Special people…special stories…special wisdom

I love listening to, and sharing, stories about others, but you know that. There is wisdom in those stories; you know that, too. I’m trying to be cool, calm and collected about my work sharing stories being recognized, but it isn’t easy.

I am proud to announce that I have been selected to receive a Barbara Jordan Media Award from the Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities in the newsletter category for having created the newsletter for the organization I work for. The award medallion states, “For excellence in the communication of the realities of people with disabilities.” I am humbled.

I work at New Danville, a nonprofit, rural community for special needs adults; our newsletter is called The Wrangler Gazette as a tip of the hat to our clients who are called Wranglers. The award is explained more here, where you can also register for the virtual after-party in July. The video of the virtual award event can be found here; my part starts at 48:59. 😊

This isn’t a column about bragging, though. It is about people, their stories and the importance of sharing them. As I said in my acceptance speech, there are many great stories to share, and that’s the point. Stories create connections and understanding. They entertain, enlighten, amuse, inform and engage.

Share stories; listen attentively to stories; ask for stories – the world will be a better place and you will get more out of your day.

The Gift for Father’s Day is…

It has been 40 years since my dad died. I have been son, I am father and have had the blessing to make it to the stage of grandfather, so I think I have some perspectives to talk about Father’s Day, specifically the gift for Father’s Day and the gift of fathers’ days. They are the same thing.

Time. Time spent with my sons has always been the gift of this father’s days. It is also the gift for the celebration of Father’s Day.

I was blessed to spend time with two of my sons this weekend, on Saturday to work (and play) together at my little piece of wooded heaven that I call “Walden,” and with those same two sons at a Sunday get-together where I was also able to enjoy the role of grandfather. My other son was with his family on a vacation to help his wife and kids honor her father on “his day.” The gift, whether on the formal Father’s Day or any day for fathers during the year, is time spent and shared.

Many speakers and authors have said that love is spelled t-i-m-e. Time is the love fathers give to kids as they are growing up and given to dads when adult children are available (and for moms, too, of course, but this is a Father’s Day column).

Don’t wait until next June; spend the time with your kids; spend time with your dad or remember, if he has passed, the positives of the time you spent together.

Dad, I miss you and love you; sons, I love you and relish time spent with you; grandkids, I love the time we have together.

52 Years Since “Love Story”…the story remains

Illness plays a key role in the heart-tugging movie of 52 summers ago, Love Story, starring Ali McGraw and Ryan O’Neal; it also plays a role in the story of love overhead at a recent funeral.

As I talked with the widow left behind by the death of her husband of many decades, I witnessed an ongoing love story as a friend of the widow shared his condolences. He explained how he could not stay long and needed to return to his wife. “She doesn’t feel comfortable coming, and I don’t like to leave her for very long. She gets confused and scared; I want to be there for her so she doesn’t.” The widow nodded knowingly and they hugged as a pause during their conversation. The man’s comments did not include anything negative or disparaging about his wife.

The funeral was a beautiful tribute to the widow’s late husband. The eulogy, and images shown before and after the funeral, conveyed a story of love, dedication and spirit. Theirs was a story of love. The words of the other man, too, have continued to stir my heart; they are a love story in progress, through the illness of dementia.

The man’s words were sewn together with tenderness and compassion, the warp and woof of a love story that, based on the man’s age, I figure started prior to when the movie came out. At my age and in my profession, I am encountering more and more people dealing with dementia. The fabric of the man’s story is that of many people I meet. That fabric is love of strength, sacrifice, dedication and commitment. I am moved each time I encounter such stories.

There’s a lesson for all of us in every story of love that we witness, see or hear. There are unique attributes to each story and commonalities, too. That is why we are moved by movies such as Love Story. We need to allow ourselves the wisdom and emotions of love stories, whether on the big screen or in daily encounters, and learn to emulate what we learn by watching and listening to love in action.

