Little Things

Little Things

Detours in Life

Pentecost 31

 

It is an often-repeated saying that life is made up of little things.  Author Kurt Vonnegut once said that we should “enjoy the little things in life for one day you’ll look back and realize they were the big things.”

 

In writing for Lifehack.org, columnist Amy Johnson pointed out forty “little” things that could become “big” things that could bring us happiness. 

1.Finding money in your pocket that you didn’t know you had.

2. Being asked by someone who cares how you are doing.

3. Climbing into bed when you have fresh sheets.

4. Taking an extra-long bath or shower when you have some free time.

5. Smiling at a child you see in public.

6. Receiving a 10 minute massage from your partner or friend.

7. Cuddling someone before you have to get up and start your day.

8. Waking up and realizing it is a sunny, beautiful day.

9. Having a long phone conversation with someone you care about and haven’t spoken to in a while.

10. Watching the rain fall when you have nowhere to be, and you can curl up on the sofa.

11. Watching children playing and laughing together, reminding you of the joy in the world.

12. Spending some time with your pets – or animals in general!

13. A stranger giving you a genuine smile.

14. Having a nice, long stretch when you first wake up to get your body moving.

15. Laughing out loud at a funny memory.

16. A gesture of kindness from someone in your life – as simple as your child helping you cook dinner.

17. A smell you love, from baked bread to a freshly mowed lawn.

18. A meaningful, long hug from somebody you care about.

19. Putting on clothes after they have been warmed on the radiator.

20. Taking a few moments alone when things get hectic.

21. Watching the sunset or the sunrise.

22. The smell outside after the rain has stopped.

23. Listening to your favorite artist or album.

24. Receiving an email or a letter from a friend.

25. The chance to be creative, from painting an old set of drawers to doodling a picture.

26. Holding hands with someone you love.

27. Eating your breakfast in bed.

28. Playing a game you used to love when you were younger.

29. Eating healthy, tasty food that makes you feel good about yourself.

30. An extra half an hour to snooze in bed.

31. Having some time to yourself to read a book you love.

32. Buying your favorite drink or snack and savoring it.

33. Receiving flowers from someone who cares about you.

34. Eating your lunch outside in the sun.

35. Trying out a new recipe and creating something delicious.

36. A gesture of support from your friends or family.

37. Listening to a song you used to love and haven’t heard in years.

38. Taking the time to help someone with their problems.

39. Spending time in your home when it is tidy and clean.

40. Achieving a small victory, like fixing the washing machine or replacing a light bulb.

 

Most of these are little things that, if noticed, would bring a smile to your lips and joy to your soul.  Few, if I am to be honest, would be actual detours and yet… Sometimes the detour is simply our slowing down enough to see the world around us.  We all have countless things to do and few feel they have enough hours in the day to get them all done.  Are we really too busy to find happiness in the little things around us?

 

Johnson answered this question in her article by quoting Dr. Glenn Williams, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Nottingham Trent University.  “An effective route to happiness is not necessarily through experiencing major events that we might have planned out such as getting married, moving house, getting that all-important promotion or even being on a holiday.  Rather it is the small, and often unexpected, pleasures in life that can make us smile each and every day to help us build happier and more meaningful lives for ourselves and for others.”

 

Feeling in control of one’s life is a great thing and necessary for attaining success.  We should not, however, be in such tight control that we miss the little things, those little detours that take us away from our norm and lead us to happiness.

We Need to learn

We Need to Learn

Detours in Life

Pentecost 28

 

Some difficult parenting moments?  The mother and grandmother thought for a moment and then spoke.  “My now grown daughter’s favorite animal is the bunny and I still remember trying to explain to her as a seven-year-old why the neighbors poisoned her two pet bunnies because we were biracial.  A few months later, coming home from church to find front door shattered because I put up a mezuzah on the inside casing of our front door, a gift from Jewish friends.   KKK neighbors ramming our old Dodge van and then sitting outside our house holding automatic assault rifles.”

 

The Rt. Ref Steven Charleston writes:  “We have seen those faces before, the ones at Charlottesville, the faces contorted by hate, the faces twisted into anger or frozen into ignorance. They were shouting. They were screaming for the pleasure of having someone to blame. We have seen those faces before at other times, on other streets, but the results are always the same. There is no compromise with this kind of hate. No appeasement or denial. Prejudice to this point is virulent and must be confronted head on. The faces at Charlottesville tell us why. They are images of what cruelty can become when it is left unchallenged, unnamed and under estimated.”

