"Everything I Know About Happiness I Learned from a Child - A Refresher Course in Joy" by Jessica Baumgardner, Good Housekeping, June 2007, pg, 123
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
"Everything I Know About Happiness I Learned from a Child - A Refresher Course in Joy" by Jessica Baumgardner, Good Housekeping, June 2007, pg, 123
Monday, May 21, 2007
Recently I got two kittens. Well, not actually baby kittens, more like adolescent cats. The vet guesses that the frisky felines have just passed their first birthday, and in cat years that probably makes them the human equilvalent of 16 year olds who like to sleep all day and get into mischief in the wee hours of the morning.
Long, sleek, black, and panther-like, it's easy to see these rescued-minutes-from-drowning-in-a-well cats have some Siamese in them. If you've seen the movie Lady and the Tramp, my two are every bit as troublesome as Si and Am. Sometimes, I even think I can hear them singing, "we are Si-am-ese if you ple-eese." A little shy and skittish at first, they are each coming into his/her own persona.
Not yet given names that exactly fit their personality, their veterinary records have them labled as "Him" and "Her." So far the only way tell them apart is by the blue or pink collar each wears without much fuss.
Try as I might, in my fifty-five years of living, I’ve never been much good at breaking the rules. I always studied for spelling tests, wait to be seated by a hostess even if there is an available table right in front of me and no other people in line, and bypass parking spaces that are reserved for the “Handicapped,” “an employee of the month,” or “expectant mothers.” Admittedly, my law abidingness is not always about having a super active conscience. Ever since being exposed to the idea that there might be candid cameras lurking about, I just can't take the risk that I might throw caution to the wind only to have my moment's wild and crazy decision caught on video. (Okay, sometimes I taste a grape before buying a whole bunch, but that’s just good shopping!)
I do, however, often break one of the cardinal rules of book buying. Even though it’s common knowledge that you can’t judge a book by its cover, I do so on a regular basis. I’m a sucker for a pretty picture, a romantic drawing or a customer review on Amazon. Sometimes, this particular way of choosing reading material doesn’t work very well, but just as often it does.
Take for example, the cover photo of Three Cups of Tea. The three, head-covered, young girls are so busy reading that they seem not to even be aware of the camera taking their picture. You can’t see their undoubtedly big, brown eyes, but you get the sense that they are Middle Eastern beauties about to embark on a journey that will change not only their lives, but those of their community and nation, and perhaps even the world.
Well, maybe you have to read the title of the book to get that much out of the picture, but still it's captivating. Three Cups of Tea – One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace … One School at a Time, is, hands-down, the best book I’ve read in awhile. In a world where Republicans are sending American men and women into harm’s way, and Democrats are threatening to cut off funding for their mission and safety; where suicide bombers don’t seem to care who they take with them to meet Allah; and where mothers and fathers of several nations cry as they bury their children, Greg Mortenson has not only conceived of a possible way towards peace, he has put his ideas to the test – and begun to make a difference in small Middle Eastern villages.
Mortenson was raised in the shadow of Mt. Kilimanjaro by Lutheran missionaries. He climbed his first “serious” mountain at the age of eleven and was “hooked forever on climbing.” Fast forward several years to the point in Mortenson’s life where a failed attempt to summit Pakistan’s 28,267 foot K2, a chance encounter with the inhabitants of the mountain village of Korphe, and, let’s face it, the almighty hand of God merged together to re-direct one climber’s and several children's future.
Three Cups of Tea is a fascinating read. Co-author and journalist David Oliver Relin, combines several literary elements - adventure, biography, history, geography, romance, and hair-raising suspense - to tell Mortenson’s story of keeping a promise to the village elder to return to Korphe one day to build a school. It tells of Mortenson's capture by people so fierce that even Alexander the Great decided to leave them alone, as well as his ability to eat, drink and sleep in some pretty raunchy (by my standards) places. It tells of Mortenson's respect for and delight in people who have a different religion and way of life, but who believe in the power of a text book to change lives.
