Planning My Own Funeral

Here in the late middle part of my life I have lost several friends my age already.  Most often it has been those who did not take care of themselves and abused their bodies.  It seems the late 40’s and 50’s is when such behavior catches up.  Also, more than once there has been an unexpected disease that took someone dear to me.  All are signaled reminders there are no absolute certainties in life except we all depart at some point.  One rarely knows when we see another for the last time. 

I am uncertain of any particular reason why, but lately I have had thoughts about what I would prefer to happen in remembrance of me after death.  Here I am going to try to write down a few of the random threads of thought that have bounced through my mind on this subject. 

1 – Church hymns are just not my preferred type of music and if any are going to be included I’d prefer one my Grandmother used to sing as she worked.  “Amazing Grace” is what I remember most clearly in her sweet off key voice.  

2 – Being a rock and roll fan my preferred music would be favorite artists like Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Led Zeppelin and The Beatles.  That is the music of my youth I love the most.  Two other songs I assimilated are “Fire and Rain” by James Taylor and “Angel” by Sarah McLachlan.  Both those songs I have always felt could have been written about me. 

3 – I’d prefer a party for people who cared about me far more than a church service although to cover bases maybe both would make sense.  Since I would be dead I will leave that up to others to figure out. 

4 – The geographic location of any remembrance gathering is a quandary.  I have lived many places and feel a kinship especially to Tulsa, Dayton, Colorado Springs and in the country where I grew up in Shinbone Valley, Alabama. I think the “where” should be a case of the living figuring how what they want to do, for I won’t be here anymore. 

5 – Should there be partying in my name?  You betcha!  I can think of no finer tribute than those I care about sitting around having a very good time with music turned up a bit too loud. 

6 – To bury or cremate?  Now that is an interesting subject.  My ego says I would want to be buried with a nice headstone so people can walk by and wonder who the heck I was.  On the other hand, not taking up space and letting my body revert to dust quickly in a cremation appeals to my “green” sense.  At this very moment, I think I’d prefer to fertilize a tree above me in the Union Baptist Cemetery in Alabama. 

7 – If my body is committed to a grave, PLEASE don’t bury me in a suit and tie.  I will try and come back to haunt people who would do that to me!  No matter what trappings I have adopted on the outside, inside I am just an old hippie who’d prefer to be laid to rest in his jeans, a chambray shirt and a pair of my cool “tennis shoes”. 

8 – If there is a grave that calls for a marker try to find a spot to inscribe “Learn to smile at yourself and you’ll always be amused”.  I have learned there is much wisdom in that thought and the practice of it lightens my load.  I am convinced God has a sense of humor and laughs along with a self deprecating funny about one’s self. 

9 – My will currently leaves all my possessions to my son.  Most of all he has told me he wants my jukebox and record collection.  I would like that and be honored that he would carry on my love of music.  Also it is my wish that my closest friends, Brother and Sisters get something from my mountain of “stuff”.  And what no one wants, sell it all or give it away! 

10 – As for what might be read at a party or service some suggestions are the Lord’s Prayer or Psalm 23 (but go easy on the bible stuff otherwise), a page or two from the Prophet by Kahlil Gibran such as my favorites on “love” and “death”, Sonnet #43 from Elizabeth Barrett Browning and find a good passage from Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden”.  And if that is not enough, Mark Twain had a way of putting things into words that aligned with my feelings better than just about anyone.  Make it a funny one! 

When I try to think ahead to a time when I won’t be here any more, I hope most that those I love will know how much I cared about them.  I have tried hard to show it and have become not shy about saying “I love you” to those I keep in my heart.  If I said it once to someone I meant it.  The love for him or her never left my heart.  If the world and people left behind are truly better for my having been here, one of my greatest wishes will have come true.  I truly do not want to leave a life behind that just took up space and consumed.  

Before you jump to conclusions and think I am writing a goodbye note about some pending occurrence, please know I am not.  I am healthy as far as I know and I have absolutely no intentions of harming myself.  It is my prayer that my Higher Power allows me a long life deep into old age or as I have called it “the full ride”.  For me doing so would be coming to know the full spectrum of the mystery of life.    

There is nothing like pondering death to make one deeply grateful for being alive.    

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did.  So throw off the bowlines.  Sail away from safe harbor.  Catch the trade winds in your sails.  Explore.  Dream.  Discover.  Mark Twain

A Letter To My Son on Father’s Day

Dear Nick, 

Vivid in memory are the emotions I experienced just after you were born.  The day after you arrived I wrote in a journal about the joy I felt, the gratefulness within for you being ‘normal” with the proper number of fingers and toes, the awe that filled me for life and the hopes I had for you.  I described your birth as “the most incredible thing I’ve ever witnessed” and also wrote “No child could be more wanted or more loved.”  Those thoughts have aged sweeter as time has clicked by. 

