I Don’t Get It

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I’m faced with another person I care about dying of cancer. For some reason, I accept death; I try to live one day at a time and appreciate each moment. When I go out in the car I think “I might die on this trip,” even if it’s an ordinary like going to yoga or the grocery store. You just NEVER know.

I’m not a religious person, but spiritual. I came to the realization that my life was finite some long time ago. I believe in a good God, not a vengeful one who will list my sins as soon as I pass out of this life. I expect the next phase of life to reveal things I don’t now understand. I don’t want to die, but I don’t fear death either.

Nevertheless, I do resent it when people I care about are snatched from this life before they want to go. They have plans, people who love them, a reason for being here. My brother-in-law was taken at a point in his life when everything was going well — owning and profiting from a business he loved, a caring wife, children and grandchildren, a lovely home he had definitely earned. Then cancer, almost three years of suffering with grace, dignity and faith, and death just before Easter and the arrival of the Risen Lord. Ironic. Sad. Inexplicable.

My favorite saying is “Life is what happens when you had something else planned”. I know that to be true; but knowing and feeling are two different things and they tug at each other. Sometimes with a vengeance.

We all know we’re dying. A pit-of-my-stomach fear sometimes grabs me unawares, when the immensity of that truth is crystal clear. I will die. Then what. I believe, so I do my best to accept. And trust that God will be waiting for me and tell me WHY.

That’s all. I just had to get that out while I prepare to visit a dear friend (cousin by marriage) and “be there for her”. And her husband. And her sister who is visiting from England. She is in the hand of God now, and hospice care begins in a home she loves, surrounded by nature in the lovely mountains of Virginia. Nature is God’s perfect creation, we are not. But we all live by the same rules: life, death, renewal; a cycle that continues as surely as the waves meet the shore.

Why is that sad and why does it hurt?

 

Maze

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I saw “maze” and I thought “life”. There’s a beginning and an end, but how you get from A to B is quite unknowable and often unpredictable.

Who hasn’t had a plan for life, a blue print, goals and visions for the future? Some people are more laid back, and take life as it comes, but many more have definite ideas about what they want “from” life, and how they want things to move along.

Life is like a maze. You start out thinking “this will be fun.” You set off confidently sure you will emerge victorious. You will find your way out. After hitting dead ends, realizing you’ve lost all sense of direction, getting hot and frustrated, tripping over a root, and getting hit in the face with an errant branch, you begin to wonder why you thought this would be an adventure.

Anyone who’s lived a while knows that life can run contrary to one’s plans. It happens; you react. You make bad decisions, you have regrets, you say or do the wrong thing, you hurt people you love. You’re learning, maturing, and figuring out that your best intentions do not always have the best outcomes. You move on, wiser for your experiences, even if bruised.

Life intervenes without your permission. A loved one dies; an illness short-circuits your plans; your spouse cheats on you; children come when unplanned, or don’t come when desired; you begin to realize that your life is not what you had planned.

Practice does not make perfect, but it does impart wisdom if we learn to deal with life on life’s terms. This means accepting that you are not in charge — but you do have responsibility for how you deal with life’s bad blows.

I have a friend who has had a recurrence of her cancer, badly, yet she has not lost her sense of humor. She knows this is one of life’s hardships and continues to live each day to the best of her ability, knowing that life is precious and to be lived. We all have only one day, and getting through it will grace, acceptance and a realization that it is how we react, how we get through the maze with dignity and perseverance, is what life is all about.

Dr. Scott Peck, writes at the beginning of his book, The Road Less Traveled, “Life is hard.” Yes, it is, but finding joy and the true meaning of life makes it worth living. What life brings us, may be better, deeper, and more fulfilling than what we had planned.

 

Prudent

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Prudence vs. imprudence. Cautious vs. carefree. Sober vs. impulsive. Who isn’t a bit of both? I tend to enjoy being impetuous at times, but I do know my limits, I think.
A couple of years ago my sister and I went on a four-day cruise to the Bahamas. When we got off the boat in Nassau, a bit unsure of what we wanted to do, I spotted motorbikes zipping around. I’d never ridden one (I had tried a mo-ped), and I thought that looked like fun. My sister reluctantly agreed, and we paid for our rides. We had a quick lesson in a parking lot — a bit trickier than I thought, but I knew it was manageable, and I was determined. (I was 65 — how much longer would I be able to attempt something like this.) We took a simple route along the water, getting out of the busy town, stopping at an historical monument, enjoying the feeling of the warm wind in our faces. We did get better as we went along and stopped for a quick swim at a beautiful beach with shallow, clear water. Wending our way back, we got just a bit nervous as the traffic into town got heavier. I think the bike’s owners were relieved when we returned the motorbikes on time, and in original condition.
Afterwards I reflected on my spur-of-the-moment decision. On the one hand it was just plain foolish to try something relatively dangerous (a fall could have been quite serious for either of us, though my sister is younger by 6 years), but on the other, why not? I like to learn new things, and while I don’t much like roughing it, I do like an adventure. This was fulfilling for me and I would have regretted not accepting the challenge, getting a little out of my comfort zone.
With age advancing on me far too rapidly, I respect my limitations, but I want to keep pushing myself to have new adventures and achievements. Or maybe the older I get, the crazier I’ll get. We’ll see.

