Listen

Listen

Jan 12

 

Earlier this week we had an outage at my residence.  We had no telephone service, internet capabilities, nor television for approximately ten hours.   Sometimes the silence can be deafening.  With several hobbies that do not include technology or even electricity, I found plenty of things to do.  What was interesting, though, were the everyday, ordinary sounds that are always in my world that I never really hear.  Technology is a wonderful thing and I certainly love my creature comforts.  However, we need to make certain that in our living, we do not forget to listen.  Listening is one of life’s most effective educational tools.  Once we listen, we become aware of so much more around ud than what we notice as we hurry through our busy lives.

 

“Hey there.  I’m Brandon.  I get really passionate about things.  At some time in my life, I’ve been obsessed or borderline-obsessed with saltwater aquariums, the baritone euphonium, reading, piano, filming, financial markets, New York City, and photography.  I studied History at the University of Georgia.  During my senior year of college, I took out $3,000 in student loans and bet it on Barack Obama to win the presidency.  A friend heard about this bet and got me a job trading bonds on the Chicago Board of Trade.  I traded for three years.  It went really well for awhile.  But then it went really bad. Whoops. After I lost my trading job, I decided to move to New York City and take portraits of strangers on the street. Mom wasn’t too happy about that decision, but so far it’s gone pretty well. I’ve taken nearly 5,000 portraits and written 50 stories. And I’ve met some amazing people along the way.”

 

This paragraph is on the home page of the website for Humans of New York.  Now a best-selling published book and the subject of a highly successful blog, Brandon Stanton’s intro doesn’t really tell the whole story.  In 2010 he had a goal to take ten thousand New Yorkers’ pictures and plot them on a map.  I have often had the same thought regarding pictures of my family.  The amazing thing about Brandon’s photography, though, is the story that each picture tells.  The Georgia native began taking pictures as a hobby while living in Chicago.  He has since traveled under the auspices of the United Nations, taking part in a fifty-day trip through ten nations.  Last year he did the same in Pakistan and Iran and crowd funded a project to help end bonded labor in Pakistan.

 

Stanton’s photographs are not technically perfect.  After all, he was a history major in college.  What they do, however, is bring the human condition into focus.  They capture a moment in time that is an entire book.  Not all of the minute portraits are completely candid shots. There are the critics as well.  Recently, Robert John Boyle published an article at salon.com regarding the sugarcoating of Brandon’s subjects and the presentation that Boyle called “sentimentality”.  I personally think a life well-lived has to include sentimentality but apparently Mr. Boyle does not consider it to be necessary in art.  Over the 2016 December holiday season, Brandon Stanton raised over half a million dollars to help Syrian refugees.  Boyle considers the “dumbing down” of the political aspect outweighs any good the money might accomplish.  It is a common debate in the world of humanitarian efforts.

 

The visual content of the pictures found within Humans of New York make us listen, not only to the subject of the photograph but to the world around us.  When all we hear is our own ego, we are unable to hear reality and the needs the world is calling us to repair.  “When my husband was dying, I said: Moe, how am I supposed to live without you? He told me: take the love you have for me and spread it around.”  This anecdote from Stanton’s blog and book is just one example of the truths found accompanying each picture.  One of my favorites is the young child Stanton saw.  Wanting to take her picture he started asking nearby adults “Does she belong to you?”  Suddenly the little girl responded “I belong to myself!”

 

What if we listened to the world as belonging to each of us?  Observe a group of mothers and you will learn that each seems to know her own baby’s cry and what that cry means.  When I was single I laughed at the thought of understanding a baby’s cry… and then I became a mother.  I soon became one of “those mothers’.  Most of us dog owners can recognize our own dog’s bark and usually what it means.  (My cats also speak to me but we all know that cats merely do that to get our attention.  After all, no human is smart enough to understand cat-speak!)

 

When we listen – not just hear but really listen – great things can happen.  Stephen Covey knew how often we fail to really listen: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”  We each can be a humanitarian and help ourselves to be better people if we would just listen, really listen, to what the world is telling us, to what our neighbors are saying.  I think Leo Buscaglia, another best-selling author,  penned it succinctly:  “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”

 

We have a very powerful winter storm approaching this weekend and while I sincerely hope there are no outages, I do plan to make use of the weather in listening to those around me.  Last night I went through some old photographs and learned a great deal listening to the story they told of family members now deceased.  We never grow too old or too smart to stop listening.  There is much we can hear and learn if we will just take the time to listen to the world around us.

