Envisioning Possibilities

Envisioning Possibilities

June 7, 2018

Pentecost 2018

 

If you are reading this, then at some point today you awoke.  Maybe not completely or willingly, but you changed from a sleep state to a state of being awake.  But how awake are you?  I mean, really awake.  All too often we go through our day on auto-pilot.  We do the same things by rote; habits comprise our living.  What if we took a leap of faith and envisioned something greater?
“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.  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.  Three years ago 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”.

 

In 2015 Brandon Stanton raised over half a million dollars to help Syrian refugees.    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.   Brandon Stanton’s pictures shake us up, and wake us up.  Suddenly we are not just seeing the same people we might pass every day.  Suddenly we are envisioning something more.

 

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!”  This young girl is already envisioning her future.

 

What if we listened to the world as a potential success, and that success 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! LOL)

 

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 envision the possibilities of success, not just for us but for the world, 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.”

 

Envision a better today and you will make it happen.  Envision the possibilities of the future and we will have a better tomorrow and an extraordinary life.  We all can make a difference and each difference, no matter how small, is a step in the right direction.

 

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Death – May the Force Help You

Death – May the Force Help You

May 4th, 2018

 

Today, May 4th, is known as Star Wars Day, trading on the famous quote from the movies, “May the Force be with you”, today rephrased as “May the Fourth be with you”.  It is a humorous play on words and yet, it is a great saying to share with someone.  Inviting them to recognize and acknowledge the life forces within and around us as well as celebrating each day we are alive.

 

This blog has been silent for two weeks due to death and the forces surrounding it.  It has been my habit to be silent in times of terrorism and/or tragedies but these weeks have been fraught with national, international, and personal situations of death.  Someone told me it was a shame this was all happening during the Easter season and yet…. Easter itself is all about death.

 

“Death where is thy sting?  O grave, why is thy victory?”  It might very well be that the best time for death is during Easter because Easter is a story about victory over death and helps us overcome the pain and sting of losing someone.  Grief is inevitable and we need to honor the grieving process as the homage it is for the life that was lived and now has ceased.  All too often, we try to pretend all is well instead of allowing someone to mourn. 

 

In a world where very little is certain and where sorting truth from fiction has become an endless maze, death is the one certainty we have.  We may not know exactly when or how we will die and for many of our, it will be out of our control but we can be certain that at some point in time, we will die.  It is the culmination of being alive.

 

Dr. Steve Taylor wrote the following about our own mortality for Psychology Today four years ago:  “We all have to face it at some point; an event of such enormity that it can make everything else in our lives seem insignificant: death, the end of our existence; our departure from this world….We live in a culture that denies death. We’re taught that death is something we should shy away from, and try to forget about. If we start contemplating our own mortality – so this traditional wisdom goes – we’ll become anxious and depressed.”

 

Taylor maintains that a healthy relationship and conversation about death can actually do just the opposite.  Why do we fear death?  Taylor explains that “To a large extent, it depends on the intensity of the encounter with our mortality. Anxiety usually occurs when we’re passively aware of death, thinking about it in a vague way rather than actually facing up to it. There’s certainly an important difference between being aware of death as a concept and being confronted with the reality of it, and being forced to deal with it as an imminent prospect. When we face up to death actively and directly, there’s a chance that we’ll transcend anxiety and insecurity, and experience its transformational potential.”

 

Taylor continues:  “An attitude of acceptance is important too. If we resist death, fight against its inevitability, refuse to let go of our lives, and feel bitterness about all the things that we’re going to lose and leave behind – then we’re much less likely to experience the potentially positive effects.”

 

In other words, once we accept our own mortality, we can turn that acceptance into a force that will help us live fuller lives.  “Death is always present, and its transformational power is always accessible to us, so long as we’re courageous enough to face it. Becoming aware of our own mortality can be a liberating and awakening experience, which can – paradoxically, it might seem – encourage us to live authentically and fully for the first time.”