 

Color is not a right. Color is a hue, shading that adds interest, not detracts from one’s unalienable rights given by God and the law.   This was affirmed in the Declaration of Independence. Racism is the opposite of patriotism.  Whether it is called racism or terrorism, whether its cause is religious discrimination or racial discrimination, it accomplishes nothing and it based on even less. 

 

Someone once asked me if I believed in the Devil, a capitalized name.  I believe in evil.  The history of the world tells us it exists.  It can live in each of us if we allow it.  Life happens and we do not always like it.  We look for answers and sometimes, instead prefer to seek blame.

 

There is no basis for discrimination.  There is a great deal of evidence for the foundation of love and what it can accomplish.   Screaming hatred and spewing unfounded insults accomplishes nothing.  Positive action to improve the world does.  When will we ever learn this?

Answering the Call

Answering the Call

Detours in Life

Pentecost 27

 

I am not sure what they had originally planned for yesterday, Saturday, August 12th.  Maybe spending family time or simply doing chores at home.  One was a veteran law enforcement officer with more than two decades as a Virginia state trooper. The other was a pilot who transferred to the state police aviation unit last month and was one day away from his 41st birthday.

 

Both Virginia State Police troopers died Saturday when their police helicopter crashed and burned in Charlottesville, as they patrolled near the site of clashes between white nationalists and counter-protesters.  State police identified the victims as pilot Lt. H. Jay Cullen, 48, and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates, 40. Both men died at the scene.

 

Their helicopter was “assisting public safety resources with the ongoing situation in Charlottesville,” according to a police statement.  The aircraft crashed in a wooded area near a residence just before 5 p.m. No one on the ground was injured, and officials are still investigating the cause of the crash.

 

Others had decided to spend their Saturday upholding the ideals of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America.  A young paralegal from Green County, Virginia, Heather Heyer had decided to peacefully protest the white supremacists holding the rally.  She was run over twice by a car driven by a twenty-year-old man, James Alex Fields, from Ohio.  Nineteen others were injured and taken to area hospitals.

 

All of these people suffered a detour yesterday.  Three made a detour from the living to death while another made a terribly misguided choice that resulted in injury and death.    Sometimes these things happen – death and injury.  Hopefully, when they do, it is for a good cause.  Yesterday it was not for a good cause.  Hatred is never a good excuse for death. 

 

We should strive to detour away from hatred and yet, many see, to thrive on it. We need to realize that we alone are responsible for many of the detours in our lives.  When we answer the call to be kind and just, supporting equality and goodness, then we can detour away from hate and create a positive, effective world.

 

I have mentioned the names of these casualties because we need to remember they were people.  It really does not matter what “side” they were on or if you agree with them.  When one person dies, the fabric of humanity is weakened.  Each life matters.  Each death is a tragedy.  Tomorrow should be promised for us all.

Life Happens

Life Happens

Detours in Life

Pentecost 26

 

Sometimes things don’t go like we had planned.  Maybe the car won’t start so you are late to that meeting.  Maybe the store was out of your secret ingredient for your holiday casserole.  Maybe you discovered that you thought you had scheduled a blog post only to discover there was a glitch in the system.  Maybe the power went off overnight and so your alarm didn’t go off.  Maybe you spilt coffee on your tie right before you walked out of the house.  None of these things were really your fault and yet, you are the one who has to make things right.  After all, life happens.

 

In the past we have talked about how practice makes perfect.  The same is true when it comes to basic living.  We plan for the successes in life but it is the “oops!” and goofs that really build strength.  We seldom practice success; it is its own reward.  What we practice are the mistakes either we made or life just threw our way.  By practicing, we gradually overcome and learn.  We gain strength but also confidence to move ahead in life.  We feel we can take on another project, which comes with a new set of challenges.  Because they are new, these challenges come with their own set of mistakes… and the process starts all over again.  Life happens.

 

As adults, we tend to overlook that learning process, the series of one step forward and two steps backwards that we all make.  Detours are a time of learning.  Life is not about standing still.  It is about growing and falling down, getting right back up –   the good and the bad, and how to improve. 

 

Several years ago I took a class (a wonderful class) on spiritual practices.  I freely admit I signed up for it because of I was going to do a series on prayer (Advent 2015).  I thought it would be a great reference and the timeliness of the class offering made it a perfect fit.  I was certain such a class had to include praying.  I was wrong.  Life happens.

