Kindness in the Moment

Kindness in the Moment

2019.01.14

Mindfulness – The Human Spirit

 

I sincerely believe mindfulness comes naturally to the soul,  There are hundreds of videos on the Internet that display animals showing kindness to other animals, often from different species and breeds.  It is the mindfulness of those animals that makes their kindness a natural thing.  So we aren’t more humans doing it?

 

Jason Mraz asks the same question in the lyrics of his song “Living in the Moment”.  If this life is one act

Why do we lay all these traps

We put them right in our path

When we just wanna be free

I will not waste my days

Making up all kinds of ways

To worry about some things

That will not happen to me

So I just let go of what I know I don’t know

And I know I’ll only do this by

Living in the moment

Living our life

Easy and breezy

With peace in my mind

With peace in my heart

Peace in my soul.

 

 

Being kind to another might just be the easiest thing we could ever do and it certainly it the best gift to give ourselves.  Take a walk in your neighborhood or on a downtown street and share a smile with someone.  Shopping local markets and small businesses will help your fellow neighbors.  Offering to give someone a ride if you know you are both attending the same event is not only kind, it helps the environment and saves money.  Many offices and organizations have a coupon bowl where people can place unused coupons and retrieve one they might need.  Donating old clothes that are still in great shape always helps the community as does the offer to be a foster parent.  Many animal shelters need dog walkers and cat petters and pet fostering is always in high demand. 

 

 

We all should live in the moment but we need to make the best of each moment and that includes being the best we can be as people.  Spend a few minutes imagining what kindness looks like to you and then offer than to someone else.

 

Open

Open

2019.01.03

12 Days of Kindness

 

The teacher read the message reluctantly.    The sender’s name was not familiar and yet…  There was something familiar about it.  While his life history wasn’t a secret, the message did reference a position he’d held for only one year.  Hesitantly, he responded and the answer he received confirmed that the message was indeed from a former student, a student at a school he’d been at for only one year.  The former student just wanted to say thank you, thank you for believing in his class, in opening their minds to the world outside their own small town and rural countryside.

 

The student had traveled the world, a bit unexpected for someone who had grown up in a rural sparsely-populated area in the middle of the country.  The student had limited access to television and radio and a night out for the student in high school was spent behind the barn throwing bottle caps at a homemade target.  The teacher had never traveled outside their home country but had lived in large cities, seen Broadway plays, opera, and live concerts and loved his cable tv.  The student thanked the teacher for showing him life was about taking risks while the teacher was considered a planner, non-spontaneous in his living.  This irony was not lost on the teacher.  He had received a beautiful thank you note for teaching the student lessons that were not evident in his own life.  He had no regrets, though, and was glad the student had surpassed the teacher. 

 

Life is about a great many things but perhaps the best summation is that life about being open.  Sometimes that means being open to going where life takes us and sometimes it simply means being open to what is in front of us.  Every day asks us to be open to the goodness in people, even when such goodness is very well hidden.    Each day also offers us a chance to be open to a positive perspective.  My challenge to you today is to be open, to choose to see the positive.  After all, we awake each morning with a choice. 

 

Shannon Adler’s poem is directed toward female empowerment but applies to both men and women:  “You chose.  You chose to give away your love.  You chose to have a broken heart.  You chose to give up.  You chose to hang on.  You chose to react.  You chose to feel insecure.  You chose to feel anger.  You chose to fight back.  You chose to have hope.  You chose to be naïve.   You chose to ignore your intuition.  You chose to ignore advice.  You chose to look the other way.   You chose to not listen.   You chose to be stuck in the past.  You chose your perspective.   You chose to blame.  You chose to be right.  You chose your pride.  You chose your games. You chose your ego. You chose your paranoia.   You chose to compete.  You chose your enemies.  You chose your consequences.”  Adler concludes:  “Choose to let go.  Choose dignity.   Choose to forgive yourself.  Choose to forgive others.  Choose to see your value.  Choose to show the world you’re not a victim.  Choose to make us proud.”

