If God Had a Home on Earth

If God had a home on Earth, where would His/Her home be?  Traditional belief holds the all-powerful force can be everywhere at once and at any moment within any person who welcomes the presence.  So my question is rhetorical, yet pondering an answer and beckoning possibilities lends insight.
There are many definitions of “home” and among them is:  a valued place where something is founded; a source.  For sake of avoiding argument, let’s assume God’s home can not be man-made and eliminate any such places we feel He/She has a presence such as a church.  Since God preceded humanity, The Devine’s home on Earth would likewise have to have existed before us.  
Growing up many of us were taught in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  If one thinks of “home” as being a refuge and place of security, in that context God would have a place somewhere not simmering in the trial and tribulation soup us humans are always swimming in.  So if God has a refuge or home on Earth, I like to think it is within Nature or Mother Nature or Father Nature or whatever label you choose to put on the natural world outside of man’s control and creation. 
Yesterday my Love and I took a long drive on country back roads most of the afternoon to take in the autumn beauty of the season change.  What was forecast to be a cloudy day unfolded to have lots of sunshine; a glorious day to be outside.  The feeling always comes of being closer to God when I am close to Nature.  The sense if one of being closer to creation; of seeing things a step more connected to the source.
While I have never seen or heard the voice of my Higher Power in the woods, I notice signs all over of HIm/Her.  There is a trace in the yellow and reds of the leaves mingled with some that still hang on to their green.  Evidence is apparent in the squirrels so busy gathering for winter and the wild flower blooms that still hang on waiting for a heavy frost.  I find the presence of God in the smells of the forest, the musky air that circulates within, the clouds that cause sunlight to scatter and speckle through the trees;  the beauty of  Nature.

From “Had We the Eyes” by James Dillet Freeman
How fair a world
Around us lies,
Heaven unfurled,
Had we the eyes.

If the concept of “God” is difficult for you I understand.  Mine once was also and having been abused with religion growing up made it all the more difficult.  I never understood why my prayers for abuse to stop were never heard even though I was made to go to church several times per week.  My belief was true and my prayer  sincere but that did not seem to be enough.  For a time I just thought God did not like me.  I began the long journey back to a view of something bigger than mankind with a perspective of the world as an amazing organism that had developed and bloomed on its own.  With only that way of seeing my existence was improved by being able to see spirituality in Nature.  More came in time.

It is the way of humans to think of ourselves as self-sufficient, yet we can not survive without the air we breathe. Nor can we live long without sunlight, water, and food. Our bodies are totally dependent on Nature and there is where I found God living.  It is easy for me to see a presence there whenever I look. 
Traditional beliefs confound me and the more I attempt to define a power higher than me the more I find questions and reason to doubt.  Yet, I feel confident there is a Power or God beyond this world, but also think it is beyond man’s ability to comprehend the complexity of it all.  So I just accept that God is and that is enough for me.
Mildred Lisette Norman, also known as the Peace Pilgrim, was an American activist and spiritual missionary who spent the last 28 years of her life walking across the United States for peace.  She was the first woman to walk the entire length of the Appalachian Trailin one season. She described what she called her “wonderful mountaintop experience” in this way:  …important part of it was the realization of the oneness of all creation.  Not only all human beings… I knew before that all human beings are one. But now I know also a oneness with the rest of creation. The creatures that walk the earth and the growing things of the earth… The air, the water, the Earth itself. And, most wonderful of all, a oneness with that which permeates all and binds all together and gives life to all. A oneness with that which many would call God.”
If the end of my time comes and I find there is nothing beyond what I have known here, my life will still have been better for what I believe.  I am grateful!  

In many areas of understanding, none so much as in our understanding of God, we bump up against simplicity so profound that we must assign complexities to it to comprehend it at all.  It is mindful of how we paste decals to a sliding glass door to keep from bumping our nose against it.  Robert Brault

