Grace

Grace

Pentecost

 

Sometimes people are just good people.  Usually these good people are full of gratitude for what they have and they share it.  It is their way of saying thank you for all they have.   In 2015 the James C. Morgan Global Humanitarian Award was awarded to John and Tashia Morgridge.  John became a part of Cisco Systems as president and chief executive officer in 1998 and quickly led the company into becoming a publicly traded company that was known as a technological powerhouse.  Tashia had studied at the University of Wisconsin and was a special education teacher.  As a couple, they became known for their charitable giving.

 

Quoting from The Tech.org website which announced this award, given each year by the Tech Museum of Innovation, the Morgridge’s philanthropically have sought to improve education worldwide, “and they have done much of that giving through the TOSA Foundation, named after the high school where they met. The Morgridges have supported the University of Wisconsin’s research facilities, special education programs and scholarships, founding the Morgridge Center for Public Service and establishing the Morgridge Institute for Research, a biomedical institute. They are also generous supporters of literacy programs in East Palo Alto, Calif.; Tashia has long devoted herself to improving educational opportunities in disadvantaged neighborhoods.  Internationally they donate principally through CARE, an organization dedicated to fighting poverty, and The Nature Conservancy.”

 

Other people need a wake-up call.  Jon Huntsman, Sr. is well known as the founder of a global chemical manufacturing company.  What might not be as well known is that he gives away a great deal of his income.  He became a serious humanitarian in 1992 after a diagnosis of prostate cancer.  En route to the hospital, he wrote a one million dollar check to a homeless shelter, another to a local soup kitchen feeding the homeless and poor, and half a million dollars to the clinic that first diagnosed and discovered his tumor.  He later began his own cancer foundation at a cost of over one billion dollars.

 

This humanitarian has long been giving away his money, which totals well into the billion dollar range. Founder of a global chemical manufacturer, his serious giving days began in 1992 when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. On his way to the hospital, he gave a one million dollar check to a homeless shelter, another million to a soup kitchen, and $500,000 to the clinic that first found the malignancy. Huntsman would go on to found his own cancer foundation, which cost him more than one billion dollars alone. His donations have even gone so far as to knock him of the Forbes list of wealthiest individuals.

 

Recently a librarian named Robert Morin at the University of New Hampshire died.  A bachelor who lived a simple life, friends were stunned to learn that Morin left an estate worth four million dollars to the school where he worked.  He requested a certain amount be designated as going to the library.  Robert Morin watched an estimated twenty-two thousand movies and read over two thousand books and he wanted to show his gratitude for the opportunity the library had afforded him in checking these out.  He also wanted others to have that same opportunity.

 

Volunteering to be a mentor or, if you do not feel academically capable, volunteering to help behind the scenes at such locations, is a perfect start to show thankfulness and help your local community and doesn’t require a large bank account.  Baking or providing cookies for support groups or even local first responders is an easy first step.  Being a Big Brother or Big Sister is another program which is great for living gratitude and they have training sessions to help you get started.

 

If making hats or weaving plastic bags into water proof mats is more your style, your local homeless shelter would be happy for donations of your handiwork.  One of the easiest ways to make a blanket is to purchase a yard of flannel and then fringe each end.  That is done by cutting slits five inches long on either end.  The strips become fringe and the blankets is an easy yet warm addition to any homeless person’s bedroll, lightweight yet a good layering insulator for cold nights.

 

Hopefully, you will not wait until you have a diagnosis of a life-altering or possible life-ending disease.  It doesn’t take a million-dollar paycheck to life a grateful life.   Another description of a grateful life is a life of grace.  We all have the ability to help another and when we show gratitude for that which we have, we receive grace.  Life is really just that simple sometimes.

Envision the Possibilities

Envision the Possibilities

Pentecost 91

 

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.  Last year he did the same in Pakistan and Iran and crowd funded a project to help end bonded labor in Pakistan.

 

Stanton’s photographs are not technically perfect.  After all, he was a history major in college.  What they do, however, is bring the human condition into focus.  They capture a moment in time that is an entire book.  Not all of the minute portraits are completely candid shots. There are the critics as well.  Recently, Robert John Boyle published an article at salon.com regarding the sugarcoating of Brandon’s subjects and the presentation that Boyle called “sentimentality”.

 

Last year, 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!)

 

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.

 

Life Happens

Still Give Thanks

Pentecost

 

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 split 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.

 

Earlier this week we talked about how practice makes perfect; well, Not perfect but nice.  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.  When it happens, we still need to give thanks.