It’s impossible to succinctly re-tell even a part of the story, but I can tell you that Mortenson miraculously returns to Pakistan time and time again, to construct bridges, schools and friendships. When he is not traveling half way around the world, Mortenson manages to forge a relationship with a new bride (who never whines, as I am sure I would have, “what about ME???”), raise a family, and stay in constant motion while trying to raise funds for his school building crusade. Suffice it to say, the man rarely sleeps.
In Three Cups of Tea, Mortenson and Relin offer a very real possibility of peace, even in a world where children are as familiar with IED’s as they are pencils. Education, especially for the young girls, is the means they’ve found to combat the Taliban’s influence in some of the world’s remotest areas. “It only costs $1.00 per month for one child’s education in Pakistan or Afghanistan.”
I encourage you to set aside some time to read and enjoy the book. If you don't trust the cover, or my recommendation check out some of the reviews on Amazon. After reading the book, process its message of hope, then follow your heart and one of Mortenson’s suggestions at the end of the book. Visit the http://www.threecupsoftea.com/ website for more information; suggest Three Cups of Tea to others; donate a copy to your local library; encourage local bookstores to carry the book; write your own review; contribute to Pennies for Peace of the Central Asia Institute.
Tuesday, May 8, 2007
Dad and I have had some struggles since I made you that promise. Without you here to mediate we've butted heads a few times. I fell in love with a man that I feel sure you'd like. And now, after some time together, even Dad has grown fond of him. Since you've been gone, I've moved out and moved back in. Some things are very different; while some things have stayed just as you left them. I think you know that, though. I believe your spirit hovers around - watching, listening, comforting, knowing.
We gave Dad a party for his 90th birthday over the weekend. I did my normal, get all hyper and nervous act, but Linda was here to help and everything came together nicely. The day we were to go shopping for supplies, Dad suggested in his inimitable way, "your mother would have had a tenderloin." So when we went to Sam's I bought the biggest piece of meat I've ever bought in my life. Between Dad, the Joy of Cooking, Jack's taking the bull by the horns to "just do it" and Linda watching the meat thermometer, it turned out better than I expected. As I put the platter on the table, it occurred to me that in the cooking and serving of the beef, we recalled your presence, not to be sacrilegious, in a Eucharistic way.
I heard a radio preacher say today that God gave us more than the ability to remember things. The power of memories is such that humans can almost relieve special moments in their lives. We can actually smell the smells, hear the voices, and be in another place and time that touched our hearts.
The beef tenderloin and clam dip on the table reminded me that you were with us as we celebrated. I realized Grandmother showed up too, when a beautiful red bird sat on the bird feeder enjoying a morning snack. Dad had cards and letters and gifts from family members and old friends. I think being surrounded by love made him feel good. He smiled a lot.
To say I wish you'd been here would be a selfish request. Knowing you are in heaven is knowing you are in the best place you can be. Having your spirit with us is almost as good as seeing your smile and hearing your voice. There's not much I can tell you that I don't believe you already know.
Life goes on, the world continues to make it's revolution around the sun. The days often seem long, but the years pass. I didn't know it the day you died, but I've come to realize that hearts can still beat even with a giant crack in them; that memories are the bandages that hold them together until some kind of healing takes place. And when all else fails, the next best thing to shouting, "I want my Mommy" is to comfort myself with a tried and true Mom recipe.
We miss you, Mama, but we're doing okay.
Tuesday, May 1, 2007
For as long as I can remember I've lived my life in a state of semi-fear. You name it, at one time or another I've probably been afraid of it. Even though I've out-grown most of my childhood fears like daddy long spiders (as long as I'm on the other side of the road) and not being able to get under my desk fast enough in the case of a Cuban missile strike,as an adult I carry around more than my share of chickenheartedness. Fear of failure or success; fear of being loved or not being loved; fear of attachment or fear of abandonment; etc, etc, etc. Fear isn't a new thing for me, but as I move through the second half of my life, I wonder if it isn't time to unlock the shackles of fmy fears and see how far I might soar.