The Two I’s

I can’t believe I said that.  I can’t believe I did that.  I can’t believe I let that happen.  I can’t believe I did not see that coming.  I can’t believe I got fooled again.  I, I, I, I…
When I began pay close attention to such statements it became apparent to me there are two distinct “I’s” in every one of them.  There is the one “doing” (the first “I”) and the one watching (the second “I”).  Over time the realization came that these are two distinct elements of my consciousness each being represented by one of the “I’s”. 
The first “I”, the doer, is the thinking part of me where ideas are formed into action in my brain through my thoughts. My ego lives here and has many facets and names by which it is known:  personality, traits, individuality, persona, temperament, disposition, etc.  My perception is this part of my consciousness resides in my head.
The second “I” is the feeling part of me where my actions are judged though my emotions and sentiments.  My conscience lives here and has many facets and names that it is known by:  instinct, gut, spirit, heart, intuition, character, soul, etc.  My perception is this part of my consciousness resides in my chest.
Seeing my self this way had been a big help in sorting “me” out.  My mind or the thinking part of me is always spinning and throwing things like a blender with the lid off.  Constantly spinning and whizzing around my brain is spewing things out day and night.  This is the more dominant part of my consciousness and actually a big bully that can abuse me into doing things that my feelings know I should not do.  This thinking part of me is also a lair a times and will create whatever it needs to in order to have its way with me.
My heart or the feeling part of me mostly just tucks itself away quietly unless called upon to show emotions applicable.  Rarely will I hear this soft voice of my conscience unless the intensity of the situation presses it to come forward or I intentionally rouse it and listen.  Feeling is the more passive part of my consciousness and can be bullied away by my thoughts.  Then I usually end up doing something deep down I know I should not do.  This feeling part of me always tells the truth, but the voice is passive unless awakened.  I have to be paying attention to hear it.
Thinking and feeling lie at opposite ends of the spectrum wrote Charles Gustafson, M.A., MFCC.  Human Beings are capable of either thinking or feeling, but usually not at the same time. Many people tend to confuse the two processes. It is not uncommon to hear feelings couched as thoughts and thoughts presented as feelings. Although there are obvious exceptions, thoughts maybe seen as arising from the brain (above the neck) while feelings arise from the body (below the neck). A thought is something that one generates while a feeling is something one experiences.  Thoughts are appraisals or opinions of what we perceive or experience. They act as explanations to help us understand our world. Not understanding what is happening around us leaves us feeling helpless, vulnerable and frustrated, which we find unpleasant. Understanding gives us a sense of competence or mastery that is comforting.
Gustafson goes on to say Emotions happen in response to thoughts or perceptions. If I think that I am a worthy person who is loved and valued, I will feel good about myself and the world I live in. If I think that I am unworthy and have nothing to offer others, I am apt to feel unhappy and hopeless and may become depressed. Although the process is largely automatic, our feelings follow our thoughts. The good news here is that we are, in fact, in charge of how we feel.  As either a thought or a feeling becomes more intense, the other function fades.

Thus, when feeling anything intensely, it becomes difficult to think or concentrate concludes Gustafson. One can learn to notice when one is thinking and when one is feeling. Each is appropriate in different situations. Identifying our thoughts and feelings accurately is part of living a full and satisfying life.
To break down the line of thinking I began with:   I (the thinking part of me) can’t believe I (the feeling part of me) did that.  That manner of perception works for the way I want to live. 
My brain never shuts down and long ago I learned I can not stop it… ever!  What I can do is not pay so much attention to it.  It is not always right and actually is often wrong.  When I am able to shift my perception from my thinking to what I am feeling I usually find a more accurate view.  Then it is not what I am “thinking” that matters most, but what I am “feeling” that I pay most attention to.  When “think” is in conflict with “feel” going with the latter is not always correct, but more often than not it is.  When the two are in harmony (what I think and what I feel) is when I know something is absolutely correct for me.  I am grateful for this knowledge learned the yard way in the school of hard knocks called life.

My mind told me to give up, but my heart would not let me.


The Most Radiant Pages

There is not enough kindness in the world and far too much of the opposite.  I can’t imagine anyone disagreeing with that statement.  In everyday life most people (including me until about ten years ago) are so blinded by where they have been and where they are going that little notice is made of each moment’s passing.  There were many years I barely paid attention to what was around me and to an even lesser degree, noticed the people in my momentary surroundings.  In the last decade a portion of the work to improve my quality of life has included improving awareness.  It has made a tremendous difference. 
Her name tag read “Sandra” as I walked up to the hotel checkout desk yesterday.  We made small talk for about a minute concerning the sun finally showing its face after three days of clouds while she processed my departure.  She handed the receipt to me and said “have a nice day”.  As I returned the sentiment I looked her straight in the eye making full visual contact for a split second and said “thank you” in earnest.  I felt her appreciation immediately.  I really saw her and she knew it. 

