You are Only as Old as…

For those of us who have “some snow on the roof” the phrase, “you are only as old as you feel,” generally prompts a good laugh! The truth is, since my hair began turning white, how I feel depends not only on the day, but what I did the day before!

As I settle in to my retirement years, I’m learning that the tasks that normally had no residual repercussions (like Spring cleaning) now take a week of recuperation! Heck! It takes me five minutes of rest to recover from putting on my pantyhose!

I also am learning that a weather report, which includes changing barometric pressure, can make my body remember every injury of my youth. The whiplash from a car accident, the knee injury from fall while running, and the repetitive use of my hands, cry out in the night in the form of arthritic aches and pains. In addition, aging internal organs don’t take kindly to anti-inflammatory medications. Hence the lingering scent of menthol and eucalyptus that pain relieving gels and creams leave on sheets and night clothes.

Well, let me tell you, in the past year my husband and I have taken on the task of preparing our home for sale, which is no small task. Yes, we are in the “downsizing generation” and my heart goes out to all our fellow retirees, who are in the midst of this anxiety-producing reality. Letting go of treasured and “inherited” items is no picnic, but that’s another story!

In the past year we have completely gutted and remodeled our downstairs bathroom, removed wallpaper borders from two rooms, painted five rooms (neutral colors), packed and toted four truckloads of “personal” items to a storage unit, refurbished two vanities, installed a new laminate floor, and replaced hardware in two showers. Right now I am extremely grateful that we replaced our kitchen eight years ago, when we were younger and had more energy, strength, and stamina.

Let me warn you, those DIY shows can change your life! All these endeavors were prompted by one of those shows. A young couple was viewing a house with thoughts of purchasing same. I remarked that it was a magnificent home, much like my own. However, they commented to each other that the home was very “dated” and that “so 90s!” I looked at my husband and said, “Ninties? Dated?” Then I realized the 90s were twenty years ago!

That show educated us to the fact that, if we want to get the best dollar and a quick sale, we had to provide a product someone would want to buy, and that young couples (who would be our “target market”) are very busy, and often lack the time, expertise, and money to make home improvements. We also watched other shows about selling houses that taught us the ins-and-outs of making our home welcoming to prospective buyers. Thus we began the process of “updating.”

To all those young TV personalities who climb up and down ladders installing new lighting, crawl on their knees laying down flooring, scrape, sand, paint, and rearrange furniture, all I can say is “appreciate your young bones, muscles, and cartilage, they don’t last forever!”

Don’t get me wrong! My husband and I are extremely grateful, we are still able to take on these large scale tasks, though we have laid aside the heavier tasks (roofing and concrete work). We realize that there are people our age (and younger) whose health prevents activities on this scale. Still, when I get up in the morning and, literally, every muscle and joint aches from the previous day’s work, I wish my body was just ten years younger!

Still, I had a conversation with my best friend just a few days ago, which revolved around the concept that “we are older than we ever were, but also younger than we will ever be again.” It made me realize that my mind has often been misdirected. When I was sixteen I wanted to be eighteen, when I was thirty I wanted to be twenty-one, age forty made me wish to be thirty, and so on. So today I am redirecting my thoughts and focusing on gratitude for the aches and pains, because they tell me I have lived a rich life and that I am still active and able. They also warn me when I have to “call it quits” and listen to my bones.

Even though, at times, I may “feel old,” there is no stigma in that! Therefore, I am going to focus on that other adage of retirement, “age is an issue of mind over matter…if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter!”

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Merry Christmas, Everyone!

So…are YOUR Christmas decorations still up? Today I turned on the radio hoping to bask in the afterglow of a beautiful Christmas, only to be bummed out by the fact that my local “Lite FM” station has ceased playing “holiday” music. Should I mention they began playing carols on November 10th?! My own opinion is that Christmas music should begin right on (or just after) Thanksgiving and continue until at least New Year’s Day.

I also read a blog today by a person who takes down their Christmas decorations on December 26th and refuses to play any holiday music after midnight! What’s up with that??

I admit that I also have a tough time with the fact that Christmas is being commercialized several weeks before Halloween, and today, a mere 24 hours after December 25th, the stores are already erecting Valentine displays. I recall the days I would shop on December 26th to get my Christmas wrapping paper and such at half price. Last year I went out on December 27th and all the Christmas “goodies” were gone!! The store personnel informed me that the “sales” had taken place the week BEFORE Christmas!!

