On NOT Being “Humor Challenged” … Seriously

“…the Spirit prays for us with groans too deep for words.” ~Romans 8:26b

If the Spirit prays with groans too deep for words, then I’m okay with my moans and groans about writing on the topic of “happiness.” Writing is for me a spiritual practice … writing letters to the Divine in my journal is a prayer practice for me.

I often moan and groan until an opening occurs and what is too deep for words emerges … wisdom flows from my pen as though from the still, small voice within. The Divine doesn’t always speak to me this way, but I have experienced these transcendent moments enough to trust that my moans and groans are leading me to a deeper place of awareness. Being in league with the Spirit isn’t a bad place to be.

And so, while I moaned and groaned about writing on the topic of “happiness” for my writing group, I trusted something deeper would emerge. And it has and continues. Here’s the latest!

Growing up, my family dubbed me the weird, serious one. They reveled in joke telling and laughing uproariously. I didn’t get some of their jokes, didn’t find some of them funny, and couldn’t join in their merry-making.

I inevitably forgot or messed up the punch line of most jokes I attempted to tell. My family happily reinforced my thinking about myself as “humor challenged.” That presented a dilemma

If you have been following my blog posts on happiness, you have probably guessed that my memoir, A Long Awakening to Grace, is not a tale of “happily every after.”

“Be kind to your readers. Color your darker moments with humor to lighten the heaviness of your story,” those of us writing memoirs are taught.

As you might imagine, that unsettled me. How could a “humor challenged” woman prone to melancholy make her less than “happily ever after” story funny?

“Comedy comes from pain.” ~Kevin Hart

According to Forbes, Kevin Hart, was the highest paid comedian on the planet last year. That makes him pretty popular. And he makes people laugh by making fun of himself and finding humor in painful situations in his life … like his fear of the dark and absurd reactions to his mother’s death.

I’m no Kevin Hart, but fortunately for me, I have good friends and many of them find me funny … not for the jokes I tell … I gave up on jokes a long time ago. They find my  comments about the absurdities of life and my wry comments, usually made at my own expense, funny. Sometimes they even laugh uproariously.

If you have ever experienced that side of me, just know that is a sign that I feel really safe with you.

And fortunately for me, I had a good editor. After reading my manuscript, she would not accept my perception that I am “humor challenged.” Hmmm. Had she noticed something in my writing that would at least give my readers a chuckle.

Hey, I’ll take a chuckle anytime.

But, since satire had never automatically flowed from my fingers before, the tongue-in-cheek humor that emerged as I wrote about “happiness” filled me with happiness. 🙂 I noted it as the presence of the Transcendent.

Then, last weekend, some bonafide funny words popped out of my mouth in a phone conversation with a friend I hadn’t talked with for awhile. She was excited to hear that I have finished writing my memoir and that it will be published in 2018. I told her:

“My memoir is in three parts:

The first part is: ‘I’m a mess.’

The second part is: ‘I’m getting my act together.’

The third part is: ‘I think I’m getting the hang of this now.'”

We both chuckled. Later she sent me an e-mail.

“It was so delightful to talk with you this afternoon.  I can hardly wait until your book is published!  Please keep me in that loop so I can get an early copy.”

You, too, could be “in that loop.” All I need is your e-mail and permission to add you to my list. You could send me a message on my contact page. Or, if you haven’t already, you could sign up to receive notifications through my blog. Just saying.

I never cease to be amazed and in awe at the way Spirit works in my life. Today I’m grateful to know that I am seriously not “humor challenged.” My editor confronted me several times with this truth. She will be happy that I finally get it. Groan! Forgive me. Sometimes I can be a slow learner. 😉

Happiness: How I Missed the Mark

As I mentioned in my previous posts, I moaned and groaned with the other women in my Cincinnati Writer’s Group as we came to our gathering to share what we wrote about “Happiness.” Today, I am quite happy that we chose to write and share on this topic because it has led to an important awakening in my life.

After contemplating Gary’s profound piece on Transcendent Happiness, I realized that my moans and groans related to my 1950s-60s socialization.

Missing the Mark (sin in the original languages):

The promise of “happily ever after” portrayed in co-dependent ballads that I loved as an idealistic, naive young woman: (think Johnny Mathis’s “Voice of Romance” … Misty, Chances Are, The Twelfth of Never) and musicians who made my heart be-bop (think Ricky Nelson, Elvis Presley, Tommy Sands) tripped me up.

