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

Breaking Barriers through Commonality

Today, I had the privilege of listening to poets and storytellers during the Virtual Reading presentation of Poets & Writers, Inc. in conjunction with the Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College. It was entitled: Honoring Our Elders. I tell you all this because these senior men and women were from a variety of backgrounds, and yet, they shared the common bound of creativity and life experiences. (It’s also worth listening to, and can be found on P&W Facebook page.)

These Elders were being honored for their creativity, but they were also honoring us by sharing their world perspective. Their works talked about coming to America as immigrants, watching the hustle of street dancers, missing their families, their pets, connecting with the past, lost loved ones, the current pandemic, and time both now and back when. In this large group of Elders one person was 90, another only 60. Yet, the common thread was their humanity.

How beautiful it was to see and hear people who were not bitter, not ranting, not worried, nor afflicted with the opinions and diatribe of a multimedia entourage. Each person introduced another graciously as a friend. Each person received encouragement, applause, and comments to urge them to continue their craft. Although multiracial, no race was disparaged. Although multi-economical, there was no classism. Although multi-religious, no religious discrimination arose. These were simply creative individuals who discovered a commonality in creative writing and expression, as well as long life in the midst of ever-changing times. They were true Elders exemplifying wisdom by coming together and sharing their heartfelt thoughts and words.

Why can’t this be the way we all relate to one another? Why can’t we focus on our commonalities instead of our differences? We may not all be poets, but we all have family. We may not be able to express ourselves through the written word, but we can speak the common language of love, concern, and hope. The Pandemic magnifies these commonalities more than anything I can think of. People are dying without consideration of race, class, or religion. In the end we all just want health and life for those we love. We all want some form of normalcy to occur again. We all hope for a cure. We all want a plan for safety that works. And yet, we allow politics and social ills to become barriers to our common humanity.

The Elders had stories to tell us about how to overcome these things. They have seen war, plagues, and economic depression. The have lived through lack and plenty. They have found ways to survive in community. We need to hear this. We need to see this. We need to embrace their stories for the sake of posterity. The Elders are thriving in community. How much more should those who are young find a way to thrive with mutual camaraderie as a community?

I was deeply moved by the Elders today. They told their stories, some with pride and others with timidity. Nonetheless, we were captivated by their longevity as well as their tenacity. These authors are leaving a living legacy just by their unity of purpose in their community centers and neighborhood centers. They will also leave a written record of what it means to work together in shared success.

Perhaps we can break the barriers by telling our stories. Perhaps we can find hope and ways to break down barriers by sharing our experiences and getting involved in our communities and neighborhoods If we take the time to listen to others, and especially our Elders, perhaps we can find our common humanity. History and time will show us we are more alike than we are different.

The Elders I listened to today were from the Dr. Edith Rock Elders Writing Workshop, Goddard Riverdale Community Center, Grand Street Settlement, Kew Gardens Community Center, and the Stanley Isaac’s Neighborhood Center.

Thank you Elders, you were a small representation of the hard work of yesterday to create a better tomorrow. I honor you with a new found respect. Thank you for sharing a part of your humanity with me.

Do you have a story in you? Do you know how to write it or how to tell it? Amazon.com

True Engagement

Have you ever had someone ask you a question and never give you a chance to answer; they continue talking as if the answer wasn’t relevant or as if they already knew the answer? How annoying is that? God forbid they actually answer the question for you! This is not a conversation because there is no engagement.

Another example of this lack of engagement is when the questions are closed, requiring a yes, no, or some other monosyllabic reply. These interactions often occur with teens. Questions like, “How was school today,” or “Did you have fun tonight?” The answers are yes, no, alright, or I guess. No real information has been exchanged. No real engagement has taken place. Whether we want to admit it or not, these types of dialogue are useless.

The formula for true dialogue, for true conversation is: open-ended questions + active listening = engagement. As an educator, I could get very academic with this, but that is not my purpose. What I’m after as a person, as a writer, as a blogger, and as an individual in relationship with other individuals, is true engagement, true dialogue, real conversation.

This can only happen if we are truly interested in what others have to say. Their experiences, their worldview, their opinions, must be as valuable to us when we are talking as our’s. That doesn’t mean that we won’t disagree from time to time, but it does mean we understand the basis of someone else’s point of view. After all, conversation by definition is an exchange of thoughts, ideas, and/or feelings between people.