 

We cannot control everything we encounter in life but we can control how we choose to react.  Be open today to the positive choice, the lesson contained within the openness of living.  Leonardo da Vinci is reported to have said, “Pity the student who does not surpass his master.”  The student who cannot surpass the teacher is a student who has never been shown how to be open, the value of being open to life’s choices, the advantage of what being open can bring. 

 

American statesman Benjamin Franklin understood the challenge of being open to living.  “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”  Be open top being involved in life.  “It’s opener, out there, in the wide, open air.” Even the children’s book “Oh the Places You’ll Go” by Dr. Suess recognizes the value of being open.  Try it today and you’ll give yourself a gift of kindness.

Holiday Spirit Goes Both Ways

Holiday Spirit Goes Both Ways

2018.12.13-15

Everyday Miracles

Advent 2018

 

As is my custom with this blog, whenever the world has lost souls due to terrorism and hearts cease to beat, I have been silent as a way to honor those whose lives have been lost.  Such was the case the last several days but I believe it is now time to change that habit.  We need to honor those lives taken and irreparably changed forever by such heinous acts but we should not be silent.  We need to speak out against such depravity of conviction, religion, and peace and let our voices ne heard.  It is perhaps the best way we can honor those who have been killed senselessly.  The taking of one or more lives will never make the world a better place for others.  It is only through positive energy that can happen.

 

Today we are discussing holiday spirit and if you are like me, you have received social media posts from people lamenting over the loss of their own holiday spirit.  Yes there is an element of commercialism involved but we have the choice of making the holidays what we want them to be.  Read back through my posts over the last two years and you will find many ways to “pay it forward” which is a great way to find some holiday spirit.  However, in case you still need some assistance, please read on.

 

Holiday anxiety is nothing new and is experienced by most people.  For many, though, it is a bit more than just feeling overwhelmed by social engagements, Christmas shopping, and an influx of family.  Over fifteen million people in the United States alone suffer from social anxiety disorder and this does not improve during the holidays.  “Social anxiety disorder is characterized by the presence of fear or anxiety about social or performance situations in which the person is exposed to possible scrutiny by others,” explained Dr. Kalina Michalska, a research fellow in the Section on Developmental and Affective Neuroscience at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).  “The individual overestimates their likelihood of being rejected and frequently fears that he or she will act in a way that will be embarrassing and humiliating.”

 

There is also seasonal affective disorder.  Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons — SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year.  For many sufferers of SAD, symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping energy and making them feel moody. However, SAD can also cause depression in the spring or early summer.  In some people with bipolar disorder, spring and summer can bring on symptoms of mania or a less intense form of mania (hypomania), and fall and winter can be a time of depression.

 

The holidays offer plenty of reasons to be stressed out and anxious — the gifts you haven’t wrapped, the pile of cookie exchange invites, the office parties. But for many, the biggest source of holiday stress is family — the family dinner, the obligations, and the burden of family tradition. And if you’re fighting clinical depression, or have had depression in the past, the holiday stress can be a trigger for more serious problems.  “There’s this idea that holiday gatherings with family are supposed to be joyful and stress-free,” says Ken Duckworth, MD, medical director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “That’s not the case. Family relationships are complicated.”

 

All of this means that if you are feeling less like Tiny Tim and more like Scrooge, there may be valid reasons.  We still need to get through this time, though, and hopefully, find a way to enjoy the holidays, even if you celebrate none of them.  Escaping the scent of pine in the air, the red and green decorations that are abundant everywhere, the stockings, the lightly colored trees is not for the faint of heart.  If you do celebrate, the stress may be even greater.  Finding your holiday spirit might be accomplished of you find a way to survive the season with less stress.  The best way to do that might be to take a cue from the jolly symbol of the season, Santa Claus himself.

 

One web site offered several tips to surviving Christmas with such prosaic advice as “Invite your in-laws; just don’t let them in!”  Obviously I am not advocating you do that but the humor might help you through the afternoon.  Chances are, they are having some stress as well.  Keeping your sense of humor is really the best advice there is for getting through this time of the year.  Traffic jams are more common so try keeping a bag of mints in your console to enjoy when stuck in traffic.  As you stand in line at the check-out, do some leg exercises by rolling up to your toes and back on your heels (Your calf muscles will really appreciate this!) or even do assisted knee squats using the handle bar of your shopping cart.  You might get a few strange looks but odds are no one will notice because they are caught up in their own stress-filled moment.

