Inside-Out then Outside-In back to Outside again

When you think about how you want to be remembered, what do you think of? Maybe I am not alone in having trouble finding a consistent answer to that question. Sometimes I would have answered a caring and thoughtful person. More often my thoughts and actions reflected the motto I wanted on my gravestone, “Never did I have a friend or foe that each wasn’t repaid in full”. To the extent I was caring and thoughtful it was limited in scope and understanding. I will not try to suggest what your legacy should be. What I will propose, is that your legacy is the final expression of your standards and your adherence to those standards for a Life Well Lived.thumbnail_img_1772

This is a huge topic and since this is a short essay and not a short book, I will narrow it down very quickly. Whenever you are going through a transition, (def. Transition: sometimes used as a euphemism for when things are big time crappy; especially when you get older) your self-identity becomes more fluid. You are facing a realization that can’t be ignored. At these times you have two options, either find an entirely new way or make a qualitive change in your current way of expressing yourself to the outside. (def. Outside: the world & people beyond you) Often the best way of dealing with the current dilemma you are facing is focusing outside yourself. People will often respond to tragic deaths by starting a charity. It doesn’t need to be something so complexed, however, it does need to give you a sense of purpose beyond yourself. Sometimes you need to approach a problem obliquely, from a different angle. The best way to handle the pressure, pain and even despair is by focusing on others. This is phase one, inside-out.

Phase two is outside-in. In this phase we realize that to consistently become the person we want to be to the outside, we must learn to treat ourselves with the same love and respect we try to show others. Take intimidation for example, we not only need to quit acting in an intimidating fashion (unless that is our goal) but also greatly reduce how often we are intimidated. Guilt & insecurity that lead to fear prevents us from becoming more consistent in our thoughts and actions. Part of the problem is our amazing lack of education in the art of risk assessment. Some people have jobs that require them to develop an expertise in risk management, but often it doesn’t extend to other areas of their life. Often they exclude themselves and problems their dealing with. When you talk about risk management you first need to understand these three facts:

1.risk means something can go wrong.

Some risks can be eliminated, but more often it is a matter of minimizing.

2. This applies not only to others, but you too.

3. Accept what we can’t change and change what we can.

We should spend a lot less time feeling bad about decisions and actions we made. And a little less time celebrating our victories. This time is better spent on improving and using our risk management skills. In other words, evaluate adjust, and move on.

Some people feel a sense of virtue in feeling negative about themselves. There are legitimate reasons why people feel this way; while. Although these emotions are understandable, they are not virtuous but selfish. We cannot be our best if we carry this burden. As we improve in understanding and healing ourselves, we are continuing to develop our skills in expressing ourselves to the outside world.

So, we are back to outside again. It is entirely possible this only makes sense to me, but it has certainly made a big difference in my ability to deal with issues both big and s

Searching for Periods through Sunshine & Rain

I haven’t written or posted for a while. Maybe I lack inspiration or just ran out things to say. I’ll stick with that; sounds better than admitting confidence and meaning are slipping away. A kind person responded to me the other day and reminded me of two things; one, when I started my blog my goal was to try and help one person with one problem. Her second point I realized through its effect on me. The power of a well-timed comment can act as a comma or exclamation point. She showed me that one comment can help slow down or increase momentum down a given corridor of the mind. Thank you.

I am sure you have noticed that I sure do like commas and semi-colons even though I am not sure how to use them correctly. Many of my thoughts and experiences run together and I don’t know where or how to punctuate. I guess I am just reluctant to end something. Who decides when something is a complete thought? Part of the aging process is to witness the passing of periods. Children see periods often, my toy broke, therefore I will never have a fun toy again. The simple act of staying alive makes sentences that once contain our whole world and future appear both forgettable and frightening. They are forgettable because they are just one of the many that make up your book of life. Frightening because of a growing exposure to their finite number.