Frequent have been musings of  how I could have been a better Father.  Had I not chased with such vigor the emptiness of dysfunctional illusion, success and money I could have been there for you more.  There were too many of your games I missed,weekend outings that never were and small events at school that were big happenings for you when my presence was missing.  I never did build the treehouse I promised you.

Your Mother and I went our separate ways when you were sixteen which took you hundreds of miles away.  One of my deepest regrets is your high school years when seeing you only every couple of months I became a sideline spectator of your life.  Yet, as I mature and learn I have come to know regrets past making sure you aware of them, have no good purpose.  

There are so many wonderful memories I have of your growing up.  No child has ever been more curious about the world than you.  You never crawled and began to recklessly walk at 7 months old.  Such determination you have always had!  

In school you did well and had the respect of most of your teachers.  You made good friends and some of those relationships are healthy and thriving today.  The only time you ever really got in trouble at school was through protecting a friend from a bully. How the game of hockey worked when you started to play at seven was unknown to me, but no father was ever prouder than I was to watch you.   The lessons that came at you in college were hard ones, but you learned from your mistakes.  I can not begin to express my admiration for your determination and stick-to-it-ness to get the education you wanted.    

On this father’s day I hope these borrowed words express clearly to you the feelings of my heart and the wishes of my soul. 

Until you have a son of your own… You will never know the joy beyond joy, the love beyond feeling that resonates in the heart of a father as he looks upon his son. You will never know the sense of honor that makes a man want to be more than he is and to pass on something good and useful into the hands of his son. And you will never know the heartbreak of the fathers who are haunted by the personal demons that keep them from being the men they want their sons to see. 

We live in a time when it is hard to speak from the heart. Our lives are smothered by a thousand trivialities, and the poetry of our spirits is silenced by the thoughts and cares of daily affairs. 

And so, I want to speak to you honestly. I do not have answers. But I do understand the questions. I see you struggling and discovering and striving upward, and I see myself reflected in your eyes and in your days. In some deep and fundamental way, I have been there and I want to share. 

I, too, have learned to walk, to run, to fall.  I have had a first love. I have known fear and anger and sadness. My heart has been broken and I have known moments when the hand of God seemed to be on my shoulder.  I have wept tears of sorrow and tears of joy. 

There have been times of darkness when I thought I would never see light again, and there have been times when I wanted to dance and sing and hug every person I met. 

I have felt myself emptied into the mystery of the universe, and I have had moments when the smallest slight threw me into rage. 

I have carried others when I barely had the strength to walk myself, and I have left others standing by the road with their hands out stretched for help. 

Sometimes I feel I have done more than anyone can ask; other times I feel I am a charlatan and a failure. I carry within me the spark of greatness and the darkness of heartless crimes. 

In short, I am a man, as are you. 

Although you will walk your own earth and move through your own time, the same sun will rise on you that rose on me, and the same reasons will course across your life as moved across mine. We will always be different, but we will always be the same. 

This is my attempt to give you the lesson of my life, so that you can use them in yours. They are not meant to make you into me. It is my greatest joy to watch you turn into yourself. 

To be your father is the greatest honor I have ever received. It allowed me to touch mystery and to see my love made flesh. If I could but have one wish, it would be for you to pass that love along. 

I love you,

Pops

You are my son-shine.  Author Unknown

Socrates, Close Friends and the Triple Filter Test

Not long ago today I arrived home from having breakfast with a friend, one I enjoy being around more and more the longer I know him.  The bonus this morning was he brought his wife, who is interesting, compassionate and considerate in her distinctive way just as her husband is uniquely original in his.  Long after the meal, we sat and talked.  My day is better for having had their physical presence near me at the start of this Saturday.  

M. was my dentist for well over a decade before he retired from that profession.  His chair-side manner was always entertaining during my appointments and the funny things he said never failed to make me grin and laugh.  With humor as the first face he shows, I wonder if he even realizes the genuine warmth he has about him.  The fondness I feel toward him is something I hope he has a hint of as such deep feelings are not easily and openly expressed in our friendship.  

D., his wife, has been his partner in life and business for almost all of their adult lives.  I can think of no couple I know who is a better example of a successful partnership and marriage.  In the early years of M’.s practice they were a near 24-hour team between work and home.  He did the dentistry and she ran the office.   Through the years they have continued that sort of relationship in many other ways.

There’s an old story that has long been told that goes something like this:  A long time ago in ancient Greece, there lived a man named Socrates, who was highly knowledgeable and an esteemed philosopher. One fine day, a student told Socrates that he had some information to tell him about his friend. Before he would let him talk further, Socrates told him he must take ‘Triple Filter Test’.