As all my regular readers know, I am a Catholic and find value in my religious traditions. For most of my life, my family has observed the seasons of Advent, Christmas, and the entire 12 days of Christmas. We place our Advent wreath on the First Sunday of Advent and decorate progressively throughout the following four weeks. We take our decorations down AFTER the Feast of the Epiphany (a.k.a. “The Three Kings”). However, there was the year I had my hysterectomy in December and we were still sweeping up tinsel on Valentine’s Day!

Several years ago, we visited my husband’s sister in Arizona at the end of April. We had travelled across the country to be there to support her during her husband’s funeral. We were quite surprised to see that her Christmas tree and village were still on display. It turns out that his illness had prevented her from the “luxury” of dismantling the decorations. Strangely enough, the presence of those joyous trappings led us to long discussions about the most recent holiday and all those in the past. The presence of the creche somehow brought comfort in a time of great sorrow.

This year I a have been pondering several homilies and articles I read during this past Advent season. They emphasized how important it is, in a religious sense, to make every day Christmas. If I truly believe that Christ is ALIVE, in and among the the People of God, then His spirit is continually being born in us each day!

So, to paraphrase Joshua, “as for me and my house,” Christmas carols are acceptable any time of year and we will continue to wish “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year” for at least eleven more days! Come to think of it, since our temperatures here in the Midwest are currently below zero, and our outdoor manger scene is frozen solid, we may still have our exterior decorations up until Easter!! In the meantime, “Merry Christmas, Everyone!”

A Season to Remember

Christmas is quickly approaching and I have been thinking about the many family memories contained in this amazing holiday season. It is a season which contains the power to bring healing to our wounded world. Advent, and the entire Christmas season, including the traditional twelve days of Christmas, give us the opportunity to ritualize a deeper appreciation for our ancestors, families, friends, and neighbors. Each year, the season encourages us to forgive shortcomings, release grudges, and reach out with hope to new beginnings. Whether we are religious and believe the truths in wisdom literature or secular and put our faith in science, this season calls us to contemplate the bounty of our world and the interconnected nature of humankind. Our existence is one of interrelatedness, complementarity, and interdependence. Our differences create the textures and tones that make our world tree vibrant and beautiful. In this blog, I invite you join me in becoming more attentive to the memories, people, and places which fill this season with the potential for greater patience, new birth, and continued growth.

My father’s parents were first generation Americans who emigrated from Poland in1904 and 1909. Until the day they died, my grandparents spoke “broken English” and were much more comfortable speaking their native tongue and celebrating Polish traditions. They settled in neighborhoods where priests, doctors, and shopkeepers spoke Polish. They died before I was born, so each holiday season I become a bit melancholy that they were never part of the family celebrations I remember. Similarly, my dad died when I was twenty and just two months after I gave birth to my first child. Holiday joy is always touched by a small sadness that my three children and their families will only know my dad through anecdotes and family photos. What stories and photos will you be sharing this holiday season? Who will you be missing? What bits of sadness will you be experiencing?

As a young child, the family gatherings I remember included my parents, their siblings, and their extended families, Uncle Frank, Aunt Lil, Uncle Walter, Aunt Betty and their children. When my maternal grandmother was alive, we often spent time with some of her siblings, “Uncles” Harry (aka Jerome) and Louie, who were actually my “great” or “grand” uncles. At Christmas, whenever I smell a cigar I remember them. Uncle Harry’s wife, Aunt Helen, was a kind woman, I remember her quiet demeanor and gentle smile. I played with their four children, Jerry, Joyce, Jackie, and Jeffrey. I recall that Great-aunt Hattie, Uncle Louie’s wife, made her own soap, loved baking, and had skin like alabaster. To the best of my knowledge, Uncle Louie and Aunt Hattie never had any children. I never met my great aunt Mary or her husband, though we often spent time with their daughter “Aunt Loretta”, and her husband, “Uncle Chuck.” (It wasn’t until my adult years that I realized, in terms of blood line, they were actually my first cousins!) We all lived in Chicago and, though some of my family never owned a car, we did our best to get together for important celebrations and holidays. At this time of year, I am filled with gratitude for the blessing of those memories. What do you remember about your childhood celebrations? Have you found a way to forgive the shortcomings of friends and relatives? What prayers of thanks are born in you this season?

I find it sad that we live so far apart these days. I have nieces and nephews who live hundreds or even thousands of miles away and I miss their presence, particularly during the holidays. Social media is a poor substitute for a family dinner. It is one of the greatest joys of my life, now that all my parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles are deceased, to spend time with my sister and my second cousin. There are many drawbacks to the social media experience, but I am grateful that it offers the opportunity to share photos, thoughts, prayer needs, struggles, and accomplishments across the miles. Who will you be contacting through the mail or the internet this holiday season? Do you have plans to visit relatives far and near?