“Happily Ever After”

I actually believed that “happily ever after” was how life was supposed to work. Somehow I missed that it is a MYTH! I missed the mark.

When my life didn’t work according to my expectations, I wrestled to make sense of it.

At first, I made myself the problem. “What’s wrong with me?” I tried to whip myself into shape with a long list of self-sabotaging messages. More “Missing the Mark.” 

When I learned about misogyny and sexism, contributing to women’s low self-worth, I reasoned that life was unfair. True, but knowing that didn’t help me hit the mark.

Eventually I found a more productive route. Focusing on “What am I doing wrong?” produced a lot of fruit. There was indeed a lot I was doing wrong. I made a concerted effort to clean up my act.

The tongue-in-cheek perspective in the next paragraph that appeared in my original treatise on “Happiness” makes me happy because it flowed from my fingers automatically … a sure sign of the Transcendent engaging me. 

Not everyone in my life liked my journey from “dysfunctional” to “more functional.” I can’t say from “dysfunctional” to “functional” because I’m not functionally perfect, though a very dysfunctional part of me wishes I were.

Pay Dirt

 

“The whole idea in life is growth. I mean you stop growing, you stop asking questions, you lose your curiosity. That’s not a life you want to live.” ~Goldie Hawn

Gary’s writing on Transcendent Happiness made me curious about my moans and groans. That opened my eyes to how off-center and out-of-balance my 50s-60s mindset throws me … how much I still carry that longing within me for “happily ever after” and how far from the real treasures in life that obsession takes me. Knowing how I miss the mark when it comes to the topic of happiness, I think I can let go of “happily ever after” once and for all. What a relief.

The Comparison Trap:

“Aggregate happiness has not risen in countries where incomes and educational levels have risen. There is much evidence that people compare their income with other people and, if others become richer, they feel less happy at any given level of income.” ~World Happiness Report

 

The same can be said for “happiness.”

“When I compare myself or my life with others, that is a sure sign that I have moved too far away from engaging or allowing myself to be engaged by the Transcendent.” ~Linda A. Marshall

I think my friend, Pat, who described her true happiness as having a sense of peace even when things around her are not going well is on to something significant. She attributes her peace to her relationship with God and the Holy Spirit working through her…what I believe Gary was saying in different words.

For me, I much prefer to focus on The Pursuit of Meaning. That leads me to be right on the mark … growing in consciousness.

Thank you, Gary, for opening my eyes a wee bit wider and my heart to the true treasures in life: my blessings as well as the strength, resilience, and wisdom that can flow from adversity when I am open to receiving it. That is “happiness” I can embrace.

Transcendent Happiness

As we gathered, the female’s in my writing group groaned about our topic of “Happiness.” Our lone gentleman just smiled.

Gary, one of the deepest and most reflective men I have ever met, noted that on July 4, 1776, our Declaration of Independence named the pursuit of happiness as our inalienable right.

And then on April 10, 2017, 240 years later, Gary received this from Sounds True, “Your experiences matter. And how experiences change your brain profoundly affects your happiness.”

Sounds True was advertising a Rick Hanson masterclass. Hanson has written many books including Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence and offers several masterclasses through Sounds True.

Hanson is a psychologist with a special interest in neuroscience’s research about our brain’s neuroplasticity and how we can rewire our brain to get our emotions back in balance. He says that happiness is far more than a positive feeling that comes and goes. It is a skill that you can develop. Bridging neuropsychology with the great contemplative traditions, Dr. Hanson helps people learn to let go of negative experiences to make space for positive thoughts and feelings.

When Gary received this advertisement about Hanson’s masterclass, he asked himself, “Am I happy? Do I need to take this class?”

He began to write his reflections on these questions and after three drafts, felt happy with his result.

Personally, I think “I felt happy with the result” is an understatement.

Gary realized that he is and always has been a happy person. He hadn’t known that in quite the same way and that led him to ask, “What is the source of my happiness?”

His answer was profound. “I am happiest when I am ‘Engaging the Transcendent.” He went on to share the various forms in which he engages the transcendent.

You can read what he wrote here.

How would you answer Gary’s question: “What is the source of my happiness?”
In what ways do you “engage the transcendent?”

 

Female Happiness

My Cincinnati Writer’s Group is made up of five women and one man. All of us are, well shall I say, striving to be wise elders. I found it interesting that when we gathered, all of us women were groaning about our topic “Happiness.” None of us found it easy to write about. What troubled me was what seemed to me our “giggles and rolling eyes of shame.”

Our one lone gentleman just smiled.