 

So on this day, as I attend yet another funeral and say goodbye to one more soul, I will use the force of my mortality to become stronger.  The celebration of the Easter season answers the question about victory over the grave.  The real victory is in living to the best of our ability with kindness and health towards all.

 

 

The Reality of Being

The Reality of Being

April 14-15, 2018

 

American author and artist James Thurber once stated:  “Philosophy offers the rather cold consolation that perhaps we and our planet do not actually exist; religion presents the contradictory and scarcely more comforting thought that we exist but that we cannot hope to get anywhere until we cease to exist. Alcohol, in attempting to resolve the contradiction, produces vivid patterns of Truth which vanish like snow in the morning sun and cannot be recalled; the revelations of poetry are as wonderful as a comet in the skies, and as mysterious. Love, which was once believed to contain the Answer, we now know to be nothing more than an inherited behavior pattern.”

 

Born in Ohio and raised in both Virginia and Ohio, Thurber had a rather typical early twentieth century American boy’s childhood.  Not so typical was an injury he suffered as a child when an arrow of his brother’s resulted in Thurber being blinded in one eye.  He worked as a journalist in Ohio after attending but not graduating Ohio State University and then moved to New York City where he obtained a position on the staff of ”The New Yorker” magazine.  Thurber become known for his cartoons of animals and his drawings of dogs soon had their own career on pages of periodicals, newspapers and books, often watching strong-willed women and seemingly weak men.

 

Thurber once remarked “The wit makes fun of other persons; the satirist makes fun of the world; the humorist makes fun of himself, but in so doing, he identifies himself with people–that is, people everywhere, not for the purpose of taking them apart, but simply revealing their true nature.”  Many enjoyed both his drawings and his books, of which there were more than just a few.  Often people saw themselves on the pages of Thurber’s drawings; always they saw their neighbors.  Few took offense, though, knowing that Thurber was pointing his pen not only at them but also himself.

 

“There but for the grace of God go I” is an idiom attributed to Anglican priest James Bradford.  It is also a paraphrase of the scripture found in the New Testament, I Corinthians 15:10.  That the quote in English form is also attributed to a Roman Catholic priest is no surprise and quite fitting given Bradford’s life.  Ordained an Anglican priest shortly before the Roman Catholic Mary Tudor took the throne as reigning monarch of England, he was later imprisoned and hung for his beliefs.  Bradford preached of the connectivity of mankind and saw himself in the face of the lowest of it.  Mostly, Bradford saw each man has a reflection of another except for perhaps life’s circumstances.  He advocated spreading good will not judgment.

 

However you might define reality, we are real.  If you doubt that, get a hammer and bring it down intensely upon your finger.  I really doubt you will question the pain experienced.  Life is transitory but the travails we experience are very real to us.  “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”  Elie Wiesel was referring to events leading up to World War II specifically but his words ring true for everyday living.

 

We are not only real, we are connected one to another.  Three years ago Nepal suffered a terrible earthquake.  About that same time Face Book began running a streamer at the top of personal pages giving ways people could contribute to charities helping the victims of the earthquakes in Nepal.  Some people protested this.  They were good people with no motive for malice but they really did not like the streamer inviting them to help others.  “Wouldn’t it be better to help people in our own country?” was a common response people posted on their own pages.  “Why do we have to see this ticker about giving to Nepal?”  The unspoken meaning here was that one should let the Nepalese help themselves while we help our neighbors closer to home.

 

That is a great thought except for one thing – Nepal was a country in dire straits even before the earthquake.  The victim of countless regimes whose only purpose was personal greed, these “live and let live” people were in abject poverty before nature took its revenge on them.  How can someone with nothing have their lives and homes literally upturned by seismic events then pull wealth out of their empty pockets to “help themselves”?

 

Every country has its poor, its disenfranchised societies.  For many, these populations are simply uneducated, sometimes on purpose based upon gender, and/or the wrong ethnicity, again the victims of deliberate discrimination.  Sometimes these populations suffer from illnesses that are not fully understood or greatly feared.  Do these Face Book subscribers donate to these groups within their own countries?  No one country has enough money given to completely render all needed assistance to these groups.  The reality is that there is always a need for which we could render aid.