 

Advertisements

Try and Trying

Try and Trying

Jan 10 -11

 

The older gentleman pointed to the young mother and then, kneeling, asked her toddler:  “Is that your mommy?”  The child nodded yes and the man continued.  “I knew her when she was your age.  Is she a good mommy?”  The child solemnly looked at the man and then at her mother before answering.  “She’s trying.”  Everyone in the vicinity smiled and gave a loving look at the child’s answer.  Then the young girl continued:  “Her’s very trying.”

 

In an effort to be all we can be, as we make the valiant attempt to try to be our best, we sometimes find ourselves being trying to others.  So how do we accomplish our goals without being irritating, annoying,  or, worse – failing?  As we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. next Monday, perhaps we should listen to some of his words.

 

“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”  In this twenty-first century social media craze where it seems the winner is the one with the best tweet, we need to take a moment and realize that having a snappy comeback works for about ten seconds only.  It really will not accomplish anything lasting and it certainly will not build bridges that will allow us to cross into a productive future.  We need to create relationships built upon respect and purpose, not simply spend all our time building up our own egos.

 

“We must learn to live together as brothers or we will perish together as fools.”  Respect again becomes the verb we need to use as our modus operandi.  Whatever material things a person has, their appearance or socioeconomic level really matters very little.  When we surround ourselves only with those who are just like us, then we box ourselves in and limit our ability to grow.  Our roots need room to grow and new experiences in order to help us develop fully, both as individuals and as nations and the world.

 

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”  A life lived selfishly is a life half-lived.  Being of service to others does not limit your own being, it expands it.  We’ve discussed the benefits of volunteering over the past four years but perhaps we need to refresh our memories.  Those who spend time helping others are healthier physically and emotionally.  You may think you haven’t the time but really you need to find that time.  Your life really might just depend upon it.

 

A decade ago businesses were encouraged to allow workers to donate time to local schools to serve as mentors for young readers.  Those participating in the programs would spend two hours a week at a local school having children read to them, helping as needed to sound out words.  While reading scores were improved, so was the health of those volunteers.  The volunteers reported less stress and an overall happier sense of self.  They began to care about their own personal health and without even realizing it, adopted better lifestyle practices which resulted in a lower healthcare cost for the businesses involved in the program.  The loss of two hours of productivity from being away from their job site was more than compensated for by the higher productivity of the happier and healthier employees.

 

Anyone can do it.  No, that is not a quote from Dr. King but it is the summation of what he preached and the dream he lived and hoped to achieve for all.   AS Dr King reminded us:  “Everybody can be great… because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace; a soul generated by love.”

Gratitude

Gratitude

Jan 9

 

It is often said that “Home is where the heart is” but where exactly is our heart?  Earlier this week I asked you the reader how you wanted to be known.  What do your daily activities say about you?  How do they illustrate your beliefs?  We have discussed having a bountiful life and manifesting our faith in how we live.  Two year ago we peeked into the lives of many humanitarians through the use of verbs, those action words found in each and every sentence.  We talked about the comic genius of Tom Shadyac, the youngest writer to have ever worked for Bob Hope.  Then we discussed the comic genius himself, Mr. Bob Hope.

 

Long before Tom Shadyac was even born, Bob Hope had made a name for himself in Hollywood as an actor, singer, dancer, vaudeville performer, producer, comedian, and yes, even an athlete.  Hope appeared in over seventy films and countless television programs during his eighty-plus year career.  He also made over fifty USO tours to entertain United States military personnel overseas.  Bob Hope’s passion for living was illustrated in his unique ways of saying “Thank you”.  His popular and annual USO tours were his way of showing gratitude to military personnel who fought for freedom and peace worldwide.  An avid golfer, Hope appeared in over one hundred and fifty charity golf tournaments each year.  He and his wife Delores adopted four children and lived in the same house from 1937 until his death in 2003 at the age of 100 years.

 

Bob Hope is proof that one needs not be born into wealth in order to create it or spread it in gratitude to multiple agencies and people worldwide.  Born in London to a stonemason and opera singer who later worked at a dry cleaners business, Lesley Hope came to the United States with his six siblings and parents, arriving through the famed Ellis Island in 1908.  He worked as a butcher before signing up to take dance lessons with a girlfriend.  Hope then decided on a career in show business and began as a dancer on vaudeville.