Meaningless

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Every little thing we do has meaning. Doing nothing has meaning. Some things have special significance, others simply have to be done, and some of the best things are random and surprising in their occurrence and satisfaction.

Priorities play a large part in assigning meaning to a task. We assign value to what we do, even more so than in the past when there were fewer choices. I find that I try to make everything I choose to do meaningful. If I go through life thinking that this is too mundane, or that is beneath me and not worth my effort, then my life is less meaningful. I try, with varying success, to do even the smallest tasks to the best of my ability, knowing that they are part of a bigger picture, whether they relate to my home life or working life. It’s far better to think that what I do has importance and relevance. It’s also relates to my character and my self-worth.

Since I have trouble staying on task, I attempt to immerse myself in even the smallest things, liking ironing a shirt, cleaning a toilet, sewing on a button, so that it becomes the most important thing I’m doing at that moment. (That doesn’t mean I ,may not watch HGTV while doing it.) My kitchen floor is a bone of contention. Less than a year old, and it’s a disaster because it shows everything — dust, crumbs, water drops, and smudges. Still I faithfully wash it trying to get everything spotless at least twice a week. For a short period of time I feel a sense of achievement though I know within a few days I’ll be doing the same ordinary task again. Knowing I did it well is enough for the moment.

I help once a week at my elementary school’s library. I enjoy inputting data the most, but at least half my time is spent covering new books with contact paper. Boring. I trying to make it less so by making each book a challenge — to do it as well as I possibly can, not cutting corners (figuratively and actually) and doing the best I can. When I’m doing something that doesn’t challenge my intelligence, I let the quality of the work be my goal, and in this case the knowledge that the book will last longer for more kids to read.

If we let ourselves believe that anything we do is meaningless, we miss the point. Life is meant to be lived to the best of our abilities at any given time. That means focusing on the moment and making it the best and most fulfilling it can be.

To quote the very wise Mother Teresa: “If you can’t do great things, do little things with great love. If you can’t do them with great love, do them with a little love. If you can’t do them with a little love, do them anyway.”

 

Criticize

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Criticism sounds like something you want to turn away from, ignoring it as a personal attack. And it certainly can be when it’s thrown like a dart, meant to hurt.

In its best form, criticism is “the act or art of analyzing and evaluating or judging the quality of literary or artistic work, musical performance, art exhibit, dramatic production, etc.” While this kind of criticism can also sting, it is something most of us need to grow, to get better, or to hone a skill, like writing, or drawing or painting. Who is so perfect that they can’t use constructive criticism in some area of their life?

When you open your ears and keep you mouth closed, and listen to well-intended criticism, you can be a learner, and see what you’ve created through different eyes. Years ago, when I finished writing something, I felt like I’d delivered a baby, and it was beautiful, no matter what anybody else said. Now I know that you have to be much more objective about writing: it is a product, and there are rules and standards, and how the words are put together makes all the difference in how interesting it is. Words are quite remarkable: their power comes not only from making the careful selection, but also putting them together in just the right way.  I’ve found I can rewrite something several times (and hopefully each time it gets better), and still I could continue the process. But there is a time to stop.

In my writing group, someone else reads my story. Hearing it aloud, I myself become the first critic. I realize that this isn’t right, or that could be better. Then I listen to what the others have to say. This generally means I have changes to make, all for the better.

How wonderful if this could be transferred to other parts of my life (everyone’s lives) and listening becomes the first step in understanding and improvement. Of course, how criticism is delivered is very important, too. It has to be constructive, stay on the topic, and never be personal. It’s about developing, getting better at whatever one seeks to achieve. Who doesn’t have room to grow?

 

Overwhelmed By Negativity

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Religion and politics are no-no’s when talking with friends, or so it’s said. I do know people with whom I would never bring up those topics, and tread carefully when discussing current news events.

But here I’ll say what I think: Is a second civil war coming? Some days I feel that way, and wonder why we as a nation and the individuals therein can’t appreciate the freedoms we have and respect our form of government.

Hey, I wasn’t thrilled with either candidate; what informed my decision was a love of the Constitution, and how far away from it we have moved in recent years. I want the Constitution to be foremost in the decisions made by our three branches of government. Perhaps idealistically, I would like elected officials to first feel allegiance to that founding document, and not to the parties they attach to their names.

The president was elected according to the well-known terms of the Constitution and as such deserves the respect that office has always commanded. We have a new administration every four years (sometimes eight), and Obama exited fairly quietly respecting the process. On the surface he was genial, presidential, and welcoming to the new President. (I won’t mention the questionable actions he took in his last few months).

