The Passing of Time in the Moments

The youngster that represents a new year is already beginning to look a lot like Old Man Time. And 2022 is not even a month old yet!  Such are the times that we live in.

Reminders of the passing of time surround us. Hopefully, we recall the importance of each moment as we live in the moment. Instead of hand-wringing or stressing about our desire for things to be “normal” again, we would be better served using the moments to learn, grow, understand and love. The myriad of influences and factors in society today overwhelm us and rob us of the magnificence of the moment.

My wife had my old family clock repaired as my Christmas gift. It has been in the family for a long time and its tick-tocking now, after many decades of silence, reminds me of time passing. It also reminds me of many great stories remembered from times when I was a kid and my dad wound the clock every night.  The sound makes me wonder about the decades of stories that the clock has lived through. Now, it is part of my routine to wind it. It is part of my story, and I am part of its. Maybe that is part of the lessons: time passes…pay attention to the moments as they present opportunity and they create memories, all of which helps anchor us in tumultuous times.

About 20 years ago, in personally tumultuous times, I wrote lyrics about the passing of time and my relationship with my sons. Time was passing; it still is. My dad’s ritual with the clock became part of the message. The refrain and one of the stanzas follows:

Father, father

Dad of mine

Tell me your stories

Share some time

Remind me you love me

With a hug and a smile.

I look up to you

I copy your walk

I’ve watched and listened

Since the time I could talk

I look at your hands

While you wind the clock

Amidst the challenges that I faced at the time, I sought to find some stability and direction; I looked back to improve my chances of moving forward properly. A significant determinant in my decision making was my sons. The decisions you are making today are influenced by, and with consideration for, others, too.

Considering the past two years and how things are shaping up this year, now might be a good time to find tools for stability and clarity. They are moments; they enable us to learn, grow, understand and love. They also provide us with perspective and context for the future. If we use them thusly, we can make sense of today while moving forward to our tomorrows.

Happy New Year…let the learning continue

2020 and 2021 have been doozies.  There is no reason to believe that 2022 will be less so.  Don’t say, “It has to be better than 2021” or 2022 might take it as a dare. Amidst it all, there is a lot to learn.

There are many lessons to learn, but, like the lessons we had in school, the question has to be asked, “Did we learn from the lessons?” I leave that to you to determine.

New Year’s Day is often a time of reflection. Perhaps reflect on these matters, particularly as they relate to the many lessons we will encounter in 2022:

  1. “Did I learn more about compassion, empathy and love?”
  2. “Did I learn more about resilience, independence, confidence and courage?”
  3. “Did I learn more about truth, beauty and goodness?”
  4. “Did I learn humility, cooperation, patience, hope and charity?”
  5. “Did I gain wisdom by listening to life and those I encounter?”

These lessons aren’t like in school where you have tests, homework and exams scattered throughout the semester. Our lessons come in each moment, as do the tests to determine whether we’ve learned and are applying the lessons.

I wish you a 2022 that is rich in learning as there will be many lessons to learn from. Guaranteed. 

Be meaningful…

This might be the most important Christmas card that my wife and I (Mr Mrs D) receive this year. Brad gave it to me at work (I work at New Danville, a nonprofit for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities) the other day. Inside was more than a message about Holy Night.

The card said in ways that most do not, “I thought about you.” It didn’t include a photo of him and his pets; it didn’t have a printed “personal” message that was the same on every card; it didn’t have a synopsis of his year and his many achievements.  Inside the card, along with its printed message, was his first name and last initial printed with a ballpoint pen. That’s all. Those five letters spoke volumes, including messages about thoughtfulness.

He came into my office to tell me what he had for supper the night before and what he was going to have that night. We often have that conversation. He asked a variety of questions and then said, “What’s your name?”  I answered, after which he asked me to close my eyes. When he replied positively to my question about whether I could open my eyes, the pictured envelope lay atop my keyboard. He was proud to give it and I was humbled to receive it.

