To Be Squeaky

To Be …Squeaky

Pentecost 16

 

Recently I heard someone give a speech about “Squeaky”.  This was the nickname of one of the delightfully special people on earth.  The speaker related a story in which a group of young college students were ridiculing Squeaky and mocking him.  Squeaky was a full grown man in body nut his mind still saw things with a child’s innocence so he failed to understand that this young men were not being friendly but actually very tacky and rude.

 

The speaker spoke of how he could have stepped up and stopped the situation but he did not.  I cannot tell where the speaker was going with his story because he simply said “We all have those times in our past where we could have done the right thing but did not.”

 

I really do not care what your particular faith is or if you consider yourself spiritual rather than religious.  I care not for the color of your hair or your intelligence quotient.  What I care about is your being and I think such an attitude is necessary is making anything something better than it is.

 

This series is about making the ordinary times of our lives count for something, make them extraordinary.  We are sixteen days into this series and I can tell you it is both the most ignored series I’ve written in over eight hundred posts and the most controversial, judging by the feedback.  Who knew doing good was controversial?

 

It is true that we all have had those instances in our lives, missed opportunities in which we could have put another’s feeling and being ahead of our own.  Being selfless for another is not an easy decision nor does it happen without forethought.  There are even those who feel it lessens their own being to consider the feelings of someone instead of just thinking about their own.  I feel very sorry for those people.

 

Often the ones who are putting others first are invisible.  After all, it is the squeaky cog that gets the oil.  Is there anything wrong with being invisible?  Check out Pentecost 9 of this series for an answer to that; the post published on May 23rd.  Emily Dickinson wrote a poem about being invisible, being an outsider in a world of egomaniacs.

 

“I’m nobody! Who are you? Are you nobody, too? Then there’s a pair of us -don’t tell! They’d banish us, you know. How dreary to be somebody! How public, like a frog To tell your name the livelong day To an admiring bog!”

 

Dickinson lived a life of obscurity although today she is considered one of the foremost American poets.  Only ten of her poems were ever published during her lifetime.  Emily Dickinson lived her life the way she wrote – one her own terms.  She has served as the inspiration for many great poets and is one of a handful of American female poets.

 

Of interest to us in this discussion is that she was present in her own life.  In the opening story, the speaker was present but not really living HIS life.  He was going along with the crowd instead of standing up for his friend Squeaky.

 

I once was told to put others first and they would in turn put me first.  Sadly, that piece of advice did not come true.  However, it did make me a much happier person in looking back on decisions I have made.  What we do today does not only affect our living in the moment but in the future.  The whole point of altruism is to act in such a way that it benefits the present AND the future.  Otherwise, what is the purpose of expending our energy?

 

Dickinson’s two stanza poem speaks volumes about the silliness of someone devoting all their energy to simply croaking about themselves.  Living in such a way that your good deeds speak for your is much more satisfying and leaves a legacy that will be remembered.  None of us is born by ourselves.  It takes two to create new life and that new life requires assistance from others.  If that is not proof that we need to help each other, I don’t know what is.

 

Maybe it is a bit whimsical to describe this series as making the ordinary extraordinary but there is nothing wrong with having a wee bit of whimsy in one’s daily life.  Life to make the most of yourself but remember, some of the best paths to doing such involve doing something for another.  Stand up for what is right and let your own voice be heard, squeaking among those that are simply croaking.  Take the opportunities life presents you and do the right thing.  Carpe diem – seize the day to be!

Advertisements

Flip Flop Fantastic

Flip, Flop, Fantastic

Pentecost 15

 

It looks like an ordinary house from the outside.  Walk into the living room, though, and you might very well see boxes of rubberized sandals known as flip flops.  The mother living there is collecting them to send to her daughter, an Air Force technician.  But surely one young woman cannot possibly need these many pairs of flip flops you might ask.  She does and happily asks for more.

 

While there is a type of electrical switch known as the “flip flop”, let me assure you that is not what this blog post is about today.  I am talking about the open-toed footwear that gets no respect for being, in spite of it having been around since 4000 BCE.  The oldest pair of flip flop sandals can be found in the British Museum and dates to 1500 BCE.  That pair is made of papyrus but the material used for these shoes has varied just as the cultures wearing them have varied.

