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.” 

Detour Around the Bullies

Detour Around the Bullies

Detours in Life

Pentecost 19

 

Physical appearance is often the most often-used excused for bullying.  Whether it is because of the color of one’s skin, the shapes of one’s eyes or height, weight, or disfigurement, appearance can affect a person’s life.  The old cliché “never judge a book by its cover” has failed to translate into our reactions to people.  We might prefer it to be otherwise but appearance does matter and it is the number one reason people are bullied.

 

When you look in the mirror, what do you see?  Most of us, after a certain age, start to see our parents or grandparents.  We realize that we have Grandma’s nose or Dad’s ears.  Perhaps we’ve always known about the family stature and delighted in either reaching it or passing it.  For some, their vocation is also a matter of family tradition.  There has been an on-going debate about what skills and talents might be genetic since man first realized inheritance applied to more than just land holdings and revenue.  No one has ever denied that we often inherit our appearance, though.

 

I had an acquaintance once that looked very much like her mother.  She was not very happy about this and I could understand why.  It is to be hoped that all parents nurture and support their children but the truth is that some people never really mature in their roles as parents.  In short, some people bear children without having a clue as to how to nurture them.  My acquaintance’s mother was not a supportive person to her daughter and often was a hindrance.

 

Having known this person for several decades and upon a chance meeting, I inquired about her mother.  I was being more polite than expressing any real interest but was very surprised nonetheless when my acquaintance smiled and said her mother was doing well, having outlived most of her contemporaries.  I asked if their relationship had improved.  My friend smiled and said that it had not.  She then casually said that while one might grow older, one did not always mature with age.

 

I had seen this acquaintance through several crying bouts when we were younger because of the pain and neglect of her mother so her offhanded remarks caught me by surprise and I told her so.  She replied that she still looked like her mother but now had accepted the resemblance.  “Just imagine,” she asked, “what the woman would have done if my looks were not proof I was her own child!”  While her mother’s behavior had not grown with age into a more loving relationship, my friend’s acceptance of her familiarity of physical appearance had brought her comfort.

 

All too often our value as a person is based upon anything and everything except who we are inside.  Regardless of which creation story you believe, we are uniquely made and individuals in our own right.  When we allow the behaviors of others to be the currency of our souls, we are denying our right to self-worth. 

 

What do you see when you look in the mirror?  Do you see what the bullies are screaming and taunting at you?  I hope you are looking into your mirror and seeing past your reflection.  Our true value is found not only in physical appearance but in our actions and our words, our compassion and treatment of others.  At some point we are all alone with ourselves. We should strive to get to know ourselves and then become a person we can like, a person we feel as value. 

 

It is not easy to stop hearing the words of a bully but it is necessary.  We need to be sure to detour around the negativity of bullies and be true to who and what we are.  We create our own currency.  No one else can do that.   No one else can be us.  When we allow someone else to deny us the right to be ourselves, we are abdicating our own presence and bankrupting our self-worth.  Remember the sage advice of Harvey Fierstein:  “Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life, but define yourself.” 

What Do You See?

What Do You See?

Detours in Life

Pentecost 16

 

We each are born and in that birthing, expectations are formed.  Sometimes it is because members of a family all tend to follow the same career path.  Sometimes it is because of specific gender roles within a culture.  Often, though, it is merely the stereotype that makes everyone comfortable.  The problem is that non e are based upon the individual or their talents.

 

Last year American Eagle Company released a commercial that seemed to celebrate men having a positive self-image.  The male models were not the typical male model.  Many would have shopped in the “husky” department and most seemed to go against the standard image types.  The advertisement seemed to emulate recent similar ads focusing on women… with one very big difference.  The American Eagle commercials were an April Fool’s Day joke.

 

Stereotyping is a dangerous although sometimes comical practice.  Comedians have relied on stereotypes for over a hundred years in telling a joke.  While they may seem funny to many, the subjects of the stereotypes are often deeply hurt.  Discrimination is not a laughing matter.  To ignore the vaule of each of our individualities is to deprive a person of their very being.