The next morning, I saw Brad in the parking lot when I pulled in.  The first thing I did was call out to him that Cheryl really appreciated the card. I wasn’t sure that he heard me because he was simultaneously calling out to ask me if I had shown the card to her. As we approached each other, he said, “How did her eyes look when she saw it?” The simple honesty and curiosity of his question set me aback. “Her eyes welled up,” I said. By his question, though, I knew that he wanted his gesture to be meaningful; it was.

Be meaningful in what you say and do.

Give This…

Thanksgiving kicks off the giving season in a lot of ways.  It also serves as a reminder of the many things we can give to each other, a notion exacerbated by Black Friday sales events and commercials that tug hearts, stoke envy and leverage vanity.  One would think there are a million things to give others and ourselves.

The past 20 months have given everyone the opportunity –by choice or by circumstances – to consider what is important in life, including life itself. Lessons subtle and profound have been learned.  Insights wise and informative have been revealed. Amidst all the turmoil of the past 600 days resides the knowledge of what we are most called to give in the season of giving. Of all things to give this year, one stands apart.

Give thanks.

Give thanks for life and living, experiences and loving, health and recovery, food and shelter, family and friends, colleagues and strangers, successes and failures. Give thanks quietly, share thanks with others.

I hope you and yours have a wonderful Thanksgiving; give thanks.

A Tip of the Hat

The other day I witnessed something that I hadn’t seen in quite a while. It used to be a normal part of etiquette. I imagine it can largely only be found in small communities now. The purposes of the act that I witnessed seem to have almost disappeared from our culture: respect, appreciation, and acknowledgement. A man tipped his hat.

The history of tipping or removing one’s hat dates back for centuries. While much of the etiquette guidelines remain, few remain in practice. The reasons and rules for the gestures are nicely explained here. Whether to wear a hat or not, and whether to follow the etiquette or not matter less to me than the loss of the reasons behind the rules:  public display of respect, appreciation and acknowledgement.

Several books could be (and likely already have been) written regarding the many reasons for the near extinction of various signs of simple courtesy. I’m confident in my understanding of why, but now is not the time or place to dwell there.

The gesture of removing or tipping one’s hat affects the one who did it, the one for whom it was done and those who witness the act. Such behavior affects others and, ultimately, society at large.

The same is true for other gestures, too: opening doors for others, stepping aside for others to pass, waving greetings, using “sir” or “ma’am” in interactions, smiling, patting on the shoulder or back. There are many ways of showing respect, appreciation and acknowledgement. At the root of all them is a simple awareness that people are people, worthy of respect, and all of us have a role to play in connecting to one another.

We could use more hat tipping.

“Are you happy?”

It’s a simple question amidst a variety of questions Brad asks me. He is a resident of the nonprofit community for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities that I work for. I can usually predict the question he will ask me, depending on the time of day. In my seven months there, he has asked me one particular question only once.

He’ll knock on my door while opening it to have an exchange that can last seconds or minutes. He’ll ask what I had for supper or whether my wife cooked a good supper the day before.  He’ll ask whether I have ever had what he had for supper the night before, and then explains what he had and how he cooked it. He’ll ask if I’m staying out of trouble. I’ve heard the questions scores of times and I never tire of them because they provide opportunities to interact.

Then there was that one time. The one question that threw me. The one question that gave me pause. The one question that provided insights into relationships and into ourselves that it stuck with me.

“Are you happy?”

I replied positively because I was.  Since he asked the question shortly after I returned to work after an eight-day stint in the hospital and a two-week recovery quarantine with COVID, I had more reasons to be happy than usual. But happy is happy, and happy is a choice. (I believe the taproot for the emotion of happiness is the spiritual gift of joy, but I will address that another time in my faith-based blog topics.) How different this question was than his questions about meals or cooking, or queries as to people I know and other questions that can be responded to with information, not emotion.  Emotion connects.

“Are you happy?”  That’s a worthwhile question to ask the person in the mirror and to consider for anyone you meet. Humanity resides not as much in the response but as in empathizing as to why the answer is what it is. No matter, happiness is still a choice.  It can be a difficult choice to make.