Generally speaking, conversations are the tools we use to build relationships. Dialogue implies interest. Open-ended questions also imply interest. If I want to know what you think, how you feel, what you believe, or what experiences you’ve had with the topic at hand, I will have to ask you. An open-ended question is one that requires a thoughtful reply. (Even is a person lies, they have to think about it first.) The response will not be a single word that does not lend itself to further conversation or understanding.

What have you been doing with your time during the quarantine? What are you doing to maintain your mental health during this time of social distancing? How do you think the economy will bounce back from all the shutdowns? What laws would you like to see instituted to stop police brutality? What experiences have you had with people outside your race? How would you want your grandchildren to respond to racism? These are open-ended questions. These are questions that allow the other person to respond from within their scope of knowledge and understanding. A discussion may develop not only in the moment, but over time.

Having good open-ended questions isn’t enough though. We must also be active listeners. As mentioned above, it does no good to ask questions if we aren’t going to listen to the answers. Active listening requires us to not only hear, but to be attentive. Have you ever had the experience where someone told you something and you walked away thinking, what did they just say? You heard them, but you were not attentive. Maybe you were texting while they were talking, or maybe you were thinking of your to-do list. Worst yet, maybe you were thinking you already knew what they were going to say and simply dismissed it until you realized that’s not what they said at all. Active listening withholds judgement, advice, and preconceived notions. Active listening reflects on what the person is saying and seeks clarification when in doubt of the meaning of what they said. Active listeners can repeat what a person has said to them because they gave that person their full attention.

When active listening is paired with open-ended questions true engagement take place. These communication skills can develop relationships where everyone feels safe to express themselves. More than that, relationships move from the superficial to the authentic relationships we value most. When you value what someone has to say, you begin to value them. (In today’s vernacular, when you know where they are coming from, you know if you can hang with them or not.)

When we are really listening, we don’t interrupt the other person. We don’t argue with them even when we don’t agree. We are able to say, “I know how you feel and what you think, but that’s not how I feel or what I think so we’ll need to come up with a working compromise. (Lord, I wish we were all mature enough to do this.) Of course, this whole conversation is based on the assumption that true engagement is our goal.

True engagement is not only about developing relationships, but about drawing closer in those relationships. Meaningful relationships only occur when conversations move from polite dialogue to significant interpersonal investments. (See Jan. 6 Blog: Personal Investments) Things like empathy, sincerity, interest, mutual respect, commonality, compassion, and camaraderie come out of true engagement.

In these tumultuous times, we need the formula of true engagement more than ever. Through it, we can extend our knowledge and our freedoms as citizens and as individuals who are still in this thing – all these things – together.

Try It! Share it! Do it! Open-ended Questions + Active Listening = True Engagement.

4 Essential Keys to Effective Communication in Love, Life, Work–Anywhere! is an excellent ‘How-To Guide’ 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–your spouse or partner, child or children, parents, siblings, friends, co-workers, customers–everyone! Amazon.com

Imagine Your Story

Imagine Your Story is the title of the summer reading program sponsored by the collaborative library system. Its goal is to improve language and reading skills for our children and to immerse teens and adults into reading for enjoyment and information. I registered for the program, but I also wondered about the rational behind the theme. I searched the internet to no avail. Yet, the theme intrigues me.

We all have a story. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end even though we may not know what that end is. I would also venture to say, we have another story as well; the story we wish for, hope for, imagine, the story we planned. By the time I graduated from high school, I had my entire life planned. I was going to live on a farm with horses and large sheep dogs. It was going to be huge and fenced in with a white picket fence. I was going to be a successful author living off the novels I produced, and eventually I would have ten children (six boys and four girls, yes my imagination was that vivid.) Needless to say, that is not my reality. Very little of my imagined story has come to past.

Yet, I have to ask myself, would any part of my future have come true if I had not been able to imagine beyond where I was? Would I have accomplished any of my dreams without being able to imagine something different from what I had or what I had seen? Books played a factor in those dreams. Books opened up worlds to me that reached far beyond the ghettos of Cleveland and the farmlands of Tennessee. Books allowed me to “imagine my story” beyond the boundaries of my existence. Reaching for those dreams moved me from one point of emotional and intellectual geography to another.