 

Suzanne Kane wrote an excellent piece online for Psych Central about this topic.  Here are some of her tips for not just surviving the season byt thriving during it.  “Think ahead.  Whatever it is about the holidays that’s got you out of sorts, imagine whether that same concern will be bothering you down the road. No matter what it is, you probably won’t even recall the gut-wrenching emotions in one or 10 years’ time. This helps you build a cushion against mounting anxiety and creates a little space you can use to safely navigate the holidays this year.

 

“Celebrate on a different day.  Where is it written that you have to celebrate Christmas on December 25? If you’re intent on entertaining folks, especially family or out-of-town guests, scheduling the event for a day other than the actual holiday might relieve some of the pressure. Two days later, two days before, the weekend after — whatever works will do the trick.  With adult children, this suggestion is one we really take to heart.  Doing Christmas a day or two ahead of time or after the fact does not change the joy at all and allows people to not feel torn between family commitments. 

 

“Stop feeling you have to be perfect.  It doesn’t have to be the party of the year. You don’t need to be the host whose event is talked about for months to come. If you can make yourself believe that you don’t have to be perfect, you’ll alleviate a lot of stress and accumulated tension. Your digestion will likely benefit as well, since your stomach won’t be tied up in knots over trying to insist on perfection.

 

“Go away.  This isn’t a recommendation to tell people to leave you alone. It is, however, a suggestion to incorporate something new into the holiday schedule this year. Instead of going whole-hog decorating the house, going to and hosting nonstop parties and get-togethers, why not consider going out of town for the celebration?  A family ski trip would be a wonderful memory and offer a much-needed change of scenery for all involved. Even an out-of-town trip to a national park or to visit friends or relatives will get you in the frame of mind of going after something new, something different, a place that’s away. Perhaps going away is just what the doctor ordered in order to thrive this holiday season.

 

“Create something lasting.  If you’ve lost a loved one and the holidays are too painful, consider creating something lasting for the remaining family members and loved ones in your life. This could be a family scrapbook, a handwritten letter you put in a “time capsule” of sorts, volunteering to bring joy to the elderly, shut-ins or sick children, or surprising your invalid neighbor with a home-cooked meal.  Remember that it’s the thought that counts. If you give something of yourself with love, it will be remembered and appreciated. You’ll also have a warm spot in your heart knowing you’ve helped bring a little joy to others who need it at this time of the year.

 

“Forgive yourself.  Everyone has regrets. You likely have some as well. If you’re beating yourself up for being inconsiderate, not living up to your word, being rude or impatient or mean to others, spending too much money, neglecting your responsibilities, or drinking too much, now is the time for a little self-forgiveness. Your desire to make positive changes actually begins with forgiving yourself. There’s no better time of the year to start than right now.

 

“Watch your diet.  Overindulging in food or drink during the holidays is a surefire way to suffer repercussions later. Not only will you feel remorse, you may have other consequences as a result. By paying mindful attention to what you put into your mouth, you’ll be doing yourself a huge favor, now and later. To thrive during the holiday season, exercise discretion and make wise choices in food and drink.

 

“Be grateful.  Finally, this is the season to be thankful. And you’ve got a lot to be grateful for, regardless of how much you’ve thought about it. You’re alive, for one thing. Life is precious indeed.  Every day you are on this earth is another opportunity to make a difference, to celebrate life and the deliciousness of living. It won’t come by this way again, so make the most of today. Adopt an attitude of gratitude and you’ll really begin to thrive this holiday season.

 

“Go small.  Instead of fixating on bigger and larger quantities, make a conscious effort to downsize. This goes for the number of gifts you buy, the number and types of social engagements you accept or invite others to attend, trying to get the very best deal on a much-wanted item and so much more. After all, it isn’t — or shouldn’t be — how expensive or exclusive something is. Concentrate on giving from the heart.”  I would add that giving a gift that keeps on giving is also great.  Donors.org and St Jude’s Children Hospital are two such websites that will help you share the joy and continue the meaning of giving the entire year.  No donation is too small nor unnecessary.