 

As adults, we tend to overlook that learning process, the series of one step forward and two steps backwards that we all make.  The designation for this series , the way I am organizing these particular posts is Pentecost because I began them on Pentecost Sunday, the fiftieth day after the first Sunday following the First full moon after the vernal spring equinox. most commonly known as Easter.  Pentecost was for the early believers a time of practicing what had been preached.  It still is a time of practicing and also learning.  For the nonspiritual among us it is a time of reflection.  Summer is the big thing during Pentecost.  It affords us time to enjoy life and to be reflecting on what was and looking ahead to what will be.  It is a time to reflect on one’s spirituality, the good and the bad, and how to improve.  It is also the perfect time to give thanks.

 

My emphasis during Pentecost, known as the Ordinary Time because no major holidays or religious feast days fall during it, was to explore ways we could make the ordinary hum drum of life something more, something extraordinary.  Life is not about standing still.  For the past ten days or so we have explored being grateful, practicing the “Thank You!” we need to give in our lives.  There are those days, however, whenever it would seem that we have nothing for which to give thanks.

 

Late last year I took a class on spiritual practices.  I freely admit I signed up for it because I was writing a series on prayer.   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?

 

Trying to define prayer is both very easy and intrinsically complex.  The word spiritual is equally difficult to define.  If you remember, after presenting you with all the complex definitions of prayer, I summarized it down to one word – conversation.  I am certain each of us defines “spiritual” in our own way and we could go through a host of definitions.  For many people, it is synonymous with being religious but for others, it is a distinct and different approach to life than being religious.  For me, a spiritual life is a connected life.  I define spiritual as just that – connected.

 

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. 

 

For many people, prayer is a time of reflection and supplication, of reviewing like that coach the day after the game.  It can also be a time of asking for help or understanding.  Life can be very confusing and confounding.  Prayer is one way many people seek to find solace for their spirit or soul.  So is gratitude.

 

Spirituality is a very popular word these days, very trendy and often said in all the right places.  Bah humbug!  True spirituality is something that is felt and lived with very little talking involved.  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. 

 

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.  Can these things possible be spiritual?  Are they a part of our prayer life?

 

Who are you?  What would you be without your personal “ordo amoris”?  When a terrorist attacks occurs, the fabric of many lives are ripped apart.   People doing rather mundane tasks suddenly become victims in a matter of moments as a destructive spirituality tore hundreds of lives apart.  The same thing happened a little over a week ago in Louisiana as flood waters overtook the city of Baton Rouge.  Two days ago the quaint historic town of Amarice, Italy was hosting a thousand visitors who walked the beautiful streets and laughed.  Today rescue and recovery efforts continue after a devastating earthquake.  How quickly these lives were torn and dramatically changed forever.  How quickly we felt their pain and the fear it created in our own lives.

 

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 and be grateful for it.  Life is scary and exhilarating.  It needs reflection and preparation.  It demands we are present in the moment and that includes being grateful. 

 

Life happens.  I hope today you take a moment to give thanks for what you have.  It may not be much but when it is taken from you, it will seem like a great treasure was lost.  We are all precious as is each life.  Today share a smile, a hug, and yes, even a tear.  Be glad in your moments and give thanks, please.

Value Time

Value Time

Pentecost 55

 

We all have the same number of minutes in an hour, the same number of hours in a day.  The only variable that really changes is the number of days we live on this earth.  There is an old Irish proverb which states “Time is a great storyteller.”  Time is perhaps the greatest storyteller of them all.

 

A very effective tool for teachers and therapists alike is a website called storyboardthat.com.  The website basically offers the user a series of blank panels which they can fill with predesigned scenes.  Text is then added and before you realize it, you have created a storyboard, a telling of an event, real of fictional.

 

We create the storyboard scenes of our lives every day.  Our actions, where we go, what we say all add up to a telling of the story of our lives.  Recent events might make someone think the world has become a horrible place.  The storyboards that are most prevalent are the scenes of death and the speeches of hatred.

 

Storyboards only tell one dimension of a story, however.  They offer one perspective only and are unable to show reaction.  Our actions are the determining factor in who and what we really are and when our reactions become actions themselves, we have a more complete story.  For example, The firing on police officers in Dallas, Texas was one storyboard with a parking garage as the scenery and officers and the public as the characters.  The reaction to that initial round of gunfire became more action as officers continued to protect the public and crowds gathered around a mother with a small child trying to flee.  In that moment, we no longer saw fear and chaos but determined heroes working together.