The first phase of the ‘Triple Filter Test’ was the filter of truth. Socrates asked if the student was certain the information he had about his friend was the truth. The younger man said that he had just heard it from another person and was not absolutely certain if the news was true. 

The second filter was that of goodness. Socrates asked if the information was regarding anything good about his friend. The student said it was actually the opposite. 

The third filter was that of usefulness. Socrates asked if the report would be useful to him in any way. The student replied it probably would not.

Socrates responded by saying when a report about a friend is not true, good or useful, it should NOT be conveyed at all. The moral of the story is while it is always a temptation to participate in loose gossip when it comes to your friends it is especially not a good thing. You know your close friends better than most others and should rely on what you know first hand to be true.  One shows their caring by avoiding the temptation to talk negatively behind the back of one’s dearest friends.   

So today I write this behind the back of my two friends, but will be posting it for all to see.  I think Socrates would be pleased.  What I have said here is the “truth”.  What I write is based in “goodness” and I believe “useful” in reminding me and others to value in thought and action those dear friends we share our lives with.  

I am at a loss to explain specifically why my friendship with M. & D. is as meaningful to me as it is.  Why the two of them took an interest in me and have continued to care about me through some of the most difficult years of my life is beyond my full ability to grasp.  I choose not to go forward with speculation of the reason why and instead end up where I do with many blessings at this stage of my life.  Simply, I accept “what is” with a grateful heart and mind with the knowledge that many of the best things in life can not be “figured out” or fully explained.  

Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.  C.S. Lewis

Letter to a Friend

Good morning.  I am thankful that you have come here to read this blog today.  When I began doing this I did so simply because some inspiration beyond my full understanding pulled me to do so.  I felt then and still feel now like I am simply following directions from a Higher Power.  In the two months of goodmorninggratitude.com readership has grown beyond anything I could have guessed.  My assumption was that a few friends and family who love me would take an interest.  That’s what happened the first week when there were a dozen or less readers. 

Over time it has been humbling to watch readership grow.  As the weeks passed I saw 30, then 40, then 50 readers and it kept growing from there.  I was blown away when over a hundred people visited goodmorninggratitude.com and am grateful past what I know how to express.  With this experience I have been blessed with a grace I am unaccoustomed to and am appreciative in a way beyond anything I have previously known.  Thank you for your support of this new chapter of life for me. 

Focusing on thankfulness for 45 minutes or more each day has profoundly increased my gratitude for being alive.  The more gratitude I find, the more I find to be grateful for.  I never knew something so simple could have such a dramatic affect.  

I sense sometimes the blogs have gotten a bit long and wonder if I should try to keep them shorter and less rambling.  I also wonder if the subject matter is too banal or corny at times.  Do I get so personal it makes reading too uncomfortable for others?  I am not the best proof reader and wonder if typos distract from the content or is it easy to read past them.  First and foremost I write this blog for myself knowing my life is enriched from that effort.  Yet, I want to get better.  Now with so many readers I am asking for input and feedback, but am NOT begging for pats on the back.  Any thoughts that lend direction or I can learn from to improve this blog would be appreciated.  Leave comments here or write me at goodmorninggratitude@gmail.com.  Thank you.  As long as one person reads goodmorninggratitude.com each day, I will rise early each morning to write it. 

“Letter to a Friend” written by Fra Giovanni Giocondo (1433 – 1515) to his friend Countess Allagia Aldobrandeschi on Christmas Eve, 1513

I am your friend
and my love for you goes deep.
There is nothing I can give you
which you have not got:
but there is much, very much
that while I cannot give it,
you can take.

No heaven can come to us
unless our hearts find rest
in today. Take heaven!
No peace lies in the future
which is not hidden
in this present little instant.
Take peace!

The gloom of the world is but a shadow.
Behind it, yet within reach, is joy.
Take joy!

There is radiance and glory
in the darkness, could we but see,
and to see we have only to look.
I beseech you to look!

Life is so generous a giver,
but we, judging its gifts by
the covering, cast them away
as ugly, or heavy or hard.
Remove the covering and
you will find beneath it
a living splendor,
woven of love,
by wisdom, with power.

Welcome it, grasp it,
and you touch the angel’s hand
that brings it to you.
Everything we call a trial,
a sorrow, or a duty, believe me,
that angel’s hand is there,
the gift is there, and the wonder
of an overshadowing presence.
Our joys, too, be not
content with them as joys.
They, too, conceal diviner gifts.

Life is so full of meaning and purpose,
so full of beauty,
beneath its covering—
that you will find earth
but cloaks your heaven.

Courage, then, to claim it, that is all.
But courage you have,
and the knowledge that
we are all pilgrims together,
wending through unknown country, home.

And so, at this time, I greet you,
not quite as the world sends greetings,
but with profound esteem
and with the prayer that for you
now and forever, the day breaks,
and the shadows flee away.