At holiday time, “family” often has less to do with kin and more to do with kindred spirits. Two doors down from the two story brick home where I was born, lived two childhood girlfriends, Shirley and Carol, their parents, and grandparents, “Busia” and “Dziadziu.” Since my grandparents were deceased, their “Grandma” and “Grandpa” became mine. Their aunts and uncles were my second family. We attended parties and holiday celebrations as if we actually shared blood. Some of my best holiday memories took place in their third floor apartment gathered near a Polish żłobek (creche). Do you have someone you consider, or who considers you his/her “second family?” What family memories will they be conjuring this season?

In the years when my brother, brother-in-law, and nephew were in the Navy, and able to get home for the holidays, they often invited their sailor-friends, who could not get home, to our holiday feasts. For those celebrations the word family took on a even broader meaning. Today, when we invite neighbors to join us for a meal, we extend our family bonds. When we contribute to our parish food pantry, we get a sense of sharing a meal with our global family. When have you experienced the joy of your “global family?” How will you be reaching out this Christmas season?

Just about six weeks ago, I celebrated my best friend’s sixty-fifth birthday. We have been friends for at least fifty-five of those years. Her family and mine are so intertwined that we believe our blood must have intermingled generations ago, because we feel like sisters. (Seriously, her paternal bloodline seems to be connected to mine back in a town called Laczka, Poland/Austria, though I have not as yet been able to find solid proof.) Whether or not a bloodline is discovered, both of us know that we have a connection that is more powerful than blood. We have shared joys, sorrows, heartaches, and happiness. Her children are mine and mine are hers. The branches of our family trees have become so intertwined that permanent grafts have developed. Our friendship is a blessing and a true treasure for which I am extremely grateful. Whose friendship makes gratitude well up in your heart? Have you told those friends how much they mean to you?

I am grateful for all of you who will be using this article as a springboard to reminisce about your own holidays past and present. Please embrace the sadness along with the joy! I once read that we should never fear the shadows, because it just means there is a bright light somewhere nearby. I pray that you find the spirit of patience, peace, and joy, even in the memories that bring a tear or two, because tears are the evidence of great love. May you have a enriching Advent and a memorable holiday season!

Be Gentle with the Past

Okay! Today is the day for a confession. I have, in my younger years, had too much to drink! When I was a younger, I had no idea what my body would feel like when I drank alcohol. My first “hangover” was a real shock. I had no idea that the dreamy feelings I had the previous evening could become a nightmare the following morning! So, you would think that the next time I was at a party, I would know better and stop consuming alcohol BEFORE I felt buzzy and giggly. Once again, I missed all the signals and paid the price the following day. It is said that “third time is the charm.” After my third hangover experience, I was determined that I would never be intoxicated again. I finally had learned that the price of the party was not worth the suffering of the following day. I also began to realize that drunkenness was not remotely attractive, even prior to the nausea, vomiting, and pounding headache. I am glad to say, I did learn. I found that I could have a wonderful time without excessive alcohol consumption. I learned to enjoy the flavor of a single glass of wine, a small cup of spiked cider, or a refreshing Mango Mai Tai, but had no desire to drink myself into a stupor.

Right about now, you are asking, “What is the reason for this confession?” My point is, individuals and societies have the capability to learn that behaviors and beliefs can be counterproductive. Human beings have the ability to discover, reconsider, and change thoughts and actions. Throughout history, humankind has made mistakes over and over, but sometimes the consequences have made us become wiser.

I admit, there are many human faults we have not outgrown. Our personal and societal tendencies toward anger, greed, laziness, envy, jealousy, gluttony, and lust are still the underlying causes for most self-interest and disagreement in our world. Still, we continue to strive to find a code of law and moral action that benefits both the person and society. It is difficult to think that, at one time, the notion of “an eye for an eye” was a legal concept which actually provided an improvement over ever-escalating revenge. The stipulations of the Geneva Conventions improved the civil treatment of people during wartime. The laws supporting a woman’s right to vote, as well as civil rights for all, were certainly improvements in how men and women interact in our society.

Today, most individuals and many societies have awakened to the evils of slavery, the value of personal freedoms, and the benefits of female participation in decision making. We have a long way to go to achieve true respect for the gifts of every human person, but we HAVE made progress, I have personally witnessed these advances in my own lifetime. (For more on that topic, look back to my blog “The Good Old Days?” https://grandmasdoor.com/2016/05/02/the-good-old-days/ .)

