something you can say or do to make a positive difference in someone’s life? It can be an observation like the stranger in Walmart. It can be a handmade gift. It can be a store-bought token. It can be an electronic message. It can be a prayer or a poem. It can be a smile across the room, or the simply nod of the head, or tip of the hat. It doesn’t really matter how you choose to help someone “across the bar” of depression, sorrow, disappointment, confusion, dis-ease, loneliness, injustice, or isolation. Just don’t talk yourself out of making any positive difference you can. We need more light in this space.

Just think, you may may be able to help someone change directions to a more positive outlook just by letting your light shine a little brighter each day.

Stay safe, Stay sane. Shine bright!

Christian Art Gifts Keepsake Gratitude Jar Set w/Bible Verse Note Cards | Today I'm Grateful For | Inspirational Count You...
Amazon.com

Defining Guiding Words

A couple of days ago I was talking to my granddaughter about her philosophy exams. She had three essay questions to answer and she was trying to avoid the circular arguments that her professor had used in the classroom. As a writer and wordsmith, I always go back to definitions. It seems to me that unless we define our terms we allow others to assume our meaning by applying their own definitions. I’m not sure how much help I was to my granddaughter, but it got me to thinking about how words are defining our reactions and our demeanor these days.

Several days later I attended a virtual writer’s conference where one of the presenters used the term “guiding words.” That intrigued me. Were guiding words defining words? The presenter asked, “What are your guiding words that keep you on track or get you on track in your writing?” I was further intrigued. Unfortunately, the presenter did not give any examples, which I waited for with baited breath. Or perhaps, my attention span collapsed in on itself as I reflected on the term.

I am convinced that we need both. There should be words in our self-talk that get us back on track and we should define our terms to eliminate misunderstandings. How different would our world be if every individual took the time to understand exactly what the other person meant when their words fill the space between our ears? And how would it advance our beloved community if we were able to use words to stay on track with the positive? Would it help us to avoid those pesky circular arguments?

This morning I received a phone message from one of my grandson’s teachers. She expressed her desire to help him achieve higher grades through tutoring and working together with us as a family. I called him in to my room to listen to the message. Immediately, he became defensive. He started to tell me how he was trying, how he had talked with her, how he was doing his best to catch up and do better. He was not listening to her words at all. He assumed she called to reprimand his efforts. After several tries, I finally got him to be quiet and listen to her words. Interestingly, I heard someone going out of their way to help and support, but he heard someone on the attack with criticism and disapproval. How wish one of his guiding words had been “listen.”

Listen is one of my guiding words. I define listening as engaging my eyes, ears, and mind with the words that are being conveyed. Some call this Active Listening. I am not trying to think about what I want to say, I am not assuming I know what they are trying to say, I am waiting quietly to hear what they are saying. It is my intent to be present with the words that are being spoken in the moment rather than past conversations or interactions with the person. I try to block out all other stimuli so that I can concentrate on the words being spoken to me. Sometimes this requires me to ask that they repeat themselves. Sometimes I must ask for the meaning of the words they are using. I am concentrating on their words.

Another guiding word for me is “wait.” I practice waiting by taking a reflective breath. If you take a breath before you reply or react, it may be just the amount of time you need to turn a negative into a positive. Waiting means I don’t speak until they are finished. Waiting means I allow the other person to take a breath; perhaps reconsider their words, or define their terms. Waiting means I am not so rushed that communication fails. Sometimes this guiding word, “wait,” allows me to walk away with a promise to give it some thought before I respond. That helps me to get my emotional response under control whatever it may be and to consider what they person has said more thoroughly.

In our socio-political environment, many of us need to define the word “communication,” As I often tell my students, “Just because you are talking doesn’t mean you are communicating.” People are talking nonstop, but what are they saying and who are they saying it to. People are feeling rage, anger, gladness, relief, sorrow, and all sorts of emotions based on things they have heard on the news and other media. The noise in our ears is like the circular arguments of philosophy – it triggers reactions without any real understanding. The terms have not been defined and we are not asking enough open-ended questions to get real answers. Everyone has an opinion, but is it an opinion that really counts. Communication is an exchange. It is a transfer of information from one person to another. Communication in all its forms (talking, writing, reading, listening) is the act of giving, receiving, and sharing information while respecting a different of opinions. We should be able to share our feelings, thoughts, experiences, ideas, and suggestions in a civilized forum, as well as convey good feedback. The goal is to be able to utilize the best forms of knowledge and wisdom available to us. This is true in a general sense as well as in specific instances.