 

Bob Hope actually flunked a screen test in the 1930’s but used the experience to better his skills.  His career began on radio and he became known for his comedic wit and timing.  While known for his support of the USO or United Service Organization, Bob Hope lent his name and efforts to various other charitable organizations.  It was because of his gratitude and support for the military that Congress awarded him an honorary veteran in the late 1960’s.

 

Ralph Waldo Emerson once advised “Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”  With all of his talents and skills, perhaps the greatest one Bob Hope possessed was the ability to show gratitude.

 

Gratitude is simply saying “Thank you” to someone and yet, it is often overlooked.  How many times have we failed to tell a friend thank you or neglected to follow up with said friend when they are absent?  Once upon a time writing thank you notes was a common trend but somehow, we have detached ourselves from saying thank you. 

 

Many claim they are too busy and others just assume that the gratitude we feel in our hearts somehow gets known by others.  The truth is that most of us fail to show gratitude or express it.  There are no excuses.  I am not going to sugar-coat this.  We need to live an attitude of gratitude every minute and especially show it to our friends.  There is even an app to help us out, an app called the Art of Giving.

 

In her book “Eat, Pray, Love”, Elizabeth Gilbert writes:  “In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it’s wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.”

 

At the end of each performance, for over fifty years, Bob Hope expressed his own personal style and gratitude by his famous one-liner….”Thanks for the memories.” There will always be another job to do, another hill to climb, another dish to wash, or book to read.  This moment, this minute, though, will never come again.  We all live a bountiful life of some sort.  We also all are the recipient of someone else’s kindness.  Take a minute to show gratitude to someone.  Let them know…Thank you.

Four letter Words and Questions

Four Letter Words and Questions

January 6-7

 

Action determines everything.  Even the quality of being inactive, the perceived opposite of action, has consequences.  Last year about this time four young people were indicted for kidnapping and brutally beating a classmate of one of the four.  The criminal actions took place a week ago and were seen by thousands since the perpetrators filmed themselves and streamed online.  Those that watched, however, were inactive in their watching because that’s all they did… watch.  No one in the audience immediately contacted the police. Their inactivity made them accessories during and after the fact though none will ever be charged. What would you have done?

 

Yesterday began the season of Epiphany, an often confused season of the liturgical calendar.  It might be easiest explained with the graphic of a lightbulb, although generally a star is used.  Liturgically, the Epiphany was that time when wise men traveling from far off reached the baby they believed would be a savior for their world and its peoples.  It is the actual beginning of the religion known as Christianity since these were the men who proclaimed the baby to be the Christ-child.  The child would grow up and become known as Jesus of Nazareth, born in Bethlehem.  By birth he was of the Jewish faith and yet in the end, his own rejected him.  He came, he said, for all and vetoed notions that some were better than others, that some might be “chosen” and others could be ignored.

 

Last year, at this time, we discussed actions and verbs, seeking to discover how to be the light of our own lives and hopefully, a light for others.  We asked ourselves just how brave we are, just how narcissistic we are in our everyday living.  It was not about whether you believe one way or another.  It was about the fact that we are all living here together.  If we are honest with ourselves, we make resolutions at this time each year for pretty much the same reasons.

 

Chaos theory helps not only define many of our lives, it gives credence to the fact that we are all in this thing called life together and are affected by each other.  In 1960 Edward Lorenz, a professor at MIT, constructed a weather model.  Weather is the total behavior of all the molecules that make up earth’s atmosphere and Lorenz’s model uncovered patterns from seemingly unrelated instances that aided in predicting the weather. 

 

A snow flake is an object composed of water molecules. These molecules do not have a common nerve system, DNA or a chief molecule that calls the shots.  How do they stay together?  What attraction keeps them together?  How does one molecule in one leg of the flake know which private design the rest of the gang is cruising for, in other legs of the flake, for the tiny molecule a million miles away?  This year much of the United States is covered in snow and ice with record-breaking low temperatures as far south as Florida and Texas. 

 

At a time when clearly the populace is not united, the particles of frozen water we call snow have found a unity in staying together.  They have found a common direction despite the chaos theory.  Chaos theory when applied to humans uncovered the cycle patterns of life.  There is much still to be discovered, more epiphanies of mankind to unearth and yet, we do know some things.  Brutality is not kind.  Criminal actions can be considered evil.  Gangs provide a sense of family but not in a positive way.  What actions provide for a better world?  What verbs might be used to describe your day?  What actions and verbs can combine in helping us make and keep resolutions that will provide for a better tomorrow and year?