Isabelle in front row wearing pink top has moved to PA. Current group from left to right starting in back row: Jenny, Kate, Lynn, Jeanne, Linda, and Gary.

This is the fourth in my series on “happiness” and what follows are some of the things I found in my research which may account for our female discomfort and possibly ameliorate shame:

When asked “Overall, how satisfied are you with your life these days?” by World Happiness Report researchers, those citing high levels of satisfaction attributed it to “having a partner and a family life.” These are crucial factors in Western countries because of the decreased importance we give to the extended family.

Living alone was cited as a potent source of misery as was compromised health.

  • Four of the five women in our group do not have a partner. Three live alone.
  • Two of us singles are caregivers — one for an aging parent and the other has a disabled adult child living with her.
  • The partnered woman just returned from a disappointing visit to her children and grandchildren. Their busy lifestyles meant that she spent a lot of time alone. Even when they were together, her family members’ noses were often in their electronics.
  • Three of us singles have recently experienced a significant death of either a parent or a sibling.
  • One of us singles is currently experiencing some health challenges requiring a change in lifestyle, adding to her stress.

Two of us female singles are still in the workforce. Happiness research reveals that for adults, income is a more important contributor to happiness than education. People in well-paid roles are happier.

My research further revealed some interesting facts about the gender pay gap, a significant source of inequality for women. The American Association of University Women, a leader on the issue since 1894, reports that the gap has narrowed considerably in the last one hundred years. They attribute the narrowing since 1960 (when I graduated high school) largely to women’s progress in education and workforce participation and to men’s wages rising at a slower rate.

The gap is, however, still sizable, is worse for our sisters of color, and doesn’t seem likely to go away soon. In 2015, women working full time in the United States typically were paid just 80 percent of what men were paid, a gap of 20 percent. At the rate of change between 1960 and 2015, women are expected to reach pay equity with men in 2059.

But that slow progress has stalled in recent years. If change continues at the slower rate seen since 2001, women will not reach pay equity with men until 2152. No one living today will be alive to see it.

The World Happiness Researchers compared 2005-2011 with 2012-2015 and found that happiness inequality has increased significantly. And people living in societies where there is less inequality of happiness are happier. If I am reading their findings correctly, it seems that the issue of income inequality so prevalent in our country and across the world is a significant factor contributing to inequality of well-being.

Needless to say, the gender pay gap and income inequality in general have lifelong financial consequences. While we in our group don’t dwell on it, none of us single women experience financial security. We have all been creative in juggling our wants and needs with our purse strings.

My conclusion: The women in my writing group and women in general have nothing to be ashamed about regarding discomfort with the topic of “Happiness.” My admiration for the resilience of all women has only increased with my exploration and reflections on the topic.

Do you have a different reading about the World Happiness Report’s findings on “inequality of well-being?” If so, would you be willing to share it?
Have you ever experienced shame or being chastised for not exhibiting the requisite amount of “happiness?” If so, how did you feel and how did you handle it?
How have the findings of the World Happiness Report and AAUW researchers affected you?

 

Gross National Happiness

After choosing grappling with writing about my own happiness or lack their of and deciding on this safe way to write about the topic for my writing group, I found the following enlightening data:

In the 1970’s, Bhutan’s King Wanchuck defied the trends in developing countries who were focusing on their “Gross National Product,” their economic success and prosperity. He found this dehumanizing and decided to focus on “Gross National Happiness.” I thought that was a novel and interesting idea.

In 2012, the Center for Bhutan Studies defined eight general contributors to happiness:

  • physical, mental, and spiritual health
  • time-balance
  • social and community vitality
  • cultural vitality
  • education
  • living standards
  • good governance
  • and ecological vitality

I was pleased to note that for their top indicator, physical, mental, and spiritual health, I am reasonably sound. Even though I have had two life-threatening illnesses, my most recent medical tests have had glowing results. The slight weakness in my heart would be improved if I did more than exercise my fingers at the keyboard most days. 

That same year, the U.N. General Assembly declared March 20 as World Happiness Day, recognizing happiness and well-being as universal goals and aspirations in the lives of human beings around the world.

Good for you, United Nations!!

In April of 2012, the U.N. began publishing annual World Happiness Reports based on the question: “Overall, how satisfied are you with your life these days?” Researchers measured happiness on a scale of 0 to 10 (from “extremely dissatisfied” to “extremely satisfied”).

I’m not prepared to answer that question in this post. You’ll be hearing more from me on this topic in the future.

How would you answer that question?