 

Thought to have originated in ancient Egypt, the flip flop, aptly named in modern times because of the sound one makes while wearing them, was probably first made from papyrus or palm leaves.  In Africa the Masei tribe used rawhide for their sandals.  In India wood was the material of choice but China and Japan made them from straw.  As mankind advanced, so did the materials used in making flip flops and they began to be constructed from leather and other materials as well as stronger fibers that made them more lasting, durable, and wearable.

 

Servicemen returning from the Far East, especially Japan, after World War II brought back the Japanese zori and the flip flop gained popularity in the United States.  Americans added their own flair with bright colors and adornments.  The wearing of flip flops especially caught on a the surfing culture of southern California.  One company began in a garage but today makes and sells over two million pairs of flip flops each year.

 

So how can wearing flip flops become more extraordinary and less ordinary?  And why would one woman collect them to send to her daughter?  Servicemen in hospitals often do not have shower shoes or shoes that allow them to easily walk.  This Carolina mother collects the flip flops for her daughter to distribute to servicemen so that their feet are protected.  These are new flip flops donated by area people and family.

 

Recycled flip flops have a purpose, so don’t throw out your used ones.  The Flip Flop Recycling Company will happily accept them!  The FFRC is a business based in Kenya and began because a woman observed children picking flip flops out of the trash that washed on shore from the surrounding waters and ocean.  The children were making toys out of the discarded flip flops but the woman saw beyond their efforts.

 

Kenya is among the poorest nations in the world.  Throughout the world, the ocean has become a very large and often under-patrolled garbage dump.  The dumping of trash in the ocean not only endangers the wildlife living there, it also contributes to world pollution.  In Kenya, however, the FFRC is buying these flip flops from the women who collect them.  This gives the women some disposable income to help support their families.

 

Artists then use these flip flops to recycle into household products as well as other household products and art.  Some of their work has been made into fashion accessories that have been used in Parish runway fashion shows.  Other companies such as Ocean Sole are also using the trash of old discarded flip flops that end up as floating garbage to create new things and better lives.

 

Next time you go to throw out a pair of flip flops, think.  Next time you purchase a new pair, pick up a second pair for Operation Flip Flops, and then check out their Facebook page to get details on how to donate your new pair.  There is also another Facebook page called Operation Flip Flop that sent new shows/flip flops to Iraqi children.

 

Whichever charity you decide to help, and there are several in your own home town (Contact the Salvation Army, Boy and Girls Clubs, or the American Red Cross) I am certain, please do not forget that something as commonplace as a pair of flip flops can mean the world to someone else.  Make the name “flip flop” synonymous with the words “good deed” today!

 

 

Admission of Guilt

Admission of Guilt

Pentecost 14

 

When is the last time you looked at your Facebook friends list?  I mean, really looked at it and thought about each name listed.  We all have those friends whose name does not ring a bell.  “Who is this?” we wonder.  “How did I become friends with them?”  I am as guilty as anyone else in sometimes answering a friend request in the affirmative just because… it is late or you vaguely recall someone by that name having been a coworker or perhaps a classmate from decades ago.

 

Recently a post came up from someone whose name I did not remember at all.  No inkling tickled my memory whatsoever.  Curious and with some time to spare, I clicked on their profile.  The post was not something with which I disagreed, quite the opposite in fact.  Still, I really expected I would have remembered someone so insightful and yet, I did not; hence, the clicking on their profile to try to remember who they were.

 

I saw that we had did indeed have some friends in common, friends with whom I had gone to school and so I quickly determined this had to be someone I had known although not as best of pals or anything.  Then a posting on their timeline caught my eye.  It went something like this:  Recently a neighbor caught my eye.  (This is in quotations but it is NOT an exact quote.)  “A slender, attractive neighbor attracted my attention yesterday and, emboldened by a twinkle in her eye, I ventured to start a conversation.”