 

Women are one of the oldest targets for such stereotyping and low expectations.  Even though no one is ever born without a woman being intricately involved in the process, society has for centuries and eons failed to properly respect the potential of the average female of the species.

 

Barbara Askins was born in the late 1930’s and subject to the expectations of the times.  Women were supposed to get married, have children, and be content.  Professions deemed acceptable for women were generally nursing and teaching.  Born in the state of Tennessee, Barbara Askins complied with the stereotype for women of her time.  She grew up married, and had children.

 

Then Barbara did something a bit out of the ordinary.  Barbara created her own detour of life.  She went back to school, earning both a bachelor’s and a master’s of science from the University of Alabama in Huntsville.  Located in the mountainous beginnings of the Appalachian Mountains on the banks of the Tennessee River, Huntsville is home to the Marshall Space Flight Center.  It was at Marshall that the Saturn V Rocket that propelled the USA into outer space was developed as a part of NASA.  It is also at UAH that the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has advanced weather labs for studying severe weather. 

 

As a physical chemist, Barbara Askins was in a great location to work, a location that did not try to conform her into an age-old stereotype.  It was at Marshall Space Flight Center that Barbara did some groundbreaking work.  Her invention is one that has benefitted most of our lives although we probably do not know it.  Barbara Askins is the inventor of the autoradiograph, a process in which “images on developed photographic emulsions can be significantly intensified by making the image silver radioactive and exposing a second emulsion to this radiation.”  

 

If you have ever had an x-ray, and the doctor then told you something based upon that x-ray, then you should really thank Barbara Askins.  Ever since 1978 when she received her patent, the ability to read an x-ray has been greatly enhanced –  all because one woman decided to detour around the basic expectations for her living and create a new life for herself.

 

The value of any x-ray and the ability to see what is covered by skin is determined in a large part to the development of the x-ray film.  Over exposure is seldom the problem; underexposure is quite common.  With Barbara Askin’s technique, over ninety-six percent of x-rays that were previously considered to be under-exposed were now readable.  This prevented the need for additional x-rays and radiation exposure via the x-ray to patients.  Her process has also been used in the restoration of old photographs.

 

Maybe you are not someone who does scrapbooking or collects old pictures.  If you are reading this, however, odds are you are alive and either have or will need an x-ray at some point.  You may not have heard of Barbara Askins but you have benefitted from her work.  We all have.  Her technique was originally designed to restore photographs taken by satellites and astronauts.  We have a better understanding of our bodies, our world, and outer space because of her and her detour.

 

Bringing things into focus is a part of education and living.  Time often changes our perspective and that can be a very good thing.  When she was first tasked with trying to salvage a group of photographs and negatives, no one expected Barbara Askins to become an inventor.  We all are inventors.    We invent our lives each and every day.  We need to use our living to bring into focus a brighter and clearer tomorrow.  Together we can change the world.  We just need to forget stereotypes and focus on making a better landscape of our lives, sometimes following or creating a detour in our life.

A New Day; A New Detour

A New Day; A New Detour

Detours in Life

Pentecost 14

 

Here I sit thinking about the present and the future after having spent the past several days immersed in the past.  The death of a family member brings not just grief but necessary action – all of the very real physical and legal requirements that accompany death.  Death was not on my calendar so my schedule required a detour in order to carry on and be proactive in the present.  While yesterday’s death has impacted my living, today really is about living and the detour necessary to do so.

 

Today history will be written.  Because of and in spite of the past, new stories will be created.  Today we will not spend time in rehashing old living.  Today is for living the here and now.  It is, after all, the only door to the future.  Bold words, huh?  Perhaps they are also a little bit scary.  Tomorrow I will hopefully return to my well-planned schedule but today, today is for the legend of you, the story that you yourself will write.  Today I will navigate the detour life has thrown me to create my present.