These researchers identified three key factors accounting for the huge variation in happiness:

  • Economic = income and employment with well-paid, white-collar jobs providing work-life balance, variety, and autonomy happier than blue-collar workers.
  • Social = creating strong social foundations through education and family life. In Western countries where less importance is given to the extended family, having a partner is crucial.
  • Health = physical and mental.

They found the following potent sources of misery. I am grateful that I do not fall into any of these categories:

  • mental illness (depression and anxiety disorders)
  • poverty
  • low education
  • unemployment

 

 

In 2012, the United States ranked 23rd on a 50-country  happiness index. Hmm, that’s interesting. We found ourselves far behind:

  1. Iceland
  2. New Zealand
  3. Denmark

Even Singapore, Malaysia, Tanzania, and Vietnam ranked higher than the United States.

 

The 2017 report researched 155 countries. We moved up in the world. The United States rose from 23 of 50 in 2012 to 14 of 155 in 2017. This time we trailed behind:

  1. Norway
  2. Denmark
  3. Iceland
  4. Switzerland
  5. Finland
  6. Netherlands
  7. Canada
  8. New Zealand
  9. Australia
  10. Sweden
  11. Israel
  12. Costa Rica
  13. Austria

Researchers gave a special role to the measurement and consequences of inequality in the distribution of well-being among countries and regions for their 2017 report.

Interesting and enlightening, don’t you think?

They found that people are happier living in societies where there is less inequality of happiness.

Makes sense to me.

Disturbingly, they found that happiness inequality has increased significantly in most countries, in almost all global regions, and for the population of the world as a whole. (comparing 2012-2015 to 2005-2011).

That’s sad to hear.

The researchers began to change the way they looked at happiness. They found that these measures of human welfare are better than analyzing education, good government, health, income, and poverty separately:

  • generosity
  • a healthy life expectancy
  • having someone to count on
  • perceived freedom to make life choices
  • freedom from corruption

I can see how the first four contribute to better human welfare. I found “freedom from corruption” interesting and wonder what the researchers meant by that and whether there is any link to it and good government. I wonder where the United States will fall when the 2018-2020 reports are published? I wonder if anyone I know has been included in their research data. Has anyone reading this ever been asked by a researcher, “Overall, how satisfied are you with your life these days?” No one has asked me, except maybe my writing group.

Norway’s rising to the top over Denmark, which had held the top spot for several years, is not attributed to an increase in finances. Instead, it is what they did with their money that mattered. They emphasized the future over the present. Because they have high levels of mutual trust, shared purpose, generosity, and good governance, they found decisions about what to do with their money easier. I found that piece of information very interesting and enlightening.

What do you think about King Wanchuck’s idea of measuring “Gross National Happiness?”

What about the findings of the World Happiness Report affected you the most?

How have these findings changed the way you view the topic of “happiness?”

 

Merriam-Webster Happiness

The question at the end of my last post: What words come to mind when you hear the word “happiness?”

Pat wrote: Peace

According to Merriam-Webster, happiness is the state of being happy.  Don’t you just love definitions like that?!?

Happy is followed by a very long enumeration of synonyms:

  • cheerful, cheery, merry
  • joyful, jovial, jolly, jocular, joyous, jubilant, overjoyed
  • thrilled, elated, exhilarated, ecstatic, euphoric, exultant
  • buoyant, radiant, rapturous
  • gleeful, delighted, blissful, blithe, beatific, sunny
  • pleased, satisfied, contented, gratified
  • carefree, untroubled, lighthearted

Interesting that “peace” is not among them.

A happy person is described as being in good spirits … in a good mood.

Happy people are:

  • smiling, beaming, grinning,
  • in seventh heaven, on cloud nine, walking on air,
  • jumping for joy, tickled pink, happy as a clam,
  • over the moon, on top of the world.

It was Merriam-Webster’s description of “happy” that influenced me as I contemplated writing my essay on “happiness” for my writing group.

It is a rare occasion for any of Merriam-Webster’s words to describe me. I am an introvert and we are notorious for our discomfort in jubilant, jumping for joy crowds. A quiet evening at home holds more attraction than a room full of merry, exhilarated party-goers.

My “awkwardness” insecurity rose to the surface. Where do so serious-natured introverts fit into the “central mandate of the American character” to pursue happiness by doing the “Next Big Thing?”

How to write about “happiness?” I mulled that over for a couple of weeks, and then I was saved. A television program featured a segment on the 2017 World Happiness Report.