Books, and those who were instrumental in my receiving the education from and through books, afforded me the opportunity to pursue a future that no one else in my family had achieved. I became the first woman in my family to attend and graduate from college. I became the first women to attain a Master’s degree. I became the first to have a wedding of huge proportions followed by an actual honeymoon. I moved across the country and actually traveled outside of the country. I learned another language (French) and actual had opportunities to use it. I adopted two children, the sons of my heart, and I actually had some poetry published along the way. These and so much more were things of books that became a part of my actual story as a young woman.

So I ask myself now, am I still imagining my story. Have I stopped dreaming? Are all my accomplishments over, or will I continue to “imagine my story?” What about you? Is there still adventure and mystery in your future?

I am not only imagining my story, but I am imagining the story of my children and grandchildren. I am imagining the story of my mother and my friends. It can’t be helped, because they are all a part of my dreams for the future. We need reform, we need national change in policies concerning law enforcement, we need to find a way to end systemic racism. There is no doubt we must become a more humane society valuing all people and all cultures. I imagine this happening in my lifetime as part of my story.

Perhaps, we have too many people who no longer imagine their stories. Perhaps they can not see the plot developing into something good. Perhaps they can’t see themselves becoming the first to experience or accomplish something in their generation for their children and their families. You see, those things I talked about as my life experiences did not only come out of my imagination and my dreams; it came out of my mother’s and my grandparent’s dreams for me. They imagined my story being better than theirs. They imagined my story making a difference for generations to come. They provided a window through books, through education, through faith, and through their own stories to launch me forward into a new and different life.

When we imagine our stories, we must imagine a bright future for everyone, and contribute to it’s existence by every positive means necessary. We can start by reading multi-cultural books to our children and grandchildren. We can promote reading in our young people from every genre. We can continue to “imagine our story” by writing and sharing our stories in our communities and our schools. Yesterday, I spoke to a friend whose parents are in their 90’s and still self-sufficient. Can you imagine the stories they have to tell!

I leave you with these words from a former teacher: “Wake Up! Its time to Dream!”

There’s hope for childhood. Despite a perfect storm of hostile forces that are robbing children of a healthy childhood, courageous parents and teachers who know what’s best for children are turning the tide. Amazon.com
I Have a Dream: Writings and Speeches That Changed the World, Special 75th Anniversary Edition (Martin Luther King, Jr., born January 15, 1929)
“His life informed us. His dream sustained us” -from the Citation of the posthumous award of the Presidential Medal of Freedom Amazon.com

Reclaiming Our Time

Two days ago I was talking to my grandson and he asked me why I don’t crochet anymore. (I used to make him and his sisters hats and scarves every winter when they were young. He’s sixteen now.) I finally had to answer him with the words, ” I don’t know.” Truly, I can’t remember making a conscious decision to stop crocheting. Over the last several days, I’ve discovered I’ve stopped doing several things that I once enjoyed. As I investigated this idea of giving up things you enjoy without realizing it, I found that many of my friends and loved ones have done likewise. The running theme seemed to be, ” I don’t have time to do it anymore. With the job, the kids, the running around, something had to go.”

Those things that had to go were too often the things that helped us to relax, feel useful, feel a sense of fulfillment, and self-satisfaction. Everything from woodworking, sewing, gardening, arts and crafts, painting, needlepoint, collectibles, cook-outs, bowling, and myriad of leisure activities went away because of our busy schedules. Instead of being well rounded, we’ve suffered from schedule stress. (Love that alliteration.)

Who would have thought stress was related to our loss of leisure time activities. Psychologists tell us that children and adults suffer stress from overloaded schedules. Our to-do list have taken over our lives because we don’t schedule breaks or time-off; we don’t see leisure enjoyment as a critical need. Boy, have I been there! Before the pandemic, my schedule consisted of work and providing transportation for the kids.

Many days I left work on my way to the dance studio to drop off or pick up my granddaughter or to pick up my mom from the house to transport her to the store or church. I practically lived in my car. I ate meals in my car, I wrote poetry in my car, I made return phone calls in my call, I did lesson planning in my car, and I took naps in my car. Needless to say when I got home the only thing I was in for was going to bed. This cycle continued day after day, week after week, month after month. It became the norm.

For many of us the pandemic changed all that, but for some heart attack, stroke, exhaustion, depression, and emotional strain was the change agent. I’ve actually heard some people grateful for the break that the Pandemic gave them from the “rat race.” Now that’s sad, yet it does offer all of us an opportunity to reevaluate our schedules. Our time and our priorities should correlate with our needs and our necessities as social beings. Needs meaning the material and physical requirements for living, and necessities meaning our relationships, spiritual, and personal growth.