Many people disregard service personnel and treat them at best like they’re not there and at worst in a mean-spirited manner.  Certainly I can bow-up to bad treatment when I get it, but when getting decent to good service I always try to connect if only for a moment.  Time and time again I have seen how just a tiny little bit of kindness can make a difference.  Being pleasant and making full eye contact states that I really do see the other person.  That acknowledgment is a small kindness that I am convinced makes a difference.
After checkout, at the front of the hotel a prearranged car was waiting for me.  On the way to the airport, I came to know a person I will long remember.  Just having sat down in the luxury car’s backseat, an older gentleman who was the driver looked at me in the rear view mirror and asked how I was doing.  My usual response of “every day’s a good day, some are just better than others” pleased him.  He smiled and said “I’m a blessed man too”.  As we pulled out of the hotel driveway our special little time together continued as I asked where he was from.  He replied “I was born in Mobile, Alabama”.  With my response “I was born in Alabama too” a real conversation began.
So often service people like a cab or limo driver are hardly paid attention to by customers.  As I did yesterday morning with who life has thrown into my path, I often try a few exploratory exchanges to find out if a person is interested in conversation.  Most are.  The driver seemed very pleased that I took an interest in him.  I learned he had lived most of his life  in Indianapolis, first as a dietitian and later as a Chemist’s assistant.  The vocation he loved best was the latter that made use of his minor in chemistry for the last 15 years of his full-time working life.   He had retired and moved to Michigan six years previously for the “fishing” he said and was a part-time driver to help afford his “expensive fishing toys”. 
Our forty minutes passed quickly and it was only outside the vehicle when he went to get my suitcase out of the truck that I got a full look at him.  Short, African-American, full head of almost white hair, dressed well and quite distinguished looking.  I put my hand out as I asked what his first name was.  He replied “Carl”.  I shook his hand as I said “my name is James”.  I thanked him for the good conversation and wished him well.  In seconds I was inside the airport and Carl was off to pick up his last run of the day so he could go fishing in a few hours.  He is now another of my special “temporary friends” who will remain indelibly stamped into my preferred memory. 
So long it has been a traveling practice I can’t remember when it began. At least 25 years ago I began consistently saying six simple words of thanks just before I stepped off an airplane and onto the Jetway.  A moment before the exit door I direct my voice up front into the command cabin and say “Thanks for a safe ride guys”.  Rarely do they miss hearing me.  Without fail I get a pleased and positive response from them.
Why do I feel compelled to say thanks to the pilots?  First, I am truly grateful for each and every flight I am on that is flown safely.  And secondly, I am convinced there is not enough gratitude expressed.  There’s an over-supply of bitching and complaining but not nearly enough focus on what is good and goes well.  Saying thank you to the pilots is my way of putting a little more goodness into life on this planet.  Does it make a difference?  Yes, I think it does.  Each kindness may mean little by its self, but collectively the total of them all has to make a positive contribution to the overall quality of life for everyone.  Further, I know for certain saying “thank you” and expressing my gratitude makes me feel good.  And that’s the best reason I know to continue always doing it whenever I can!

Unselfish and noble actions are
the most radiant pages in the biography of souls. 
David Thomas

No Priviledged Access to Reality

Quite by accident last night on my hotel room TV I stumbled onto an episode of “Nature” on PBS that grabbed my attention.  In it naturalist Joe Hutto became “mother” to a flock of wild turkeys and lived with them day in and day out.  His year and a half with the birds gave him a unique opportunity to immerse himself in their lives and see the world through their eyes.  At one point in the program he said we do not have a privileged access to reality.  We have this tendency to live ahead:  to anticipate.  Wild turkeys don’t do that.  They believe all their needs will be met in this moment and life is not better ½ mile deeper into the woods and tomorrow.   This is it.  We betray our lives in the moment.  Wild turkeys remind me to be present; to be here.

In my life weeks and months have passed when I had a little presence in the moment.  Either something from the past was always haunting me or thoughts of the future were worrying me.  Often both were happening at once. Looking back I don’t recall a single bit of the anguish ever making my life better.  However, I could not see the complete waste being disconnected from “now” was.  Wandering around in the past or future tripping is like being lost in a fog without even being aware of the blinding mist.

Remex Sasson has a good explanation of what living in the present is: to be aware of what is happening to you, what you are doing and what you are feeling and thinking. It is being conscious of your thoughts and focusing them on the present. In this way you look at situations as they are, without coloring them with your past experiences. Living in such a way makes it easier to deal with whatever you are doing at the present moment. You see things as they are, without being influenced by fears, anger, desires or attachments.

For me rehashing the past or contemplating the future has a lot to do with control.  When I stop and focus, it’s a little crazy to realize I have tried over and over to get something in the past to make sense.  That was me trying to control the past; to change it; to bring it around to my way of thinking.  More often than not, the past just was and makes no logical sense.  I see that better today.

It took intention and practice to break my habit of excessive worrying about the future and fretting about the past.  Now the realization is clear all that was just a deeply ingrained bad habit.  There was no quick fix for me.  Intention and desire was the beginning for me to change.  Determination to improve my life made it possible. A meditation practice made my effort consistent.  And learning from a variety of people from Tolle to Epictetus, Lama Das to Moses, Collier to Seligman and more gave wisdom to urge me forward.