Every person we encounter – spouse, family member, friend, etc. – has much going on in their lives, resting on their hearts and wrestling in their minds. As for the question, there is no wrong answer. I believe just considering it for ourselves and those in our lives is an important opportunity to discover and connect, and, at times, to help.

Tea Leaves and Other Sources of Knowledge

Some believe that the future can be forecast by reading tea leaves; I believe there is much knowledge and wisdom to be learned by breaking leaves.

My kin on my father’s side were Mississippi farmers, chicken raisers and toilers of the land. A person learns a lot by planting, growing, harvesting and raising, and by paying attention to signs revealed in weather, dirt and leaves. I recall my grandmother walking through our backyard and pulling off sample leaves from a variety of plants as I am sure she did throughout her life. She would then break them in half or crush them slightly before sniffing them. It was as if she couldn’t not perform her routine. She always had an observation to share after taking a sniff, though I remember none of the specifics. It wasn’t until much later in life that I began to somewhat understand what and why she did what she did.

The other day I walked to the gardens and greenhouse at work. My inclination was to take some leaves, break them in half and take a long, slow inhale of the scents from the split photosynthesis machines. It was more than an inclination, it was an instinct. The aromas were marvelous.

I’m sure that grandma got a lot more out of her leaf sniffs than I do. She could also differentiate between plants of similar leaf shapes and I suspect she re-kindled her special relationship with the land by taking in the scents of various plants in our backyard. She would call out plants by leaf shape, bark texture, vine characteristics, and so on. I get pleasure and a sense of connection to a lifestyle that I’ve never experienced, but I don’t have the experience-borne knowledge about life with earth.

There is much wisdom and knowledge required to live amidst nature, particularly when working with it for sustenance as my, and many of your, relatives did. Their lessons were learned with back-breaking labor, not the labors of classroom study; their knowledge was gained by surviving challenges of weather and soil, not the challenges of finding parking spaces at university; their wisdom was developed by persistence and judgment, not over reactions to the conditions of the moment.

As I learn more about plants, specifically the herbs and vegetables in my garden, I further those connections and my knowledge. While some seek tea leaves to see the future, I will try to tap into knowledge and wisdom from the lessons of the past through leaves. I will learn patience, stewardship, symbiosis and much more. Let the lessons continue.

Wisdom from the One-click Portrait Session

I always enjoy providing portfolio reviews for members of photography clubs. My approach is different than most reviewers. As one recent photographer told me, “Other reviewers focus on the photograph, but you focus on the artist.” Amidst my comments about the images, individually and collectively, I also try to share and gain wisdom from the photographer. There are technical aspects, but creating images is a human endeavor above all else. Invariably, for whatever wisdom I share, I receive more. A recent review opportunity was no exception.

Jerry had a selection of about a dozen images of a series of portraits he captured on the streets in Italy. He shared how he asked in limited Italian with a Texas drawl if he could take each person’s photo. His first two requests were declined in grouchy ways, but then he got a positive response from a woman who sold soaps and lotions as a street vendor and the portrait project was underway. His motivation and his approach provide great insights into life and people. The portraits were great; the wisdom was priceless.

Each image showed great rapport between Jerry and his subjects, evidenced by their expressions and the looks in their eyes. It is easy to tell about the relationship between a photographer and the subject by looking at the subject’s eyes. He clearly connected to each person with glimpses of their personalities on display.

When I asked what attracted him to the people who chose to photograph, Jerry replied, “I think people are interesting.” We could all do well to see people as interesting instead of as adversaries, looking for things we can appreciate in others instead of things that differentiate us.  Jerry’s images show the power of such a mindset.

A talented portrait photographer must build trust and rapport to create an atmosphere where the subject can relax and reveal their true selves. Each session is like a mini-relationship. When I asked Jerry how many images he created of each person of which he chose to show, he said, “One.”  One click of the shutter.