Without respect for the Constitution we have chaos, and the left’s actions are an indication of what a negation of the process that has made this country lawful and peaceful in the changeover of power. We are currently acting more like a third world country new to democracy and the tenets of the Constitution. Other presidents have been reluctant to welcome their replacement, but never has an election and early actions of a new president been so questioned and criticized, sometimes violently.

Whatever happened to freedom of speech? Because we have this freedom, people think they can say anything. I was shocked at the words that were let loose at the women’s march, and in the presence of young children. I believe its purpose was to let loose on Trump, and express every negative opinion that they could bring up. What constructive purpose did it serve? I find I have nothing in common with those “nasty’ women (as they dubbed themselves) and would have been totally out of place in their throng. I also noticed that pro-life women were dis-invited. Curious because there are plenty of women who are pro-life and we saw in the tens of thousands of women who two days later descended on Washington in an orderly and far less offensive fashion.

Then there’s this trend on college campuses for vocal groups to oppress the expression of opinions that counter what they believe (whether they’re in the majority or minority). Where’s the dialogue? Where’s the listening to other people’s opinions and allowing their (including some students) expression of free speech? I sincerely doubt that all of the demonstrators on the Berkeley campus were students. These events seem to draw people who just want to disrupt and destroy.

We know that there can be peaceful protests. Martin Luther King taught us that and that had more impact than screaming women spewing hate, or young adults smashing windows.

Personally I think the universities of themselves must come out to not only allow, but to encourage differing opinions to be expressed, even if they have to call in the police or national guard to make this happen. They have to be at the forefront in defending freedom of speech and the rights outlined in the Constitution. The two-party (an occasionally three) system has always been a feature of our government, but have always included patriots. Where are those people today? I’d like to see more of them expressing their opinions and standing up for the USA first, and their party’s stance second.

 

Yellow

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Context is crucial to the meaning of some words, and yellow is a good example.

Obviously it’s a color, bringing to mind breezy daffodils, cuddly chicks, and bright sunshine. Unfortunately it’s also a term used to describe a cowardly person, or a scoundrel. Why I wonder? The “yellow terror” was used to describe the spread of Yellow Fever in the United States in the late 1800’s. In its toxic stage, the disease, now rare in the USA, causes jaundice, thus the yellow connotation.

I think I’ve discovered what has recently been called “false news”. In fact in an earlier age it may have been described as “yellow journalism“, characterized as “dishonest in editorial comment and the presentation of news, especially in sacrificing truth for sensationalism”.

The “Yellow Peril” is a term in history best forgotten because of its exaggeration in the media (e.g. newspapers because of the time period) of the danger from the Chinese and Japanese. The term was first used following Japan’s military defeat of China in 1895 and then was applied to Japan. Some ascribe the first use of the epithet to German Kaiser Wilhelm II, in 1895 against Japan, but it was also used by a Hungarian General (quoted in a US newspaper): “The ‘yellow peril’ is more threatening than ever. Japan has made in a few years as much progress as other nations have made in centuries.”

The use of “yellow peril” in the US was directed at the Chinese, though, as they came from their home country to the west coast to work on the railroads. While originally encouraged to emigrate, they ended up being treated poorly.

It is ironic that the US-instigated influx of Chinese to work building railroads soon bred a distrust of Asians. To enhance relations with the Chinese with better trade in mind, Secretary of State William Seward (of Seward’s Folly fame) designated a special envoy, Anson Burlingame, to work with the isolationist Chinese to increase an openness between the US and China, with a view to achieving a “favored-nation status”.

The Burlingame Treaty also encouraged Chinese (cheap labor) to come to the United States.  While the treaty was supposed give privileges, immunities and protection to Chinese in the United States against discrimination, exploitation, and violence, it didn’t work out quite that way. These immigrants were generally treated badly, not trusted, and did suffer from discrimination. Furthermore, they could not hope for US citizenship because that was denied under the Naturalization Act of 1790, which limited naturalized citizenship to “white persons.” So much for a closer relationship.

On both sides of the Atlantic fears of the “yellow peril” continued into the 20th century and was bolstered by various  in books and films. “Prominent among these were portrayals of sinister Orientals an English writer’s creation, the insidious and diabolical genius Dr. Fu Manchu.” The refocus on Europe’s internal crises, as opposed to any invasion from the east, and the outbreak of WWI soon negated fear of the “yellow peril” until the bombing of Pearl Harbor when the fear was fully justified.

Seward and Burlingame’s ideas about a closer relationship hit bottom when the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882) was enacted placing a 10 year ban on immigration of laborers. This was extended for another ten years in 1892, and in 1902 was made “permanent”, that is, until in 1943 Chinese were again allowed in under a strict quota system. It wasn’t until 1965 and 1990 immigration laws were again changed allowing for a greater influx of people from Asian countries (partly due to the Communist menace), and other countries. Naturalization was also allowed, and the persecution many were facing in countries abroad became a reason for allowing their emigration.

While yellow has much brighter connotations, the more sinister definition shows we have struggled with immigration in the past, with and with far less reason for strict laws that we have now.

Who knew — I didn’t until I stumbled upon this information. Thank you internet.