Establishing routines and reclaiming our time and talents is possible now. As we head back to work, we can begin setting our schedules to include every part of our being. As I have written in the past, I make an effort to “fill my bucket” with things that bring me joy. I may not crochet in the near future, but it won’t be because I don’t have time for it. It will be because I’m doing something else that relaxes me, fulfills me, or brings me satisfaction. The rat race can not longer be my norm. Life is too short. (Another lesson from the pandemic.) No more living in my car. No more over-scheduling myself and my family members, No more saying “yes” to everyone except myself. No more saying “no” to the things that matter. I won’t miss living a well-rounded life because I’m over worked and over taxed.

Let’s use these days of social distancing and quarantine to reclaim and redefine our time. Let’s begin prioritizing our lives so that we enjoy living rather than dread it. If I’ve learned nothing else during this time of pandemic, I have learned that the things I thought I couldn’t live without didn’t matter as much as I thought they did. Nothing matters as much as my family, and friends, and our well-being, and our being together safe and healthy. (Yes, that’s a run-on sentence 🙂

It’s your choice. What do you want out of the time you have? You can reclaim or redefine it in a way that makes you whole and joyful.

Time Smart: How to Reclaim Your Time and Live a Happier Life
Four out of five adults report feeling they are time-poor: They have too much to do and not enough time to do it. And the consequences are severe. The time-poor experience less joy each day. They laugh less. They are less healthy, less productive, and more likely to divorce. In one study of 2.5 million Americans, time stress produced a stronger negative effect on happiness than unemployment. Amazon.com

How Did I Get So Busy?: The 28-Day Plan to Free Your Time and Reconnect with What Matters Most
There’s no doubt about it: these days we are just too busy. With the conveniences of technology, we’re compelled to get more done in less time and end up constantly striving for the next thing – rarely stopping to consider if it’s something we even want. As a result, we end up missing out on the things that truly matter: our relationships, the activities we love, quiet time to reflect and replenish our energy. Amazon.com

In the Village

I don’t have any idea who coined the phrase, “It Takes a Village” in the raising of children, but I agree we need our village. It’s the village that helps me keep my sanity. It’s the village that comforts me in my sorrows. It’s the village that celebrates my victories and cheers me on even when I’m losing. So, yes, “it takes a village” in all of our lives to help us thrive and become the entity of purpose that we are suppose to be.

In the village there are all types of people with all types of professions. There are the professed friends – the ones who profess their love and camaraderie. My oldest son calls these the “Ride or Die” friends. They will stick with you come what may. These are the types of friendship that develop over time and become more like family in the long run, or maybe better than family in some cases. (Don’t get me wrong some people have the greatest friendships within their family. I’m not discounting family relationships by any means). Then there’s the friend that profess to be friends. Although they talk a good game, in a pinch they leave you hanging. (Is that too many colloquialisms?) While their relationship may be a negative in one sense, they can also be a positive. Their inability to be loyal and steadfast teaches you to examine your relationships, as well as to be mindful of what you share and who you share it with.

In the village there are motivators and critics. The motivators may be parents, teachers, preachers, counselors, coaches, or bosses to name a few. These people see the potential in you; they push you to do your best, to take a chance. They encourage you to pursue your dreams, and to look forward to the outcome rather than focus on the struggle. Many of us owe our successes to these motivators, but we also owe them to our critics as well. Critics also motivate albeit in a negative way. Critics give you determination. They make you persevere if for no other reason than to prove them wrong. Critics help you decide the worth or value of a thing. They cause internal arguments; win or lose, you are motivated to act. I owe so much of my victories to critics who told me my dreams were impossible. In proving myself to them, I proved myself to myself also.

In the village there are heroes and heroines, as well as villains. (Can I pause here just long enough to say, the First Responders, nurses, doctors, and teachers have always been heroes even before the virus.) The heroes/heroines are the people who keep things going when everyone else gives up. They are dedicated to the better good of the village. They strive to leave no one behind. They find ways to overcome the odds, to jump hurdles, and to bring along the disenfranchised. Heroes/heroines give us principles to esteem and personal attributes to attain to. They are selfless in their time, talent, and treasures; while villains are selfish. Villains steal time. They see it as their job to destroy the treasures of others. They only value the things that benefit them. Villains never consider the outcome; they prefer instant gratification over well thought out plans. They see members of the village as obstacles in their way. Villains make us protective and appreciative of what we have and who we are.