My mom passed a while back, I remember her saying all her friends were either dead or dying. This stage of life she lamented, is funny because like a child you feel more of an onlooker than a participant. The difference is a child can sense the growth to come and you feel the inevitable decay. When decay becomes your most relevant perspective, you turn backward not forward for meaning. In the turning, the question becomes what is the appropriate reaction. Should I whip my back bloody with the stripes of past mistakes, failures, the road left untaken? On the other hand, should I inflate my own accomplishments, while diminishing those of others? Perhaps, I should become bitter and bemoan my fate, play the victim. I am both sadden and perversely comforted by the fact that even those who played their role with respect and dignity are soon forgotten. Even when remembered, their legacy depends more on the needs of those remembering than the facts of the life being contemplated.

P.S,

I have nothing against the term “passed” for describing the dead, but neither am I fond of it. I think of death as opening up a book in a completely new genre; its unknown realities we can only guess at. In closing, I find the act of writing requires me to be open, vulnerable and at least look for some periods. No wonder it can be scary.

What is on My Account?

 

Like most people I believe in accountability, especially other peoples. Ever noticed that Dems hold Republicans and Republicans hold Dems accountable for all “their” party’s actions. If you endorse somebody once does everything they do go on your account. If so, I am deeply concerned. It seems to me that just because you vote for someone doesn’t mean you wanted them to do stupid things. Your vote isn’t a blanket endorsement for everything they do or promote; at least it shouldn’t be. My thoughts today are preoccupied with accountability not politics.

You see I am struggling with the intersection of liability and children, one in particular. Sense I did a lot more than vote for my offspring, I assume I should have more culpability. Is that a forever thing? What about term limits? When do your children reach the age of accountability? Is there a starting and ending date? I never remember telling my children they’re not responsible for their actions. Neither do I know how to quit caring for them and feeling I could have done better. It occurs to me that accountability implies choice and control. Choice can be much more elusive than it first appears. When control is absent and influence waning your list of effective options is limited and just on a personal level. Society’s understanding of choice and control is constantly being revised.

There are more questions today about what we do control and how that impacts our choices than ever before. Damn the enlightenment! Do we need to answer those questions before we evaluate other people’s behavior, including our own? Most of us believe we have control over things we don’t and at same time fail to exercise the free will we have. I want to give my children joy, purpose and take away their pain. The child I am concern with at the present has chosen a path removed from my experience and to a degree understanding. That said, there are many things we share. I would like to tell them that I understand feeling isolated and filled with self-doubt. To make them understand that when hope is little more than a fading shadow, learn to wait. It will appear again. Mostly, know you are loved. I am sorry for the times when I could have done better. When the right words and actions I did not find, perhaps I did not look. To be an effective father and person I need to accept my faults and forgive them. Self-reproach only bares rotten fruit. My far too simple conclusion is FAT.  1. Forgiveness over blame 2. Acceptance over expectations 3. Treat yourself as you think you should treat others.

Is There Good?

Is there good? I mean a deep down good in people, in societies, in nature? If you answered yes, then why is there so much violence and suffering? When nature gives so much, makes life possible, why is she often so vicious? She has always been a hard mistress. Is it possible that we have been such poor stewards that her fury grows? These are fundamental questions I have been exploring and we have all thought about. In my youth having no real first-hand experience of suffering, (at least not in accordance to the standards at the time) I would have said of course there is good. Then after watching a documentary or news cast showing innocent people suffering; I would have with equal or perhaps more zeal said there is no such thing as basic good. While I may not have been able to hold two contrary conclusions in my mind at the same time, it seems I had no problem switching back and forth largely due to the most recent input.
There are volumes of information on the subject, I have only scratched the surface on the topic. Given we live in a time when the uninformed demand equal billing with those who know, being partially informed allows me in good conscience to continue. What I have found is that there are no satisfying answers. Which makes it a great topic for intelligent debate, stupid arguments, and everything in between. I have also decided that it would have been much more fascinating to me thirty years ago; now it seems quaint and not all that interesting. Instead of giving you philosophical arguments on the merits of my opinion, I will give you an account of one person’s experience, my own.