Sitting here at the keyboard my thoughts again drift to the “Nature” program last night where naturalist Joe Hutto repeatedly made the point that animals in the wild are much smarter than we give them credit.  He intimated it is a great mistake to think wild animals are dumb.  Just because they are completely ignorant of the ways of the civilized world does not make them stupid. They are born with genetic imprinting humans have lost over time due to lack of need.  Consequently in these times we are the ones that come into the world “dumb”. 

We’re living in a world that contributes in a major way to mental fragmentation, disintegration, distraction, de-coherence, says Buddhist scholar B. Alan Wallace. We’re always doing something, and we allow little time to practice stillness and calm.

No magical cure has found me.  There has no painless rebirth.  It has instead been a practiced awareness that came from repeated trial and error that changed things.  Now I can at least some of the time keep myself rooted in the present.  Gone are the days when 100% of the time my past and future roared like a waterfall to drown out all of the “now”.  It’s likely at least half the time I still am somewhere else other than the present.  But that also means about half the time I am right here, right now!

Within there is much awareness that I miss the one in my heart and look forward to feeling her in my arms tonight when I return from being away for several days. A smile comes and I resist trying to imagine our reunion in more detail.  Instead I hang on to the warm and contented feeling those thoughts bring knowing she waits for me and go back to whatever I am doing.  I am so very grateful to be at this juncture of my life where every moment is dear to me.  I’ll be home soon Darlin’.

Having spent the better part of my life trying either to relive the past or experience the future before it arrives, I have come to believe that in between these two extremes is peace.  Author Unknown

The Five Love Languages

At times I had told others “I am my own lab rat”.  Such a strange statement has a fairly simple meaning; I experiment and try things on myself in a quest to improve and grow.  From self-hypnosis (which I got decent results from), to lucid dreaming (never could get in the habit of doing it) to meditation (which I get great results from) to lots of other experimentation I remain open to finding what can make a positive difference in my life. 
Several months back someone told me about the book “The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate” by Gary Chapmen.  I got a copy of the book and on my current business trip brought it along.  It has been difficult to put down.  The concepts are presented in a down to earth manner that makes complete sense to me.  I have gained a lot of insight into relationship difficulties in the past and opportunity for the future.  While the book’s frame of reference leans toward married couples, it is applicable to anyone in a serious relationship.  I have had several strong “ah ha moments” so far and will complete the book before I get home.
The primary concept of the book is that each person has a specific love language (sometimes two) that is essential for him/her to feel loved.  If a partner “speaks” the language the other needs, the relationship is far more rewarding, comfortable, intimate and resilient.  Even when difficulty comes it is more readily and constructively dealt with when both partners are speaking/hearing each other’s language.  Otherwise one person in the relationship figuratively ends up speaking “Dutch” while the other is using “Italian”.  Then neither understands the other at all.

Here are the 5 languages of love outlined in the book:

Quality time: For one who needs things spoken to them in this language, things like spending time together, eye contact, deep and meaningful conversations and shared activities are needed to feel loved. Bonding time with their partner is what is most important to them.

Receiving gifts: When you are with a partner who relishes little gifts and surprises, this is precisely what you will get. You will constantly be showered with new clothes, flowers or other presents. This is how they want to be loved and is exactly what they do for their partners.  This doing for another person is expressing what they actually need themself.  Giving the gift of one’s own time is also an important symbol of love to these people.

Words of affection: This works by giving your partner near constant reinforcement, compliments, sweet love notes and lots of encouragement. This is important because those who speak this language are sensitive people and need reassurance on a highly consistent basis.  They thrive on being told they are loved and are important.  Such a person can become fearful and uncertain without it.     

Physical touch: If this is the language of your partner they will be very affectionate or, as some like to call it, touchy-feely. Sex to them means much more than just an orgasm – it is a way to connect. However, they desire contact far beyond sexual activity.  Holding hands, hugs, and caresses are very important to these men and women.  Without physical contact a person who needs the language of Physical Touch can feel unloved.

Acts of service: Some people find pleasure in doing things for others. By doing these people are actually illustrating what they want and need themself.  Such a man or woman may show love by helping out, doing chores, running errands or gladly doing things for a partner, whether desired or not.   However, the only acts that matter are those done out of love, not obligation.