I could probably go on with other analogies (after all I am a writer), but suffice it to say we all have a village and there are both good and bad in it. Yet, if we try, we can see the positive contribution in our lives. We can be thankful for our village. All we have to do is take the emphasis off of the word “the” and place it on the word “my.” My village – my husband, my mother, my children, my best friends, my pastor and church, my mentor, my writer’s group, my co-workers, my counselor, my instructors, my relatives, and my neighbors – all keep me moving forward even when I want to quit. My village holds me together and helps me achieve hope in the midst of precarious times because we really are “in this together” (unlike the media who coined that phrase).

Who is in your village? Perhaps its time to take notice and reassert your position and their’s. Perhaps its time to re-evaluate the importance of the people in your life and how they contribute to your well-being, your goals, your dreams, and your accomplishments as a generally good human being. It really does “Take a Village.”

Be well, stay safe, and do your part in the village.

Learn more about who you are, how you see your loved ones, and how you can thrive together by creating 52 lists.
Amazon.com
In this heartwarming–and heartening–little book, colorful photos from the animal kingdom are paired with inspiring sayings that express how important friendship is.
Available at Amazon.com

Throw Out the Lifeline

I write many things to inspire and encourage self-care and moving forward with your life in a positive manner. However, it is very important to me that no one reads these things as a motive or reason to criticize persons who haven’t arrived at that point. All of us need encouragement at some time in our lives. All of us need someone to lean on when we are not strong, or when life happens in a way that sets us back. So we shouldn’t dare belittle or shame someone when they are down. We should throw out a lifeline. A good rule to follow is: “If you can’t help, do not hurt!”

There is great anxiety during these times of the Corona-virus. There is great sadness and grief. There is confusion, anger, disappointment, and disparity. We can’t deny these things, even if we happen to be surviving better than others. If we have found our rhythm (or our niche) that keeps us hopeful and positive, that doesn’t mean we should close our hearts and minds to those who haven’t. This position should give us an opportunity to reach out a helping hand, to pull someone up with us.

One of my friends made a homemade pound cake. She called me on the phone, and said look out on your porch. That was an uplifting experience. My co-workers and I (I haven’t seen them for almost eight weeks) had a long chat on Microsoft Teams two weeks ago. This gave us a chance to find out how each one of us was really doing. Now we meet once each week. Those same co-workers sent me a lovely gift via snail mail. It was such a lovely surprise; it put a smile on my face and in my heart. A friend from California called me. We talked for nearly two hours. She did most of the talking, but my listening filled some lonely hours since she is sheltering-in alone. All of these things are small lifelines that made a big difference.

There are so many ways to throw out a lifeline. Remembering birthdays, daily text messages, a quick phone call, a drive-by drop off of flowers or food, pictures or collages by snail mail, or even a virtual cocktail hour or luncheon. (You could even have the special meal delivered to your lunch date.)

Knowing someone’s hobbies can also be an avenue to letting them know they are not alone or forgotten. My granddaughter in California used to love working in the garden with my mom. So I sent her a flower garden kit through Amazon. She called to tell me the flowers are beginning to spout. I’m going to send her some more seeds in a few days just to fill her days of boredom. Perhaps someone you know needs some flower or vegetable seeds, some yarn, or some paint. Getting them to focus on their hobbies can be a lifeline.

If we are honest, there are days that we all feel like we are going a little stir-crazy. Our routines have been upended; nothing seems normal anymore. Even our “new normal” is changing on a regular basis. Now there’s a meat shortage, and some businesses are gone forever. States are opening up while the numbers of people getting the virus is still prevalent. Watching the news is a detriment to your emotional health. (I recommend you don’t have a steady diet of it.) Certainly, no one is experiencing great joy everyday. I attended my second virtual funeral today.

What a difference we can make in someone’s life if we share our time, talents and treasures with them. A kind word, a listening ear, a thoughtful touch (virtual or not), or a referral to your counselor, spiritual leader, or life coach can be just the lifeline that someone needs to make it through another day.