 

We had a rule in our family that family presents had to include homemade gifts.  It could be something as simple as copying a favorite verse from a poem, hymn, or pop song that can be framed, a coupon book for chores or hugs, a jar of spice tea or cider/wassail mix, a kissing ball made of real or fake mistletoe, cloves stuck in an orange as a great scented ornament… the possibilities really can be endless.  These gifts help balance the budget and also tell the recipient that they were worth the time and effort it took on the sender’s part.  That really is the best gift of all, knowing someone cares.

 

While it is emphasized during the holiday season, every day we are alive is a chance to make a difference and share the spirit of living with someone else.  Life is precious and if you are reading this, then chances are, you are alive.  That is one thing you have for which to be grateful.  I am pretty sure there are others and an attitude of gratitude is the first step on the path of holiday and joyous life spirit.

 

 

 

 

A Dove and an Anchor

A Dove and an Anchor

2018.12.04-05

Everyday Miracles

Advent 2018

 

After announcing the topic for this Advent series, I was asked:  “How can a miracle be an everyday thing?  Sounds like a contradiction in terms!”  I think the answer lies in one’s expectation of living.  If you are expecting misery, then you will not see the miracles that are present in your life each day.  If you are more of an optimist, then you will appreciate a sudden smile, a parking spot by the front door, or even an unexpected revenue source.  These may not seem like miracles but at the right time, they just might be.

 

Hope is an optimistic state of mind that is based on an expectation of positive outcomes with respect to events and circumstances in one’s life or the world at large.  It is said that life is ten percent of what actually occurs and ninety percent of how we react.  Many life coaches and therapists encourage people to act, not react.  Hope is an integral part of experiencing everyday miracles.  Bill Keane once said that “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift, which is why we call it the present.”

 

Doves and anchors are both symbols for hope and we are discussing hope because if you do not have hope, you will never experience an everyday miracle.  You will simply conclude that a wonderful unexpected phenomenon has occurred and miss out on the joy of it all.

 

In his book “The Alchemist”, Paulo Coelho wrote “When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.” This also speaks to the importance of being an optimist if you want to experience a miracle. 

 

The dove was supposedly sent out to find if the waters had receded in the Biblical flood mythology of Noah and his ark.  The dove went out several times but finally returned with a branch from a tree.  This may not seem like much of a miracle but the tree would not have been reachable to the dove if it was underwater.  After forty days and forty nights of seeing nothing but flood waters, the sight of something else had to seem like an everyday miracle.

 

Anchors are also used to denote hope because they are a symbol of steadfastness and faith.  “Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die… Life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.”  Langston Hughes was not a man who lived a life of privilege.  Born in 1902 in Joplin, Missouri, he died less than three years after his right to vote in all fifty states was insured by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.    He knew the importance of having faith and dreams, in believing in one’s self and in having hope.  AN acclaimed writer in various genres and social activist, Langston Hughes accomplished everyday miracles through his words and actions by sending out his beliefs and staying true to them.

 

As always I think my readers and followers for their comments.  It is an everyday miracle to me that you do read my writing.  I think, though, that everyday miracles are not an oxymoron but the consequence of a life lived in hope with faith.  When we open our hearts our eyes become able to see the unexpected joy that we encounter.  Children live this every day and find joy in each moment.  Children’s author Shel Silverstein explained it this way:   “Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”

We Are the Village

We Are the Village

2018.11.29-30

Growing Community

 

Several years ago Jacob Devaney penned:  “No matter how old we are, we are children of ‘the village’, the community that raised us and supported us helped to shape the way we see the world.”  Many of us had nurturing families in which we lived but many others did not.  Regardless of the family unit or lack thereof, the community around us was our village.  Pam Leo explains that How we treat the child, the child will grow up to treat the world.”

 

This is not a new concept.  What we know of ancient civilizations is based upon the archaeological finds of their communities.  The shards of pottery tell us how and what they ate.  Pieces of ancient tools help understand how they lived and in what types of abodes.  The community is as much a vital part of our living as the air we breathe. 