While I still have about a third of the book to go, the “Languages” of love I personally need spoken to me are already apparent.  I was able to confirm my initial impressions with a quiz you can take at this link to find the language of love you need: http://www.beliefnet.com/Love-Family/Relationships/Quiz/The-5-Love-Languages-Quiz.aspx
Here are my Love Language Scores:
10 Words of Affirmation
10 Physical Touch
7 Quality Time
2 Acts of Service
1 Receiving Gifts

The highest score possible is 12.  I scored a high need to be spoken to in two distinct “Languages”:  Words of Affirmation and Physical Touch.   Accordingly to the book two is not unusual but more than two is.   Simply, its Affirmation and Touch that make me feel loved.  Quality Time matters some, but Acts of Service and Gifts really are not my needs. That all rings true for me.
Now it’s easy to see I played to my own need in every past love relationship. If those things were the needs of the other person, that was a good thing.  If I was involved with someone who needed one of the three other Languages spoken to her, I never fulfilled her needs.  I was too busy giving what I wanted, thinking I was showing love by doing that. That all seems so simple now to the point of “duh, why did I not see that before?” I am very grateful to have this insight!

Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.  Zora Neale Hurston

More about Gary Chapmen’s “The Five Love Languages”:  http://www.5lovelanguages.com/learn-the-languages/the-five-love-languages/

Shouting From the Rooftops

Yesterday was for the most part was uneventful.  It was a busy one when I was up early for a business trip and spent a good part of Monday dealing with travel and waiting for a delayed flight. Traffic on the drive to the airport was light.  One flight was a bit bumpy but unremarkable otherwise.  People I encountered were nice for the most part or at least neutral in my interactions with them.  There were no hassles getting a cab to the hotel once I arrived at my destination.  My hotel reservations were good and I checked in with no issues.  It was a completely unremarkable day, except for one thing:  I am in love with a remarkable woman and she is in love with me.

 As the saying goes “this is not my first rodeo” and I have known love before, but not at the mature yet lovingly sweet level she and I share;  calm, yet intense; reserved, yet completely unbridled; appropriate yet highly passionate.  I think the good we are experiencing together has a lot to do with being old enough to truly appreciate each other and the opportunity to love again in our late 50’s.  Having loved and lost makes another chance here in the fall of life all the more treasured. 
She and I are a good match.  We have attended the same 12 step program (Codependents Anonymous) for a long while and have come to know each other in those meetings from the inside out.  Long before there was anything romantic between us we were caring members who dealt with their individual issues by sharing them with the group.  Within the group there was support and a bond of in common life experiences.  It was in that environment we became attracted to each other. 
Individually she and I have been through great heartache, difficulty, bad choices and misfortune.  We have remorse but are at peace with what is behind us.  Each has had to fight to reclaim life and grow beyond who and what we were before.  We are in ways new as a teenager might be in the way love is experienced.  Our new ability to feel combined with wisdom gained the hard way allows us an unusually strong bond based on truth, honesty and open emotion.  Today I write here for her in a way that “shouts from the rooftops”…I love you… I really … really … really do.
From wisegeek.com:  Generally, when a person falls in love they have heightened romantic interest in someone else, and this doesn’t necessarily have to occur at first sight. Many people are friends first and find over time their feelings change to those more romantic in nature.

The word fall suggests that there’s a certain helplessness about these feelings of attraction, and they’re not necessarily within the control of the person stricken suddenly with great affection. It would be hard to dispute that initial feelings of attraction and the “falling in love” state are powerful. For centuries, writers and poets have sung both the agonies and joys of discovering passionate feelings for someone else. Chaucer called this early “love” state the “dreadful joy” representing both the pitfalls and ecstasy. Infatuation and romantic interest especially at the onset of a relationship can be both painful and exciting.

People have verifiable physiological reactions when in this early love state. A sight of the object of their affection may cause the pulse to race and the body to sweat. Certain neurotransmitters in the brain tend to be produced in greater volume, which can promote happiness and some anxiety. Yet most social scientists would agree that the reaction is not entirely a chemical one and involves the thinking brain and the emotions on numerous levels.

When I look toward the horizon, I can not today envision the journey there and beyond without “her”.  Yet I have no way of knowing what the future will bring.  Instead, with great hope I am open to what comes and that is enough.  To be in love and to have dreams of sharing life with her is a gift bigger than I imagined would come again. 

 I dare not borrow too much from fate by allowing myself to put excessive energy into what might be.  Instead I will be content with what I am certain of today:  I love you K.E.  Truly and faithfully I do.  I am grateful for you more than I know how to express.

Grow old with me!  The best is yet to be.  Robert Browning

Shelter from the Storm

For the majority of my days there was a storm going on inside me.  I assumed that state of being was how life was for everyone and came to accept the uncertainty, questioning, doubting, worrying and yearning.  These thoughts and feelings are part of a normal human experience, but not at the hurricane levels they blew me around within the hell I lived in.  