The answer lies in your focused. My neighbor (Mel) is an accomplished woman and goes every day to a high-pressure job. She has far too many ailments for me to keep track of and battles every night to find sleep because of the pain. She is anything but Pollyannaish, so I found somewhat surprising that she has posted more than once on how she feels blessed. Some of the main sources of her gratitude were her dogs, family and friends. I am guessing Tom should be first, but the order listed may be correct. I have never talked to her about it, so it is mere conjecture. As long has we’re guessing, I’m thinking she understands both how important and how hard it can be to direct or perhaps redirect would be more accurate, your focus. The same would be true of my neighbor Cookie who is battling cancer. The act of writing for me is a way to accomplish this goal as well as an act of discovery. I hope to learn something and maybe in some small way be changed by it. I have just now realized that I live on a somewhat unlucky block. Starting with the house on the top of the block: we got cancer, then Cookie/cancer, Mel & her ailments, then my house with my cancer, my wife’s arthritis, my son’s cp (cerebral palsy),next to me is my healthy daughter’s house, then the house on the corner, where the man suffered a terrible ladder accident. My block may be challenged on the health front, but not on the good neighbor front. So, I am happy to be living with my uniquely common, or should it be commonly unique neighbors? that appreciate the struggle and seldom struggle to understand the core meaning of good. I am not suggesting that suffering makes you good or is in itself good, only that it helped me recognize it and that is no small thing.
Anymore, my son’s life is not so much about pain and that is a good thing. It’s about trying to walk, move your hand to your mouth so you can feed yourself, to speak, to navigate his way through a world in which everything we do without thinking takes an extreme effort. To find his place. I have been at his side for this journey. I understand him, but not what it is like to be him. How can I really know what it is like to be him? Our experience in life is so different. I can tell you what I see, someone who fights long after I would have shouted, “no mas”. Someone who is happy and encourages others. These qualities make him easier and more pleasant to work with. I spend a lot of time with him and so does my wife. Parents and those who work with special needs kids, who by the way become young adults, know it will dramatically change your life. What it doesn’t do, at least for me and those who I think are good, is change their fundamental beliefs. In part because they see the person underneath the need more than the need itself. They have a core of expectations that allow for these differences. They give of themselves freely, often with little or no praise and never expecting it. Often embarrassed by it. My cynicism and disillusionment started years before my son was born. My son’s birth was the seed of enlightenment, the beginning of my ability to see the good. It was a skill that grew slowly. It was reinforced and given a boost by my encounter with cancer. I have my struggles, but more and more I am able to direct my focus on the good. When I do become overwhelmed my stay is shorter. I redirect quicker. Perhaps one day I will have eyes that see and ears that hear. So, in conclusion, I don’t know why bad things happen to good people. All I do know is that good people do not always get what they hoped for, or what they think is just, but they none the less they can see the good does exist. For me, at least to some degree, it is a matter of focus.