Here is just a small slice of the real world through history. In the 15th century BCE, Thutmose III and Amenhotep II tried to obliterate Queen Hatshepsut’s name from history. She was their own mother/grandmother. Leaders in the Roman empire (and others) regularly crucified and butchered people. Eleventh century church leaders waged war in order to grasp greater power. Early explorers looked upon native populations as inhuman savages. Our founding fathers were slave holders. Early settlers and native populations killed each other for territory. Today, all these actions are outrageous and we recognize them as brutal and in error. Yet, the actions were common in the the respective eras, and the larger population either did not have the power, inclination, or wisdom to change those ideas and behaviors. Somewhere along the line, wisdom and learning won out and these actions were called out as evil and misguided. I feel we should examine the strengths and weaknesses of our progenitors, but it is unfair to judge them according to the understandings and sensitivities of our current time period.

This line of thought impacts all the arguments presently being made regarding memorials, civic holidays, and the reinterpretation of history. As centuries pass, we often discover unpleasant truths about some of our heroes. Given enough time, most famous people are found to have feet of clay. When I was a girl, we admired (almost worshipped) President John F. Kennedy. In my adult years, the revelations surrounding his womanizing were jarring. However, after thought and reflection, I realized we all have our faults and I began to appreciate his leadership without ignoring his human frailty.

I will always support the desire to tell the ENTIRE story. I believe that details of history should always be balanced alongside the mindset of the original participants. History needs to be taught in comparison and contrast to current codes of ethics and morality. For example, when we tell the story of medical advancement, we should relate the brutal facts along with the laws and morality that allowed those actions. Early physicians enlisted the services of grave robbers before people had the desire and means to donate bodies to scientific investigation. During the Civil War, limbs were amputated, often without anesthesia. Barbers extracted teeth, before the advancement of dental science. Husbands committed their wives to mental asylums, because of marital disagreements or the onset of menopause. Doctors used prisoners as human guinea pigs to advance new treatments. In our minds, these practices and many others are barbaric, but it was not so in the respective centuries. Ethics surrounding scientific advancement favored knowledge over persons. If you doubt that, read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

Our knowledge is continually expanding. When I was in high school, I was taught that there were 3 parts to the cell and 3 parts to an atom. My grandchildren are learning that there are many layers to each of those cell structures and that the atom is much more complex. In high school, I never heard of gluons or quarks. It was not that textbook writers were lying or insidiously hiding information. The books contained only the general information a high school student needed to know.

It has been said that history is always told by the victors. When I consider the statues and monuments erected in bygone days, I always try to get into the mindset of those who chose to memorialize the person or event. I try to see the human story behind the monument. It doesn’t eliminate the reality that those monuments are being reinterpreted in the light of current information. It makes me wonder how future generations will examine the actions we are taking in this first quarter of the twenty-first century. I wonder who will be considered “victorious” four hundred years hence. Will our children’s children feel the need to tear down the and “debunk” the histories or “her-stories” being written today?

It has taken me sixty-five years to begin to understand my own motivations. I have to admit that suppositions regarding my ancestors’ motivations will never be completely accurate. Still, I continue to learn how to forgive shortcomings, my own and that of my forebears. I focus my attention on strengths and admirable qualities. I certainly hope that my great-great-grandchildren will look back at my lifetime with the same understanding and empathy. I hope that they will see that my generation did the best we could with the knowledge and understanding we had. I hope that they will see beyond the short-sighted weaknesses and ignorance. I hope they will emphasize the times we acted with courage, generosity, and concern for others. As the poet says, “Hope springs eternal!”

Manage Your Fears

Are you having trouble sleeping? Are you unable to relax? Do you feel like your mind is being hi-jacked by anxiety? Do you feel more tired than usual without a change in your level of activity? Do you find your heart racing for no obvious reason? If your answer to any of these questions is “Yes,” you may be experiencing an unmanaged fear-response.

Many of us know that fear has a physiological effect. When fear enters the mind, the body increases its production of adrenaline. This has been called the “fight or flight” response. The boost in adrenaline increases the heart rate and can make our hair follicles react. Have you ever said, “that makes the hair on my neck stand up”? In the short term, that physical response is a blessing, because it enables self-preservation. We have heard stories of the adrenaline boost that helped someone lift a heavy barrier to free a person who was trapped. Adrenaline helps us to be brave. Our bodies gear up and give us the strength to fight an adversary or protect a loved one. Adrenaline also gives a body the speed to flee when prudent.