I am glad the constant storm is over now.  The winds rise from time to time, but never as they once were.  In recovery from dysfunction I had to learn how to be alone.  Those dark nights and colorless days of loneliness were long but ceased to paint my life all dark colors a while back.  A good example of what does not kill you makes you better is how I was able to trade insecurity and loneliness for a capacity to love life; a true miracle of sorts!

Life has been genuinely good for a while now.  In recent months good has become better and now wonderful as love of a woman has entered my heart.  There was acceptance such a thing would likely never happen again which makes the surprise a gift all the sweeter.  In my journey through the miles of loneliness I ran across a saying that helped me never completely lose faith in the possibility of love, no matter how distant it seemed.  Get yourself emotionally healthy and someone healthy will find you. And that is exactly what happened! 

Reflecting on those two sayings in italics above that have been my encouraging companions, I started to think of a few other “friends” in word that have helped me in my journey. 

When the pain to stay the same exceeds the pain to change, we change.  A living example of those words I am.  It would be grand if I could tell you how strong and determined I was and such strengths moved me to grow and heal.  That did not happen and it took desperation instead.  Only then was I was willing to do whatever was necessary to leave the emptiness and pain behind.  

You can only love someone else as much as you love yourself.  This has nothing to do with ego and all to do with seeing the good in me and accepting the not so good; appreciating my talents and attributes and seeing past my flaws and imperfections.  It is the perfectly imperfect way of seeing that gives fertile ground for love to grow in, of myself and others. 

Every day’s a good day, some are just better than others.  I did not believe the meaning of those words when they began to be my steady response to “how are you?”  Slowly over time as I experienced improvements from applying myself to growth and healing, the statement became a sort of mantra I believe today with all my heart and soul.  

One of the worst mistakes anyone can make is being afraid to make one.  Just as walking without falling comes when stumbling over one’s own feet from trying too hard is stopped, life has more success when error is allowed and accepted.  For me it works like that now.  I screw up more, but I succeed far more often!

Learn to smile at yourself and you’ll always be amused.  I said this for years because I thought it was a catchy and clever line.  There was even a fragile belief I lived that way.  Until a few years ago that was utterly a delusion.  While I will never be a comedian or good joke teller, I certainly find lots to laugh about as I healthfully stumble forward.  

You find what you go looking for.  Expect crap and it will rain on you every day.  Expect good and it will come.  This is not a naïve statement of a person wearing rose-colored glasses.  The difficult and the painful still come.  Living with this belief strong in my heart and mind simply diminishes the bad and expands the good.  No more, no less.

Love is all that matters.  Love of life, love of family, love of friends, love of nature, love of a partner, love of God…. whatever form it comes it, love is the force that gives EVERYTHING meaning.  Without love life is just existence. 

I am thankful for every instance one of these sayings got me through a time of deep difficulty or dark challenge.  Each has been, and will continue to be, a dear friend and at-will momentary mantra to “save” me.  I am grateful!

Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls.  The most massive characters are seared with scars. Kahlil Gibran

Once Upon a Time in the Hills of Alabama

An old book of rhymes I bought for two dollars by a forgotten local Tulsa poet stirred some distant memories as I thumbed through the pages this morning. He wrote of things before my time I often could not relate directly to like when the ice man brought ice to his house, sleeping on a feather mattress or the conductor on a night train. Some of my grammar school year memories from around five decades ago will be just as unfamiliar today to any “young’un”. Even to me some seem far-fetched or made up when I tell the stories, even through they are truth or at least truth as I remember it.

Clearly I remember the old alcoholic who would buy bottles of lemon extract flavoring at the country store. Being high in alcohol content he’d be plastered from drinking it and be laying in the weeds singing within a quarter-mile from the store happily lost in his oblivion.  Eventually the store stopped selling the stuff to him.

My 5th grade teacher was Miss Pittman and as the prefix implied she had never married. At least 60 years of age, she lived in the rundown teacher dorm behind the high school with one other “old maid” female teacher. By the time I got to high school she had passed on and the dorm was torn down. I wonder how she would feel today about me recalling her as the meanest teacher I ever had!

There was Dick Butterworth who liked us kids. Weekdays he was a local laborer and on weekends he was a professional happy drunk. On Saturday when he was high on booze we kids could convince him of just about anything. Once my brother, two cousins and I had him believing there was a little man who lived in the well by the store. He had a flash light and was looking down trying to find him in the well. Thinking back I am glad here was a cinder block housing around the well or he would have fallen in!

When I was six my father, mother, little brother and I went on a Sunday to visit my Mom’s first cousin in prison where he had been sent for moon shining. Clearly I recall a bucket on a rope being lowered by from a guard tower for car keys to be placed and surrendered during the visit. And inside the fence in the outdoor family picnic area the barbed wire at the top made me uneasy even as a child. That experience probably has a little to do with why I have never been arrested and kept myself straight with the law.