Defining my guiding words is something I plan to pursue in my daily life. As a writer, communication is critical, even more so as a member of the the beloved community. After all, Benelog (the good word ) is my moniker. Perhaps we can achieve more satisfaction in our relationships and our civic community if we define and use these guiding words: humanity, empathy, compassion, charity, neighborly, citizen, courtesy, unity, peace, safety, gratitude, and love.

What are your guiding words? How do you define them? I’d love to hear from you. Thank you for listening to me by reading my words. Continue to stay safe and sane. Share a good word.

4 Essential Keys to Effective Communication in Love, Life, Work–Anywhere! is an excellent ‘How-To Guide’ teaching some of the basics for practicing the key skills that will help you identify and overcome communication barriers and achieve relationship success with the important people in your life. Amazon

Building Generational Bridges

I have been so blessed to have experienced the lives of my great grandparents and grandparents. So many people have not had the opportunity to share their lives with multiple generations. Recently, I realized that my grandchildren are enjoying the multi-generational experiences that I had, but they are also bridging all of our experiences together. They have me (their paternal grandmother), my mom (their great grandmother), and they also have grandparents and great grandparents on their mother’s side of the family. Up until 2007, they also had their great great grandmother, my mother’s mother. Each one of these generations have contributed a wealth of knowledge, perspective, and vantage points for this group of Gen Z’s.

To be honest I hate all the labels. Gen Z, Gen Y, Baby Boomers, Traditionalists, etc., but apparently we need them to distinguish and define the population. Sometimes these labels keep us from building the bridges that are needed to develop hope and character in the next generation. Where do we learn survival? Where do we learn perseverance? What do we we learn tenacity? Where do we learn identity? (Certainly, we can pick up a host of negative things too, but I choose to focus on the positive.) We can learn all these things from the generations that went before us.

The good news is, it’s not limited to relatives. In addition to all my ancestral family, their friends also invested in my growth. I fondly remember all the little old ladies from my great grandmother’s community and my grandmother’s church giving me some coins to spend on candy and a few lessons in modesty. I still have a beautiful handkerchief collection to remember many of them by along with their perspective on being a lady. (A perspective a born tom-boy needed, I suppose.)

When I lived in California, I was involved in a program called “Adopt a Grandparent.” The program was for first time juvenile offenders. The idea was to get them involved in community service that focused on something other than themselves and the issues that led to their legal troubles. The young people were assigned to spend several hours per week at a nursing home playing games with the elders such as checkers, chess, bridge, and bingo. Interestingly, most of the teens didn’t know how to play these games and had to be taught by the elders.

We learned so much as program leaders. One, our elders had no filters. They asked questions and made statements about the teens legal affairs that none of us expected. “What you in trouble for?” “Well, that wasn’t too smart, was it?” They also shared some of their own illegal dealings and close calls with the teens. The elders were one hundred percent committed to communicating with the young people they were assigned; not because they were in trouble, but because they were somebody’s children or could have been their child.

The young people (the majority, not all) became interested in the elders because of their stories about the bootleg era, number runners, big band music, and conk hairstyles. (If you don’t know what some of these things are, you need to spend some time with some elders.) Some of the teens actually showed up on days when they were not assigned to attend. Many brought presents to their elder counterpart. The relationships became intimate and long lasting in some cases. A generational bridge had been formed especially for those youth who never had grandparents around.

My grandchildren have enjoyed old-fashioned tea parties with real tea and crumpets. They have worn wide men’s ties with three piece suits. They have picked and ate blueberries right off the bush. They have danced to the boogie-woogie music of two generations. They have eaten tomato sandwiches while looking at pictures that date back to the first cameras. History has been stories told to them by relatives who lived it, rather than simple book information. Imagine what my grandchildren believe they can do because of their heritage. Imagine how their worldview has evolved because of their experiences and conversations with multi-generations. This is a bridge that continues to extend into the future.

Last week was a very difficult week for my mom. She lost three very dear friends, each from a different part of her life before the pandemic. They had made every effort to stay in touch over the phone and virtual platforms. Stricken with grief, my mom wanted to reminisce, sharing the memories of each one of her friends with me. Thankfully, I am active in my mother’s life so I knew them to some extent. Sharing those memories added to the bridge between us. It gave me new and different perspectives of my mother’s life, the things she enjoyed, and some of her post-pandemic dreams. Memories keep our friends and family alive for the next generation.