Aha! I had a way into the topic! Much less threatening to write about a country’s happiness than about my own or lack thereof. And my research project began.


What feelings are generated in you when you read Merriam-Webster’s list of synonyms for “happy?”

How would you approach writing about the topic of “happiness?”

Carol suggested highlighting the unexpected benefits pointed out by Shawn Achor, happiness researcher and author. Now there’s a guy who pursues happiness!

Not a bad idea, Carol. Why didn’t I think of that? Must have been that “awkwardness” brain fog. 

 

Happiness

Happiness was the topic chosen for the April meeting of my Cincinnati Contemplative Writing Group. Of the six of us, four of our essays referred to the pursuit of happiness enshrined as a right in our Declaration of Independence:

My essay turned into a research project. I will expand on this topic in my next few blog posts. This is my first installment:

I found a 2013 Time magazine article written by Jeffrey Kluger titled “The Happiness of Pursuit.” He points out that Americans have made the pursuit of happiness into a central mandate of our  national character … “an almost adolescent restlessness, an itch to do the Next Big Thing.” Even though there is no guarantee we’ll achieve happiness, we are free to go after it in almost any way we choose.

Kluger points out that the kinetic nature of our modern world is making achieving happiness harder than ever. He cites a 1972 survey showing that only one-third of Americans describe themselves as “very happy” and a poll showing that Americans identifying themselves as “optimists” has dropped from 79% in 2004 to 50% in 2013. In our lifetimes, more than 20% of us will suffer from a mood disorder and 30% from an anxiety disorder. By the time we are eighteen years old, 11% of us will have been diagnosed with depression.

This gap between our optimistic expectations and our reality has, according to Kluger, spawned the vast happiness industry that has become big business.

Isabelle in front row wearing pink top has moved to PA. Current group from left to right starting in back row: Jenny, Kate, Lynn, Jeanne, Linda, and Gary.

Interesting that in our group of six, only one of us professed to currently being and always having been a happy person. Other terms used to describe our views on happiness included:

  • superficial
  • egocentric
  • uninteresting
  • highly overrated
  • fleeting
  • ephemeral
  • elusive
  • momentary
  • over-used
  • pressured expectation

Except for that one “happy” person in our group, we seem to be following the trend noted in Kluger’s essay.

What words come to your mind when you hear the word “Happiness?”

In what ways have you pursued happiness?

Where do you see yourself on the “optimism” continuum?

How would you write about this topic?

I look forward to reading your comments. More to come on this topic in future installments.

And by the way, did you notice I changed the name of this blog? 

Influences: My Father’s Shining Example

Robert E. Marshall 1918-2009

Robert E. Marshall
1918-2009

In 1951, when I was nine and my brother eight, our parents sold our house in Sidney, Ohio, auctioned off most of our belongings, and moved to Tarpon Springs, Florida. Leaving our numerous playmates and beloved neighbors was not easy. I remember the morning we left, sitting in the backseat of the car with my stomach in knots, holding back tears as we said our goodbyes to John, Celeste, and Annie Voress, neighbors who were like family. I had no idea when we embarked on this one-year odyssey that it would have such a profound influence on me.

Dad dropped out of high school after his junior year. Sugar in his urine shattered his dream of joining the air force at the beginning of World War II and becoming an airplane mechanic. Never abandoning his fascination with flight and eventually the space program, he actualized his passion by focusing on car mechanics.

dads-gas-station

When we moved to Florida, Dad purchased a gasoline station. Because of the long hours involved, it became a family business. In order to spend time with Dad, Mom often worked there. Self-service was not yet a reality. Many a customer’s mouth dropped open when Mom approached their car to pump their gas. After school, my brother and I hung out at the station. I mostly remember causing trouble, but I’m sure we were given chores. I observed with keen interest this new environment, learning a great deal about the culture of The South, and being influenced by my father’s behavior and attitude.

The previous owner of the station attempted to teach my northern father how Jim Crow worked in The South. Jim Crow laws replaced earlier “black codes” which were designed to restrict and deny civil rights and liberties to African Americans. In 1951, they were part of the state constitution of Florida and mandated the segregation of public schools, public places, public transportation, restrooms, restaurants, and drinking fountains. The previous owner showed Dad how to cheat “negro” customers, though he used a derogatory term when referring to them. He didn’t need to tell Dad about the rules regarding the use of the one bathroom and one drinking fountain. “Whites Only” signs were prominently posted.