Here’s a dictionary definition for lifeline: “a thing on which someone or something depends or which provides a means of escape from a difficult situation.” Can someone depend on you to be there when they need to escape their difficult situation for just a little while? I want to be that person – a dependable friend, a dependable neighbor, a dependable relative, a dependable contact who is willing to share whatever I can to help us all get through these difficult days.

I hope Bene-Log is a lifeline too. Stay safe, stay healthy, stay connected, and throw out a lifeline to someone you know.

Creative Coping Skills for Teens and Tweens: Activities for Self Care and Emotional Support including Art, Yoga, and Mindfulness
Creative Coping Skills for Children: Emotional Support Through Arts and Crafts Activities
Available at: Amazon.com

Pursuing Happiness

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a complete guide to surviving and maintaining happiness during times of crisis? After all, somebody should have the answers to all of our questions, right? Maybe that’s the danger of fairy tales, we always expect the story to end with happily ever after. It doesn’t take much adult living to figure out that that is a crock. Happily ever after comes in spurts throughout our lives. It’s hardly ever a constant, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t see our lives as happy in overview.

The question is does the good out weigh the bad? Have we made corrections, adjustments, or a conscious effort to establish the basis for our happiness. Admittedly, happiness is an elusive and ethereal term that can be defined in a thousand different ways. So, allow me to define my terms. I’m talking about a contentment that brings peace and joy to your life.

Several years ago my grandmother died. She was close to ninety. She was blind due to glaucoma and she had severe Alzheimer’s. She had lived a good life prior to the onset of Alzheimer’s. She enjoyed traveling between the states of her children and grandchildren. She loved to try new things, and she had an abundance of hobbies. She used to say she was doing everything she could to enjoy her life while she was able because the day would come when she couldn’t. She did not dread what the future held, she simply accepted the fact that change would come as she grew older. (She based this way of thinking on scripture, particularly Ecclesiastes chapter 12) That doesn’t mean she didn’t have some hard and rough days. She did – the failure of her marriage, the loss of a home, the death of her sisters and her parents, the loss of sight in her left eye before losing the sight of the right – many major and minor life events. Yet, she found a way to laugh, to count her blessings, to appreciate the love of family and friends around her, and practice her faith every day. She is my example. She is what I strive to emulate in my worldview and outlook on life.

“The greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our disposition, and not upon our circumstances.” I don’t know where this quote comes from, but I believe it’s true. My grandmother was born in 1911. She grew up impoverish. She worked hard as a sharecropper in the South and as a domestic worker in the North. When I was twelve she got a job as a factory worker which earned her a Social Security check of a little over $600 a month. Yet, she was rich in her attitude toward people and life. Everyone loved her. So many people all over the country (due to her travels between family members) adopted her as their mother or grandmother. She was respected for her humanity and her spirituality. She was a confidant, a friend, a nurturer, a giver. She was my inspiration.

So here we are in the midst of a pandemic. What’s our disposition? What kind of attitude do we have toward our circumstances? How has it changed our outlook, our perspective on life? Are we miserable or happy? I’m finding a lot of that depends on me, not on others. When I wake up in the morning before the sun rise and hear the birds sing, I am so grateful. I’m reminded that there are persons who can’t hear what I hear. I’m aware that I’m alive. I have the activity of my limbs, a sound mind, my five senses (maybe six or seven), shelter, food, family, and so much more. I start my day counting my blessings and praying for those whose experiences are so different from mine. Being grateful enhances my empathy and reminds me that things can change drastically at any given moment. Like my grandmother, I purpose in my heart to enjoy my blessings and to be a blessing while I can, so that when the day comes that I can’t I won’t have any regrets.

It’s hard to be sheltered-in. It’s uncomfortable to wear masks and gloves every time you step out of the house. Long lines at the grocery store and drive through restaurants are so inconvenient. But, if you compare that to not knowing the destiny of your hospitalized love one; or being homeless not only during the pandemic, but before and after it; or having COVID19 while pregnant; or losing a love one who died alone; what do we have to complain about? My heart breaks as I hold the heart of my friends and family, as well as hear about countless others who are suffering at a far greater level than anything I have known or experienced. Yet, I can also find peace and joy in doing whatever I can to help them. (There are countless charity opportunities and ways to express your desire to help.)