 

“It takes a village to raise a child” is an Igbo and Yoruba proverb that exists in many different African languages. It reflects the emphasis African cultures place on family and community and may have its origins in a biblical worldview.  This proverb is so widely used in Africa that there are equivalent statements in most African languages, including “One knee does not bring up a child” in Sukuma and “One hand does not nurse a child” in Swahili.  The widespread use of this proverb by cultures around the world shows its timelessness and relevancy.  The saying is used in America to evoke feelings of community on the small scale as well as on the national and even global scale.

 

Some believe the proverb may have its origins in the Bible, since it reflects a worldview regarding unity and self-sacrifice expressed in several passages of the Bible, such as Ecclesiastes 4:9,12 and Isaiah 49:15-16.  This worldview is commonly seen in African cultures today. In many African communities it is common for a child to be raised by its extended family, in many cases spending extended periods of time living with grandparents, aunts and uncles. Even the wider community sometimes gets involved, as children are seen as a blessing from God upon the entire community.  We could debate for hours which came first – the Biblical scriptures or the African communities.  One thing is certain – We need community.

 

Robin Grille is an Australian psychologist and writer who has authored “Parenting for a Peaceful World”.  He encourages parents and the community to consider how our daily lives are influencing our children.  A fractured society cannot be an effective community.  We must work together and be supportive in order for the future generations to understand how to form, grow, and continue the concept of community. 

 

Health and fitness coach Jen Waak believes there are six vital reasons for us to grow community.  First there is the concept of Collective wisdom. No one person ever has all of the answers, consulting with experts is always going to give you better information.  Secondly, life pushes our limits. When working alone, it’s oftentimes too easy to give up when things get hard. By surrounding yourself with others working toward a similar goal or objective, you’ll get motivation, support, and friendly competition to push yourself just a bit further than you would have done on your own.

 

Support and belief are the third reason for developing community. Some days those big goals just seem impossible. On those days when you most want to give up, you need to lean on your community the most. They believe in you—probably more than you belief in yourself.  Next, there is the need for new ideas.   When you are working within a community of like-minded people, the wisdom of crowds is considerably greater than any one person working alone. Our divergent world views and lenses mean that we all approach the exact same problem slightly differently. 

 

Fifth, communities offer borrowed motivation. Even on those days when your belief in yourself isn’t waning, doing what needs to get done can often seem overwhelming. Look around your community and be inspired!  Lastly, we need community because there is the need for accountability.  If you’re an uber-responsible person, you may not want to admit to people you care about who are pulling for you that something didn’t get done. There’s nothing like having to be accountable to others to up your game.  Allowing others to help is hard, but it ultimately raises everyone’s game.

 

Khalil Gibran spoke of this concept of community and children, the need for the village to be a sustainable community in this poem.

“Your children are not your children.

They are sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you.

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the make upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness.

For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He also loves the bow that is stable.”

 

An old African folksong asks “Who is watching the children?…It Takes a whole village to raise a child.”  It takes a community to grow a world.  Hopefully this month we have all realized the need to be communal and in community with each other.  I will let Idowu Koyenikan on this month’s topic of Growing community:  “There is immense power when a group of people with similar interests gets together to work toward the same goals.”

 

 

Importance of Community

The Importance of Community

2018.11.26-28

Growing Community

 

Good health is a positive thing and we all know at least one thing we should change in order to improve our health.  For instance, most of us could improve our diet.  Eating right, that is to say eating a balanced diet helps to combat disease and weight gain.  We all should have at least one hundred and fifty minutes of moderate physical activity each week.  When we opt to walk instead of drive, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or even pace while on the telephone, we make positive changes for our personal health.

 

Fitness is not just a personal thing.  It improves with community.  Those one hundred and fifty minutes of physical activity improve our mood and cognitive function and that makes us more productive members of our community.  This means we are better able to be useful, offer assistance and guidance to those around us.  It also means we are more likely to form connections with those in our neighborhood, professional and personal networks.  This increases the opportunities for positive relationships. 