I had an "ah ha" moment not long ago. The light bulb went off and I heard myself say, "I'm afraid of words." I agree, my epiphany was a strange one, even for me, but that's what happens in therapy. Just when I think I'm going to get out of the room without a handful of snotty tissues and a tear-stained face, the memories come flooding back and my inner child grabs onto my gut, saying, "Pay Attention" in her "this is really important voice." I've learned over the years that when this happens, something significant is going to happen, even if it is going to be a little painful. So I hang on, and listen.
In this case, my fear appears to come from both words said and those left unsaid. A child's perception of adult conversations can wound as deeply as a knife. Even though my grown up persona tells the scared little girl that "sticks and stones can break my bones but names [words] will never hurt me," I realize how shallow that really sounds. At the age of 55 I realized, if not for the first time at least at a gut level, that my instincts were right, that words can hurt, and often did or do.
The irony of this realization is the knowing that even when words are withheld, the stoney silence of sylables left unspoken can also cause damage to a child's psyche and play into her fears for a lifetime. Hopefully now that I am aware, I'll be able to put up an invisible word shield when I feel damaging verbal weapons heading my way. Maybe I'll be able to consider the source and let the words roll off my back like water from a duck's back. Or, maybe I'll just stick my fingers in my ears and sing my "la la" song. What I've got to remember is to trust my gut and use MY words to make a difference.
Having said that, even though I'm no Don Imus, I've been known to throw a verbal javelin or two in my lifetime. The good news is I'm sorry for it. But, the trouble with saying something I immediately regret is that often the "I'm sorry" falls flat and doesn't hold the same potency as the mean thing that just came rolling off my tongue. Especially if one happens to be talking on the radio.
Perhaps having this blog is my radio format. Last month in my post entitled "Nannyisms" I got a comment (one of only a few so I give them great credibility) that said, "Nerds are people too -- a very important life lesson! " Well, I immediately took that as a dig; that my labeling people as nerds, even if it was a more of a description than a moniker, sort of nullified any possible goodness of my advice.
I'm not sure what the commenter meant, but it made me think, and I'm still thinking. I've decided that in this world there are all kinds of people. Big, little, fat, thin, funny, sad, athletic, mathematically challenged and rocket scientist brilliant, and so on. Somewhere in a list like that the word "nerd" is bound to pop up. And I feel like I can say this, because, like most kids at some time during their adolescence, I've been a nerd - perhaps even queen of the nerds - and I probably have pictures to prove it. It doesn't make it any more right to call people names even if you are wearing a nerdy crown and ribbon across your pocket protector, so, to all you people out there that feel a little bit on the outside, I apologize for my lack of sensitivity.
As I've been turning all this over in my head, waiting for an apology to come together in some meaningful way, I happened across a newpaper article about Tampa Poet Laureate - James E. Tokely, Sr. Here's what caught my eye:
“ ... something positively traumatic happened to me.” [said Tokely] He became part of the second class to integrate a junior high school. There, he says, he met children who were more into chess, reading, drama and classical music. In other words, all the things he loved.
“They helped me to be human,"Tokely says. “They were nerds in their own nerddom. They were happy with themselves.”
Is that another way of saying "nerds are people too"?
I also enjoyed reading this: "… at three, he fell in love with words when his grandmother read him a book about kittens and puppies and he heard the words “rapscallion” and “cantankerous.”
“Those words stuck in my ear like a roach at night, he says. “They began my love affair with words.
Imagine having a love affair with words and not a foreboding! (Imagine having a roach stuck in your ear at night? Now that's a nightmare waiting to happen!)
I have to agree, rapscallion is kind of a fun word to say. After reading about Tokely, I began to make a list of words that have the same kind of appeal for me. With no rhyme or reason for their order, here are a few I've run across lately: salmagundi; lammergeier; vertiginous; crenulate; Sisyphean; judder; and prelapsarian.
Most of them came from the book I am currently reading. Obviously that author has spent some time with a dictionary, thesaurus or both. If his junior high peers made fun of him for his lexicographic affection, he's the one having the last laugh - a NY Times best seller.
I close this treatise on words with the lyrics from a BeeGee's tune that keeps running through my head. "It's only words, and words are all I have to take your heart away" which actually doesn't have anything at all to do with what I've just written, it's just one of those spritely little tunes that won't stop.