Instead of following all the “rules” and “guides” of how to create portraits, Jerry took the risk to reach out to people because he believed them to be interesting, asked permission to take a photo and then pushed the shutter button once. He did not presume to consume their time for his intentions. He was unselfish in his approach and the results revealed interesting people who were rendered in images that revealed human spirit, personality and connection. We could do well to follow Jerry’s example as we see and interact with others.

Dad’s dimes…and other signs of love

My dad collected dimes.  Just dimes.  He was not a numismatist. The coins’ value did not come by holding onto them for a long period of time and he was not selective as to which coins he kept. The value of the coins, collectively and individually, peaked every year around the same time…my mom’s birthday.

I don’t recall being as old as to be in my teen years when dad began keeping dimes from his change. He would occasionally ask if my sister or I had dimes he could buy from us. Ten dimes became a dollar bill, which was a pretty cool transformation to a kid. Instead of loose change, we had paper money. Grown up money.

As I recall, it took a few years before the secret came out. Dad gathered dimes throughout the year, pulling them from his other coins to a special holding place. Later, they were put into coin wrappers, and we got to help with that, too. “I use them to buy a birthday present for your mom,” he shared.

Looking back, it seems that he took this path when family finances were challenging. As conditions improved, dad maintained the practice though he didn’t need to find funds for presents in this loving way.

Dad was an imperfect man, as all of us are, but he loved his wife and family. There was never any doubt about that.  Born early in the 20th century, having grown up in difficult conditions during difficult times, he was not an outwardly expressive guy. He communicated his love in a variety of ways, and my mom was wise enough to see love in action.

Dad was self-employed as an accountant. He put in whatever hours it took to take care of his family and his clients. During some times of the year, dad would be up by 4 in the morning, getting ready in the darkness to head to work. Mom shared that he would use a flashlight to go through the drawers in the bureau and navigate the bedroom and bathroom. She said that, despite his efforts to be quiet and to keep the darkness, he bumped into things and cast his light around. “He wakes me, but I don’t say anything. I know he is trying and is being thoughtful.”

Trying does matter, as does generosity of spirit when interpreting others’ actions.

Dad had other ways of communicating, too. I recall often how he would hold mom’s hand while in the car. I see how my hand holds my wife’s while we are going somewhere, and I see mom’s and dad’s hands.

We can’t have too many ways of saying “I love you.” Often the whispered actions are more clearly understood than the loudly proclaimed words. Try. Trying matters.

“Slow down, I’ll…”

My dad loved to take impromptu trips to the hardware store when I was a kid. His business had stabilized enough by the time I was a young teen that he could pick up a tool or gizmo or gadget whenever he wanted it. The trips would usually start with him picking up his keys, walking by me and saying, “Come on, let’s go to the store.” His call to action was always accompanied by a smile.

I loved those little jaunts to the nearby Wagner Hardware or Handy Dan Home Improvement. I never knew what we’d walk out with. The walk in often resulted in the same comment. Dad’s words have stayed with me for 50+ years.

Dad was 43 years old when I was born. He walked crisply with perfect posture, and I was young and energetic. What dad had in posture, I had in pace.  It would only take a few steps after getting out of the car before I was ahead of him, heading to our shopping adventure.

“Slow down and I’ll walk with you,” he would say.

His message was a simple reminder. It serves as a reminder to this day.

Slow down. Slow….down.

Slow down the pace of living, working, planning, measuring success…slow down. You might find that you’ve been missing more than just seeing things; you have left people behind. Some are friends, some are strangers and some are people you love. Slow down and see the opportunity to engage with and listen to people while in line at the store, or when looking at the same items on the shelf as the person next to you. Slow down and see the opportunities that you encounter everyday at work, at the gas station, at church, at chamber luncheons, in waiting rooms.

Before you head out the door again, pause. Slow your pace. Notice throughout your day who you might have otherwise left behind had you not slowed your pace and heard the world say, “Slow down and I’ll walk with you.”