 

Communities, by their very nature, contain a diversity of opinion, ideas, and knowledge.  IN the early twentieth century, there was a group of men who called themselves to “vagabonds.”  This diverse community of businessmen and politicians forms a camping community.  Membership included Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, the occasional US President and leading scientists.  The Vagabonds were a perfect example of how communities, large and small, are beneficial. 

 

It is impossible to do everything by yourself.  A community offers the prospect of meeting others who can render skills that you might have lacking.  It is not wrong to utilize the skills of others.  A community offers a quid pro quo or an exchange of abilities that benefits everyone in the community.  To quote the Centers for Disease Control:  “Designing and building healthy communities can improve the quality of life for all people who live, work, worship, learn, and play within their borders—where every person is free to make choices amid a variety of healthy, available, accessible, and affordable options.”

 

In her book “Second Chance”, Jodi Picoult writes: ““Heroes didn’t leap tall buildings or stop bullets with an outstretched hand; they didn’t wear boots and capes. They bled, and they bruised, and their superpowers were as simple as listening, or loving. Heroes were ordinary people who knew that even if their own lives were impossibly knotted, they could untangle someone else’s. And maybe that one act could lead someone to rescue you right back.”  This sentiment is echoed by Kurt Vonnegut in his “Palm Sunday: An Autobiographical Collage”:  “What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”

 

“The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.”  This quote by Jane Addams is just one of many used by the initiative Do One Thing.  This is funded by the Emily Fund.  Emily Rachel Silverstein, of Roosevelt, was tragically taken from us on April 9, 2009, at the tender age of 19. Born in New Brunswick, NJ on June 27, 1989, for most of her life Emily resided in Roosevelt, NJ, in Monmouth County. From an early age Emily was a creator. She was a skilled artist all of her life and most recently displayed her talents in her creative writing. Her sensitive and caring nature leant power and meaning to all of her works. At twelve years old she decided to become a vegetarian. She wrote her first letter to the president when she was in sixth grade. Her academic prowess followed her through high school as a member of the National Honor Society, and graduating with honors. She continued her success as a member of the Dean’s list at Gettysburg College, where she was an Anthropology Major, with an English Minor. She also participated in several extracurricular activities like the Hightstown High School Marching Band and swim team. Emily was a dedicated activist in all of her causes, which included Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). At Gettysburg, Emily lived in the Peace House, where she also served as the co-president, whose mission was to create awareness of world peace issues. She was involved in Amnesty International, Free the Children, Adopt a Holocaust Survivor Program, among many others. She was planning to participate in a week-long event, called Tent City, to help bring awareness to the homelessness crisis.

 

Emily lived in a Gettysburg College residence called Peace House with construction-paper flowers covering the windows and world music filling the hallways.  She died a death more violent than her friends care to imagine in her ex-boyfriend’s apartment a quarter-mile away, in a yellow clapboard house that neighbors say was always quiet.  Authorities said Kevin R. Schaeffer, also a Gettysburg College student, choked Emily early Thursday morning and then stabbed her in the neck with a steak knife. He sat with her for 15 minutes before putting her in a bathtub, according to a police affidavit.  Kevin confessed to the crime, according to the affidavit. He told police he had been drinking that evening but was not intoxicated. He said he had recently stopped taking Zoloft, an anti-depressant.  Kevin Schaeffer was arrested that morning and charged him with homicide, aggravated assault, possessing instruments of crime and tampering with evidence.

 

Emily Rachel Silverstein’s compassion, passion and creativity touched many lives. She shared many deep friendships and accomplished many amazing things. But there was so much more that she wanted to do to make this world a better place. There are so many more lives that she would have touched, inspired and empowered to join in the struggle for a more peaceful, just and sustainable world. The Emily Silverstein Fund (emilyfund.org) has been set up by her family to continue Emily’s legacy of hope and action for a better world, and her strong conviction that every act of compassion makes a difference.  By creating a community for caring and helping, the Emily Fund uses education, mentorship, inspiration, and leadership in building communities of youth for a better world.  Legendary activist Dorothy Day sums up the importance of community.  “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”

 

Mayflower Compact

Mayflower Compact

2018.11.21-22

Growing Community

 

If you go to the website plimouth.org, you will read what a community of Americans describes as the first Thanksgiving.  The community decided that was how they wished history to be.  However, it is not fact but rather a perspective that protected the community from seeming to be cruel or heartless.  Sometimes a community feels it must do such to protect itself.  I don’t know exactly when those in charge of Plimouth plantation decided to fabricate the partially true bit of history but it might fall under the heading of “fake news”.