Find yourself anew

I am currently reading three books and have a fourth that I go to for random opportunities to wade in the wisdom of its pages. Each has a bookmark to indicate where I last stopped reading. Because of what I use, none of the books lay perfectly flat; that is telling.

Each bookmark is a #2 pencil. Wood. Obviously sharpened often. Each pink eraser has been re-shaped by use. The pencil marks where I have stopped reading, and graphite lines and notes reveal my journey to that page. As with most every action or habit that a person has, my bookmarks (and book marks) reveal something about what matters to me. I appreciate the reminders about myself.

I love words, either to consume them or create with them;

I love ideas born in thought;

I love stories of life, especially those that share wisdom, create connection or enable understanding;

I love to correlate ideas between chapters, books, authors and eras;

I love images, including those that words inspire in my imagination.

It serves us well to find reminders of what matters to us. Sometimes we forget. Look around and see what you learn anew about yourself.

The Perfect Tribute for Memorial Day

Before you rush out for that Memorial Day sale on tires, or put the match to the charcoal, or start slow cooking the baked beans, pause to consider the right tribute for those we honor today. It could be said that a great way to honor those veterans who have died in service is to enjoy the fruits of freedom for which they sacrificed.  I suggest a more perfect tribute.

Show them peace. Peace begins in our hearts and is maintained moment by moment with intention. Society’s fractures and tears are being fomented by evil and fueled by envy, anger and hatred. Step away. In each moment, each interaction, each conversation, each reaction…choose peace. There will be a time for warring, and those we honor today knew that; they stepped into the breach to help find peace. They have found their peace; let us all try today to find it, too, in our living.

Be Who You Say You Are

The musical group is a tribute band for a popular country singer. The lead vocalist wore a cap with an American flag on it and called out Veterans several times to thank them for their service. The star that the group emulates is known for his conservative values. The owner of the venue started off the evening of music by leading the national anthem after a moving introduction. From best I could tell, not a single member of the group sang the anthem or even mouthed it as the audience joined the leader; my wife and I had good seats in a small venue so it would have been easy to tell if any band members’ lips were moving.

I was suspicious of them from then on. As they sang songs of courage, independence, faith, and good times, I felt they were parrots, not tribute performers, repeating words that they didn’t believe. Such is entertainment, but the dissonance disturbed me. There is plenty of cause for dissonance in daily life.

There should be no disconnect between what we say and how we act in whatever role we’re in. A popular quote attributed to Emerson states “What you do speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you are saying.” The expression is so popular because it resonates with people. Though researchers say Emerson did not say or write that specific quote, it has been cited often, including by President Kennedy in his inaugural address. It says what many wish was said.

Our words and actions should align; we should act out the values we espouse and articulate; what we say and how we act should resonate. What was illustrated in entertainment applies to all aspects of life in all roles we play.

To share, you first must have

Later this month, I’ll present a photography workshop about how to have emotion in one’s photography. One of the key points that I will make is that “you have to feel it before you can share it.” That got me to thinking about anything that we want to share.

It doesn’t matter whether you want to share an emotion or a well-cooked meal or an artistic expression of a feeling…you have to have it yourself, first, before you can share it.

  • Have awe for the grandeur of the landscape before making the decisions to create a photograph that will instill a sense of awe in viewers.
  • Feel genuine excitement for your little leaguers hit if you want to share in words, photos or actions that you are excited about it.
  • Empathize with the person whose story that you are about to capture in words, photographs or sketches before tackling the creation of said works.
  • Reconnect to memories of your grandmother’s kitchen and her cooking of your favorite dish while preparing that dish for your family.

…and so on.

I remind photographers that to see better we need to close our eyes; the view is very different if we engage our other senses before seeing what or who is in front of us. (If this intrigues you, you might like my book, The Seeing, Not the Taking:  A Guide to Seeing for Photographers.) Anyone can take a picture – push a button – but seeing…that is another matter. How do we see others? See life? See beauty? See sadness? See anything in our lives? Only one way…with all five senses, not just one.