In recent weeks we have been inundated with news that produces anxiety. Reports detailing earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, and unprecedented violence, overwhelm our brains. Sometimes, for our own good, we just need to take a vacation from anxiety producing stimuli. I assure you, it is okay to shut off the news and social media to help manage your fears. I am not recommending that we stick our heads in the sand or become ignorant of the troubles in the world. I am advocating balance! As many have said, “prepare for the worse, hope for the best!”

In this day and age, we are surrounded by negative words and images. Take some time each day to pay attention to the beauty and love that also surrounds us. Focus on everyday simple words and actions. “Please,” “thank you,” “excuse me,” “I’m sorry,” “forgive me,” are not just empty words. They are small phrases that require us to consider how we are interacting with another person. Many people have written about the benefits of a gratitude journal. From experience, I can tell you that my own fears are significantly decreased when I take time daily to count my blessings, reach out to help someone, and regularly express my appreciation.

However, for varying reasons, our minds and bodies may still get seized by fear which triggers a vicious cycle and keeps adrenaline pumping long after the danger has passed. Take heart! There are physical ways to stop that cycle! You have the power to manage fear!

The very first thing you can do is BREATHE! Be aware that adrenaline causes your body to shallow breathe and take too many breaths (called hyper-ventilating), which in turn, can cause numbness, tingling in your extremities, light-headedness, and greater anxiety. If this happens to you and needs immediate action. Find a paper bag and breath into that for several minutes, to prevent yourself from passing out.

If you are not hyper-ventilating, but feel anxious, take notice of where your breath is traveling. When you inhale does it feel like the air is going past your breast bone or does it feel like your breath is stopping just beyond your throat? If you are physically able, try to breathe in through your nose and think of the air going all the way down to your navel. Take a few of these deeper breaths. When you know you are able to breathe deeper and more slowly, proceed to the next exercise.

Breathe in deeply to a count of 5-7. After holding that breath for a short count of 3-7, exhale through your mouth by pulling in your tummy first for a another count of 5-7. If you can manage, take eight to ten of these long slow breaths. This breath-pattern signals your body to decrease its adrenaline production and allow you to become more calm. When facing stressful situations, practice this breathing often.

If your breathing is under control, but you find your mind is still racing, tell yourself, “STOP!” If you need, say the word out loud! Depending on the circumstances, you might even decide to clap your hands when you say the word. This alerts your mind and body that you are about to change your focus. Then immediately begin taking those long slow breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth, concentrating on pulling the air past your heart down into your belly.

Another practice to help manage fear and anxiety is to focus on a pleasant visual image. Ask yourself, “where do I feel most safe, happy, or comfortable?” If you are able, picture that place clearly in your mind. I must admit, I have never been very good at imagining vividly, so I have a packet of magazine and calendar images that I keep in a desk drawer for this purpose. When I’m having trouble clearing my head of anxiety, I take out those photos and focus on the image. Then I begin the deep breathing exercise.

One of the reasons fear can take over is that our minds begin repeating negative messages. The terrible “what ifs” get hold and we have a tough time shaking them. A simple technique to help manage that negativity is to occupy your mind with positive thoughts. When anxious, begin repeating a comforting phrase. For example, “I can do this! I will get through this! Peace!” I have several favorite phrases that have served me well, they are, “Fear not!” “This, too, shall pass!” “Jesus, I trust in You!” and “All will be well!” Repeat your favorite phrase over and over until you feel your body responding.

In the days and weeks ahead, no matter what challenges might come your way, I pray that these simple techniques will help to bring you peace, courage, and hope. I assure you, light casts out darkness and you can manage your fear.

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!

The Boomer Dilemma

Several days ago I had a conversation online regarding an article in The Boston Globe entitled “The Baby Boomers are Downsizing and the Kids Won’t Take the Family Heirlooms.” I read some comments that made me sad and made some comments that I now regret. Still, I have to admit, as a “Boomer” struggling with the reality of downsizing, it hurts like hell and is not for the timid!

The comments that I now regret played right into the “us vs. them” dichotomy that I have been trying to purge from my consciousness. A conversation might begin in separate camps, but no one benefits when that discussion gets mired, or ends in adversarial positions. In this stage of my life, I want to surround myself with acceptance, love, and peace. Pointing fingers against those in younger generations and labeling innocent actions with words like “selfish,” “uncaring,” and “self-centered,” stifles rather than promotes open exchange of ideas and deeper understanding. I am hoping that this blog entry will advance the conversation and help the younger generation understand what I am calling “the boomer dilemma.” 