Making the Habit Stop Kicking Me

In my formative years, most everyone around me smoked:  parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers, doctors and more.  Those were the days when it seemed like a rite of passage to become a smoker certifying one as“adult” when old enough to smoke. 

In my early teens I began sneaking cigarettes and buying them when I could get away with it.  The strongest influence was “hanging out” with peers where puffing away was part of the culture.  Curiously though, smoking did not completely invade my life until I was long out of high school.   Once the habit had me, it REALLY had me.  Clear in memory is a few times when I had no money and picked out the longest butts from my ashtray to smoke.  Looking back now that seems pitiful. 

My habit took hold in the 70’s when the message printed on the packs became “Warning: The Surgeon General Has Determined that Cigarette Smoking is Dangerous to Your Health”.  I ignored it for a while with my youthful bullet proof attitude.  Then came the advertising campaigns about the adverse effects of cigarettes.  By then there was no doubt within I was doing something harmful to me. 

My young wife said we should stop smoking when we were in our mid-20’s.  I was impressed when she put them down and stopped cold turkey.  Always thinking I could accomplish just about anything, it was degrading to discover the smoking habit beat me again and again.  I became like Mark Twain who in the 1800’s wrote “Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times”.  

When my son was around 4 years old he used to get my cigarettes and throw them in the trash when I was not looking.  When I would get onto him he would tell me “Daddy, Cigarettes are bad.  I don’t want you to die”.  That hurt, but my attempts at quitting remained unsuccessful.  I made it two weeks once with help from nicotine patches back when a doc had to prescribe them.  Then came advertisements on TV for a prescription drug called Zyban.  I tried that also but in hind sight believe I was looking for a short cut without the proper commitment needed. 

It was in the throws of a complete make-over of my life about four years ago I was finally successful in kicking cigarettes.  Finally there was a real desire within to quit.  That lead to a request of my doctor to prescribe what I believe to be a miracle drug called “Chantix”.   I am thankful for those tiny little pills that were a great companion to the determination to stop I had finally mustered.  

Looking back I realize it was disgust with the habit that finally motivated me.  Things like the need to have cigs and a lighter with me at all times and feeling like a second class citizen in smoking zones in alley-ways, loading docks and nasty yellowed smoking sections in airports finally got to me.   How sad I began to find those “designated areas” where smokers were concentrated smoking, hacking and coughing.  If any smoker tells you they enjoy smoking, I believe they are lying!  It’s just denial and justification. 

If you smoke, I sincerely feel for you.  I know how difficult that monkey on the back is to shake.  Never will I be on your case about quitting.  The only tip offered is the lack of knowledge of how badly I smelled when my habit was a pack-a-day.  Now I realize that no amount of hand washing, cologne or breath mints hides the habit. I lived in the delusion that I was fooling people for many years.  I know better now as I can smell all but light smokers from 10 feet away.  

The following is taken from “No Smoking” by Shane P. Ward who quit after 28 years. 

Was it hard to stop? You betchya! Every single day.
Some minutes seemed like hours till the craving went away.
I conjured up so many good excuses to give in.
But I was so determined that tobacco would not win.

The first day was the worst until the second day came.
The third day was the worst and then the fourth was much the same.
The fifth day? That was not so bad but bad enough to bear
But then I felt the sixth day I had got it beat. So there!

Telling you to stop is not what I would like to do.
The reason that I quit was choice. The same is up to you.
To quit is hard, I don’t deny it. Really it’s no joke.
But if you can withstand the strain, you’ll not return to smoke.

And finally a warning – and I say this in good heart.
If you have never ever smoked – then never ever start.
If you think that it’s cool to smoke then just try stopping it.
You’ll find it’s easier not to start, than smoking is to quit. 

My gratitude is deep to be cigarette free having last ‘burned one’ on October 26, 2007.  That was such a momentous day I will never forget the date.  Firmly entrenched in my mind is the knowing I am only one cigarette from being hooked again.   I know I can never have another one as long as I live.

Don’t get discouraged; it’s usually the last key in the bunch that opens the lock.  Unknown

The Shadow of Monsters

Today I take a further step in opening up and letting the world see inside me.  It is a move that makes me nervous, yet I know it is the right and healing thing to do.  About 10 years ago I made my first visit to a therapist to help me deal with unresolved childhood issues that were surfacing more and more.  Such previously buried conflicts within were coming up with greater frequency.  This was due in part to my efforts then to close some emotional fissures and “find” my whole self but also because dysfunction often increases over time.  

The first counselor I went to I liked a lot even though she was tough on me at times.  She gained my trust and I saw her intermittently for about six years.  I was able to make slow stop and go progress wrestling my demons with her counsel.  Then in 2007 my life changed. 