A conversation at Nightfall with Winston Ray Brown Dog

I have always liked the night, although I find the contrary more often true lately. In a way, it is the same feature of the night that I worshipped then, I can dislike intensely now. How to describe this feature that I found so appealing in the past. and do even now, on a good night. The definition of good has been reduced, it lacks most of the excitement and some of the contentment, but can, at times, still be insightful. The feature I speak of is the night’s distance, in both time and space, from the day. When I think about it, what I found fascinating, the big draw of nightfall, was the distorting effect it had on all who entered its’ domain. It covered certain flaws and magnified others, those of us afraid of bright light, not quite uniformly correct could maneuver less encumbered by the paradigm of the day. There are truths revealed in the night that remains hidden in the shadows during the reign of the Helios. Some can be profound, but many are just far-flung wanderings because boundaries are dissolved and this time belongs to the nocturnal. Their truths are not day truths and like the mythical vampire, they should be laid to rest by sunrise. Loneliness and pain are living entities at night that prey on the weak and the weary. It isn’t so much that emotions become increased; it is that they awaken from slumber and go on the prowl. It is a time when love can take many forms, it can be a cruel master, a faded memory, something just out of reach, or your savior against the perils of the night. I became aware, in a way that can only happen at night, when comes to providing or receiving love, two legs are optional. So forgive me if I can not say if it was a dream, an intense conversation, or the reality of the never world of nightfall. Last night I became Winston Ray Brown Dog. I will not bore you on what it was like to become a dog, only what I found. I found Love. My wife bought me my bowl of food with a smile that reached her eyes; no sign of regret or imposition. She held my face close and rubbed her hands through my hair. She whispered words of affection, no more than that! her whole countenance expressed the appreciation and love whispered in my ear. My presence brought her happiness. I licked her face once and I heard an almost high pitch howl of what I perceived to be the ancient wolf slowly morph into the familiar baritone of Winston Ray Brown Dog. It was calling me back from my night vision. I am not given to interpreting dreams, except to say thanks to all the Brown Dogs in the world. And also to be reminded that when I was little I felt like the prey, then for many years I considered myself more predator than prey. With age and illness, the pendulum swings back. I remember being little and we were stuck in the mud on a dark and raining night, I was worried the devil was going to get me, I laid my head on my Nana’s lap and all she said was shh and I fell fast asleep. I am not looking for someone to chase away my demons, but I sure did like being Brown Dog; loved and accepted, just because.

A Conversation at Nightfall with Winston Ray Brown Dog

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I have always like night, although I find the contrary more often true lately. In a way, it is the same feature of the night that I worshipped then, I can dislike intensely now. How to describe this feature that I found so appealing in the past. and do even now, on a good night. The definition of good has been reduced, it lacks most of the excitement and some of the contentment, but can, at times, still be insightful.  The feature I speak of is the night’s distance, in both time and space, from the day. When I think about it, what I found fascinating, the big draw of nightfall, was the distorting effect it had on all who entered its’ domain. It covered certain flaws and magnified others, those of us afraid of bright light, not quite uniformly correct could maneuver less encumbered by the paradigm of the day. There are truths revealed in the night that remains hidden in the shadows during the reign of the Helios.  Some can be profound, but many are just far-flung wanderings because boundaries are dissolved and this time belongs to the nocturnal. Their truths are not day truths and like the mythical vampire, they should be laid to rest by sunrise. Loneliness and pain are living entities at night that prey on the weak and the weary. It isn’t so much that emotions become increased; it is that they awaken from slumber and go on the prowl. It is a time when love can take many forms, it can be a cruel master, a faded memory, something just out of reach, or your savior against the perils of the night. I became aware, in a way that can only happen at night, when comes to providing or receiving love, two legs are optional.

So forgive me if I can not say if it was a dream, an intense conversation, or the reality of the never world of nightfall. Last night I became Winston Ray Brown Dog. I will not bore you on what it was like to become a dog, only what I found. I found Love. My wife bought me my bowl of food with a smile that reached her eyes; no sign of regret or imposition. She held my face close and rubbed her hands through my hair. She whispered words of affection, no more than that! her whole countenance expressed the appreciation and love whispered in my ear. My presence brought her happiness. I licked her face once and I heard an almost high pitch howl of what I perceived to be the ancient wolf slowly morph into the familiar baritone of Winston Ray Brown Dog. It was calling me back from my night vision. I am not given to interpreting dreams, except to say thanks to all the Brown Dogs in the world. And also to be reminded that when I was little I felt like the prey, then for many years I considered myself more predator than prey. With age and illness, the pendulum swings back. I remember being little and we were stuck in the mud on a dark and raining night, I was worried the devil was going to get me, I laid my head on my Nana’s lap and all she said was shh and I fell fast asleep. I am not looking for someone to chase away my demons, but I sure did like being Brown Dog; loved and accepted, just because.