Many (dare I say “most”) boomers were raised with a sincere devotion to our elders. When I was a child, we were not allowed to call any adult by his/her first name. If we ever “sassed” an adult, we would be severely reprimanded. If our grandparents were deceased, our families made several visits each year to say prayers at and tidy their grave sites. For some families this was done at least once per month. Growing up in the Catholic faith tradition also meant that the practices of cremation and scattering of ashes, were strictly forbidden.

I’d like my children to understand that my parents and relatives lived through the Great Depression. They worked extremely hard to be able to own a home and furnishings. They only threw something in the garbage after it was impossible to salvage. I remember my dad having new heels put on his shoes and having them “re-soled” rather than buy a new pair. They taught us to wrap our school books in saved grocery bags, there were no “fast food” packages to be thrown out after a meal, to earn money for penny candy we returned used glass bottles for the deposit, and we were always surrounded by 30-year-old refrigerators, ranges, dishes, flatware, and furniture covered in plastic. Most of the time we came to adulthood sleeping on the same bed our parents bought for us when we outgrew our cribs. We went away to college, if we could afford it, with our childhood dressers. We grew up in neighborhoods where we were born, and no more than ten miles from most of our aunts, uncles, and cousins. Relocating to the suburbs was considered a “big move.” Unless we joined the military, we seldom left the state where we were born.

As our relatives passed away, they bequeathed to us the items they worked hard to obtain and lovingly cared for year after year throughout their lives. When speaking of these treasures, they would often say, “This is your grandmother’s turkey platter or tea set,” “This is the cedar chest I got when I was 16 as part of my trousseau,” “Your grandpa gave this to me, and now I am giving it to you,” or “Great Uncle Fred wanted you to have this rosary.” We feel a sincere obligation to treasure these items and the memories of their original owners. Somehow, caring for and handling these inanimate objects, connects us to their spirit and memory in a very tangible way.

One blogger called our children the “Ikea and Target Generation” and said they have no desire for “heirlooms” like fine china or large pieces of furniture now referred to as “brown pieces.” They are mobile and have little or no job loyalty or security to keep them in a particular place for their entire lives. Everything they buy has built in obsolescence. Our children have learned that if any major appliance is still working after ten years, they are very fortunate. Many young people are sincerely seeking a simpler existence with less “stuff.” 

On an intellectual level I understand all these observations. The tension develops at the psychological and emotional level. Boomers have entered our final stage of life. Each muscle ache, new pair of bifocals, doctor’s visit, and prescription refill makes that painfully obvious. The deepest desire of our hearts is to be appreciated and remembered. In most cases, we want to stay in the familiar home we worked so hard to obtain and we want to stay around our lifelong friends. Unfortunately, finances, health, and abilities often require us to leave all that has become dear to us. It is an extremely stressful time. When a child says, “I have no use for Grandma’s vase, Uncle Charlie’s bandsaw, or the breakfront Dad gave you for your first anniversary” we hear, “Your values and memories are unimportant to me.”

We need to adjust our interpretation of our children’s responses. We need to remember that this is also a stressful time for them. They do not want to admit their parents are growing weaker and more dependent. It concerns them, when they hear about our friends dying and realize that our support systems are diminishing. They really want to honor our values and memory, but in different ways. It disturbs them when they hear we need to sell the home where they grew up. They are reluctant, as we are, to face our mortality. Most of all, they don’t want to have to make choices about the heirlooms and tchotchkes in the midst of the grieving process after our passing, particularly mundane items like formal dinnerware, cut glass, bulky furniture, and unidentified photographs. 

The dilemma is that we have those very same concerns while simultaneously experiencing physical, emotional, and psychological changes. We realize that there is less life ahead of us than is behind. We must continually “let go,” but struggle to do so. The thought of giving or disposing of cherished heirlooms to strangers or the trash heap, makes us feel that we are dishonoring the givers and somehow losing connection to the world we have known.

There are two things that might make this dilemma easier to bear. First of all, as boomers, we need to stop taking things personally when our children say, “Maybe you should give that to a charity.” or “You need to get rid of a lot of this stuff.” They are just making an observation that we, in our heart of hearts, already know is true. They are not trying to slap us in the face, though that is the interpretation we sometimes make. It would also be helpful if young people could be more gentle with their language and remember the importance of the “I-message.” For example a good response during a downsizing conversation would be, “I love you and cherish all my ancestors and all you (and they) have given me. I would truly appreciate (mention one sentimental belonging) as a cherished memento of our lives together. No matter how our lives change, I will always remember (fill in the blank with some cherished intangible memory). Would you like my help in sorting through these other items so we can pass them on to those who can really use and enjoy them as much as you have?” 