As soon as Dad took possession, those signs came down. I don’t know who influenced my father, but Dad always had a soft spot in his heart for the underdog. He treated his black customers with the respect they deserved. We developed a large black clientele.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” Matthew 5:7

When these customers needed work done on their cars but couldn’t afford to pay for it, Dad gave them odd jobs to do around the station in exchange. One day, a black gentleman approached my dad asking for a loan. Even though Dad wasn’t growing rich as a business owner, he loaned the man the money. I was there the next afternoon when this man, probably in his late 50s or early 60s, returned the money. “I didn’t need it after all,” he told my dad. Later, I overheard my parents speaking of the irony around the way blacks are viewed in relation to whites … comparing the integrity this black man displayed with the lack of character demonstrated by a white male employee who stole from us.

The Monday after Thanksgiving, I began listening to The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration written by New York Times Best Selling and Pulitzer Prize winning author, Isabel Wilkerson. Tuesday, I learned some shocking information about Florida I’m fairly certain my parents didn’t know … some facts that I’m sure the man who asked for a loan did.

Florida was one of the first states to secede from the Union in the months leading up to the Civil War and was one of the first in the South to institute a formal caste system designed to restrict black people after the war. Because Florida was shut off at that time from the rest of the world by its cypress woods and turpentine camps, it instituted its own laws and constitution, allowing this state to commit among the most heinous acts of terrorism perpetrated anywhere. Violence had become such an accepted way of life that a 1950 special investigation, just one year before we moved there, found that there had been so many mob executions in one county in the 1930s, there weren’t any negroes left to go to trial. In this culture, no negro man could have grown up without the fear of being lynched. That would have included the courageous man who asked dad for a loan.

I doubt when Dad removed the “Whites Only” signs and when he treated his black customers with fairness, he knew he was breaking the law, laws that continued in force until 1965. I’m sure he didn’t view this as an act of civil disobedience, even though that is what it was. I like to think his behavior wouldn’t have changed if he had known. It is the aspect of my father for which I carry the most pride.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Matthew 5:6

I didn’t know until this week the enormity of the action my father took when he removed those signs. To him, he was only showing respect for another human being. To me, he showed compassion for the struggle of those relegated to the ranks of so-called “losers.”

Dad demonstrated that same soft spot in his heart after we moved back to Ohio. At that time, New Bremen had about 1500 residents. Sometime during the next eight years before I graduated high school and moved away, black people were employed by the alfalfa mill on the edge of town. They lived in run down houses near the mill. I don’t remember seeing them in town except for one high school student two to three years older than I, a beautiful young woman who had the courage to attend one of the weekly dances held for teenagers at the hall above the hotel. I admired the farmer boy who asked her to dance.

I don’t think it was her family, but a fire destroyed the home of one mill family who bore the same last name as ours. Dad went around town collecting food, clothing, and household items for them. Someone asked him why he was doing that. He said, “They’re my cousins.”

“You are the salt of the earth;” Matthew 5:13a

001-2

2008

During the 2008 presidential election, Dad was an ardent supporter of Barack Obama. After the election, his health deteriorated rapidly as he grieved the loss of my mother who died early in the morning following Thanksgiving Day. He said he wanted to live to see how Obama fared in office. Sadly, he died on January 3, seventeen days before the inauguration. I have sometimes been grateful he didn’t live to witness the bigotry and obstructionism foisted upon our first black president. It probably wouldn’t have surprised him, but it would have only added to his grief.

In recent weeks I have been contemplating what influences people to be who and how they are. After twenty-six years as a political prisoner, Nelson Mandela transcended his anger and embraced forgiveness while his compatriots continued to harbor revenge? I read a story this week about a Muslim man who was shot in the face by a white supremacist after 9/11. His faith led him to forgiveness to the point he tried to save his assailant from death row and give his life to educating people about the transformative power of mercy and forgiveness. His actions changed the white supremacist’s attitude from hatred, which he had learned from his step-father, to admiration for this Muslim man and his parents who he realized were extraordinarily good people. These and other stories have caused me to reflect upon how influences in all our lives can be seen in our behavior for good or for ill.

I will never know the influences on my dad. Dad wasn’t a religious man, but in his interactions with those less fortunate than he, I see him doing his best to live “the way of love.”

“So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” I Corinthians 13:13

What I do know is that it is Dad who influences me to use my talents in the service of deeper spiritual values like respect, compassion, justice, forgiveness, authenticity, beauty. It is Dad who influenced me to write about Leymah Gbowee, Nelson Mandela, Victor Frankl, and Elizabeth Lesser, people who embody these values. It is Dad who influences me to continue to seek and lift up voices of wisdom, inspiration, and hope who bring light and enlightenment to our dark and murky world.