There was a milk cow my grandparents had they called “ole three tit”. There should have been four on her and I never knew if the missing one was from an accident or genetics. I had been told the cow did not like kids. Being the bull-headed boy I have always been there was no problem going against what I had been told and heading to the barn at milking time. I will never forget the cow coming after me and my grandmother protecting me with a two by four she wacked the old girl with! I got in trouble but did not get hurt. My Papa (grandfather) took “ole three tit” to the cattle sale within a week or two.

Raising chickens was big business on the farm and there were two “chicken” houses longer than a football field and probably forty feet wide. In between grown ones being taken away and chicks being delivered was a few weeks where the fertilizer laden (OK chicken poop laden) sawdust on the floor was changed out. On a rainy day during such times my brother and I would hunt rats that fed on the ground corn the chickens were fed. And I mean RATS not mice! When we got one, which was not often, you’d think we had bagged big game in Africa.

A clothes pin and a piece of cardboard or playing card placed correctly could make a bicycle sound kind of like a motorcycle. At least we thought so. But to get a temporary throaty engine sound nothing worked better than tying a balloon so it interacted with the spokes. It lasted only a short while until the balloon wore through, but in those moments I felt like I was on a Harley!

Or there was George Parker who spoke with a speech impediment and dipped snuff. I saw him many times spit the nasty stuff in the top breast pocket of his overalls. That’s makes my face scrunch up even now thinking about it. Or I remember the time Bud Stansell and his wife were robbed by escaped convicts that the police caught in a cornfield within sight of my grandparent’s house. Bud’s head was bandaged up from where they had hit him and I learned a new “cuss-word” or two as he spoke his mind while the highway patrolmen loaded the prisoners up.

Memory is clear when my Dad ran a country store and after closing time some of his buddies would show up so they all could drink beer and play bluegrass music around the wood stove heater in back.  Another relic of times past is “The Lord Provides Shinebone Valley Country Store” pictured at the top.

Growing up, all I wanted was to leave the rural south behind as far as possible. As an adult I made that wish come true. I have come to realize that as a child I was witness to the last of a way of life in rural Shinbone Valley, Alabama that had not changed much in a century and a half. That old way of life is almost completely gone now. Interstates, TV, air travel and the like helped bring about rapid change that I have embraced and enjoyed. However, I will always be grateful for the unique memories I have from my childhood that for their time were as good as anything Mark Twain ever wrote about.

Don’t you wish you could take a single childhood memory
and blow it up into a bubble and live inside it forever?
Sarah Addison Allen

Soldier’s Prayer

My intent it not to honor war or the politics that often fester their eruption.  My purpose here is not to talk of what is right to do about foreign tyrants or those that carry out evil against their countrymen.  This is not a monologue of what is right and wrong and what should have or should not have been done.  What I put here today, one day after Veteran’s Day is my tribute to the men and women who willingly have gone into the darkness of battle and conflict in the name of country, family and countrymen.      

A Soldier’s Prayer By Joanna Fuchs
Lord, wrap your arms around me
In this hostile, brutal place;
Let me draw peace and comfort
From your restful, sweet embrace.

Help me do my duty
To uphold what is right;
Give me strength and courage
Each day and every night.

Lord, hear this soldier’s prayer
To You in heaven above;
Protect me with your power,
And sustain me with your love. 

Often I have thought it was good fortune not to have been drafted to serve in the war of my youth: Vietnam.  My friends and family who went came back mostly whole, but for so many that was not true.  Well aware I am of how the men and women who were called to go there never received the credit, honor or respect due them.  I was against that war, but never against those who served.  Any time I see a Vet wearing something that indicates he/she served in ‘Nam I always thank them for their service.  To a person each and every one has been grateful.  Every single one!  Far too little appreciation has been given to those people. 

Taken from “Welcome Home and I Love You!” by Eileen Breedlove 
When you pass by a Vet
that made it home,
or hear of a brother
that is lost in Nam.

Open your hearts
and show them respect.
They gave of themselves
and they did their best.

Taken from “In Your Honor” by Anonymous
Unselfishly, you left your fathers and your mothers.
You left behind your sisters and your brothers.
Leaving your beloved children and wives,
You put on hold, your dreams, your lives.

On foreign soil, you found yourself planted
To fight for those whose freedom you granted.

Without your sacrifice, their cause would be lost
But you carried onward, no matter the cost.

When it was over, you all came back home
Some were left with memories to face alone.

Those who survived were forever scarred
Emotionally, physically, permanently marred.