 

Approximately 398 years ago, plus one day, the men aboard a ship of immigrants fleeing persecution were nearing the end of their sixty-six day journey across the Atlantic Ocean.  Hoping to soon set foot on dry land, they devised a legal and binding contract of behavior and governance for all to follow.  Before each man set foot off the ship he was expected to sign the document that, as of the late 1700’s, has become known as the Mayflower Compact. 

 

The ship these immigrants sailed upon was called the Mayflower and it was under the steerage of Christopher Jones.  Known as the master (today we would consider him the Captain), Jones’ quarters were at the back of the ship in the stern.  The sailors lived in quarters at the front of the ship and used a hole cut into the tip of the bow or head for their personal hygiene needs.  The quarters consisted on one room known as the forecastle, a wet room constantly hit by crashing waves and frequently quite cold.  In the area between the Captain’s berth and the forecastle were the quarters for the officers.

 

The passengers on the Mayflower were considered cargo.  One hundred and two men, women, and children lived in the dark cargo decks below the crew.  Today there are caravans of immigrants escaping persecution from Central and South America approaching the United States border but in 1620, the fleeing immigrants were below the decks, seldom seeing the sun and feeling the full brunt of the ocean’s currents, tides, and waves.

 

These immigrants in 1620 were known as the Pilgrims.  Before leaving England, they had obtained permission from the King of England to settle on land farther to the south near the mouth of the Hudson River (in present-day New York).  The wind drew them off course and instead landing farther south where they had expected to make shore, they landed in New England.  This meant they needed a new permission (called a patent) to settle there as all land in this New World had been claimed as property of the King of England. On November 11, 1620, feeling the need to maintain order and establish a civil society while they waited for this new patent, the adult male passengers signed the Mayflower Compact.

 

At this juncture, two important points need to be made.  First, there were over five thousand groups of people already living in this New World as the North American continent was known in 1620.  Claiming it for the sovereignty of England did not erase this fact.  These people had spent decades and centuries to reach this land mass, coming originally as immigrants from the Caucus Mountains.  Today in the USA they are called Native Americans or American Indians.  The Canadian term is much more apt – First Families.  Archaeological evidence places their arrival some thirty thousand years before Europeans reached North America and some twenty thousand years in South America.  It is estimated they arrived some fifteen thousand years before the Vikings reached the shores of northern North America.

 

The second important point is that communities make such compacts as a way of maintaining order.  This is true of religious communities, volunteer groups, municipalities, social organizations, businesses, etc.  It is to be hoped that such documents include all parties involved and are written to the greatest maximum benefit of all.  In keeping with the times, only men signed the Mayflower Compact as women were not considered to be of mental acuity to understand such.  Gender discrimination is not a modern-day issue.  Much like the laws of today, though, a piece of paper cannot guarantee success, or that all will follow what has been agreed upon, or that order will lead to a better tomorrow.  The community itself must work together for the betterment of all and be willing to chance.  If not, well…that is where things can often get complicated.  They certainly did in 1620.

 

Of the 102 passengers on the Mayflower, there were 50 men, 19 women and 33 young adults and children.  Just 41 were true Pilgrims, religious separatists seeking freedom from the Church of England.  The others were considered common folk and included merchants, craftsmen, indentured servants and orphaned children—the Pilgrims called them “strangers.”  Seeking the right to worship as they wished, the Pilgrims had signed a contract with the Virginia Company to settle on land near the Hudson River, which was then part of northern Virginia.  The Virginia Company was a trading company chartered by King James I with the goal of colonizing parts of the eastern coast of the New World.  London stockholders financed the Pilgrim’s voyage with the understanding they’d be repaid in profits from the new settlement.