Thank you, Dad.

I have never been more grateful for your shining example.

1942

1942

1991

1991

1945


1945

Who has been a shining example in your life?

 What values have you adopted because of their example?

How have they influenced your behavior today?

In what way is your behavior contributing to “the way of love?”

Changing How We See

“Your eye is the lamp of your body; when your eye is sound, your whole body is full of light; but when it is not sound, your body is full of darkness.” ~Luke 11:34 RSV

In my October 8 post, “Scales Falling From My Eyes,” I shared how my former students enthusiasm about seeing me again and sharing about the difference I had made in their lives led me to go back to my motel room, look in the mirror, and say to myself, “Linda, I think it’s time you started looking at yourself differently.”

When the student is ready, the teacher appears

I find it interesting and awe inspiring how the Universe conspires to help us grow. Almost as soon as I said those words, I was led to listen to Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. I was aware of Susan’s book at least three years ago and knew I wanted to read it, but somehow I didn’t get to it until just the right moment to be able to garner its wisdom for me.

Teacher Number 1

quiet

In Quiet, Susan addresses how our society moved from being a “culture of character” to a “culture of personality.” Whereas we once valued good deeds performed when no one was looking, we now value magnetism and charisma. Instead of Abraham Lincoln as our ideal, we now idolize movie stars with just the “right” facial features and body types.

Listening to Quiet, I heard  Cain point out just how significant appearance is in our society. That has become abundantly clear in a most hurtful way in our recent presidential election. Our success in life is judged by the standards set for supposedly “the most beautiful people in the world.”

Awakening to the effects of our “culture of personality’s” influence on me, I didn’t like what I saw. I didn’t like it that I felt the sting of viewing myself negatively because I fall short of our society’s standards of beauty. I didn’t like it that I look longingly at the women who do possess our society’s standards of magnatism and charisma. I didn’t like the difficulty I have seeing beauty in those who don’t fit our cultural standards.

I wanted to rid myself of this scourge.

Teacher Number 2

In my October 29 post, I wrote about meeting Rick Guidotti at the Myotonic Dystrophy Conference held in Cincinnati on October 22. As an award-winning fashion photographer, Rick has photographed women and men who are considered the most magnetic and charismatic among us … our culture’s most beautiful. But he grew frustrated with being told who was beautiful and who he had to photograph. Because he sees beauty in diversity and finds it in places where others wouldn’t even think to look, he changed his life and is making an enormous difference in the lives of many others.

Because he SEES beauty in everyone

 

The mission Rick committed to through Positive Exposure is to transform the way the world views beauty. Wow, do we need that today. He wants to change public perceptions of people living with genetic, physical, intellectual and behavioral differences. One out of five children  in the United States is born with a disability making the need for society to understand and respect children and adults living with these differences critical. Positive Exposure’s educational and advocacy programs reach around the globe to promote a more inclusive, compassionate world where differences are celebrated.

Rick’s book, Change How You See, See How You Change features over 50 genetic syndromes through portraiture and personal narrative, giving expression to each individual’s heart and soul. It invites readers to see beyond diagnoses to the humanity we all share.

Thank you, Rick, for changing how I see.

I look forward to seeing how I change.

Now that my eyes opened to my faulty way of seeing, some synchronicities (The Divine’s way of remaining anonymous) began popping up all over:

More Teachers

A Tribute to Discomfort

On Pushing Through A Struggle:

“There’s incredible amounts of raw human and natural beauty happening everywhere.” ~Cory Richards

 

 

and

Sir Elton John speaking about his modernist photography collection:

“I was seeing through different eyes. I saw beauty that I’d never seen before.” Sir Elton John

Link

Glass Tears

 

 

and

thriver-soup

Heidi Bright noticing my attempts on Facebook to find beauty in the midst of cultural ugliness and sent me her latest blog post with this quote from Elsie de Wolfe:

“I’m going to make everything around me beautiful. That will be my life.”

Read about Heidi’s experience finding beauty in the midst of a terminal cancer diagnosis in her memoir:

 

and

Then I picked up one of my favorite spiritual books, The Spiritual Dimension of the Enneagram: Nine Faces of the Soul by Sandra Maitri, and read this:

spiritual-dimension-of-the-enneagram

 

“Yes, I see who you believe you are, but let me  show you what and who is truly beneath those beliefs. Let me show you your jeweled possibilities.”  ~Sandra Maitri

 

 

 

 

I am beginning to see my jeweled possibilities.