It was four years ago about this time that my life seemed to melt down due to the trauma of the failure of a marriage, a union that I did not want to end.  The emotional chaos was not due just because  of the pending divorce.  It was exacerbated by the knowing that I was in majority responsible for the cause of the divorce.  More correctly the main reason was dysfunction due to my “box of monsters”.   

Keeping a mental image of a wooden box holding my horrors of growing up had helped me over the years to cope.  When one of the fiendish critters of my youth would start to “crawl” out of the box and manifest itself in my life, I usually could mentally get it back in the box and lock it away again.  The emotional harm I did to myself and others was kept to a minimum with this practice most often, but not always.  Once in a while one of the monsters such as insecurity or trauma would break out of the box, grow in size in its freedom and create tremendous havoc. 

The emotional crescendo about by my failed marriage (my 2nd) brought tremendous blame I placed on me.  The resulting shame I felt caused me to begin seeing my trusted counselor once per week for about two years.  In order to see her regularly I had to fight myself quite a bit.  At the top I felt I was the controller of my destiny and whatever I needed to do I should be able to do myself.  Then there were the thoughts of the American macho male stereotype and tough guy image that I wrestled.  Also stirring around was thinking that other people would think I was crazy because I went to a therapist.  I struggled with these misplaced beliefs a lot at first, but less and less as time passed.  

In time I came to realize that going to a therapist for emotional pain is no different than seeing a dentist when a tooth hurts.  My stigmatized thinking about going to counseling was due purely to ignorance and lack of knowledge.  The more I got past such erroneous thinking the more rapidly I got better.  I fully came to comprehend that “secrets were posion”.

Today I can proudly say I am genuinely happy for the first time in my life.  I had never been able to honestly say that until about a year ago.  Nothing changed outside of me.  What did changed is what is inside me and my understanding of myself.  Are the monsters completely gone?  No, and they never will be.  What has happened is they no longer have to be locked up in a box they can escape from.  The little devils reside freely inside me now kept in check 99% of the time by the knowledge and emotional tools I have learned. 

I liken the process to an old cartoon where there is a street vantage point of an alley at night.  Standing there one sees the shadow of a big monster rat headed from the ally to the street.  As the monster gets closer to stepping from the back lighting of the alley the size of the scary beast grows larger and larger. Then suddenly it emerges into the direct light of the street to be seen as only a small mouse who was casting a huge shadow because of the angle it was being viewed from.  

The cartoon analogy explains my internal monsters well.  Once I brought them into the light of day, became more accustomed to them and learned about them they shrank dramatically in size and strength.  Once I could clearly see this way, my life began to accelerate its improvement.  Today I can truthfully say my life is better overall than it ever has been.  Learning that the quality of my life has mostly to do with what was inside me and not what was outside was a grand revelation.  Once I put that knowledge into practice coping with whatever life threw at me became much easier.  I learned that the good times were to savor and the difficult times were teachers sent to teach and make me better. 

I have written all that to say to a reader I did not do this alone.  First, I need to express my gratitude to my ex-wife who after the initial months of her own emotional chaos, found room to aid my efforts.  In turn I believe I was able to aid her as well.  I have not seen her or talked to her in a long time now which is for the best for both of us.  I will always be grateful to her.

That brings me to express my gratitude to the person who had by far the largest role in my growth.  I can’t name her or lend any more than generalities about who she is.  I will say only that she is a licensed counselor who for me was a bit of a miracle worker.  She has said now for almost two years I don’t need to come back.  However, I do still make an appointment every few months as a way of checking in, confirming to myself that my recovery from my childhood junk continues and to again express my gratitude to her.  

In the last decade of searching for healing, I had experience with a few other therapists.  For my issues most went through the proper motions but I could not connect with them.  Maybe it was just an issue of compatibility and they were a better fit for others.  What I do know is that outside of myself, there is one person who did most to help me become the well adjusted, contented and happy person I am today:  My therapist.  Thank you R.!

Nothing is life is to be feared.  It is only to be understood.  Marie Curie

Paul McCartney & Carly Simon

Browsing the Internet I came across a list of June celebrity birthdays showing Paul McCartney and Carly Simon both celebrate the day of their birth later this month.  On the 18th Paul will turn 69 years of age.  Then a week later on June 25th Carly will turn 66.

Both performers have been favorites of mine since I first became aware of them.  Memory is clear of listening to a cheap small plug-in red plastic radio and hearing the Beatle invasion unfold.  At the time the “in thing” for many was to pick a favorite Beatle.  The girls just loved Paul and being a typical contrarian American male, I said I liked Ringo best.  Picking a favorite at all was opposite to a lot of the boys in the 60’s who pretended to hate the Beatles simply because the girls liked them. I just could not admit to “the guys” at the time that my favorite Beatle was really Paul. 