 

The ensuing description of their first meeting was sweet and did indeed lead to other meetings.  My forgotten friend offered to help with some yardwork and carrying her groceries inside, favors which were rewarded by a banana or some chocolate chip cookies on a table by his front door mailbox.  The somewhat intimate and yet innocent activities took up an entire paragraph and were, as I’ve described before very sweet and touching.

 

You can understand then my surprise when the next paragraph began with my friend confessing how guilty he felt.  Instantly angered at some unknown act of treason against this woman, I was completely caught off guard by his next sentence.  “Here I had lived next door to this delightful and yet frail ninety-six-year-old woman without ever noticing her for several years.”

 

The posting about this neighbor went on to encourage us all to take note of the elderly around us.  My friend explained how most recently the woman contracted a cold and he was her only contact for several weeks with the outside world.  Her spouse was long deceased as were most of her friends.  Childless, she was living an almost invisible life… invisible that is until a neighbor happened to notice a brief smile and a twinkle in her eyes.

 

We all hurry through our lives when we need to stop and take stock of the world around us.  How many times have we passed by someone without noticing them?  How often do we hasten to explain how we are feeling or what we doing without asking about how a friend is doing?  How much energy and time would it take to share a smile with those we pass in our daily walk of life?  We all live on this planet together and if we ask others to share our lives, we should be willing to share theirs. 

 

We are all guilty of being ego-focused.  We need to recognize that the best life is one lived in harmony with not only nature but also each other and to do that, we must see them.  We need a line of sight that includes others, not just ourselves.  Then we will be open to the real beauty of the world and the ordinary of our environment will become extraordinary.

 

 

 

 

 

“R” You Ready?

“R” You Ready?

Pentecost 13

 

First, an apology of sorts.  Someone asked me if I did not post yesterday because it would have been the 13th of this series on a Friday, making it Friday the 13th,  Cute and clever, but…no.  Regrettably, I was living in something of a construction zone and posting yesterday’s blog post was a casualty to the dilemma.  Never fear, however; it is here now!

 

There once was an old proverb common to the New England area of the United States.  New England is in the northeastern section of the country and was settled in the 1600’s by the Puritans who were escaping religious persecution in Great Britain.  The Puritans were not the region’s first settlers.  Those would have been the groups known as American Indians who came roughly twenty to thirty thousand years earlier, having crossed the Bering Straits from the Caucasus Mountains in Euro-Asia.

 

The Puritans were a non-nonsense type of folk.  They were not known for their sense of humor nor wild behavior.  Their religious principles included strict adherence to their interpretation of scripture.  Their clothing was very modest and did not include bright colors.  Men and women had narrow gender roles and one did one’s best in all things.

 

The proverb of which I am referring today goes like this:  “Use it up, wear it out; make it do or do without.”  Descendants from these early Puritans take pride today in having those same principles as their forefathers in being practical.  Such practicality as is denoted in this proverb is a type of altruism that many have forgotten today.

 

Recently we celebrated Earth Day and while many enjoyed the festivities of the day, we sometimes forget that being kind to Mother Earth is also doing good for mankind.  Let’s talk about five “R’s” of earthly altruism that we can each do every day.  Not only does it not have to be expensive, it can even result in saving us money!

 

The first “R” is respect.  We need to respect the earth and our natural resourced.  Water is a vital resource that all living things require.  We have to imbibe and clean so how can we economize on our water usage.  The easiest is to take shorter showers or baths.

 

The second “R” is reserve.  For instance tonight, instead of leaving your computer on all night, turn it off.  Yes you will have to reenter all your passwords but seriously…how long does that take?  The amount of electricity saved might not seem like a great deal but if multiplied by all the computer users in your area, it does make a difference.

 

The third “R” is reuse.  We all know about reusing glass bottles but before you get to that point, think.  Purchase reusable water bottles and other containers.  Make sure that the bottles you are reusing should be but if they are, then you are saving the planet from becoming an unnecessary landfill.