 

The class focused on the spirituality within each of us as we go about our daily livings.  It was less on the “churchy” things we tend to tack on to such things as prayer and more about the mundane everyday things we all have to do … or should do.  Instead of hearing someone talk about how to pray, I heard about washing the dishes.  Was this an “Oops!” moment?

 

The “Everyday Spiritual Practices” class I took was a great class but it did not discuss praying.  What it did discuss was being connected to our living, being present in the moment.  Coaches tell athletes that they need to be “present in the moment.”  What they are really saying is forget about that last pass you didn’t catch, the goal you didn’t make; live the play at hand.  It is great advice…in the moment. 

 

Tomorrow, though, after the game is over, that same coach will spend all day going over the game and showing the players where they made their mistake.  That coach will point out where the player was supposed to turn so that he could have caught the ball or how distraction from a guard threw the passer off a bit so that a ball caught and then thrown was too far to the right to hit the basket.  Today they need to live in the moment to win the game but tomorrow they will live in the past to prepare for the future.

 

Such a habit of living and learning is great for sports but it doesn’t do much for our spiritual life and yes, even atheists have a spiritual life.  We all have a soul, a spirit within us.  We all exist and by existing, we are connected to other things and people.  Even the homeless are connected, maybe not to a structural house but to their own favorite place to sleep on the ground, their comfortable blanket or hat. 

 

If we think about it, a detour is a time of reflection and supplication, of reviewing like that coach the day after the game.  It can also be a time of understanding.  Life can be very confusing and confounding.  A detour offers us a different perspective.

 

Spirituality is a very popular word these days, very trendy and often said in all the right places.  True spirituality is usually the result of and the cause of a detour in life.  For some, spirituality is a term they use to avoid in-depth retrospection.  For others, it is a curse to be avoided and for still some, it is a way to avoid the unpleasant truths about ourselves.  Not all spirituality can be good or have positive outcomes.  Adolf Hitler and ISIS are two prime examples of such as are Charles Manson and Jim Jones.

 

We all have what St Augustine called “ordo amoris”, an ordering our loves.  In other words, we have things we love and place a priority on those things.  We also place a priority on the everyday mundane tasks that life requires; washing dishes, doing laundry, keeping the car in working order and filled with gas.  Few of us love doing those mundane tasks but they allow us to live and do what we do love or need to do.  When faced with a detour, we tend to react instead of act.

 

Who are you?  What would you be without your personal “ordo amoris”?  When we encounter acts of terrorism, the fabric of many lives is ripped apart as people doing rather mundane tasks are suddenly faced with a tragic detour.    In a matter of moments destructive spirituality literally tears hundreds of lives apart. 

 

None of us are born with a warranty tag attached under our arms or on the back of our necks.  Life happens.  The importance of prayer, that conversation we have with our faith as we live, keeps us sane and emphasizes our being connected.  Our spirituality, that which connects us to our universe and life, tells us we are alive.  Life happens and so, we need to live it.  Detours are scary and exhilarating.  They need reflection and preparation.  They demand we are present in the moment in navigating these detours in our living.  After all, if we are lucky, life happens.

The Road Taken

A Road Taken

Detours in Life

Pentecost 23-24

 

We tend to think of detours as this unavoidable deviation in our day, that long way around that is uncomfortable and detracts from our carefully planned living.  Often that is exactly what they are.  We’ve already discussed how the aftermath of detours can affect the detour itself.  What about those detours that end up being positive, though?  After all, some diversions end up being the very thing that puts us on the right course.

 

Robert Frost spent several years in England and it was there he penned the first poem in his “Mountain Interval” collection.  “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both and be one traveler, long I stood and looked down one as far as I could to where it bent in the undergrowth; then took the other, as just as fair, and having perhaps the better claim, because it was grassy and wanted wear; though as for that the passing there had worn them really about the same, and both that morning equally lay in leaves no step had trodden black.  Oh, I kept the first for another day!  Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.”

 

Life gives us a chance to select our path almost every day.  Most destinations have more than one road leading to them; we choose which to take.  A friend is approaching a milestone birthday.  That in itself is a gift not offered to everyone but this friend, rather than celebrating, is in despair.  Because of a healthy lifestyle, she has attained this soon-to-be new year of life and yet, she is not thrilled.  Instead, she is focusing on the number itself and bemoaning she has reached it.