 

Today is a blank canvass.  Your story is yours to write.  Interact with the world and live.  Be the hero or heroine of your own wonderful, magical myth, the story of you today.  How do you start?  Share a smile.  Give a hug.  Hold the door open for someone, not just the elderly or the infirmed.  “One of the secrets in life is that all that is really worth doing is what we do for others.”  Lewis Carroll knew that each day we fall down the rabbit hole called life.  He became the legend known as the author of many poems and the children’s classic, “Alice in Wonderland”.   Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, famously penned:  “I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.”  The he was in the past was Charles Dodgson; now the present he became known as Lewis Carroll.   

 

“Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life’s cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another you have only an extemporaneous half possession. That which each can do best, none but his Maker can teach him.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson knew the value of the individual.  Today write your own story.  Maybe one day we will read; maybe not.  What matters is that you live the life you want.  This is your day to become what you desire so travel whatever detours present and do so boldly.  Today is for writing the story of you.

A Detour of Fate

 

A Detour of Fate

 

Detours in Life

 

Pentecost 13

 

 

 

I organize three hundred and sixty days of blog posts into an arrangement I can identify with – liturgical seasons of the church calendar.  A recent follower asked me what Pentecost had to do with detours and as I began to explain that the division for arranging these posts often had little to do with the actual season, I realized the wisdom in the question. 

 

 

 

Pentecost is a season to put one’s faith into action and nowhere is that more evident than when we are faced with a detour.   Detours seldom are accompanied with shouts of joy.  More often than not, we are dismayed when they pop out and hope/pray that they will not delay our journey.  Pentecost is all about the journey and so are detours.

 

 

 

The season of Pentecost celebrates the time when Christian believers received the spirit of their deity.  The mythologies of the world celebrate the spirits of one’s beliefs.  The world fate often is used as one’s destiny but in truth, the word comes from the Latin “fatum” a form of the verb “fari” which meant to speak.  Thus one’s fate was something spoken, a decision.  It became a word that ultimately meant one’s destiny since what one said reflected what one believed and how one lived.  The spirits that help influence this were known collectively as the Fates, much like the Greek Moirai, a group of spirits who determined the course and end of one’s life.

 

 

 

We tend to think of mythological creatures as being larger than life; most deities are as well.  After all, we want those spirits that can affect the history of mankind to do so with great fanfare.  We think of miracles as large “Hollywood-style” productions.  While the focuses of some spiritual beliefs are calmer, even their main characters possess great power and knowledge.

 

 

 

In 1691, a Scottish minister named Robert Kirk put pen to paper to tell of a different type of mythological creature.  His characters were not new and had been a part of Celtic folklore and myths forever.  Once depicted as being quite tall, by the time Robert Kirk wrote of them, their size had been greatly reduced.  These Siths or Fairies they call Sleagh Maith or the Good People…are said to be of middle nature between Man and Angel, as were Daemons thought to be of old; of intelligent fluidous Spirits, and light changeable bodies (like those called Astral) somewhat of the nature of a condensed cloud, and best seen in twilight. These bodies be so pliable through the subtlety of Spirits that agitate them, that they can make them appear or disappear at pleasure.”

 

 

 

The word” faeries” has an often disputed etymology and the faeries we see pictures in children’s books are a relatively new version.   Their origins are a melting of various elements of mythologies and folklore from different parts of the world.  Many believe they were originally minor goddesses, spirits of nature who took their revenge upon mankind when the natural world was mistreated.  Thus the term faerie has been used to indicate trolls, goblins, gnomes, or ethereal spirits.  They are sometimes called wee folk, good folk, people of peace, or the Welsh “tylwyth teg which translates as “fair folk”.

 

 

 

Celtic faeries are said to live in nature, often hiding, and are portrayed as a diminutive race driven into caves and underground by invaders.  These enchanted creatures either protected the good people or could extract revenge upon the evil.  In western parts of Europe ancient mythologies described faeries as personified aspects of nature, similar to the ancient gods and goddesses who had their origins in personified elements of life and questions about it.