With a hand upon my heart, I feel
The pride and respect; my reverence is revealed.
Every day, I give my utmost admiration
To those who fought to defend our nation.

For all U.S. personnel who served in Vietnam or were deployed before or after to fight, protect or advise in places like Nicaragua, El Salvador, Grenada, Iraq, Panama, Kuwait, Somalia, Serbia, Bosnia, Afghanistan and all the other locales known and the ones we likely will never know:  THANK YOU.  You have my deep respect and gratitude.   

In war, there are no unwounded soldiers.  José Narosky

Gratitude: The Cure for Dissatisfaction

Why are so many of us unhappy? Why are mental health problems growing so rapidly? According to the Surgeon General 1 in 5 American adults AND children are affected by a mental disorder during each year! WHY?!?!

The following comes from an anonymously written editorial on the website chinatownconnection.com.  It is titled “Why Are Americans so Unhappy” and I believe sheds light on the “why”:

Is it that we have electricity and running water 24 hours a day, 7 days a week? Is our unhappiness the result of having air conditioning in the summer and heating in the winter? Could it be that 90+ % of these unhappy folks have a job? Maybe it is the ability to walk into a grocery store at any time and see more food in moments than Darfur has  seen in the last year?

Maybe it is the ability to drive from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean without having to present identification papers as we move through each state? Or possibly the hundreds of clean and safe motels we would find along the way that can provide temporary shelter? I guess having thousands of restaurants with varying cuisine from around the world is just not good enough. Or could it be that when we wreck our car,  emergency workers show up and provide services to help all involved. Whether you are rich or poor, they treat your wounds and even, if necessary, send a helicopter to take you to the hospital.

Perhaps you are one of the 70 percent of Americans who own a home. You may be upset with knowing that in the unfortunate case of having a fire, a group of trained firefighters will appear in moments and use top-notch equipment to extinguish the flames, thus saving you, your family and your belongings.

Or if, while at home watching one of your many flat-screen TVs, a burglar or prowler intrudes, an officer equipped with a gun and a bullet-proof vest will come to defend you and your family against attack or loss. This all in the backdrop of a neighborhood free of bombs or militias raping and pillaging the residents – in neighborhoods where 90 percent of teenagers own cell phones and computers.

How about the complete religious, social and political freedoms we enjoy that are the envy of everyone in the world? Maybe that is what has 67% of you folks unhappy.

A 2011 Gallup poll found Americans were somewhat or very dissatisfied with overall quality of life (23%), opportunity to get ahead by working hard (45%) and moral and ethical climate (70%).

Ruut Veenhoven of Erasmus University in Rotterdam does research on the subjective appreciation of life and maintains the “World Database of Happiness”. He found the United States not even close to the top ten with a general level of happiness that places our country at 17th!

OK. Now that I added fodder to the general murky mood in the U.S.A., please allow me to offer my perspective. When I had little growing up I did appreciate the things I did have, even though I yearned for more. Anything new was most often received with joy even if it was new clothes under the Christmas tree and few toys. When I was a struggling 20-something I remember buying my first new couch on credit that took 18 months to pay for. I loved that couch and to this day have never appreciated a piece of furniture as I did that one. Living after a natural disaster in a foreign country without running water for six weeks and electric service for almost three months taught me gratitude for those two things I had always taken for granted.  In retrospect of my life I can see it was lack and struggle that made me appreciate things most.  It was rarely, if ever, abundance that brought any more than momentary gratitude.

As a middle-aged adult I “made it” and had the resources to have and do most anything reasonable I wanted to do. I worked for years under the guise that $$ would make me happy but instead my unhappiness grew to its maximum level that accentuated every fault and dysfunction I had.

My level of contentment and appreciation of life today is the highest ever. While it took a lot of work, changing what was going on inside of me brought that about. It is my opinion that is what is wrong in our country today: Looking outside our self for “other esteem” will NEVER bring about good self-esteem within. I am living proof of that. If success, money, sex, awards, accomplishment, things and external experiences could make someone happy I would have floated away in delirious bliss years ago. Instead, it took pain and heartache followed by lots of deeply emotion inner work to open me to the sources of happiness. There is nothing perfect about my life. Trouble, concern and worry are still around. But today those things sit mostly on the bench in my game of life while contentment, caring and love are the primary players with gratitude as the quarterback.

Riches, both material & spiritual, can choke you if you do not use them fairly. For not even God can put anything in a heart that is already full. One day there springs up the desire for money & for all that money can provide: the superfluous, luxury in eating, luxury in dressing, trifles. Needs increase because one thing calls for another. The result is uncontrollable dissatisfaction. Let us remain as empty as possible so that God can fill us up. Mother Teresa