 

Our fourth “R” is recycle and, since we are talking technology, think about recycling your own tech gadgets.  The easiest to recycle are batteries.  Most metropolitan areas have recycling centers for such things and we should all utilize these.  Batteries can be recharged but also reincarnated.

 

Our fifth “R” is not a common one when environmentalists discuss such things.  It is repair.  All of these other things are good and necessary but we really purchase far more things than we need.  Alan Minter explains: “Recycling is better–I won’t write “good”–for the environment. But without economics–without supply and demand of raw materials–recycling is nothing more than a meaningless exercise in glorifying garbage. No doubt it’s better than throwing something into an incinerator, and worse than fixing something that can be refurbished. It’s what you do if you can’t bear to see something landfilled. Placing a box or a can or a bottle in a recycling bin doesn’t mean you’ve recycled anything, and it doesn’t make you a better, greener person: it just means you’ve outsourced your problem. Sometimes that outsourcing is near home; and sometimes it’s overseas. But wherever it goes, the global market and demand for raw materials is the ultimate arbiter.  Fortunately, if that realization leaves you feeling bad, there’s always the alternative: stop buying so much crap in the first place.”

 

Maybe I should add a sixth “R” – realization.  We need to realize that we all are living together on this big blue marble of a planet we call earth.  We need to take care of it and practice altruism on a global basis.  It is the best way we can be ready for tomorrow.
 

 

Why?

Why?

Pentecost 12

 

I never expected the type of comments I have gotten from this series.  Apparently doing good is not very popular.  Someone even pointed to the Republican candidate for President as an indication I should not have written this series.  I can understand their thinking, I suppose, since the candidate does very little except loudly belittle others and that is not considered doing good, except for himself.  Still, I am going to continue.  Call me a Pollyanna or someone who believes in the innate goodness of man.  That’s perfectly acceptable to me because I do… believe in the innate goodness of mankind.

 

Science backs me up on that belief as well.  Over fifty scientific studies have revealed that goodness, whether we are giving or receiving, helps us live longer and live healthier.  In 19456 a research team from Cornell University followed four hundred and twenty married women who had children.  Their assumption was that women with more children would die at an earlier age than those with less children because more children meant more stress.  They did not prove their hypothesis.  Instead they discovered that the number of children, socio-economic status, education levels, and employment status did not affect longevity at all.  After following these women for over thirty years one thing did stand out:  fifty-two percent of the women who did not volunteer or do good on a regular basis suffered a major illness.  Of those that did not volunteer regularly, only thirty-six percent suffered a major illness or terminal condition.

 

Two other studies backed up this discovery that volunteers lived longer than non-volunteers.  Yet another study showed a reduction of forty-four percent among those that volunteered a great deal which was greater and more positive results than those who exercised at least four times each week.

 

One way that volunteering can help you live longer is that it alleviates stress.  Stress causes a variety of negative things in our bodies but volunteering seems to combat that and helps us withstand stress in a more positive fashion.  Doing altruistic things helps us release positive hormones in our brains which in turn do good things for our bodies.  In summary, doing good not only helps the recipient but also the giver.  Voltaire once said “Every man is guilty of all the good he didn’t do.”  We only get one chance to live today.  We need to make it count.  And don’t go do something just to toot your own horn or seem to be better than you are.  The truth will come out.  Generosity comes from a giving, loving heart, not from a desire to be noticed.  Albert Einstein said it best:  “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.”

Maturing Well

Maturing Well

Pentecost 11

 

Ordinary might very well seem to be the enemy.  Certainly teenagers seem to devote their lives to being anything but ordinary.  Our series is about making the ordinary extraordinary but first we need to ask ourselves exactly what is “ordinary” and how does it relate to our living.  This is important because one feedback I received asked who in their right mind would want to be altruistic.  In other words, the reader asked, why was I wasting my time writing about ways to do good when I could be writing about important things like ways to age well.

