What’s in YOUR Wallet?

We’ve all seen or heard it. You know, that Capital One commercial promoting it’s credit card with the tagline “What’s in YOUR wallet?” That line came to mind this afternoon as I was having lunch with a friend. She noted that she needed to clean out her purse, because it was beginning to weigh as much as a large sack of potatoes! I commented that I had recently gone through my own purse to clear out some old receipts and lighten the load. It was amazing that the contents (and excesses) of each bag were very nearly identical. She said, “Now, there’s a topic for your blog!”

As I contemplated this conversation, it occurred to me that the contents of one’s purse (or wallet and pockets for the gentlemen in the crowd) can say a lot about one’s stage in life. Our age, and what we consider important, dictates what we decide to carry around with us and the containers we choose. The era we live in and the social norms also influence our language regarding these items. For example, my mother and grandmother referred to their purses as “pocketbooks,” my grandfather would have carried a large watch on a “fob” in a small vest pocket and I have heard many others call a purse a “handbag.”

As far as I can remember, I did not have an “official” purse until I was seven years old. I may have played with some bag containing plastic coins and other sundry items, but I have no true memory of that experience. Yet, I clearly recall that my first purse was white plastic-coated cardboard and contained a rosary, prayer book, a handkerchief, and white gloves! It was the purse I carried on the day of my First Holy Communion.

At that time in my life, the only other carrier I used was my “satchel” or “book bag.” Before the beginning of each new school year my parents would purchase a small suitcase like bag with a main compartment, and a front pocket. The main compartment had a flap cover that was secured with two buckles and had a plastic handle attached to the top center for ease of transport. The front pocket generally snapped shut but sometimes had a buckle. Walking to (and from) school each day, I would carry that bag, filled with books, pencils, pens, paper, ruler or whatever supplies were necessary for that school year. These bags were used in the same way as today’s “backpacks.”

In eighth grade, I remember having a purse that matched my Easter dress. That year was the first time I was allowed to wear “high heels.” They were beige pumps with a tiny one-inch heel. It took me several days of practice to be able to walk in them without wobbling. My dress was a beige sheath with a scoop neck and it had a coordinated avocado green and beige brocade full length coat. I also had a beige “pillbox” hat. In those days we dressed quite formally for church and ladies always covered their heads. Gloves, however, were becoming passé. I was so excited and eager to walk into church on Easter Sunday in this “grown up” outfit. My purse included a rosary, “change purse,” pale pink lipstick, “Kleenex,” and a sanitary belt and napkin (just in case). By this time, the missal I carried to church each week (Latin with English translation) had to be carried separately because it was too large to fit into a little handbag. It snowed that year and my mother made me wear my winter coat, hat, mittens, and snow boots to church. So much for my lovely ensemble, but at least I was able to carry my fashionable purse!

At age twenty I gave birth to my first son and began carrying a much larger purse along with the obligatory “diaper bag” This purse would now include a driver’s license, wallet, checkbook with pen, breath mints, family photos, tissues (we were avoiding the use of brand names when referring to common items), tampons, notebook, and a couple of Avon catalogs. Yes, I was a “ding-dong Avon calling” representative in those days. I was in to spontaneous prayer, so my rosary was relegated to a drawer in my bedroom. The diaper bag included diapers (of course) but also, changing pad, diaper rash cream, wash cloth, plastic bag, extra outfits, extra pacifier, bottle of formula, bottle of water, a couple of baby toys or books, “burp cloths,” and an extra blouse for me (just in case he missed the burp cloth)!

Before I turned thirty, I had three children. The difference in the contents of the diaper bag was that it no longer contained formula because I was “nursing” (it wasn’t openly called breast-feeding). I also included a “receiving blanket” for discreet feeding times. However, my purse had added a few “Hot Wheel” cars, crayons, and toys to occupy my nine-year-old son and four-year-old daughter. During these years I also found it quite helpful to carry a small vial containing Tylenol.