 

Deed… Gang… Evil… Kind… Look…Turn… Snow……..Self…. and the biggest four letter word of all……Life.  I sincerely appreciate all of you and your following this blog.  That involves the four letter word…Read.  As with everything, my intention is to offer something for your mind, another four letter word, to ponder.  Most of all, during this year, my wish (yes, also a four letter word) is that you find the best four letter word of all… Hope.

Opportunity Awaits

Opportunity Awaits

January 5, 2018

 

For many people, today will be the actual last day of the Christmas season.  Today is the twelfth day after December 25th.   Many will have already taken down their holiday festive decorations while others will spend the weekend putting away Christmas.  The true meaning of the holiday should never be put away and the joy and charity of the Christmas season is, I fervently hope, just beginning.

 

Irony sometimes seems like it is my middle name.  Without getting into the age-old discussion, often loved by English instructors, about the difference between irony and sarcasm or any other of a number of words, let me clarify which definition to which I am referring:  “incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result”.  On the day that I planned to write about Bill Gates and his work in making technology available to the masses, my technological connections seemed to revolt.  Someday this week will make a really humorous anecdote. 

 

I first became aware of the Bill and Melissa Gates Foundation when working at a public library.  I had prior computer experience and was picked to write training manuals for the staff.  The Gates Foundation had gifted the library a computer lab so that inner city children could have access to computers and the Internet.  Only three people on a staff of thirty had a personal computer so I ended up mentoring and teaching computer usage as well as drafting manuals.

 

The local library had, as most do, a foundation that provided monetary support.  At an unveiling of the new lab several days before it opened to the public, members of the foundation were invited to a reception and the computers were on display for the foundation members to try and appreciate.  I had been paired with the oldest member of the foundation, a 96-year-old architect who was not overly impressed.  He saw no need for computer educational support when we had three stories of books and were part of a national and international book exchange program.  Computer screens to him were blank nonsense that would not inspire nor provide opportunity or anyone.  In fact, he was certain they “would suck all opportunity from the children who sat in front of them”.

 

I walked over to the front desk and retrieved a blank piece of paper.  I then gave him a pencil and asked him to draw a simple outline of a three-story building or, for that matter, any object he saw on the paper.  He gave me back my pencil and proceeded to make a building using the ancient Japanese art of origami.  It took him about two minutes and we were all fascinated.

 

I then took his old, gnarled hands obviously showing signs of rheumatoid arthritis, in mine and said:  “I gave you nothing and you created wonderment.  With the resources available to a child on the Internet, just imagine what he or she could create.”  This stately, elderly gentle man then smiled and said: “Oh, you should then call the computer what it is – a box full of opportunity and potential.”  He served as a volunteer in the computer lab for two years until his passing, and then we learned of his bequeath to the computer lab which provided support for the computers long after the original grant had expired.

 

We all can create opportunity for another person.  The Gates Foundation has moved on to things beyond computers.  In 2016 they have made three resolutions or promises to serve as goals.  The first involves their continued efforts regarding vaccines for some of the world’s most deadly diseases, especially in underdeveloped countries in Africa and the Far East. 

 

They also have women and girls in their “hearts of our endeavors”.  They plan to invest time, funding, and efforts towards empowering women.  Better healthcare and wellbeing for girls and women means a better world.  Third, they plan to invest in innovation.  The future is all about science and technology and that includes drug therapies for such things as elephantiasis which alone affects over one hundred and twenty million people.

 

The world today is a world with poverty and the future will be dim until we all take steps to do our part.  We can do better.  “You never know how far reaching something you may think say or do today will affect the lives of millions tomorrow.”  B. J. Palmer’s words are very true and they are speaking directly to each of us.  We need to make poverty an opportunity for success by taking action.  This planet is our home and everyone living here needs you and me in order for us all to live a bountiful life.

Bountiful Experienced

Bountiful Experienced

January 4, 2018

 

When we are practicing mindfulness, we are, quite simply, fully in the moment in which we are living.  More importantly, we are aware of every aspect of that moment.  Even if we live in the poorer section of town, we can still live a bountiful life.  Oseola McCarty is an example of this.

