Little Things

Little Things

Detours in Life

Pentecost 31

 

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

 

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

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

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

3. Climbing into bed when you have fresh sheets.

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

5. Smiling at a child you see in public.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13. A stranger giving you a genuine smile.

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

15. Laughing out loud at a funny memory.

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

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

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

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

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

21. Watching the sunset or the sunrise.

22. The smell outside after the rain has stopped.

23. Listening to your favorite artist or album.

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

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

26. Holding hands with someone you love.

27. Eating your breakfast in bed.

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

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

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

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

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

33. Receiving flowers from someone who cares about you.

34. Eating your lunch outside in the sun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing

Detours in Life

Pentecost 30

 

Some of the hardest detours we travel are those that require us to rethink what we thought we knew.  This past weekend, three people died because of feelings about the subject of race.  The topic of race is a social force and anyone claiming it isn’t has been living deep down at the bottom of the ocean. 

 

For centuries the human race has debated the divisions of, the identification for, and the correlation between the various races, their impact on intelligence, physical potential, genetics, and disease.  It cannot be denied that certain cultures are prone to specific illnesses while others seem to have no susceptibility at all.  This should not be interpreted as a weakness, though.  It is simply a characteristic of a great many things.  Genetics has proven that certain cultures – i.e., races – have a particular connection to various healthcare concerns.  This does not mean there is a correlation to potential or intelligence.

 

Throughout history the body of humans inhabiting this planet has been organized into racial groups, sometimes as few as three and other times as many as fifty.  In 1998, the American Anthropological Association issued the following statement on race:  “The idea of race has always carried more meanings than mere physical differences; indeed, physical variations in the human species have no meaning except the social ones that humans put on them.”

 

Race is not a biological fact and it has no true scientific importance as a means of division.  It should not be used to segregate or discriminate.  This may be a new detour in your thinking but it is fact, based upon pure scientific data, not greed, fear, nor baseless rhetoric.

 

In 2002 the American Anthropological Association published a paper remarking on the social foundations of race: “Although racial categories are legitimate subjects of empirical sociological investigation, it is important to recognize the danger of contributing to the popular concept of race as biological.”    Please take a moment and reread that last sentence.  Race is not a biological fact.

 

The completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003 had as its purpose a way to better understand genetic components of disease.  A detailed map of humankind’s DNA sequence was constructed which allowed exploration of the various genetic differences across our vast planet.  Their findings were a huge detour from what many of us believed and/or have been taught.  We all are genetically 99.9 percent alike.

 

Within our specific DNA there are six billion bases of DNA with a .1 percent difference representing six million locations that differ between two individuals.  Most of these differences are “neutral” which means they do not change the function of any genes.

 

Before your eyes glaze over, take a minute to think.  A genome is nothing more than the genetic material of something, the complete set of the DNA that an organism has.  In humans, the nuclear genome comprises approximately 3.2 billion nucleotides of DNA, including genes and chromosomes.  So while having six million different sounds like a like, it actually is less than .1 percent.  Imagine having one hundred pieces of tiny chocolate candy like M & M’s on a plate.  Would you really argue if someone took just one?  Of course you wouldn’t because the amount left is much greater and overrides that one piece.

 

Race is a social construct, a way of organizing people by culture and yes, sometimes by skin color.  However, race itself is misleading.  Those deemed Caucasian are of European descent while the term actually comes from the Middle East and referred to people from the Caucus Region, a mountain range in Turkey and Russia.  Asian is a racial term to signify people of Chinese, Japanese, and Indian descent but Russia is also on the Asian continent.  There are many natives of Bermuda which, technically as a former English colony would make them of European descent and yet, these people appear African because they are descended from slaves.  If we assume most people from Bermuda are African, what do the descendants of the British pirates do?  There would then be Caucasian-skinned Africans which is contradictory to the racial separation itself.

 

Racial designation is not a biological fact and will always be misleading because the human race did not remain living in just one place.  Such descriptions and their resulting divisions are a social construct, a harmful collective construct.  Certainly people should take pride in their ethnicity and the culture of their ancestors.  However, this pride should not seek to silence or harm others. 

 

There is no biological division of the races.  We are human beings.  Hatred based upon race is much ado about nothing.  We are all part of the human race and it is time we started treating each other with humanity and respect.

 

 

We Need to learn

We Need to Learn

Detours in Life

Pentecost 28

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Life Happens

Life Happens

Detours in Life

Pentecost 26

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

The Road Taken

A Road Taken

Detours in Life

Pentecost 23-24

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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.