By age forty, I no longer needed the diaper bag and was back to carrying a large purse/book bag, because I had returned to college and would have to spend any spare moment reading or studying for exams. My wallet now contained a credit card or two, medical and auto insurance cards and several store discount cards. I organized my necessary school items by including a small faux-leather kit with elastic holders for scissors, eraser, ruler, stapler, tape, paper clips, and extra pens and pencils. Thanks to a hysterectomy, I no longer needed to carry the feminine sanitary products!

Five years later my husband had triple bypass surgery and my mother’s health was declining. I began carrying a list of my husband’s and my mother’s medications, and my mother’s “advance directives for health care”. Once again, I began carrying (and praying) the rosary. New to my purse was a cell phone roughly the size and weight of half a brick. I was also working at two parishes, so I would often carry some notes, books, files and/or other work related documents. Instead of a small wallet, I had a clutch with an entire section dedicated to plastic credit, insurance, store discount, and gift cards. It included a space for my checkbook and register as well as a partition for cash. Because I was often going straight from one job to the other, I would also carry lunch or a couple of granola bars.

Shortly after this, (surprise! surprise!) I began having back spasms! My doctor instructed me to “ditch the purse,” which often weighed over 10 pounds and threw off my entire spinal alignment. So, for a very short time, I carried nothing but the wallet/checkbook/change combination “clutch”, but I kept other “tote bags” in my car with all the other items that had occupied my earlier back-breaker. The only problem was that, when I arrived at work, I had to make several trips to carry in what I began calling my “dog and pony show.”

In the next few years I lost my wallet (a couple of times) and realized carrying a purse with a handle or “shoulder bag” did have it’s advantages. My youngest son and his girlfriend gave me a new designer purse for Christmas, so I decided to try “carrying” but I would keep the contents simple and light. I began by including my wallet clutch, but I removed all the excess store discount and credit cards and tried to keep my loose change to a minimum. I got a smaller pill case. I began carrying batteries for my husband’s hearing aids, keys to a friend’s home (in case of emergency), my rosary, hand sanitizer, extra reading glasses, an I-phone, a sample-sized tube of hand cream, breath mints, and a tube of lip balm! It is amazing how we begin to dry out as we get older!

I don’t know what the coming years may bring. All I can say is that when my mom passed away, her purse contained, a small plastic folder of family pictures, tissues, a small change purse, some loose pills, a rosary, a recipe card, and a tube of red lipstick.

What’s in your purse (wallet…pockets today)? What do the contents say about your life?


Contemplating Charlottesville

Everywhere you look, people are weighing in on the terrible violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. In my opinion, the violent interaction is another example of the inability of extremists to discuss differences without hyperbole, anger, and physical altercation. It made me very sad to see a counter protester carrying a sign which read, “The only good Nazi is a dead Nazi.” That kind of hatred only intensifies the atmosphere of violence.

I am a child of the 1950s and 60s. My dad was too old for military service when the U.S. entered World War II, but his two brothers “saw Europe on the American plan.” My one uncle was even taken Prisoner of War. I’m certain, if they were faced with the Nazi flags and slogans that triggered the backlash in Virginia, they all would have been in the front lines of the anti-Nazi protesters. So I understand the gut reaction that swastikas trigger.

I have also lived through the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King’s March on Selma. I lived in Chicago during the riots at the 1968 Democratic Convention and subsequent to Dr. King’s assassination. I witnessed the use of the National Guard troops to keep the peace. I know the fear experienced when curfews are imposed and military vehicles and soldiers fill the streets. I had hoped that our society would learn from history and find better ways to deal with disparate beliefs. The incident in Virginia and our president’s comments in its wake prove to me that we have a long way to go. I admit the rhetoric and activity of recent days has rekindled that fear. Still, I am tapping into my inner fortitude and making every effort to step-up my vocation to be a peacemaker.

I understand the sentiment of those who still carry the emotional and psychological scars of the Civil War, generations after that conflict ended. As a Caucasian, I can’t begin to know how much pain Confederate statues can inflict. Still, I question the knee-jerk reaction of tearing down that statuary. Just as there were permits and public input when these monuments were erected, I think the removal should include a public majority vote of the city’s population. Removing a statue without permission, (especially when the artwork is destroyed) is nothing less than an act of vandalism. I’m sad that the mayor of Baltimore has felt compelled to remove statues in an pre-emptive effort to ward off outbreaks of violence and protect the historic art.