On both sides of the conversation, gentleness should temper honesty, understanding needs to take priority over practicality, and sincere love must undergird all the words we choose. I pray that we can ALL turn a dilemma into a delight when facing the challenges of downsizing.

Is Social Media Social?

Eight weeks ago I gave up social media for Lent and the experience has led me to some pretty interesting insights. A simple Google search will show that some people think social media is the death knell of true social interaction, while others feel it is the gateway to social evolution. As with most of my life experiences, I would have to say I fall somewhere in the middle.

My first reaction was that I really didn’t miss the hours I normally spent texting, emailing, reading and replying to Facebook posts. I found myself calmer, less agitated, and more relaxed.What did I do with the extra time? I slept a bit more, I read a couple of books, conducted a discussion/prayer group, read a few more magazine articles and newspaper stories, spent time renovating a bathroom, and possibly watched a bit more TV.

When I consider that list, except for the discussion group, I replaced social interaction (albeit electronic) with time alone and introspective pursuits. Considering this began as a means of Lenten discipline, I think I have accomplished some of my goals. However, I must admit, I did not increase my prayer time as much as I had hoped and I didn’t find the time to read all the spiritual books I had intended. That was no surprise because I always think I can accomplish more in less time than is physically possible.

I was ready to give up my social media endeavors, including this blog. After all, I felt less stressed, my internal anger wasn’t stirred by conflicting opinions and rude commentary, my heart wasn’t broken daily by all the visual displays of humanity’s inhumanity. I had filled the time with positive and productive activities. So, why not make my electronic “fast” permanent?

Then my husband and I attended the fiftieth wedding anniversary party for a couple we have known for about forty years. I met with other nearly lifelong friends. I found that, in my seven weeks fasting from social media, one friend, who had driven up from Missouri to attend the event, was very successfully recuperating from a stroke. Another friend was preparing to begin dialysis treatments. Still another was living through the loss of a business and home. We reminisced about the friends who had “died too soon,” and shared the joys and sorrows of our growing families. We talked about journeys we had taken and life-changing experiences. I basically spent the night catching up on a lot of important personal information I would have already known had I been doing my usual electronic correspondence.

Yes, social media is a poor replacement for a big person-to-person anniversary celebration, phone call, coffee klatsch, girls’ night out or home visit. We share information in private that we might not, or should not, on social media. Still, the last five times I have set up a face-to-face gathering between more than two people, it has taken many texts, emails, and personal messages to come up with a common available time slot.

The reality of the twenty-first century is that relationships exist across distance and disparate life obligations. We no longer function within tight close-knit familial and ethnic enclaves. Not every family member or friend has evenings and Sunday afternoons free for “entertaining” or socializing. Our society is more mobile and families don’t stay glued to their homes for 12 hours a day or within the same 20 mile radius for fifty years. Our phone lines are no longer private roads of contact with distant relatives. Don’t get me wrong, phones are still a tremendous means of communication. However, ninety percent of my phone calls come from solicitors and salespeople…and I am on the so-called “do not call list.” I am very grateful for caller I.D.

Okay, social media is not perfect. It gives people perceived anonymity and opens the door to soapbox rants, unkind and rude commentary, “alternative facts”, crude jokes and memes and other unsavory elements. It also offers a doorway to prayer requests, global support networks, positive sharing, and interesting (and affordable) daily news from family and friends across the country and around the globe. For example, our daughter will soon be studying in India and our only reasonable means of contact will be via the internet. As with any personal interaction, it is not the hardware or software involved, but the flesh that operates and manipulates those technologies which makes for positive or negative experience.

So today, I return to social media and have decided to continue this blog. My Lenten journey has reminded me that I am not perfect, no person is perfect, so why should I expect more from social media–the interaction of imperfect people? Still, at its best, it is a 24/7 means for reaching out across the miles with news of family and friends, words of inspiration, prayer support, civil discussion and positive encouragement. After all, isn’t that what it really means to be social?

Lenten Joy?

Are you eager to experience the beginning of Lent? Are you starting to anticipate the opportunities for deeper prayer, reconciliation, and charitable action? Can you feel the joy bubbling up inside of you? I am, but it has been a long journey to reach this sense of love and enthusiasm for the season. When I was a child, Lent was a somber and very negative experience full of sorrow, sacrifice and rules, rules, RULES! The feeling of joy was relegated to the bygone Christmas season. We never gave a single thought to the concept of Lenten joy! Even the elation of “Paczki Day” (a.k.a. “Fat Tuesday” or “Shrove Tuesday”) was marred by focusing on the seriousness of the season ahead.