The Beatles never came close enough to where I lived for me to see them.  I did see Paul and Linda McCartney with Wings in Cincinnati at the old Riverfront Coliseum in the late 70’s.  They had a great band, a string and horn section and backup singers which made for a wonderful concert. About 10 years ago I saw Pual in concert and again about a year ago from the 4th row (thanks P.K.!).  In his 60’s Paul is still a great performer and always seems to be having a great time on stage.  Paul once said “I never look forward, because I have not idea about how any of it happened to getting here.  I’ve no idea how the next five years are going to be.”

Eight years or so after my discovery of McCartney I came into my first contact with Carly Simon’s music in 1971.  That first song ‘The Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be” was so different that American media did not know what to do with it.  The followup was an album with the title song “Anticipation” which she has said was about her state of mind while waiting for Cat Stevens to arrive for a date.  However, it was Carly’s 3rd album when I became a fan.  It was then the “You’re So Vain” mystery was unleashed.

In a newly-recorded version of “You’re So Vain” a few years ago, Simon whispers roughly two and a half minutes into the tune.  Play it backwards and you’ll hear the first name of the man: “David.”  Carly confirmed the clue in an interview and said “I’m just going to tell you this.  The answer is on the new version of ‘You’re So Vain.’  It’s the answer to the puzzle.” The “David” she is probably referring to is movie and music mogul David Geffen.  While the song was long thought to be about a failed relationship, the new whisper seems to be a hint at Simon’s resentment of Geffen signing then-music rival Joni Mitchell for his own label Asylum Records.

I regret that I have never seen Carly Simon in concert.  She rarely tours.  But I have been consoled by the album covers of many of her LP’s!  She was the subject of quite a bit of young male wishful thinking in the day.  The one that hooked me was “Secrets” where she is proudly walking braless and looking naturally sexy as all get out.  She continued with that sort of LP cover theme consistently over the years, much to my enjoyment. 

I know Paul McCartney is engaged to a wealthy woman named Nancy Shevell from The Hamptons.  I do wish them much happiness.  I hope this union brings Paul a much better life than his second marriage to old what’s her name.  I also know that Carly Simon is single but has a steady boyfriend.  However I do know the two of them know each other since Linda McCartney was one of Carly Simon’s closest friends.  This morning the notion of the two of them married popped into my head and I found it fun to think about.  I imagined them on stage singing to each other:

Paul to Carly: I give her all my love, That’s all I do; And if you saw my love, You’d love her too.

And then Carly to Paul:  Nobody does it better, Makes me feel sad for the rest, Nobody does it half as good as you, Baby, you’re the best.

What a great fantasy concert that could be.  I know thinking of Paul and Carly as a couple is pure craziness and the product of an overactive imagination.  However, I have enjoyed their music and followed their careers and lives to the point that they have been companions on my journey through life.  I am very grateful for the many pleasurable hours listening to their work and simply want both to be happy as the three of us move through the autumn years of our lives.   

No Spring nor Summer Beauty hath such grace
As I have seen in one Autumnal face.
John Donne

Poets: The Craft of Rhyming Words

Last night I picked up an old book of poetry that I have had for many years.  The small red book was published in 1933 has the odd title of “Additional Poems to the Golden Treasury”.  There are at least a dozen small little pieces of torn paper that bookmark pages where some of my favorites are.  I thumbed through the book and absorbed again some old favorites which lead me to pick up two other poetry books in my library and thumb through their bookmarked pages.  From a little less than an hour last night I have typed here this morning parts of some favorites I wanted to share.  I feel a little like I am cheating in putting up this blog today as it will be mostly filled with the work of others.  Yet, I am doing so with great respect and gratitude for these famous writers whose even meter and rhyme sprinkle my spirit with joy each time I read their work.  

From When You are Old by W. B. Yeats
When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep; 

From I Love You by Sara Teasdale
When April bends above me
and finds me fast asleep,
Dust need not keep the secret
A live heart died to keep.
 
From The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

From Two In The Campagna by Robert Browning
For me, I touched a thought, I know,
Has tantalized me many times,
Like turns of thread the spiders throw
Mocking across our path for rhymes.
 
From A Word to Husbands by Ogden Nash
To keep your marriage brimming
With love in the loving cup,
Whenever you’re wrong, admit it;
Whenever you’re right, shut up.

From A Poison Tree by William Blake
I was angry with my friend;
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.

From Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

From If by Rudyard Kipling
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

Last lines of The Star-Spangled Banner by Francis Scott Key
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

From A Match by Algernon Charles Swinburne
If love were what the words are,
And love were like the tune
With double sound and single
Delight our lips would mingle
With kisses glad as birds are
That get sweet rain at noon.