When we visited Gettysburg, we were told that it was decades before confederate monuments were added to that battlefield because Union veterans felt that the “losers” didn’t deserve monuments. It is ridiculous that people today are in conflict over statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson because, during his lifetime Lee himself opposed monuments with these words, “As regards the erection of such a monument as is contemplated, my conviction is, that however grateful it would be to the feelings of the South, the attempt in the present condition of the country, would have the effect of retarding, instead of accelerating its accomplishment; of continuing, if not adding to, the difficulties under which the Southern people labour.”

It was more than 40 years after the war when people and veterans understood that healing could only happen with forgiveness. The time had arrived when confederate monuments could be added to that battlefield in recognition of the lives lost on both sides. These monuments also provide a visual representation of the historic positions and strategies of that awful battle.

Today, it might be helpful to contemplate the conclusion of Abraham Lincoln’s address on that battlefield, “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

The pendulum is swinging backward and we need to hold on tightly to the advances our country has made since the Civil War. We have a long way to go to live up to the ideals of a government of, by, and for all people, but hatred, anger, and violence will not advance that cause.

I am extremely saddened by the fact that our president did not clearly declare that he objected to his name being used in “Hail Trump” salutes accompanied by Nazi hand gestures. His acceptance of the former KKK Grand Wizard’s praise is also disappointing. As our president, he needs to unequivocally eliminate any suspicion that he is favoring the hateful rhetoric these separatists spew in his name.

There was no peaceful assembly in the Charlottesville demonstration. The homegrown extremists, gathered from other states, put all the people of that city in danger. From their non-permitted torchlight parade on Friday to the armored and gun carrying march on Saturday (I doubt those specifics were on the permit application) an attitude of rage, hatred, and combat were all too evident. I realize “open carry” is permitted in Virginia, but it only increased the intimidation and fear in the crowd. The city officials tried to rescind Saturday’s permit and defuse the situation to no avail.

We must remember the words of Edmund Burke, “The only thing needed for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.” The incendiary actions of the extremists on Friday evening, caused a necessary objection that sadly resulted in personal injury and loss of life. I regret that the opposition had no time to be schooled in controlled non-violent response, but Nazi ideology can not be allowed flourish or triumph.

It is also important to keep matters in perspective. The number of separatists/extremists in Charlottesville was less than 300! The vast majority of people in this country may have disagreements, but little appetite for rage and physical violence. The abundance of commentary regarding last week’s demonstrations proves this.

Last night on PBS I witnessed an interview featuring two young leaders who provided sterling examples of the goodness and rationality we need to emulate. I hope you will access the interview and focus on the hope embodied therein. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/secessionist-black-nationalist-pledge-peaceful-dialogue-charlotteville/

Peace be with each of you!

Call Me Old-Fashioned

It is official. I am old-fashioned. The climate of this world in recent days, weeks, months, and even years has been leading down a path of modernization I do not like. No, I’m not referring to technological advances, tastes in entertainment, or political concerns such as healthcare availability, marital or reproductive issues, constitutional arguments, and world domination.
What concerns me, is the loss of civility.

Civility is defined as “politeness and courtesy in behavior or speech.” In today’s world, I believe this extends to written communication as well. Other words for civility would be courteousness, politeness, graciousness, respect, and consideration.

It seems that everywhere I look, outside of my own social circle (and sadly, sometimes within it), I witness rashness, dishonesty, rudeness, inflexibility, self-centeredness, and disrespect. Sometimes it makes me angry, but most often it just makes me sad. So in an effort to lift my own mood, I am reaching out to you today to ask you to be the engine of change. Let’s all try to become a bit more “old-fashioned.”