 

How we spend our time is imperative in creating who we are.  Wasting time on one hundred and forty characters whose purpose is to brag and distort the truth is not a sensible use of our time.  It creates nothing positive.  Don’t get me wrong.  I think Twitter is a most effective tool but like any tool, it should be used appropriately.  Trying to screw in a nail is not very effective since the nail head as no threads that the screwdriver can utilize.  Similarly, trying to cut a tree down with a hammer might burn some calories but it will not get the tree taken down in an efficient or timely manner.

 

We need to use our time constructively to make it extraordinary.  We need to stop wasting energy on useless objectives and work together for a productive today and dynamic tomorrow.  How we spend our time creates how we spend our lives.  Effective time management is not only good business, it is good living.

 

In writing the story of our lives we must allow time for the main character – ourselves.  Go to bed thirty minutes later and spend that thirty minutes doing some just for you – read a book, relax in a spa bath, get a manicure, and/or indulge in a hobby.  Create a realistic schedule of what you need to do for that day.  Using time wisely reduces stress and creates better living and healthier lifestyles.  Ask for help when it is needed and don’t feel badly about the asking.  No one knows everything and working together creates community which is never a bad thing.  Be fierce in what you spend your time doing.  Do what you consider important and then do what needs to be done.  At the end of the day release any items not accomplished and the guilt that accompanies them. 

 

Each day is a new page being written in the story of you.  When we value the time we live, then we value those doing the living.  Remember that the events of each hour are not the complete story.  How we use them and what we learn from them create each new chapter.  Never was a being born that did not have value.  Your time on this earth is precious and has value because it is your story.  When we value our time, we value ourselves.

 

Thank You!

Thank you

Pentecost 32

 

We’ve all had them, those really crappy days in which nothing seemed to be going right.  Then, out of the blue we get a card from a long-time acquaintance or the phone rings or perhaps you even get a text.  The situations may be varied but the reason for the communication is the same.  Someone wants to tell you thank you and suddenly, the sky is blue, the birds are singing, and life seems tolerable – all because of two little words.

 

Regardless of whether it is a simple card or a bouquet of flowers or a hug or box of candy, an expression of gratitude brings out the happy in us all.  Those two simple words reflect the basic goodness of mankind and helps bring our own life into balance.

 

Being thanked is not always a positive thing for some people.  They might feel unworthy or unsure how to respond.  Often, one act may mean nothing to the person doing it but mean everything to the recipient.  All too often we simply do not know how to respond when we are being thanked.  Should we send a thank you for the thank you note?  I recently received a lovely thank you and made mention of it on Facebook since the person who had written was a friend in social media.  My public recognition of receiving the thank you also helped others see this person for the nice, grateful adult they are becoming.

 

Gratitude is an over-looked part of the happiness equation.  Recently it has become popular to have “an attitude of gratitude” but science proves it is much more than just a trending cliché.  Those who frequently express gratitude to others usually have better mental health and are more likely to be emotionally supportive of others. 

 

If receiving another person’s gratitude makes you uncomfortable, then perhaps you should take this ordinary expression and do an extraordinary study of it to determine why.  People sometimes feel unworthy of being thanks because their own sense of self-worth is very low.  Chronic feelings of inadequacy should be discussed with a professional.

 

Thank you notes do not have to be Pulitzer Prize-winning novels or even short essays.  A brief sincere note will suffice.  One can find countless online references and formats but often the easiest is a sincere expression of gratitude and the event for which it is offered.  Think of that thank you note you need to write to someone as a rainbow.  Seldom are they all visible in their entirety or even perfect.  Yet, each rainbow is a welcomed sign of goodness and hope.  Send someone a thank you note.  Perhaps it will be to a seldom seen friend from the past or to that neighbor who watered you garden while you were out of town.   Whether it is an actual note or a plate of cookies, gratitude is always in fashion and welcomed.  And in case you are wondering how to respond, it really is as simply as two little words:  Thank you.

Maturing Well

Maturing Well

Pentecost 11

 

Ordinary might very well seem to be the enemy.  Certainly teenagers seem to devote their lives to being anything but ordinary.  Our series is about making the ordinary extraordinary but first we need to ask ourselves exactly what is “ordinary” and how does it relate to our living.  This is important because one feedback I received asked who in their right mind would want to be altruistic.  In other words, the reader asked, why was I wasting my time writing about ways to do good when I could be writing about important things like ways to age well.

 

We might think of riddles as a child’s game or a step in developing one’s sense of humor.  In classical learning, however, the riddle began a line of thinking.  An age old example of this is “What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?”  This riddle was the opening volley posited by Tertullian, one of the very first Christian apologists.  Born in Carthage, a Roman province in Africa, Tertullian was a highly educated man and is considered one of the fathers of Western theology.  An Apologist was and is someone who asks why we do things, an apology being an explanation and not a confession of guilt excusing one’s actions.  The early apologists asked mankind to think before doing and to know what and why they did what they did.