From A Birthday by Christina Georgina Rossetti
My heart is like a singing bird
Whose nest is in a watered shoot;
My heart is like an apple-tree
Whose boughs are bent with thick-set fruit;
My heart is like a rainbow shell
That paddles in a halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these,
Because my love is come to me.

From A Man’s Requirements by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Love me Sweet, with all thou art,
Feeling, thinking, seeing;
Love me in the lightest part,
Love me in full being.

Well written poetry that is smooth and even in the way it is crafted can move me deeply.  I know from trying to write poems myself how difficult it is to mold words in this manner.  Also, I realize the talent needed to write poetry I either do not possess or else have never brought it forth in a satisfactory way.  This makes me all the more grateful to those who paint  beautiful portraits with words.

He who draws noble delights from sentiments of poetry is a true poet, though he has never written a line in all his life.  George Sand

Who Am I?

Memory tells me the first time I did it I was around 12 or 13 and found the experience startling.  It was then I looked into the bathroom mirror with pointed focus and truly saw myself.  For the first time I was not simply acknowledging my reflection as I had previously done.  I was really seeing “me”.  The thoughts at that moment were fairly alarming as through my mind ran related thoughts like:  “Is this really me?  Am I am really here?  Do I really look to others like what I see?”  For a while I would look away whenever it was me in the mirror I began to “see” because of the uncomfortable feeling it I got from the experience.  Over time I have become more able to let “me see me”, but the process and I are tenuous friends at best.  

In retrospect I think the first experience as a kid of seeing my self could be a natural part of the self-discovery of growing up.  However, I have never tried confirming that with anyone else.  The thought I have kept is mentioning the experience to another person could get me labeled as “weird” even though I have continued to try to notice myself in this manner since childhood.  Only now writing at a time when I have better acceptance of my uniqueness do I wonder publically if others ever have similar experiences.  

Previously I wrote about seeing beyond looking a few weeks ago:   https://goodmorninggratitude.com/2011/05/25/seeing-beyond-just-looking/

 “…My discovery has been mostly I just acknowledged what came into my view.  Sometimes I walked by not seeing at all what was right before me.  Mine was a bad habit of hardly ever really “truly seeing” much of anything.  My mind seemed to always be racing forward thinking about where I was going, what I had to do and what issues I needed to deal with.  Or else, I was looking backwards trying to solve some past emotional riddle or find some meaning in an episode of life I wanted an explanation for….”  

That certainly describes well what was going on in my young teen years.  Until more recent times I just did not realize that the ability to actually see began trying to make its self known to me when I was quite young.  

In De Bello Civili Julius Caesar wrote “Experience is the teacher of all things”.  What Caesar wrote I believe is the first step where gaining wisdom begins, but experiencing is not enough.  I believe one must experience and then be  AWARE of what is being experienced to learn the lesson.    

On the website falcoblanco.com (white falcon) I found:  The BEST teacher is the conscious observing and relating to daily circumstances, then responding to it out of one’s own experience, being aware that this comes out of an old programming, which happened in one’s past. So also observing these reactions, one is able to decide to follow this track or to try a new way, what might guide to a new experience and triggering new unknown reactions to be observed and so allowing one to get to know oneself.  The best and most efficient teacher without doubt is one’s own awareness….    

This morning I intentionally tried the true seeing of myself in the mirror.  Even after all the time since I initially discovered the activity in my early teens and the many times trying it since, it still makes me uncomfortable.  In part I tell myself now it is because I see age, gray hair, wrinkles and the loss of youth.  That is a portion of it, but I do not think the majority.  The process remains an enigmatic mystery to me and one I will keep trying until I can allow the experience to become full awareness and thereby learn the lesson being taught.  

“Is that really me?  Who am I?  Why am I here?  What is my purpose?  What do I consciously think of myself?  Unconsciously?”  Such questions gnaw at the boundaries I have placed around the core of who I am.  What do I fear I might find there?  Why is there any fear at all? 

The only explanation I have come up with is contained in the thought “if I let you see who I really and truly am you may not like me”.  However, in my personal context it is “me” who has yet to let “me” see myself fully just as I am.  Each time I take up this subject there is a little more light that finds way into the inner circle of my self.  This blog is my best exploration of self I have discovered to date.  Through pulling back the curtains and letting others see deeply into me, I am seeing myself more clearly.  Each day I write here is like staring in the mirror and saying “who am I” then finding a little of the answer on the screen when I am done. 

With every experience of seeing a glimpse of the core of my being I find a little more comfort in being as I am.  This process brings me wisdom and insight in tiny pieces through a sort of delicious torture.  Stepping into the unknown can be for me everything from humbling to down right frightening.  Yet, I am grateful for every humble moment of unease that teaches me and brings my living to be more parallel with my true and real self.    