Link

8a35f-smiley2bsun2bface

A Life Well Lived

November 7 1933-November 5, 2016

Wayne B. “Dutch” Brady ~ ~ November 7 1933–November 5, 2016

“A life well lived,” the priest repeated. New to the parish, he didn’t really know my uncle. He couldn’t have known how true his words were as he paired “a life well lived” with “the importance of family” to my Uncle Wayne.

When I spoke with Terri, Uncle Wayne’s and Aunt Rosie’s youngest daughter, I asked her to tell me about his death. He had fallen, had a bleed in his brain, his kidneys were failing, and he had been in the hospital, in ICU, for a couple of days. On the day before he died, he was stepped down from ICU and  his vitals were improving.

At one in the morning on the day he died, Terri was awakened by a call from his nurse. He was agitated and they couldn’t calm him down. He was calling for Terri. The nurse asked if she would come.

When Terri and her husband arrived about an hour later, she had a meaning conversation with him that she told me she would treasure forever. During the visitation held on Wednesday, November 9, I heard more about that conversation from Aunt Rosie and Terri.

Uncle Wayne told Terri to write down everything he was about to tell her. He had his financial affairs in order and told Terri where she would find what she needed to take care of her mother after his death. Uncle Wayne’s hobby had been woodworking. He told Terri to write down the names of each person and the gift of his tools they were to receive. Once he had accomplished that, he relaxed and declared, “I’m going to die today.” By 2:25 that afternoon, he was gone.

During his funeral on Thursday, one of Uncle Wayne’s granddaughters sang with tears in her eyes. Her strong, rich, melodic voice led us in singing the most uplifting of hymns. Later she told me she had chosen all the music for his service. I’m sure Uncle Wayne was beaming his pride from the other side.

At the luncheon following his funeral, I was invited to sit with the family. In my mind’s eye, my cousins were still teenagers — my last significant contact with them. Now they are parents and grandparents. I marveled at the family these two produced.

wayne-rosie-wedding

April 16, 1955

 From these two came four.

Tim, Ted, Tammy, and Terri

From those four came twelve.

Grandchildren, the center of Uncle Wayne’s and Aunt Rosie’s lives.

And from those twelve have come nine.

Great grandchildren who  may never know the importance of their great grandfather’s intention for his life.

But they will benefit from it.

Around the table, I observed my uncle’s children relating to their nieces and nephews and grandchildren with such fondness and care. I watched Ted’s daughters wrap their arms around their father with obvious affection. He beamed devotion as he returned their endearments.

I couldn’t help but notice the contrast with the family gatherings of my youth after my parents, brother, and I moved to my mother’s hometown, New Bremen, Ohio. My mother and her three sisters talked loud and bickered with each other, jangling my nerves. Uncle Wayne, only nine years older than I and like a big brother to me, tried to lighten things up with ornery antics.  At ten years old, I came to see their behavior as the scars they bore as a result of growing up with a violent alcoholic father. I didn’t know my grandfather because my grandmother divorced him when my mother was pregnant with me.

In my forties, I read about patterns of behavior members of alcoholic family’s adopt in order to survive. To my surprise, I found myself in those patterns that get passed down from generation to generation, even when the active alcoholism or addiction is not present. I recognized in myself the hero child/lost child patterns.

I thought my family would enthusiastically support my archeological dig into family history. As astute as I had been at ten about the source of their scars, I had no appreciation for the depth of the pain just below the surface of their merry-making, fun-loving personas that often grew contentious. At first, my mother tried to answer my questions, but one day she said, “I don’t want to talk about this anymore.” With that she closed the door.

I only asked Uncle Wayne once to tell me about his father, someone I could only remember seeing once when I was eight. He told me he had no use for his father. “He never helped, Mom. He never supported his family.” Seeing his pain, I never asked again.

After hearing Terri tell me the nature of her meaningful conversation with her dad, the import of his agitation became clear to me. He could not relax until he knew Aunt Rosie, who has health problems of her own, would be cared for. To the end, he was determined not to be like his father. He would take care of his family. Once he had given Terri all the information she needed to take over for him, he was ready to leave behind his pain-ridden body and move on for his next adventure.

A life well lived. May he rest in peace knowing he accomplished his intention. He loved and took care of his family well. And with that, he broke the chain of generations of family wounding and pain.

“Good job, Uncle Wayne. You got it right.”

 

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