 

With this rather famous riddle about Athens and Jerusalem, Tertullian was really discussing actions versus being, a different approach to the more modern discussion regarding religions versus spirituality. Tertullian challenged the early followers of the man known as Christ to think about the relationship between their faith and philosophy.  Indeed, the very purpose of this blog is to ask ourselves a very similar question.

 

Athens served as the birthplace of philosophy, that branch of science which delved into the knowledge of conduct and being, based upon rational deductions.  There is no way in one blog post I could or should try to answer Tertullian’s riddle or the root questions of philosophy.  What I do want to do is celebrate the human spirit and the very act of living.

 

We still today use philosophy to explain the world and our own actions.  Today some might say the riddle has become “What does Chicago have to do with Jerusalem?” since cities influence the world in global affairs and the economy which seems to affect everything.  World markets determine not only the goods we have available but their production, cost, and availability.  Sociologist Richard Flores describes it this way:  “Cities shape and structure our increasingly interconnected planet.”   The riddle of living for us is how do we allow the reality of the world to affect our faith and how does that result in our spirituality?

 

The act of altruism has a very real effect on our brain.  When we are engaged in doing good deeds for another, the pleasure centers of our brain become active.  Mankind likes doing good!  Exactly why is another field of study, again something in which I could not or should not try to answer in a few simple sentences.   There are all sorts and types of suggested answers out there.  They include kin selection theory which suggests we are more likely to help another when they appear familiar or similar in genetic makeup to our own being, reciprocal resulting feelings which takes note of the fact that since it feels good to do good we continue to engage in charitable acts so that we will continue to feel good.  Still others believe that altruism is a rung on the ladder towards developing empathy, a sign of higher thinking.

 

I suspect that the real answer is combination of all.  When we recognize ourselves in another we help out because we would hope someone would help us in a similar situation.  There are those people who clamor for attention and helping others is often a great way to receive praise for yourself.  Certainly children become more empathetic as they mature.  Perhaps our discussion on altruism is not so far off from the readers suggestion I discuss how to age well.

 

Ordinary time in the ancient church referred to those parts of the liturgy, those elements of worship that did not vary.  Combining the many holidays and feasts of various cultures proved difficult.  The elders discovered people were more likely to embrace a new way of worship if they recognized some of the practices from their culture.  It is no accident that certain high feast correlate to pagan celebrations.  This does not detract from their meaning or purpose just as our ancestors living in caves does not mean we cannot live in houses with indoor plumbing.

 

Writer Mitch Albom has made a living based upon one simple belief:  “You can find something truly important in an ordinary minute.”  Your day might include a commute so all I am asking is that you make that commute a little more important than it already is by sharing a smile or leaving a good wish for another.

 

The visionaries of the world are the reason we have indoor plumbing and electricity.  “Ordinary people believe only in the possible. Extraordinary people visualize not what is possible or probable, but rather what is impossible. And by visualizing the impossible, they begin to see it as possible.”  Perhaps this is Cherie Carter-Scott’s answer to Tertullian.

 

I would suggest that we not over think this issue, though.  Author Ayn Rand has a different take on altruism, believing that altruism suggests no one person has the right to live without doing good for another.  I would ask you your thoughts on this.  I believe it is impossible to truly live without doing good for another, that the act of maturing well includes such.  What do you believe?

 

Writer William Martin is a scientist and engineer.  We already have his answer.  “Do not ask your children to strive for extraordinary lives.  Such striving may seem admirable, but it is the way of foolishness.  Help them instead to find the wonder and the marvel of an ordinary life.  Show them the joy of tasting tomatoes, apples and pears.  Show them how to cry when pets and people die.  Show them the infinite pleasure in the touch of a hand.  And make the ordinary come alive for them.  The extraordinary will take care of itself.”

 

Find the joy in living today.  The sweet juices of a tomato running out of your mouth, the gentle breeze upon your cheek, sharing a smile with a small child…these are the joys of ordinary living.  Delight in the minutes of your present and the extraordinary aspect of them will become evident and contagious.  It is, I believe, the very best to way grow and mature.  It makes tomorrow possible while celebrating today.

Little Girls and Bugs

Little Girls and Bugs

Easter 46

 

It is a little known fact that the state of Mississippi had one of the first public colleges for women in the United States.  It is a very well-known fact that if you are to spend ten minutes in the state of Mississippi, you will encounter bugs of some sort.  The humid, warm weather is a virtual Petrie dish for insects and other miniscule wild life as well as mold.