 

 

 

The advent of Christianity in the first century ACE had no room for such mythological creatures as faeries.  The Irish banshee and Scottish “bean shith” were referred to as a ghost, a woman who lived underground.  There was no room in the Abrahamic faiths for such creatures.  Their angels might seem like faeries but they were divine creatures, not creatures of nature.  While medieval England portrayed faeries as both helper and hindrance, Victorian England explained mythological creatures as aspects of nature and faeries as metaphors for the night sky and stars.

 

 

 

Faeries are also found in ancient Greek mythology and are closely aligned to the Greek word “daimon” which means Spirit.  The nymphs the classical poet Homer wrote about in his works “Iliad” and the “Odyssey” could be considered faeries.  The Roman penates, lares, and genii from Roman mythology were also faery creatures.  It is easy to see how the word “daimon” came to mean evil faeries known as demons.

 

 

 

I think the real benefit of our mythological spirits and stories is found in the Victorian definitions of them.  A metaphor is a figure of speech in which something is compared to another thing, both things being very different.  One example is: “The road was a ribbon of moonlight.”  Victorian England sought to justify the telling of these stories without compromising one’s religion. They became metaphors, much like the stories found in the scriptures of the Abrahamic faiths.  The difference was that religious stories were held to be true while myths were considered fables of the imagination.

 

 

 

The real test of validity lies in the spirit of the believer.  In 1891 W.B. Yeats wrote:  Do you think the Irish peasant would be so full of poetry if he had not his fairies? Do you think the peasant girls of Donegal, when they are going to service inland, would kneel down as they do and kiss the sea with their lips if both sea and land were not made lovable to them by beautiful legends and wild sad stories? Do you think the old men would take life so cheerily and mutter their proverb, ‘The lake is not burdened by its swan, the steed by its bridle, or a man by the soul that is in him,’ if the multitude of spirits were not near them?”

 

 

 

The legends and myths of the world give us a better understanding of both the world and mankind.  Like the word fate, they speak of what we believe, how we live, and ultimately how we will die.  Whether you consider something folklore, mythology, or doctrine, the spirits in which we believe shape our lives.  “Fate often saves an undoomed man when his courage is good.”  Those words from the classic “Beowulf” are an example of the importance fate has been given by mankind.  For many, fate is an inescapable shadow.  For others, fate is merely the road upon which we travel, neither threatening nor constrictive. 

 

 

 

The characters of the myths of man are really metaphors and if we take heed, they can assist us in our living.  We might not live on the top of Mount Olympus but we can make every abode our own palace and live our own beliefs, even when traveling down a detour.  Small children delight in the stories of faeries and often have a favorite.  Such differences in their likes and dislikes are seen as individual, not threatening.  Yet as adults, we often see the differences in beliefs as fearful. 

 

 

 

Hopefully one day we can truly learn from such myths and create our own fate, a road of success for all built upon a foundation of respect and reverence for all life.  As William Ernest Henley wrote in his “Echoes of Life and Death”: “It matters not how strait the gate; How charged with punishments the scroll.  I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”

 

 

 

Our attitude in approaching a detour will often make all the difference as to whether it is a hindrance or an opportunity.  Our own spirit as we embark upon what is often a strange new path will enable us to learn and enjoy our journey, even if it is an unexpected detour of fate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And Then What?

And Then What?

Detours of Life

Pentecost 10

 

If we are lucky, there is always that next step to take in life.  Even when life throws us a curveball and we have to detour around something, there is still that next step to take.  Often it can be a very difficult move and yet, it usually is a lesson we never saw coming.

 

Take for instance, my schedule for this series.  Life really messed it up royally!  I mean, I had it all laid out and things planned and then – wham!  I got detoured around my living.  The last two months have been somewhat chaotic but, if I am to be honest, also very educational.

 

For one thing, I discovered how strong I am.  I also discovered what really matters to me and how joy can be found in the most unexpected of places.  I underwent a journey, both figuratively and literally and when I least expected it, there was joy jumping up to kiss me.  Where I expected sadness, I found renewal.