 

We might think of riddles as a child’s game or a step in developing one’s sense of humor.  In classical learning, however, the riddle began a line of thinking.  An age old example of this is “What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?”  This riddle was the opening volley posited by Tertullian, one of the very first Christian apologists.  Born in Carthage, a Roman province in Africa, Tertullian was a highly educated man and is considered one of the fathers of Western theology.  An Apologist was and is someone who asks why we do things, an apology being an explanation and not a confession of guilt excusing one’s actions.  The early apologists asked mankind to think before doing and to know what and why they did what they did.

 

With this rather famous riddle about Athens and Jerusalem, Tertullian was really discussing actions versus being, a different approach to the more modern discussion regarding religions versus spirituality. Tertullian challenged the early followers of the man known as Christ to think about the relationship between their faith and philosophy.  Indeed, the very purpose of this blog is to ask ourselves a very similar question.

 

Athens served as the birthplace of philosophy, that branch of science which delved into the knowledge of conduct and being, based upon rational deductions.  There is no way in one blog post I could or should try to answer Tertullian’s riddle or the root questions of philosophy.  What I do want to do is celebrate the human spirit and the very act of living.

 

We still today use philosophy to explain the world and our own actions.  Today some might say the riddle has become “What does Chicago have to do with Jerusalem?” since cities influence the world in global affairs and the economy which seems to affect everything.  World markets determine not only the goods we have available but their production, cost, and availability.  Sociologist Richard Flores describes it this way:  “Cities shape and structure our increasingly interconnected planet.”   The riddle of living for us is how do we allow the reality of the world to affect our faith and how does that result in our spirituality?

 

The act of altruism has a very real effect on our brain.  When we are engaged in doing good deeds for another, the pleasure centers of our brain become active.  Mankind likes doing good!  Exactly why is another field of study, again something in which I could not or should not try to answer in a few simple sentences.   There are all sorts and types of suggested answers out there.  They include kin selection theory which suggests we are more likely to help another when they appear familiar or similar in genetic makeup to our own being, reciprocal resulting feelings which takes note of the fact that since it feels good to do good we continue to engage in charitable acts so that we will continue to feel good.  Still others believe that altruism is a rung on the ladder towards developing empathy, a sign of higher thinking.

 

I suspect that the real answer is combination of all.  When we recognize ourselves in another we help out because we would hope someone would help us in a similar situation.  There are those people who clamor for attention and helping others is often a great way to receive praise for yourself.  Certainly children become more empathetic as they mature.  Perhaps our discussion on altruism is not so far off from the readers suggestion I discuss how to age well.

 

Ordinary time in the ancient church referred to those parts of the liturgy, those elements of worship that did not vary.  Combining the many holidays and feasts of various cultures proved difficult.  The elders discovered people were more likely to embrace a new way of worship if they recognized some of the practices from their culture.  It is no accident that certain high feast correlate to pagan celebrations.  This does not detract from their meaning or purpose just as our ancestors living in caves does not mean we cannot live in houses with indoor plumbing.

 

Writer Mitch Albom has made a living based upon one simple belief:  “You can find something truly important in an ordinary minute.”  Your day might include a commute so all I am asking is that you make that commute a little more important than it already is by sharing a smile or leaving a good wish for another.

 

The visionaries of the world are the reason we have indoor plumbing and electricity.  “Ordinary people believe only in the possible. Extraordinary people visualize not what is possible or probable, but rather what is impossible. And by visualizing the impossible, they begin to see it as possible.”  Perhaps this is Cherie Carter-Scott’s answer to Tertullian.

 

I would suggest that we not over think this issue, though.  Author Ayn Rand has a different take on altruism, believing that altruism suggests no one person has the right to live without doing good for another.  I would ask you your thoughts on this.  I believe it is impossible to truly live without doing good for another, that the act of maturing well includes such.  What do you believe?

 

Writer William Martin is a scientist and engineer.  We already have his answer.  “Do not ask your children to strive for extraordinary lives.  Such striving may seem admirable, but it is the way of foolishness.  Help them instead to find the wonder and the marvel of an ordinary life.  Show them the joy of tasting tomatoes, apples and pears.  Show them how to cry when pets and people die.  Show them the infinite pleasure in the touch of a hand.  And make the ordinary come alive for them.  The extraordinary will take care of itself.”