I am very grateful you are reading this.  Each who does is my appreciated ally and supporter who lends me encouragement to keep writing and mining my inner depths for truth.  Thank you.

We don’t see things as they are.  We see them as we are.  Anais Nin

Davy Crockett, Albert Einstein and my Grandfather

One of my earliest memories comes from somewhere in my third year when I received a pair of Davy Crockett gloves with fringe on the cuffs.  When I had them on I thought I was almost as cool as my hero of the moment, Davy himself, who wore gloves like mine on the Walt Disney show.  I loved those gloves and would walk around with my arms out front so people could see tassels move as I moved. 

Most every boy has sports figures in his hero lineup.  My football hero was Johnny Unitas of the Baltimore Colts (I have never gotten completely comfortable to this day putting Indianapolis in the name even though the team was moved there in 1984).  When it came to baseball my hero was Willie Mays.  The reasons I remember looking up to Mr. Mays was his home was less than a hundred miles from where I grew up in Alabama, he hit lots of homeruns and had a great warm and inviting smile.  

By the time I hit High School it was Albert Einstein and James Bond I looked up to.  As for the Bond thing, all I can say is I read all the books, saw all the movies (even had a family member end up with a bit part in one of them) and thought James was the ultimate in cool.  Good ole Albert died when I was a toddler, but as my interest in the sciences grew he became my “poster god” for science.  At 14 years of age I was convinced I was going to be a physicist just like Albert.  

Starting somewhere around the age of ten, Paul McCartney of the Beatles was elected to my internal realm of hero.  He always seemed to be enjoying himself and I loved his singing voice.  The respect I have for McCartney has grown over the years as I have come to believe he was the most talented of the Beatles. 

Constant from my days of looking up to Davy Crockett until today there is another hero who I have never wavered in my love for.  He was my grandfather, my mother’s father, who I called “Paw Paw”.  His given name was Huel and his friends often called him “H.T.” (short for Huel Thomas).  Those outside out family usually called him Uncle Huel as he was the unofficial caretaker of the entire rural valley where he lived. 

Paw-Paw never learned to read.  Early in the 1st grade he had to stay home and help my great-grandmother with the garden and the younger kids.  My great-grandfather had accidently knocked a shotgun over causing a leg wound that resulted in the loss of his leg.  The recovery and learning to get around again took years during which time my grandfather shouldered responsibility as the oldest healthy male in the house. 

While my grandfather could sign his name, my grandmother had to read him legal documents and other important things.  However, when it came to numbers and math he was a self taught wiz and could figure any sort of weight and measure.  I imagine the lack of reading ability must have been difficult for Paw-Paw at times, but I can’t remember a single instance of it ever getting in the way.  He somehow learned how to “get by”.  

I even recall his frustration with jacking a pickup one day when he just lifted the back vehicle off the ground with his bare hands so a guy who worked for him could mount a tire.  I thought Paw-Paw had a little Superman in him!  The fact that he made a living his entire life on his farm says “superman” to me just as well.   

What made my grandfather an even more real hero to me than most others was I knew he had faults and one or two were not small ones.  One was he liked to drink and on holidays was usually “happy as a hootey owl” as folks down south used to say.  Another was he had a wandering eye and at least once was caught with another woman when I was eight.  At that time I recall he and my grandmother went into their bedroom for about 8 hours and did not come out.  I heard voices, loud at times but could not understand what was being said.  All I know is when they came out the matter was settled and was not talked about again. 

What I did know was how my grandfather treated people in general.  He was soft spoken, quite and polite usually only speaking when spoken to.  He had an easy going manner and would help anyone at any time unless you had wronged him.  Someone could knock on his door at 3am, say they were stuck in a ditch up the road and he’d go get one of his tractors and pull them out. Even when offered he’d refuse money for the kindness.  It was just his way to help people and when someone helped him his verbal expression of thanks was almost always the phrase “much obliged”.  

Oh, I forgot to mention that I was the oldest grandson within a bunch of grandkids.  I forgot until now to write that he had me on a tractor riding with him between his legs on that big John Deere when I was two years old.  I don’t recall Paw-Paw ever telling me he loved me, but I knew he did.  It was the way he held me and played with me when I was little.  It was how he’d put his big hand on my shoulder when I was a boy as he introduced me to a stranger.  And it was that he always let me go with him to town and to go “see a man about a horse” as he always called it.  

There is no doubt in my mind I have embellished and improved beyond fact my memory of my grandfather.  That’s OK.  He left me with some basic ideals and a standard for treating people that are innate within me.  Paw-Paw looked a little like John Wayne I always thought and even had that kind of sideways gait when he walked just like Mr. Wayne.  Paw-Paw, you are my hero and even today you live within me and in the stories I am proud tell about you.  I love you and am grateful to be your grandson.

How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our he-roes and our she-roes!  Maya Angelou