 

Leonard Cohen wrote a song simply entitled “Anthem” and it reminds me of the ancient Chinese custom of breaking a pottery item and then refilling the cracks with gold.  I once was in a discussion group where a picture of such an antique bowl was shown.  Several simple saw a broken piece of pottery and thought it should have been tossed.  They wanted perfection.

 

Life is not perfect.  Our living will have its cracks and dents.  Leonard Cohen wrote:  “Forget your perfect offering.  There is a crack in everything; there is a crack in everything – That’s how the light gets in.”  We can, however, follow the detour and learn from it, filling those cracks and dents with lessons that are golden in how they prepared us for the next step.

 

 

 

Pay It Forward

Paying It Forward

Detours in Life

Pentecost 9

 

When was the last time you did a good deed for someone?”  I recently asked this of a friend.  My friend thought for a minute and then described something over two weeks ago.  Last year about this time my Pentecost series was about “making the ordinary extraordinary”.   It was about making each day count. Most of us would love to have that happen except … Life takes us on a detour instead.

 

Last year I told you about Kim Atwood, a woman who focused on doing a good deed a day.  In the year 2000 another woman named Catherine Ryan Hyde wrote a book upon which a movie was based entitled “Pay It Forward”.  Kim took this same premise and put it into action.  “One morning, on my drive to work, I was thinking about the law of moral causation and the karmic energy that surrounded my life.”

 

Kim was not just interested in doing a good deed but it that deed having a ripple effect.  She encouraged her friends to follow her example as well as the strangers who were the recipients of her actions.  The first day she stopped at her favorite donut shop for a pastry and coffee and then bought the same for the person in line behind her, asking the clerk to tell said person what had been done.  The next day she bought a potted plant and left it with a note on a car in a parking lot.  On another day she ordered some pet products from www.totallyfreestuff.com and donated them to a local animal shelter.  Soon life closed in on her and it was bedtime one evening when she realized she had not accomplished her good deed that day.  She went online and in five minutes had donated a few dollars to a charity.

 

The point of sharing with you Kim’s story was that she turned her ordinary commute into a period of retrospection and then took action.  She made each day extraordinary for the beneficiaries of her actions.  Kim was not some millionaire and often her actions took only a few extra minutes.  One day she simply stood at a store and held the day open for people sharing a smile and a brief greeting for a few minutes.  Each smile was returned and as she finished her shopping, she saw others holding the day for those entering.  Kim create her own detour from her normal pattern and started finding a way to make each day count.  She was doing for others but discovered it took her on a trip of her own as well.

 

Behavior is contagious.  That is why gangs are successful and cults have a following.  Kim Atwood used her time wisely and her detour from her normal routine made positive behavior contagious.  The ripple effect of her actions created more extraordinary moments for more living things. 

 

Joni Averill is a columnist with the Bangor Daily News and she wrote about Kim in 2010.  “ Civility. Manners. Thoughtfulness. Understanding. Compassion. Respect. Tolerance.  Our society seems to be losing its grip on those essential virtues.  What a much nicer world it would be if we all made the attempt, daily, to be kinder to one another.”

 

Bangor, Maine is a town that is often the last US stop for soldiers going to the Middle East.  Those arriving and departing usually deplane as new planes are to be boarded, different connections made.  Each soldier is greeted as they enter the Bangor Airport by citizens of Bangor and usually handed a cup of hot coffee or a cool drink.  They all receive a smile and hero’s greeting, justly deserved and earned.  These humble residents, however, are also heroes.  They make an exhausting trip better and remind our brave men and women why they are doing what they do.  Regardless of the weather or the time of day, each plane is met, each servicemen thanked.

 

Steve Jobs once said “If you are working at something exciting that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed; the vision pulls you.”  Hopefully, today something extraordinary will pull you to action, something that benefits another person and makes their ordinary day a time of extraordinary living.

 

We think of detours as nuisances but they can be a wonderful way of paying it forward.  Yes it is scary to deviate from our normal and really, who thinks they have the time?  Truth is, we have all time to take a detour of meaning and to pay it forward.  We’ll end up helping ourselves as well as the world.