 

All too often we plot a course and if we cannot walk it exactly as planned, we consider the trip a failure.  Whether you travel by foot, auto, plane, train, or pony and cart, we all travel through our life each hour.  Sometimes we just sit but even out sitting is taking us to another phase, another place, another hour of living.  Most of us have a choice in how and when and where we travel and how we do that traveling will determine its success.  We all find ourselves at the divergence of at least two roads every day.  Which road do you choose?

 

If we keep doing the same thing, we can expect results but are they the results we really truly seek?  Several years ago I was traveling a familiar path when suddenly, caught up in conversation, I missed a turn.  I took the next available turn and realized it was a quicker route than the one I had been taking for at least three years.  The road was not as heavily traveled and the scenery was very pleasing, almost pastoral.  My unexpected detour reaped great results and it has become my main course now, not just a once-explored detour.

 

It takes courage to travel a detour, something we often do not realize.  We simply take the detour because we must.  IF we stop and think about our path, we might just discover that we really could take another and perhaps find greater success.  “I shall be telling this with a sigh somewhere ages and ages hence: two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” 

The Aftermath

The Aftermath

Detours in Life

Pentecost – 22

 

One year ago over two thousand flights were cancelled as a fier and power outage at a Delta Air Lines control center affected air travel worldwide.   Many people found themselves facing changes in plans, delays, and certainly detours in their everyday living.  These were temporary detours to be sure but they still created a type of chaos that many saw as avoidable evil.  Eventually, though, people did get to their destinations and life resumed again.  It did not seem like it at the time but those affected by these flight cancellations were luckier than many.

 

Bombings worldwide have become less once-in-a-lifetime events and are on the verge of becoming more common.  Recently in a southern town a gun battle ended a discussion between two teenagers out for a movie on a Saturday night at a popular shopping open air mall.  The mall has a strict curfew – no one under the age of eighteen allowed after 8 PM without a parent or guardian.  The movie theatre had a line outside of over hundred teens, most without an adult present and shoppers mentioned this to the security standing outside the theatre.  Security took a “What can we do?” attitude and nothing was said to the teens violating the curfew nor was any law enforcement called.  That is, not until a few minutes later when a fifteen-year-old pulled out a gun and shot a sixteen-year-old.

 

Weapons have been around ever since man decided to eat something larger than himself.  Sitting on a shelf, that weapon will most likely do no harm to anyone.  With proper training and usage, it might even one day be practical.  When weapons are used to illustrate a point, however, they become deadly and innocent victims will most likely suffer.

 

The simply answer to get rid of all weapons is not the answer but what we do in the aftermath of such events is.  When faced with detours we need to focus less on the detour and more on how we handle it and what we do afterwards.

 

Acts of terrorism are detours but they can be avoided if we remain calm and take proactive approaches.  We cannot let radical evil alter the course of our lives and yet, we should and must confront the grief of so many lives lost due to evil.  Make no mistake:  terrorism is not about religion.  This is about greed and power.  It is easy to point fingers but we each are responsible for our own actions.  As the Anishinabek Indians, of the Algonquin Nation and located in Ontario, would say – “No one else can represent your conscience.”  Even the Apache, considered a southwest US American Indian tribe with a warring history knew that “It makes no difference as to the name of the God, since love is the real God of all the world.”

 

It is very hard to look in our hearts when dealing with those who have committed these egregious acts.  We would rather react with anger.  It is at such times we need the wisdom of the Arapaho:  “When we show our respect for other living things, they respond with respect for us.”  I know what you might be thinking.  “They showed us no respect.”  That is true.  However, as an old Cherokee proverb points out, “The weakness of the enemy makes our strength.”  Their weakness is their need to strike out against innocents.  They know they cannot win by using logic and reason for their course of actions do not have any.  They must battle and they do not battle fairly.  They cannot win a fair fight so they battle the unprepared, the untrained.  They are cowards.

 

A Cheyenne saying advises us to “Judge not by the eye but by the heart.”  We cannot let the images of tragedy be our compass.  We must use our heart in determining our future paths.  We cannot think to honor those who have died by causing more death. The Delaware Indians believed “Good and evil cannot dwell together in the same heart, so a good man ought not to go into evil company.”  The Hopi agreed: “Do not allow anger to poison you.”