 

The “W” as it was affectionately called for many years was an institution created in 1884.  Formerly titled the Industrial Institute and College for the Education of [White] Girls, Mississippi University for Women became the first public college for women in the United States.  Its purpose was to provide a liberal arts education for women and to prepare them for employment.   The War Between the States had proven women could work and work hard since most of the men had gone off to enlist and the women were left to take care of the farms and factories.  Today the university offers its more than fifty undergraduate and eight graduate programs of studies to both women and men but the emphasis on opportunities for women is still prominent in its function.

 

Elizabeth Lee Hazen graduated from the “W” in 1910.  She and her two siblings had been adopted by an aunt and uncle after the death of their parents.  Elizabeth had always enjoyed playing with bugs and her degree was in science.  She taught biology and physics to high school students in the capital city of Jackson but spent her summer completing further studies in Tennessee and Virginia.  She applied and was granted admission to the graduate program at Columbia University and graduated from there in 1917 with a master’s degree in biology.  Ten years later she would become one fo the first women to receive a Ph.D. there in 1927, having studied microbiology.

 

While recently such things as anthrax and ricin have made news as bio warfare substances, Elizabeth Lee Hazen studied ricin in the late 1920’s.  Her career included working for the United States Army in studying bacteria and mold but she is best known for her work with Rachel Fuller Brown.

 

Rachel Fuller Brown grew up in Springfield Massachusetts.  After moving to Missouri during her teen years, the family returned to Springfield and Rachel would eventually study at Mount Holyoke College.  She changed her major from history to chemistry and in 1948 found herself working on a project with Elizabeth Lee Hazen in the field of microbiology.

 

Diseases and infections have long been an enemy of healthy living and while some are due to poor hygiene, many others are the result of bacteria and mold.  The discovery of penicillin in 1928 led to more antibiotics being developed and used to fight such infections.  Such drugs would allow for rapid growth of fungus, however, and such fungi could result in stomach disorders or mouth lesions.  Such health problems like ring worm or athlete’s foot were grace problems and little was known about them.  Botanists discovered antinomycetes that lived in the soil which would kill such fungi but in laboratory tests, they also killed the test subjects so these were not considered safe for humans to use.

 

Fungus led to mold and not only was this harmful to humans, it devastated trees with creating Dutch Elm disease.  Even artwork would fall prey to mold as masterpieces were literally falling apart when mold became the result of poor storage conditions and high humidity.

 

Hazen and Fuller worked together but in different locations.  Their success in developing a class of drugs they named fungicidin but now known as nystatin has led to its being considered one of the most necessary and important drugs by the World Health Organization.  The drug works by breaking down the cell structure of the fungus or mold.  It helps combat such common ailments as diaper rash, athlete’s foot, thrush, and other fungal infections.

 

The story of Elizabeth Lee Hazen and Rachel Fuller Brown is not just a testament to what women can do, however.  It is also the story of how important it is that we each do the very best we can, regardless of what our job title is.  You see, the two women garnered success due to the good working of the United States Postal.  They worked in different locations, Hazen in New York City and Brown in Albany, New York.  They would do their experiments and then mail them to each other in mason jars.  Post Office employees doing their jobs allowed for this success.

 

The two women did not want the millions of dollars in royalties that their work produced and instead created the Brown-Hazen fund for philanthropy and funding of women and men in education and science.  As Rachel Fuller Brown explained, they wanted to provide “equal opportunities and accomplishments for all scientists regardless of sex.”  For several years the fund was the largest single source of nonfederal funds for medical mycology in the United States

 

So the next time you are able to clean away mold or take something for a fungal infection, thank these two women.  I must add another notation to the life of Rachel Fuller Brown.  A devout Episcopalian, she served as a leader for her parish of St Peter’s in Albany, teaching church school and becoming the first female vestry person at her church.  She lived with her friend Dorothy Wakerley and they offered the hospitality of their home to their extended family and friends.  For over fifty years, Brown was also an active member of the American Association of University Women, strongly supporting the participation of women in science.

 

Some today would have run her out of town, assuming something about her sharing a house with her friend.  How would such discrimination have prevented the development of this very important class of drugs?  Discrimination is itself an ugly infection that takes hold and kills – not only the spirit but potential and even lives.  We need to see each person for the unique, wonderfully made creature that they are and not place ridiculous labels on them.  These two little girls that played with bugs have saved millions of lives.  Tomorrow we will study another little girl whose love of playing dolls would also help the world.  The truth is, we are living better today because of the diversity of women and the things they can accomplish.