 

The strangers argued the Virginia Company contract was void. They felt since the Mayflower had landed outside of Virginia Company territory, they were no longer bound to the company’s charter.  The defiant strangers refused to recognize any rules since there was no official government over them.  Pilgrim leader William Bradford later wrote, “… several strangers made discontented and mutinous speeches.”  The Pilgrims knew if something wasn’t done quickly it could be every man, woman and family for themselves.  It’s unclear who wrote the Mayflower Compact, but the well-educated Separatist and pastor William Brewster is usually given credit.  One now-famous colonist who signed the Mayflower Compact was Myles Standish. He was an English military officer hired by the Pilgrims to accompany them to the New World to serve as military leader for the colony. Standish played an important role in enforcing the new laws and protecting colonists against the natives of the area who were considered unfriendly.

 

In establishing a community, it should be noted that other communities must be considered.  The Europeans came to this new land mass wanting to own all and did not give thought to those who were already living on the land and considered it theirs.  Because they dressed differently, had different customs and practices, they were considered savage.  When they tried to protect their homes, gardens, food sources, and families, they were called unfriendly. 

 

William Bradford kept diaries and what we known of the original Mayflower Compact has been learned through his diaries.  The original handwritten document has been lost but copies remain from over one hundred years later that are considered good references for it.  The Mayflower Compact created laws for Mayflower Pilgrims and non-Pilgrims alike for the good of their new colony. It was a short document which established that: the colonists would remain loyal subjects to King James, despite their need for self-governance; the colonists would live in accordance with the Christian faith; the colonists would create one society and work together to further it; the colonists would create and enact “laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices…” for the good of the colony, and abide by those laws.  The newly-formed Plymouth (or Plimouth) colony was their new community and John Carver was elected governor on November 21, 1620, three hundred and ninety-eight days ago. 

 

That first year was brutal.  Disease, improper clothing for the elements, lack of food and shelter resulted in the deaths of over half of those making the voyage aboard the Mayflower.  Of the eighteen adult women in the new community, fifteen perished that first year.  The Mayflower Compact is considered important as it established self-governance in this new land, the first of any such.  It remained active until Plymouth Colony became part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1691.  John Carver perished that first year and William Bradford took over as governor. 

 

Also at the end of that first year, the new colonists discovered their neighbors were not so savage after all.  The end of the growing season meant the Indians would have their ritual of a harvest feast.  They invited the colonists to join them and the two communities, at least for several days, came together in peace and community.  Sadly, the Massachusetts Indians who were the hosts succumbed to the germs the English brought with them, typical everyday germs we all carry on our bodies.  There was no conspiracy to eliminate the Massachusetts tribe but it did.  The remaining thirty or so members of the tribe led by Chief Massasoit then joined a neighboring tribe, the Wampanoag Indians.  It was an Indian custom to have young men participate in an exchange program with neighboring tribes.  Such a custom shared knowledge but also led to an understanding and often, prevention of warfare.  It enabled the two somewhat different communities to ensure a future through discourse and education rather than annihilation.

 

Many believe the Mayflower Compact set the stage for the US Constitution.  However, the legislative branch of the US government bears more similarities to the governance of the Massachusetts and Wampanoag tribes than the Mayflower Compact.  This is, however, the way of history.  We form communities and we learn.  Those communities thrive when we gain and take the best of the past, giving thanks for lessons learned, and then move forward.  Of the time the Pilgrims had spent in the Dutch republic city of Leiden, historian Nathaniel Philbrick once wrote:  “Just as a spiritual covenant had marked the beginning of their congregation in Leiden, a civil covenant would provide the basis for a secular government in America.”

 

Many times we think of a spiritual covenant as relating to faith, a religious doctrine but I would offer that truly it is a nonphysical grouping of belief and we all have such.  This week might not be a time where you have an official Thanksgiving Holiday but I do think it a good time to give thanks.  We all should have an attitude of gratitude and move forward, committed to making our world a better community for all.  This provides not only a civil covenant for the future but a basis of a better tomorrow for us all.