If you can’t find you happiness – your peace and joy – or your contentment, may I suggest a couple of things. 1) Do a self-check. If you are depressed seek help: a counselor, your doctor, or clergy. Don’t accept depression as a norm. 2) Stay connected. Stay in touch with family and friends by any means necessary. Use electronics, stand outside windows, or call them on the phone. Take some classes on the internet, sign up for seminars. (Some local libraries are offering virtual classes.) Participate in virtual church or club meetings. Don’t be an island unto yourself. (ref: John Donne) 3) Find a way to give back. Donate food, clothing, or dollars to an organization that is helping those in distress. (You can do this at any age. My mom has been making masks.) Volunteer at a food bank or to drive Meals on Wheels, if you are not at that vulnerable age or have preexisting health issues. 4) Journal. Write your experiences for posterity. Write your feelings to examine them. Write your goals and dreams and how you can creatively accomplish them during the pandemic and after. Write fiction, poetry, song lyrics, or recipes. Writing can be very cathartic. 5) Count your blessing. Try to count 30 things that you are thankful for each week (or day). Do this while taking a walk or a warm bubble bath or sitting on your porch (deck) at sunset or sunrise. (You could also use your journal for this.) Lastly, 6) Do something you enjoy everyday. Read a book, cook, garden, sew, build bird house, whatever you enjoy doing find a way to include it in your schedule. It will give you something to look forward to as well as bring some joy to your heart.

We can pursue happiness by adjusting our attitude and watching our disposition. It starts by changing what we can change, and that is usually ourselves and how we choose deal with our circumstances. To that end I share one last thing with you – the Serenity Prayer.

Printable Typography.Serenity Prayer. 8x10. DIY. PDF. | Etsy

Stay healthy, safe, and happy.

When things get back to “normal” . . .

I have have heard this sentiment expressed so many times in the last couple of days. It always leaves me wondering “whose normal”; “what part of normal,” and “what do you mean by normal?” In my mind “normal” can be relative. After all, very few people have the same lifestyle or the same worldview as others. Right???

I’m not sure returning to “normal” is a great idea. When I ask myself whether I want everything to return to the way it was, my answer is no. There are life lessons I’ve learned during this time of sheltering-in that I don’t want to lose. There are also things I learned about myself that I don’t want to do or be anymore. I see this as a positive not a negative. Here’s some examples:

I want to keep having relationships with the seniors (elderly adults) in my life. I want to listen to their wisdom, their humorous comments, and their recipes for longevity. I want to remind them how important they are and what a blessing it is to be in their company. I want to interview them and record their experiences and their worldview for posterity. When this sheltering time is over, I want to spend time in their presence, not just letters, video chats, and texts or emails. I want to be truly present.

I want to spend quality time with my family. I don’t want it to be so unusual that we are all together in the same place actually communicating and participating in activities together. I don’t want to be so busy that it becomes an excuse for being unavailable. Life is too precious for that kind of regret. There’s a time and place for everything, and my family time is not the time to be preoccupied.

I want to continue journaling, my self care regiment, reaching out to friends and family, and taking the time to appreciate the beauty of every day. There are so many inspiring things in nature, so many uplifting experiences, so many valuable relationships, and so many wonderful words to read and to write; I don’t want to lose any of these things. Living through the pandemic has changed my perspective, I believe for the better.

Certainly, I want to continue working with children as an occupation. I love what I do. I also want to continue to produce poetry and stories and writing my blog; that’s part of who I am. I suppose it can be argued that these things are part of my normal, but I’m not sure I will look at these things in the same way. Working with children is an important investment, not just a job. Writing is a valuable means of expression, I can’t afford to frivolous with it. Bene-log (Good Word) is my intention in everything I write – to encourage, to inspire, to entertain.

When things go back to “normal,” I hope people will remember how to appreciate others. I hope people will continue to help others and consider the less fortunate. I hope we will keep the so-called least (the elderly, the children, the homeless, the impoverished) in our communities lifted. When things go back to normal perhaps we can be more thrifty and conservative in our spending and never be hoarders again. Perhaps we can continue sanitary habits in public and private. Perhaps we will never take our blessings for granted again, especially life and health.

When things go back to normal maybe it could be a “better normal.” What do you think? Is the old normal really what you want, or has your normal been changed forever and for the best? I’d love to hear from you.

Many people today feel overworked, overbooked, and burned out. They long for purposeful and meaningful lives. The remedy lies in rediscovering what it means to be truly present…
amazon.com