 

As reported in a New York Times articles in 1995, Oseola McCarty spent a lifetime making other people look nice. Day after day, for most of her 87 years, she took in bundles of dirty clothes and made them clean and neat for parties she never attended, weddings to which she was never invited, graduations she never saw.

 

Born in Wayne County, Mississippi, Oseola moved to the town of Hattiesburg at age 6 years.  She had quit school in the sixth grade to take care of an invalid aunt and shortly thereafter went to work.  She never married, never had children and never learned to drive because there was never any place in particular she wanted to go. All she ever had was the work, which she saw as a blessing. Too many other black people in rural Mississippi did not have even that.  She spent almost nothing, living in her old family home, cutting the toes out of shoes if they did not fit right and binding her ragged Bible with Scotch tape to keep Corinthians from falling out.

 

Over the decades, her pay — mostly dollar bills and change — grew to more than $150,000.  “More than I could ever use,” Miss McCarty said without a trace of self-pity. So she is giving her money away, to finance scholarships for black students at the University of Southern Mississippi here in her hometown, where tuition was, in 1995, $2,400 a year.

 

“I wanted to share my wealth with the children,” said Miss McCarty, whose only real regret is that she never went back to school. “I never minded work, but I was always so busy, busy. Maybe I can make it so the children don’t have to work like I did.”  People in Hattiesburg call her donation the Gift. She made it, in part, in anticipation of her death.  As she sat in her warm, dark living room, she talked of that death matter-of-factly, the same way she talked about the possibility of an afternoon thundershower. To her, the Gift was a preparation, like closing the bedroom windows to keep the rain from blowing in on the bedspread.  “I know it won’t be too many years before I pass on,” she said, “and I just figured the money would do them a lot more good than it would me.”

Her donation has piqued interest around the nation. In a few short days, Oseola McCarty, the washerwoman, has risen from obscurity to a notice she does not understand. She sits in her little frame house, just blocks from the university, and patiently greets the reporters, business leaders and others who line up outside her door.  “I live where I want to live, and I live the way I want to live,” she said. “I couldn’t drive a car if I had one. I’m too old to go to college. So I planned to do this. I planned it myself.”

 

Oseola McCarty died in 1999 of liver cancer.  Shortly after her donation to USM, a group of New Orleans businessmen matched her donation and the Oseola McCarty scholarship was begun.  Each year it is awarded to an African American student at USM from southern areas of the state of Mississippi.  The woman who had very little material possessions and never finished elementary school lived a bountiful life that will continue to provide for others.  By saving her spare money over her 91 years on earth as a washerwoman, Miss McCarty made the future bright for others.  What a bountiful legacy to leave!

 

Uniquely Y-O-U!

Uniquely Y-O-U!

January 3, 2018

 

In this day and age when we have technology which can help us proclaim our individuality, many hide instead.  For instance, many people utilize the Internet to write every day about personal doings, preferences, style, etc.  These web logs, commonly known as blogs, reach billions each day since there are an estimated 354 million blogs worldwide, this being one of them.  Yet, even with such technology, instead of emphasizing individuality, it has made many of us lemmings.

 

Lemmings are mammals that live as locusts, those winged insects that can strip a habitat bare, wreaking the same destruction to an environment as a plague.  The thing about lemmings is that they follow the group without forethought.  Thus, the word lemming is also a term used to describe someone who joins a movement without proper consideration. 

 

Generally speaking, human lemmings are one of many, lost in a crowd.  The use of the word in this manner describes a person who has forsaken mindfulness.  They are living with no originality and have silenced their own voice.  It takes courage to be one’s true self, to show our uniqueness to the world.

 

In his book “The Crown of Individuality” William George Jordan writes:  “The supreme courage of life is the courage of the soul.  It is living day by day, sincerely – despite all opinions, all obstacles, all opposition.  It means the vine of inspiration comes from the crushed grapes of our sorrows.  This courage makes the simple life great; it makes the greatest life, sublime.  It means the royal dignity of fine individual living… Every man [or being] reigns a king [or queen] over … self.  He [She] wears the crown of individuality that no hands … can remove.”

 

Living a bountiful life means being present in each moment, practicing mindfulness.  Mindfulness reminds us to be our true self, our best self, our highest self, our self victorious.  We are all wonderfully created unique – no one better than another, just different, unique and special.  A box of crayons all the same color would be boring and dull.  Diversity and uniqueness create life.  With mindfulness we can break out of the cocoon of sameness and soar above the crowd to discover our own beauty and true life.