 

Reality may be a word that means different things to different people and sadly, many feel they are invisible and that their lives do not matter.  Another thing all countries share is that somewhere today someone will take their own life.  In spite of a number of terminal illnesses, accidents, and crimes that will result in death, people will feel their own personal situation has no meaning and is just a riddle too hard to contemplate resolution except by death.

 

Einstein might have been correct when he said “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”  I prefer to believe that human stupidity is reversible, though.  Another in common is countries where children and adults wear socks is that, at some point, one will end up with a mismatched sock.  Seeming to defeat the laws of physics, one sock will magically disappear.  Once during an epic spring cleaning, my spouse and children put all their mismatched socks into bags.  The final count was an even one hundred pairless socks.  Of course, once the socks were all laid out, pairs were found or someone remembered the puppy tearing a sock up, another was worn outside and holes appeared, etc. 

 

Just as our socks were real, the mystery of the disappearance of their matches had resolution.  For an hour, said spouse and kids enjoyed making up stories about the disappearances.  Their imaginations took flight and they did indeed come up with delightful tales.  In fact, I think at least two children, now adults, still imagine at least two socks are orbiting the earth as I type today!  The reality was far less exciting and entertaining but resolution was found.  We did not find all the socks but those that remained single became adorable little snowman figures sold at a charitable auction.

 

Mankind is real.  We have problems but we also solutions if we have faith that we can find them.  It will not be easy but then, most things seldom are.  Pain cannot be seen or even quantified on a scale with weights and balances and yet, pain is all too real for those experiencing it.  We should not share in another’s blame or guilt but we can and should offer to help.  Life is hard but it is not impossible.  All we need to do is believe in ourselves.  Perhaps that is the hardest problem philosophy has to solve.  This weekend I hope you smile more than you cry and, when you pass another, your eyes are opened to not only see the worth of that other person but also your own value.  We are real.  We all matter.  Our lives have purpose and meaning.

#MarchForOurLives

March 20-24, 2018

 

Today is Lent 39 but more importantly, it is the day in which Americans exercised their right to stand up for themselves.

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/hundreds-of-thousands-march-for-gun-control-in-the-us/ar-BBKCX1Q?ocid=spartandhp

 

With thanks and apologies to songwriters ALAIN ALBERT BOUBLIL, CLAUDE MICHEL SCHONBERG, HERBERT KRETZMER, JEAN MARC NATEL ….

 

Do you hear the people sing?

Singing the songs of school children?

It is the music of the people

Who want no one killed again!

When the beating of your heart

Echoes the beating of the drums

There is a life about to start

When tomorrow comes!

Will you join in our crusade?

Who will be strong and stand with me?

Somewhere beyond the NRA

Is there a world you long to see?

Then join in the fight

That will give you the right to be free!

Do you hear the people sing?

Singing the songs of our children?

It is the music of the people

Who wish their friends were alive again!

When the beating of your heart

Echoes the beating of the drums

There is a life about to start

When tomorrow comes!

Will you give all you can give

So that our children may advance

Some will fall and some will live

Will you stand up and take your chance?

The blood of these martyrs

Will flow in the halls of schools!

Do you hear the people sing?

Singing the prayers of our children?

It is the music of the people

Who protest the risks again!

When the beating of your heart

Echoes the beating of the drums

Take a stand so they can live

When tomorrow comes.

 

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, President of the United States, proclaimed December 7, 1941 as a “day that will live in infamy”.  According to the National Park Service, there were 1998 Navy personnel, 109 Marines, 233 Army personnel and 48 civilians killed at Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. This comes to a total of 2388 Americans killed during this World War act of aggression.  