Our multi-generational family has made a consistent effort to build bridges with the elders in our community during the pandemic. The ties have not been just to offer some comfort or a social outlet to our neighbors and friends. It has been to continue building the bridges. Bridges that bind the beloved community together for all time. Bridges that will invest courage, stamina, and wisdom into the next generation. Bridges that will carry the living history forward even when the elders are gone and the next group of elders move into place.

You don’t have to be related to build some bridges. You just have to realize how important the connections are between one generation and the next.

This book is designed to restore the integrity of African-American history and is based on extensive research and documentation related to the African-American experience from the era of slavery until modern times. In this landmark book, Amazon.com

Stay safe! Stay sane! Build bridges!

In this magnificent testament to a nation and her people, Tom Brokaw brings to life the extraordinary stories of a generation that gave new meaning to courage, sacrifice, and honor. Amazon.com

Mental Images

There are always mental images in my head of people, places, and things. Some of them I conjure up out of nothing which I guess is part of my writing process for short stories and poems. Yet, there are other images that come from real life experiences and environments. Things like conversations, a randevu, photographs, or a memory, can bring an unforgettable image to mind. Seeing these images help me to relive the experience. Certainly, I use this in my writing process as well.

I write from a place of nostalgia. I want to conjure up memories and feeling in the reader. I expect the reader to connect to the piece emotionally; whether a story, blog, or poetry. It’s the sole purpose of symbolic and sensory language. A writer wants the reader to see, to hear, to touch, to smell, and to taste it through how the words are expressed. However, true creatives want their audience to go beyond the five senses; they want the readers to feel something: pain, sorrow, love, desire, anger, jealousy, empathy, etc. These feeling make the story/poem/blog memorable.

You don’t have to be a writer to create these mental images for yourself and others. My husband and I have been working on remodeling the kitchen during our free pandemic- induced time. Part of that change was creating a coffee bar for me. As I placed tea cups and creamers and tea pots into the new cabinets with the glass doors, I had an image of a tea party I attended some years ago with my friends. The mental image brought a smile to my face. I took a couple of photos with my phone and sent them to my friends with the message: “I wish we could have a tea party!” Each of my friends answered with an positive affirmation, but one of them had a mental image of her own. She wrote back a memory from a Valentine’s tea party we had attended. This was a pleasant memory that caused a new picture to form in my mind.

There are times when mental images are the best type of closure. Recently, a dear friend and writing buddy sent me a picture of herself and her new surroundings. She had moved far away to be closer to her family during the pandemic. Her words and the pictures let me know how happy she was in her new environment. She was surrounded by beautiful scenery. Just outside her windows nature looked life a manicured park. She had also cut her hair. Her long dreadlocks were gone, replaced by a short natural cut. It made her look younger and serene. These are the mental images that come into my mind when I think of her.

Unfortunately, my friend died recently. COVID-19 took her away from us. I cried for her loss, for her family whom she loved so dearly, and for the beautiful gift that would be missed in the land of poetry and prose. I was angry. How could this happen to her. She was careful and wise in her safety decisions. She was happy and experiencing peace of mind and heart. It was so unfair. It wasn’t right. I communicated with her family and felt so inadequate in ministering to their grief. Yet, I found comfort in the mental images I had of her from our last conversation. I picture her even now enjoying the garden like setting she was so proud to show me. I imagine the poetic words it would have inspired in her and I smile.

Mental images can be both good and bad, but they can also be a great help in our healing and our acceptance of a new normal. We can change those images by using our own mental faculties to create worlds of joy and peace – different outcomes, continuations, and endings. We can develop the mental images we need to survive the ups and downs of living through a pandemic, politically riveted, socially disrupted environment. Start by reading. Read something inspirational: a letter, a poem, a story, a biography, etc. Share the images of what you’ve read with someone else. Talk about the words that helped you draw the pictures and feel the subject matter. Talk about your feelings. What does it remind you of, how does it relate to your own experiences, what would you like for the other person to experience with you?

It is important that we don’t allow the News, docu-drama, and social media to be the only images in our minds. We must generate our own sense of safety, security, peace, joy, and comfort. Look at some family pictures, take a virtual walk through cities you wish to travel to, remember vacation spots, new born babies, and how you met the love of your live. Create a fictional place in a story for your grandchildren, recreate the family home from fifty years ago. Use mental images to remain healthy and to create your personal sense of normal as you wait to settle into whatever our new normal will be. You can control the images of your mind.

Be safe! Stay sane! Be imaginative and creative! Create a positive mental image of yourself regardless of circumstances.

In loving memory of Michelle Birt. May your creative energy live on in generations to come. Rest in Peace, my dear friend.

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