Maybe I should explain that in our Polish neighborhood, in Catholic school, the religious sisters would fry “paczki,” just for this celebration. These were raised donuts coated in granulated sugar and filled with prune “powidła” or sometimes jelly. On the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday (the beginning of Lent), in true Mardi Gras fashion, students would be treated to this sweet delight with a carton of whole milk and sometimes chocolate milk! Lest we become gluttonous as we devoured these special treats, the sisters would remind us that this was the “last luxury” we should have until Easter Sunday. For the next 40 days we were to be following Jesus and mirroring his passion and death on the cross in every thought, word, and action. We would be required to “give something up” and some teachers would have students write a note detailing his/her planned sacrifice to emphasize and ingrain the importance of the practice.

Of course, the classroom clown would volunteer, “S’ter, I will give up doing homework for Lent!” Other students would wrack their brains trying to figure out the LEAST painful sacrifice saying,”I’m going to give up Jujubes,” thus leaving the doorway open for consuming every other penny candy of the time. Of course, those of us who had aspirations for the religious life, would take the season very seriously and plan elaborate mortifications like giving up chocolate, soda pop, or “sweets,” which meant cold turkey sugar withdrawal!

As we got older (seventh and eighth grades), along with the reining-in of our gastronomic desires, we were also told to replace “frivolous” hobbies with spiritual reading and participation in various Lenten devotions. It was often during this season that our parish would sponsor a Lenten Mission, which called for a commitment to attend three to five extra one-hour evening sessions of prayer and silence. In high school, we began attending retreats (several days of extended silence, prayer, and religious devotion).

There was only one thing wrong with all these “mortifications,” the only reason we were given was that we needed to counteract our physical weaknesses (our “concupiscence”). Though grueling at the time, I am grateful because this early training and discipline created sturdy foundations for the future trials of life and the resultant spiritual growth. So there is definitely Lenten joy in those memories.

After the Second Vatican Council our Lenten practices became less focused on private introspection and devotion and leaned more heavily toward outreach to our brothers and sisters in need. If we gave up any food, we were instructed to use the saved money to help those who were hungry. When we spent time in silence, it was often preceded by a guided meditation highlighting Jesus’ mercy and forgiveness. Retreats and parish missions included small and large group discussion and much less silence.

Mandatory fasting and abstaining from meat were removed from all Fridays, though they still applied to Lenten observances. Some people chose not to hear, but we were often reminded that those little sacrifices were even more beneficial when done out of love rather than legal obligation. The reasoning behind our Lenten sacrifice became clearer, our physical hunger was intended to point us toward our deeper spiritual hunger. Knowing why we were making sacrifices imbued the action with greater joy.

As years went by, the fervor and excitement which attended the “fresh air” of Vatican II, began to dwindle and sometimes led to spiritual laziness. Since we were no longer bound by a law and the weight of the phrase “under the penalty of mortal sin,” many viewed this penitential season too lightly (if they thought of it at all). More and more people passed up the many opportunities to further their spiritual growth. Retreat houses were closed for lack of participation. But as the Scriptures tell us, “there is a time and a season for every purpose under heaven.”

Today the seats in church may hold fewer people and the world may seem more divided, but Lent still offers everyone a time to step back and examine how we spend our days. It is no longer a time for concentrating on suffering and punishment. Though we recall, in special ways, the terrible suffering that Jesus willingly endured, we also know (as Paul Harvey used to say) “the rest of the story.” As Christians we believe, Jesus is still alive and present in our midst. If that doesn’t make joy bubble in your heart, I don’t know what will.

True, Lent is a time to be honest with ourselves about our own faults and failings, which should cause us to be contrite. However, it is also a time to open our hearts to forgive others as we ourselves are forgiven by God, and forgiveness is always a cause for joy!

Lent is a time of homecoming, renewal, and rebirth which is marked by an increase in prayer, fasting and helping others (almsgiving)! So this Lent I plan to take a break from Social Media (for me that means Facebook and LinkedIn). I don’t know how that is going to go, but it will surely tell me a lot about my inner life. As a Catholic, I will also be observing meatless Fridays. I will tell you that I won’t be giving up chocolate! I learned a long time ago, that only makes me cranky and less like Christ. I will be dusting off some spiritual paperbacks I’ve long been meaning to read or re-read. The time I spend away from my keyboard will be channeled toward prayer and gathering with my parish family. I’m really looking forward to the joy of Lenten introspection, reconciliation, and outward action, aren’t you?