 

Find the joy in living today.  The sweet juices of a tomato running out of your mouth, the gentle breeze upon your cheek, sharing a smile with a small child…these are the joys of ordinary living.  Delight in the minutes of your present and the extraordinary aspect of them will become evident and contagious.  It is, I believe, the very best to way grow and mature.  It makes tomorrow possible while celebrating today.

It Begins with You: “A” or “E”?

It Begins with You – “A” or “E”?

Pentecost 10

 

“u” is not the first letter in the alphabet used by most English-speaking people but perhaps it should be.  I know, I know.  Usually I am advocating helping others and communal thinking but the truth is, you cannot be or do good for anyone else if you don’t take care of yourself.  That includes doing something good for yourself – something healthy as well as fun and productive.

 

If you are an optimistic thinking, then congratulations!  You are already taking important first steps towards good self-care.   The entire world is not going to revolve around you nor are world populations going to adapt their way of living just to please you.  However, Harvard researchers have scientifically proven that being an optimist leads to good heart health and reduced cardiovascular issues even for those with other risk factors such as obesity, smoking, or advanced age.

 

We all have stress and in some amounts it can help build stronger bodies.  High stress levels are not healthy.  Pessimists have increased stress levels which affects overall physical and mental health.

 

None of the things we have discussed or will discuss are possible if you dread getting up in the morning or if your stress has such a detrimental effect on you that your health is suffering.   “We are what we think” is a saying attributed to Buddha.  When we expect negative things, then the odds are that negative things will happen.  Is it kismet, fate, or karma?  That has not been scientifically proven.  Maybe it is just our perspective.  Regardless, looking for the good in life is a proven factor is aging gracefully and being healthy.

 

Let’s assume you have decided to make this ordinary time of Pentecost into an extraordinary time by doing good.  Then the question is not what to do or how to do it, after all we are going to discuss one hundred and ninety-six ways to do something positive or good by the end of this series.  The real question is ….”A” or “E”?

 

The word affect is a verb, grammatically speaking, in the English language.  Basically it means to have an impact on something or someone.  In writing this blog I am hoping to affect your thinking and encourage you to do something positive to benefit all of us, the family of mankind.  Since a verb is an action word, to affect something or someone is to bring about change.

 

Effect is most commonly used as a noun, the result of an action or, as we just discussed, a thought process.  While I am encouraging you to affect someone in this series by positive action, the intent is that your actions will create a productive effect or result.  “Affect” refers to the doing; “Effect” denotes the end result of that doing or action. 

 

Effect also can be defined in another way.  It can also mean someone’s personal belongings.  This might seem confusing and yes, it can be but I like that effect is both the result and the possession.  It encourages us to be accountable for our actions.  No one is going to score  a perfect rating on our actions.  We all make mistakes.  This is where thinking positive can keep us from letting past actions become a future death sentence.  Thinking positive people also have lower blood pressure and sleep better.

 

Today the first step you should take is to think positively.  Negative thinking narrows one’s field of vision.  Imagine yourself swimming in the shallow waters of a beautiful ocean resort.  Suddenly someone cries “Shark!”  You no longer are focused on the rest of the people on the beach but only on getting yourself out of the water.  This is a healthy instinct of self-preservation but your focus has also become extremely self-centered. 

 

Positive emotions help us to broaden our field of vision and imagine what is possible instead of seeing only the negative and dire outcomes.  Maybe yesterday really was the worst day of life.  Today really can be the first day of the rest of your life.  Take care of yourself and start the day off thinking of possibilities.  Share a smile with someone and if you can’t spend seven minutes like we discussed last week with seven exercises to help your body, at least put down that cigarette.

 

 Maybe you really don’t have time for going to the movies but take the time hurrying on your commute to notice the flowers along your path.  A healthy person can accomplish much more than one who is thinking or feeling negative.  We all have time for a smile and the first smile of the day should be a smile to you.  As Walt Whitman once said, “If you keep your face towards the sunshine, the shadows will fall behind you.”  With one ordinary affect, you will create an extraordinary effect.