 

The Iroquois believed “In every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decision on the next seven generations.”  The Lakota a tribe that was the merger of the Sioux and Teton tribes of the US northwestern area said that “true peace between nations will only happen when there is true peace within people’s souls.”  John Lennon asked us to imagine a world where people lived to ether in peace.  Days after the Paris scenes of terrorism someone played his melody on a piano outside the concert hall of great carnage, the music soothing the pain.

 

Today many will face detours in their living, serious alterations in the life they had planned.  Whether from violence or illness or changing life situations, many will attempt to pick up the pieces of lives broken.  We need to let our faith anchor us as we offer goodness to the world.  The Pawnee Indians believed “all religions are but stepping stones back to God” and the Osage taught that “we must assist each other to bear our burdens.”  Let us use our energy to help our fellow neighbors to bear their burdens.  Let us remember to be that which we would like to see in others and cast aside thought of retaliation and further killings.  As the Shenandoah Indians proclaimed, “It is no longer good enough to cry peace; we must act peace, live peace, and live in peace.”

 

I have thus far taken somewhat a light-hearted approach to the various detours we face in our lives but some are deeply serious and life-changing.  How we handle the aftermath of these detours will determine what comes next.  Some detours are avoidable while others are not.  A driver crashed through a construction zone because he failed to be alert and take a different route.  A school bus slid off a roadway due to needing to turn around because its normal route was flooded by a sudden storm.   Both were detours of travel.  One was avoidable and the other not so much.  There were injuries in one and none in the other but both serve to remind us that even a simple trip home or school can result in a sudden detour.

 

Life gives us detours.  It is unavoidable but our response to such is critical.  All we can do is live justly and act, not react.  I ask that you seek the light and goodness and ask whatever your supreme deity is to shower love upon those who were affected.  We are all neighbors and need to remember that we are all called to be good stewards of our world and all living things.  The Oneida identified how to live with light and goodness:  “To be noble is to give to those who have less.  It is an issue of service and leadership.  Service is a spiritual act.  Service is the rent we pay for living, the anchor to our humanity.”

 

 

 

To End is to Begin

To End is to Begin

Detours in Life

Pentecost 21

 

Today is Monday; that is, if I have scheduled this correctly.  There are no guarantees in life and when it comes to technology and me, well, best not to place any bets at times.  Technology is one of those things that often gives me a detour in life.  Today, however, I am navigating technology with confidence, much as we should the days of our living.

 

Kahlil Gibran once said “When you reach the end of what you should know, you will be at the beginning of what you should sense.”  This wonderfully talented Lebanese-American artist and poet never had to deal with computers, however.   All too often when I reach the end of my rope because life has thrown a roadblock or detour in my path, I feel frustration.  Gibran is saying I should be at the beginning of some enlightening experience.  Really?

 

His words are true, however, once we get past that frustration, that feeling of being lost, that feeling of being scared.  The truth is that when we reach the end of what we know, we become open to learning something new.  We are ready to approach a new experience, perhaps as is the case on Mondays, a new week.

 

I do not have a crystal ball nor do I know what challenges will present themselves to me in the form of a detour twelve hours from now.  Hopefully my day will go as scheduled.  If the past has taught me anything, though, there will be a few detours today.  Whether they are catastrophes or not, will be determined by me, not what is happening. 

 

How is that possible? All we have to do is commit to happiness.   Shannon Adler explains:  “When you let go of control and commit yourself to happiness, it is so easy to offer compassion and forgiveness. This propels you from the past, into the present. People that are negative, spend so much time trying to control situations and blame others for their problems. Committing yourself to staying positive is a daily mantra that states, “I have control over how I plan to react, feel, think and believe in the present. No one guides the tone of my life, except me!”

 

This all is sounding very simplistic, you might be thinking.  Can life really be that easy?  Can we navigate a detour with that little stress?  It really is a matter of perspective.  Are you envisioning your next detour as a roadblock or an opportunity?  AS a story teller, I know full well that each day starts with the familiar “Once upon a time…”  You may not get to choose the setting but you and your alone direct the character’s actions in writing your life story. Lindsay Edgar once wrote:  “Stories don’t end.  They just turn into new beginnings.”

 

Today is Monday.  The yesterday has ended and opened the day to a detour called today.  Every great poem, novel, TV program, and blues ballad has its Monday morning beginning.  Whether today will be a marvelous Monday or just another manic Monday is up to how you travel your detours today.  I do know one thing.  Today is the end of Sunday and the beginning of the rest of the masterpiece that is you.