Immerse yourself with all senses in all of life’s experiences and the treasure chest of what you can share will always be full, and re-filling every day. Be open to love, emotion, feeling, awe, sorrow, joy…so that you can use it to share with others. We can’t share what we don’t have. Live full; share lovingly.

Thankful for Moms

It’s Mother’s Day. My mom has been gone for 27 years, but I use every day the things that she gave me. Maybe that is what the day is all about: Honoring and thanking moms for what they give us. To honor them most completely, we can share with others those good things.  Three, in particular, come to mind for my mom.

Love

Unconditional. Whether I was an angel or a brat at the moment, I knew I was loved. Whether she was having a good day or a bad day, I knew I was loved. Her epitaph reads “A tender mother and a faithful friend” because of how she loved her kids.

Laughter

The benefits of laughter comprise an extensive list of positives. Laughing with others makes the inevitable tears of life more tolerable. Mom laughed at good jokes, childish play, funny books (“The Egg and I” always had her in tears of laughter) and…life. She laughed with life despite the many challenges life presented her.

Wisdom

Mom was wise in many ways. She shared wisdom gleaned from life’s experiences through stories and conversations. Her wisdom borne in experiences and her wisdom developed through discernment are assets that I access to this day because she shared it. Wisdom should be shared.

There were other gifts, like patience, which she needed a lot of with me, but love, laughter and wisdom stand out as things that shaped me and as the things I hope to share with others.

Happy Mother’s Day to all of you. Happy Mother’s Day, mom; miss you still and always.

The things we don’t know

“How are you doing, sir?” I called out to the man about 20 paces ahead of me in the parking lot.

He paused and when I caught up with him, he said, “After all that in there, I felt like my stuff was nothing.”

“All that in there” referred to what we both had just heard at the conclusion of our parish council meeting after I asked attendees if they had any special intentions for which they would like prayers. Among the needs shared by the 10 people there were for the man whose daughter in-law committed suicide, the parishioner with recently discovered advanced stomach cancer and several others with major challenges in their lives.

“Well, what is your stuff?” I inquired, only to find out about his three skin cancers that had been removed which required some reconstruction on parts of both the man’s ears. “They think they got it all and that it is contained,” he said. “You’ll be on the prayer list,” I replied.

That started a conversation about how little people know about others’ lives. We know not the troubles, concerns, fears, or frustrations that burden, distract, discourage, depress or diminish others, including friends, family, neighbors, and strangers.  We just don’t know.

It is not that we should know, either. Private matters are private matters. We should not presume to know anyone’s situation simply by observation though. Rarely is the impression we get by someone’s appearance, actions or attitudes the correct one. The things we don’t realize about people are often more important in our interactions with others than the things we do. While we don’t need to know, we can assume with 100% accuracy that whoever we encounter is dealing with more, coping with more, fretting about more, distracted by more…than we can ever know. Keep that in mind.

Would you like to try…?

“Would you like to try / Something you never dreamed of?” is more than a lyric to a song; it is challenge and invitation to all of us.

Years ago, after reading The Aladdin Factor, I created a list of more than 100 things I’d like to accomplish in life. I accepted an invitation to join an adult softball team because of the book; I had on my list the desire to hit a home run. I realized that my chance of accomplishing my goal was nil if I wasn’t “in the game.” I did not get a home run, but I did get a “grand slam.” (Read this post for the explanation.)

The list also including writing a song and watching a music recording session. I got the chance for both, and the result is “Wrangler’s Ballad.”  It was written as a tribute to the clients of New Danville, where I work as their development director; it is a community for adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

“Would you like to try / Something you never dreamed of?” sticks in my head.

Try things; dream things; try things you haven’t even dreamed was possible. More than messages in a song, they  are reminders to everyone.