Impactful Relationships

Sometimes we need to take the time to access our relationships. As time goes by we may find that we have substituted new relationships and foregone old relationships. We may also find that the value of those foregone relationships were worth more to us than we realized. While all relationships may be impactful, some negative, I choose to focus on the positive for this blog entry.

What does it mean to be impactful? I’m referring to the actions or words that have had a major effect on our lives, our character, and perhaps even our worldview. Does that bring a list of people to mind? I am so grateful for those people who have had a positive impact in my life. The ones who encouraged me to follow my dreams. The ones who saw something in me that I couldn’t see in myself. The ones who blocked my path to self-destruction. The ones who spoke wisdom, when foolishness was all around me, and especially those who taught me that I could have an impact on the next generation as a vocation.

Recently, I was in contact with a childhood friend. We became friends in Junior High School many years ago. At some point in our lives, we stop being just friends and became family. After our conversation on the phone, I began to reflect on the impact she and her family had on my life. Her brother adopted me as his little sister and watch out for me. Her mother treated me like one of her own daughters. My friend accepted me and the dysfunctional awkwardness of my own family structure. From her family I learned so many things about being a confident young woman. Years later, my friend was the maid of honor in my wedding. Although we live far apart, we continue to stay in touch.

In reality I can trace impactful relationships among teachers, neighbors, roommates, sorority sisters, church members, co-workers, employers, my in-laws, and my relatives. Some people bring goodness to your life just by being there, and being themselves: people who are good listeners; people who empathize; people who extend a helping hand; people who deposit wisdom from their own experiences; people who share their life stories, triumphs and failures. These people help you become the best you can be because they impact how you process the circumstances of your life. They impact your perspective, and your outlook without really meaning to; they are just being who they are. These are the type of people that leave the world better than they found it, because they care about others, and are not afraid to touch their lives.

After talking to my friend the other day, I had to ask myself if I am positively impactful in my relationships. Am I taking the time to be an active listener? Am I truly present with others or am I distracted by my phone, my own thoughts, or other relationships? Do I share my experiences, my abilities, my minor or major expertise (depending on how you look at it)? Do others smile when they think of time spent with me, or do they wish I wouldn’t bother to show up as often as I do? We have an opportunity not only to evaluate our present relationships for their impact in our lives, we can also evaluate our impact on others. It’s tied to legacy. (See A Living Epitaph from 10/21/21.)

Relationships are impactful, and the ones that are positive in their impact are worth keeping for years and years. I am so thankful that my relationship with my friend has stood the test of time. I am also happy for the new relationships that keep me active and relevant. How about you? When you evaluate your relationships do you realize the gems? Truly impactful relationships are a treasure.

Whether you’re looking to improve your relationship with your spouse, navigate difficult conversations at work, or connect on a deeper level with friends and family, this book delivers simple, practical, proven techniques for improving any relationship in your life. Amazon.com

A Living Epitaph

Several weeks ago I participated in an online writer’s workshop. One of the creative moments required us to focus on what we would like to have written on our tombstone other than our name and dates. We were given five minutes to come up with our final epitaph. I didn’t need the entire five minutes because I try to leave a living legacy everyday.

I wish more people would think about what they will leave behind at the end of their days. We all will leave a message behind whether its intentional or not. When our family, our children, our neighbors, or even our coworkers think of us there will be an impression. When our name comes up in conversation what will be the first thought that goes with our name? For some this may be a morbid concept, especially since no one likes to think about their own death. Yet, in the climate of this pandemic, its become almost impossible to avoid conversations about death.

This past Saturday, my husband and I had to split up to attend two separate funerals. One was for a young father and the other for a seasoned senior grandmother. Neither of them died from COVID. I attended the services for my friend of thirty years. I can remember the first time I met her. She was the type of person that brought love and sunshine to the room. My impressions of her from beginning to end were the same. She loved her family, her work, and her church. She lived the principles of her faith. The funeral services for this phenomenal woman was filled with testimonies to that effect. There was joy in the midst of our sorrow because of the way she lived. The deposits she left in our lives will never be forgotten. The young man also has an awesome epitaph. He was best known for being a loving father. You rarely saw him without seeing his son. It was so obvious that his son was the “apple of his eye” as the expression goes. I can only imagine that his young son will hear of his father’s love for the rest of his life.

If everyone thought about how they want to be remembered on a regular basis perhaps there would be less ugliness in our world. After all, no one really wants to be known as the person who cursed all the time, or the person who bad-mouthed women and children, or the person who was so mean that everyone hated them, or the person who was simply taking up space in the world without contributing anything. I know that sounds tough, but I’m from the generation whose ideal for education was to help everyone become a good citizen – a contributing citizen for the betterment of our society. Those contributions could be made on various levels: family, community, city, state, country, labor, volunteerism, military service, or one’s religious affiliation.

Perhaps thinking about our epitaph could take precedence over our political and social views. Beneath the bureaucracy there are people – people who need friends, people who need solutions, people who need hope, people who need people. I don’t pretend to have all the answers. All I really have is my life, a few meager talents, and daily choices to make.. I choose life. I choose to teach the young and serve the elders. I choose to put my energy into fostering hope and kindness. I choose to use my life as an investment into the lives of others. What are the choices you are making? Will your choices lead to a beautiful epitaph? I love this quote from Billy Sunday: “Live so that when the final summons comes you will leave something more behind you than an epitaph on a tombstone or an obituary in a newspaper.” The thing that’s most important is how you live your life on a day to day basis. We each have an opportunity to create a living epitaph.

At the end of the five minutes in the writer’s workshop, I wrote these words: Her Legacy Lives On!

In loving memory of Mrs. Deborah Ousler Hayes and Mr. Eric Nyantekyi

Purposeful Nostalgia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take the Time to Share Your Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be safe! Stay well!

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

Available at Amazon.com