About Endings

I am pretty sure I  was talking to some good friends today, I mean I know they’re friends, but sometimes I just talk when people I know are standing around. Then again sometimes they talk and I just unknowingly nod my head occasionally. But I was really listening, and their words carried sincerity. I could tell because their eyes and body language, even their breathing was in sync with what was being said. The effect was to add a depth to the spoken word that must be experienced through personal contact. There was conversion about what had changed since we’d last seen each other. What was new. Talking about what was new had taken on a whole new dimension than in times past. It’s similar to picking up the OBITS. A good day is no news, nothing changed. Maybe change has always brought endings, but in the past, there seemed to more of a balance with opportunities. This was more like the goodbyes when you don’t think it’s coming back. It’s gone. I don’t know if anybody else thinks about this scene this way, but I think of the Garden of Gethsemane as the saddest goodbye ever. The classic turning point in the story where it turns tragic. Praying things could be different, knowing and accepting they can’t. Surely everyone can feel his despair, courage and resolve. No, wait they are sleeping, poor little guys are tired. After all, Palm Sunday was pretty exciting, an eventful few days. I wonder how many times I have slept through someone’s hour of loneliness. Please wake me up.

On Love

 

I have been thinking a lot about love lately. Some of my questions are the following; what is it? Is it important? Does it change over time? As we age? Is it limited? Is it innately good? Does it require reciprocity to be real?

Here are my answers in order: a certain type of close connection, yes, sure, depends, to some degree, eventually. I hope this was helpful to anybody else who was also wondering about these things.

P.S.

The Greeks had four words that I am familiar with to describe love. I am not interested in formal definitions, but it is interesting that we only have one word. Maybe I should say I only have one, usually reserved for describing a day spent smoking ribs, drinking beer, and watching or listening to a game. In Kansas City, this is considered more of a sacred ritual than a past time. As a city, we don’t insist that all people love sports and barbeque. If you’re not into the town’s teams you can play music and eat barbeque. If you’re not into barbeque, you can have intestinal problems of some type or be one of the allowed vegans to show we are up to date. I will admit we have an increasing number of sushi eaters. Fads, what can you do? It is the perfect city for a guy like me who likes people, just not too many. In my case, throat cancer and not totally unrelated dental problems have turned my devotion to ribs into more of an arduous task than a labor of love. It is the memory of drinking beer and eating ribs that I am still in love with. The sensual pleasure I use to get no longer exists. A phrase I frequently heard and consistently rebelled at when I was at Mayo, was, “you have to get used to a new normal”. It takes a certain kind of person to make “don’t either have to” sound like a well-reasoned argument. I believe I did.

When trying to figure out what love is we need to ask how much of love contains reason. At what points do they intersect or do they intersect at all. Love is a topic I want to explore over several installments. I like the word explores. It fills my mind with images of wandering in a strange wilderness not knowing what mystery I might uncover. Maybe, I will try and remember what different kinds of love used to feel like and mean. Lately, I find the imagery for exploring works for remembering.

Comments welcome.

I will leave you with one final question, is love everywhere or hard to find?

Lady who Broke the Jar

(“where the gospel is preached,  what she has done will be told “)

Lady who broke the alabaster jar

did you know you would be remembered?

Did you know you would become the standard?

Was the symbolism planned?

Did it just flow from a spontaneous act of love & devotion?

What’s that? Less of the mind and more of the heart.

That’s why you can reach out across time and speak

to those who will listen.   I’m listening.

Praying I am given ears to hear and understand.

You tell me I am an earthen vessel and like the jar must be broken.

Only then can the good inside flow out and be refilled, purified.

But I hesitate to empty out the last portion.

A big man attired in his sturdy amour enters my thoughts,

His name is caution, seizing the opportunity,

he takes control, his advise is simple, hold back.

He orders “Save the jar, surely that amount is sufficient.”

Soft sweet hands caress my face

Blessed lips whisper in my ear

Just one word, “break”.

Softly, I protest, I have loved before and been betrayed.

Caution speaks up,

“should he expose his neck to the ax and the wolf.”

His shell is a shield, he is not hiding, it is self- defense I tell you.

It does not keep good in;  it keeps the bad out.

His scars are proof that the fears are real and they do cut,

Some are deep, the wounds heal some, remain some.

Then that feminine loving voice speaks again.