Here’s my suggestion. Each day, for the next week, choose one of the following adages (passed on by parents and grandparents), then actuate it in all your personal and interpersonal encounters. Then a week from now, focus on another axiom. In week three choose another. I guarantee in six weeks you will be improving your everyday life as well as the lives of many people around you. I believe that these small changes in my own behavior can spread and become the change the world so desperately needs. If your own parents or grandparents have not soothed you with these little tidbits, please accept my advice as tenderly as it is given.

If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. This applies to your own interior messages as well as your social media, texting, and school/work/play interactions. If you become gentle with yourself, you might just be more compassionate with others. Stop using derogatory words like dumb, stupid, ignorant, ugly, etc. in regard to yourself or others. Above all, please keep crude language for the times you really need it, like when you stub your toe in the middle of the night. You have every right to your own thoughts, opinions, and feelings, but remember that it is always good to examine those interior workings before you make them public. That leads us to the next adage.

• Think BEFORE you speak (or write), and definitely before you post!! Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, have made it much too easy to make a fool of yourself. Please THINK before you say or write something that you might regret tomorrow. I read a meme which proposed that word as an acronym for the five questions we should ask ourselves before we say or write anything…Is it TRUE? Is it HELPFUL? Is it INSPIRATIONAL? Is it NECESSARY? Is it KIND? The amount of social bullying which takes place through the internet is completely unacceptable. I really believe that if more people would consider these questions before articulating their thoughts and feelings (or typing them) there might be less obnoxious tweets, less embarrassing disclosures, less suicides, and more positivity overall. This directly relates to a key doctrine voiced by dozens of religions and philosophies around the globe.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. In recent years, I have heard people say, “Do unto others BEFORE they do unto you.” That statement reflects a creeping cynicism and growing negativity. I recently read a great meme from Mandy Hale which said, “The less you respond to rude, critical, and argumentative people…the more peaceful your life will become.” If you are more peaceful, you will be stronger and more able to ignore opinions which conflict with your own. Before you say (or type) anything, take a moment to think about how, if circumstances were reversed, you might want someone to respond to you. No one enjoys being ridiculed, berated, cursed or criticized. You may tell yourself that you are voicing the truth, trying to be helpful, or that you are trying to inspire and your commentary is “necessary,” but the BIG question is, “Are you being KIND?” This leads me to another old-fashioned maxim.

Honesty is the best policy. In this regard we should never out-and-out lie, spread falsehoods, or “spin” information that has the potential to harm or hurt others, advance our own agenda, or protect our own skin. (We used to call that telling a “white lie.”) Indeed, honesty is desirable, but must always be tempered by love and selfless intention. I have been the recipient of both, genuinely humble and brutal honesty, and I can tell you that “a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down.” Brutal honesty, may make the speaker feel better (or self-righteous), but generally the untempered comments wound the recipient. The brutal nature of the comment provides little opportunity for healing and growth. If gentle and truly loving honesty becomes our motivator, the way we think and act, will gradually change, which leads to the next axiom.

Actions speak louder than words. I can speak the truth with love and understanding every minute of every day, but unless I allow that love to permeate my life and spur me to action, they are just empty mutterings. Frank Outlaw, the former president of a store chain, summed this up very well when he said, “Watch your thoughts, they become words; watch your words, they become actions; watch your actions, they become habits; watch your habits, they become character; watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.” Your life has purpose! No matter where you come from or where you have been, you can decide how you will live this moment in order to create a fulfilling life. This leads to my mother’s favorite advice.

• Leave it better than you found it. It need not be a dramatic change. Placing discards in a trash bin, wiping up soap or water spills around the sink in a restroom, saying “Please” and “Thank you” when communicating with family members, shopkeepers, postal workers, bank employees, doctors, nurses, (literally anyone who provides a service to you) will improve one little corner of the world. Gestures as small as opening a door for someone, returning things you have used back to their proper place, recycling, being kind and sharing a smile, always makes things better.

I hope the weeks ahead, find you thinking, speaking, writing, and acting, with positivity, gentleness and, above all, kindness. May each moment provide and opportunity for you to be a bit more old-fashioned along with me!