 

I propose that every day that the Congress of the United States and those who accept payment for their campaigns from the gun lobby are living each day in infamy.  There is no reason that this problem cannot be reduced and/or solved.  Our children are going to school, trying to obtain an education.  There is nothing about that which should make school shootings an acceptable effect of the Second Amendment.    

 

Since the first recorded school shooting in 1764 in Greencastle, Pennsylvania, 1546 children have been injured or killed simply because they went to school.  We need to take a stand so our children can be alive when the end of the school day comes.  Infamy means dishonor.  It is not honorable to let children and/or teachers die.

#MarchForOurLives

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_EQr5nzSiTM

Retreat: All about Living

Retreat: All about Living
Feb 11

I recently took a sabbatical or retreat from this blog. The purpose was to renew and refresh my perspective. This blog is about better living and finding a deeper spirituality, helping to define one’s personal and perhaps religious doctrine. It is about knowing one’s self and then living accordingly. So what did I learn? I learned that philosophy is great but really worth nothing if we do not put it into practice.

The following was an excerpt from an old article in the Fort Worth (Texas, USA) newspaper “Star Telegram”, written by Deanna Boyd. While this occurred in the past, a survey of recent news articles reveals that similar incidents are occurring almost daily. Please note that names have been omitted due to the age of the individual at the center of this article.

On Oct. 4, 2012, [X] called 911, telling a dispatcher, “Uh, I just killed my mom and my sister….”I felt like they were just suffocating me, in a way,” he told the dispatcher, according to a recording of the 911 call. “Obviously, you know, I’m pretty, I guess, evil.”

Responding Parker County deputies found [a woman] and her daughter dead of multiple gunshot wounds inside the house on [XX] Lane in [subdivision and town]. The young man was arrested at the scene. In a written statement, he told investigators that he had devised a plan to kill several family members after watching [a] remake of the movie “Halloween,” in which a boy murders relatives.

“While watching it I was amazed at how at ease the boy was during the murders and how little remorse he had afterward,” [X] wrote in his statement. “I was thinking to myself, it would be the same for me when I kill someone.”

Sheriff’s officials said [X] used a gun stolen from his grandfather, a retired Fort Worth officer, to commit the slayings. [X] told investigators that he had intended to later kill his grandparents and two other sisters. But after the slayings of his mom and sister, [X] — in a state he described as “very shocked and scared” — instead placed the gun on the kitchen counter and called 911.

“I know now though that I’m done with killing. It’s the most dreadful and terrifying thing I will ever experience. And what happened last night will haunt me forever.”

 

We think we know so much and especially as young adults and teenagers, we can be intensely certain that we think we know something if not everything. Philosophy is about the “knowing” but how do we know? Sadly, many cult leaders never give their followers the chance to reflect upon their actions. These misguided young people searching for knowledge and truth are sacrificed for the greed and egos of others.

 

Philosophy is about the search for knowledge and it is a search conducted without a great deal of physical action, just mental. For that reason, many disdain it and consider it, to borrow from Shakespeare, “much ado about nothing”. Some say that about spiritual sects and religious denominations and faiths.

We study to prevent knowledge from passing us by, from slipping through the hours of our living. The ancient philosophers saw the world moving on and asked why. We need to question our daily actions in the same way. Did what I do yesterday have value? Did I connect with another, friend or stranger? Was there a purpose for my being?

 

I hope that, on our life’s journey, we will continue to delve into the answers and ways of answering such questions. Who, what, how, why… These are the realm philosophy travels. We will each have our own answers and paths of both learning and exploration. The future is, after all, ours to construct and write.

 

Hopefully, in our daily living we will connect with others and thrive. Hopefully, others will look back upon their connections with us and be thankful for them. Mostly, though I hope you never feel what this young man has felt. “It’s the most dreadful and terrifying thing I will ever experience. And what happened last night will haunt me forever.”

 

Life is not about being haunted. Life is for living and living for the best outcomes for all of mankind. Enjoy today. Live your faith. Exist, believe, rejoice. Mostly, I hope you smile – at another but also at yourself.

 

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.

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.