She does not refute Caution’s contentions or address my doubts.

Look at me! is all she says.

Looking into her eyes my mind was consumed with images of her.

Breaking the alabaster jar, the anointing nard running through his hair, preparing his feet.

I become confused are those her tears or mine, maybe his?

I see this soft, smooth hair with a wild, natural edge to it,

begin to wipe his feet.

The scorn of the onlookers cannot penetrate her hearing.

The senses often follow the heart and hers is fixed.

Caution’s husky voice brings me back to reality.

He has said his piece and walks out.

I watch him walk away,

his amour turns into a finely tailored suit,

his horse a Maserati.

Without wealth, I still face the rich man’s choice.

Engulfed by a sense of emptiness

I notice her touch has been removed

She smiles and turns, pausing she extends her hand.

If I take It, I will never be here again,

I will be vulnerable again.

Risking disappointments and pain

and yes, the joys and faith of a child

Help me choose wisely.

Additional Info

Biblical accounts

lady and the Jar     -Mathew 26:6-14, Mark 14:3-9, John 12:1-8, Luke 7:36-50

Rich man                  -Mark10: 17-31, Luke 18:22, Matthew 19:21

In writing this my goal was to reflect the larger picture that the biblical accounts surrounding this Lady and Jar meant to me. There are many sermons that accent different parts of these accounts the vast majority of which I have never heard. There is so much packed in an economy of words in these accounts that I chose to make passing reference to some and by in large spend my time on the act itself and the choice demonstrated and implied. There are reasons to believe that not all the accounts (especially Luke) refer to the same incident or Lady. These are issues I did not concern myself with. I believe sometimes we don’t read close enough or spend the time it takes to learn sufficient context to get the big picture. Often there is more than one important lesson. Conversely, the other camp sometimes gets so wrapped up in details they fail to see the forest for the trees. I spend my fair share of time in both.  I am more of a question than answer guy.

Listen, please

 

I am not educated in anything particular, still, I demand my right to add my voice to this excessively noisy world. Without stature, and being of little to no value to mankind, community, family or friends; I am hard pressed to explain why I should, but none the less I will speak. All you busy people, Stop and Listen, there are too many people talking and responding with no discernable knowledge. There are too few listening. I sometimes question if some youth know how to listen. Too often they just hear, maybe respond, and dismiss, perhaps delete or trash is a better word. I believe the correct term for when my Papa said listen up is active listening. In addition to the overall decline in active listening, I have noticed that the skill involved in what my Nana called talking on the phone to gabby friends (pseudo listening to us moderns) is also sorely lacking. If done properly the other person thinks you’re listening. Perhaps it is just me, but I like for people to try and act like they’re not blowing me off or else just say excuse me and move on to the next important task on their electronic device. By now I am sure you are asking, “Why should I have to be quiet when you get to talk?” There are three reasons: first, I have every confidence your fingers or lips will be flying in communication shortly. I wonder if listening can count as communicating? Second, at least I know I shouldn’t be talking even though I am. Do you?  Lastly, I am not really talking. Let me elaborate, I have no agenda. I lost it along with my dreams and ambition. They are out of date, so if you find them, please discard. This means I am not trying to persuade you to do something, join my side, or even convince you there is any redeeming factor left to find in me. Visualize me as less of a person and more of a guide. Picture an uninformed tour guide who is at the back of the bus. He knows not where we are going, only where we’ve been. That’s me. I simply try to point out certain things for your consideration on our journey. For example, look at the giraffe in that mans backyard. Do you think that young girl should climb up its’ neck to reach the apple in the tree?  Everyone looks like a kid to me. Oh look, that semi doesn’t look like it is going to stop. Does anyone else want to scream in terror? It is only natural. It always looks darkest before you get run over. My true friends avoid me so I won’t bother asking to copy and paste or is it post? Is that what people say? I’m sorry I wasn’t listening. Did you know every tool and person has its purpose? They can be great when used properly. I always liked that Dick and Jane kind of rhythm to writing. I am a simple man.