Thoughts on Divergence: taking a road less traveled (part 1)

I went to the movies a couple of nights ago. It was my first since “Interstellar” (which was a good one, by the way). I missed some great ones over the last 6 months or so. I missed the first part of “Mockingjay” and the final chapter of “The Hobbit”. And I missed “Selma” too. I will definitely see those soon, but I missed seeing them on the big screen. I don’t go to movies often, as I usually go solo. I’ve had people offer to accompany me, but if I go at all, it’s usually a last minute decision. So I go alone.

I read the Divergent series last summer and I liked it a lot. The first movie was a bit of a disappointment, but I was hopeful that the second installment would redeem the series for the big screen. And, though still lacking for me, it reminded me of some of what captured my attention in the books. Besides the fact that there was a good love story between the major characters, I found the idea of divergence, as seen in the story line, something I could greatly identify with.

The “Divergent” series is a dystopian story of a post-American future where the current middle-American landscape is split into five factions, based on personality (somewhat). Each faction was born out of the premise that society is lacking something, but each has a different idea of what it needs more of. Abnegation is the faction of the selfless servers, because the problem is that people are too selfish. Candor practices unrestrained (even brutal) honesty, because the problem is that people cannot trust each other if there is any deceit. Erudites are constantly seeking more knowledge, as ignorance is the enemy. Amity is the peace-loving faction, who would probably agree with John Lennon that, “All we need is love,” because there is too much enmity in the world. And, lastly, the Dauntless – because people live in fear and are afraid to take risks.

Everyone is born into the faction of their parents (and both parents belong to the same one). Once a year, all the youth who turned 16 over the course of the last year are given an aptitude test to determine what faction they are most cut out for. But no matter what the test determines, they are free to choose their own faction. A ceremony takes place where all the 16-year-olds, in the presence of their parents, choose a faction by coming to the center of the ceremonial room, taking a knife and making a cut in their palm, then dripping their blood into the bowl of their chosen faction. Most often, the youth choose the faction they grew up in, and are most familiar with. But not always. After the selection is made, the youth leave the ceremony with their fellow initiates, for their chosen faction’s training facilities, without the chance to explain their choice or say goodbye to their families. The initiates then spend weeks in training, with tests to see if they make the cut. Those that don’t, wind up factionless. Misfits. Considered unfit for any faction.

Now, I’ve often referred to myself as a bit of a misfit. And I have a heart for other misfits. I like people who don’t fit into neat boxes. Actually, I don’t really understand those who do. I don’t like boxes. Or cages. Or imposed limits.

In the story, there are people who have aptitudes for more than one faction (and only one can be chosen). If there is too much ambiguity as to their fit, they are deemed divergent. Those in power dislike divergents, as they can’t be controlled. Divergents are raised with a set of beliefs and practices that are assumed to be best (just as everyone is). And if one somehow sincerely doubts that worldview, he feels there is something wrong with him or his world. He then feels the need to go and find himself. So he tries on another faction for size, often unaware that he belongs to none, and possibly, lives for the sake of all.

It’s difficult growing up in a world where you feel you don’t fit in. It seems that there are those who decide at a young age what they want to be, and set out on that journey, never to look back. People who never seriously question the axioms of faith that were passed off to them by others. And then there are people like me who…well…don’t, …and do.

Some of us have that Erudite hunger to learn, the Abnegation desire to serve, the Candor need to be authentic and honest, the Amity love for people, and even the Dauntless quest to feel alive.

I hope to look at each of these factions (or worldviews) over the coming days (speaking optimistically) and at what good can be gleaned from each view. It is my great HOPE, and perhaps my true calling in life, to help people to learn to see the best in everyone, and to realize that the world can look very different from another perspective (and all perspectives are limited). And perhaps we can only truly understand the world by getting pictures of it from many different angles, and placing them alongside each other for study. A good friend of mine, who passed from this world just over 11 years ago, used to say, “I don’t have to agree with your view to get up and walk around in it for a while.” Perhaps if we try to learn why someone else sees the world differently than we do – I mean, really try – instead of thinking anyone who doesn’t see it as we do just doesn’t get it, we will ALL see the world more accurately. And possibly, in comparing understandings, some of us may need to choose a better path. A divergence, if you will.

Join me if you dare. First stop…Abnegation (part 2)

And comments are always welcome.

 

From the Darkness

There are times when all seems hopeless. Darkness and despair have us in a choke-hold. The earth itself groans in pain, and it’s inhabitants join it in a discordant chorus, like wounded in a M.A.S.H. unit at the front lines – victims of heavy artillery fire. Simply breathing takes all we can muster.

Where is our hope? Where is our salvation? Does anyone hear our cries? Does anyone care that we feel such pain?

My sister’s two oldest daughters discovered this Spring that they were each expecting their first child. The first was discovered to be a girl, who was due at Christmas; the second, a boy who was due shortly after the New Year. A combination of exciting anticipation, and anxiety, accompanies news like this. What will it be like raising children in these troubled times?

I imagine that every generation asks the question, “Do we really want  to bring a child into this wretched place?” Life gets easier and harder at the same time. Technology is amazing. But how can we protect our children from all the evils that exist?

I don’t get cable, or satellite, television channels. I haven’t for over 2 years now. All I can pick up are a few local channels by way of an antenna. Therefore, I don’t watch the news. And I don’t miss it. I also dread public waiting areas where I have to endure a long stretch of “news”. All the negative weighs on me. There seems to be no lack of arrogance as those “in the know” tell the rest of us what we should be mad about. It would be too much for people to think for themselves, I suppose. And what we should be mad about depends on the network we subscribe to.

However, in this manic-media age, it is nearly impossible not to be exposed to a great deal of ominous information as to what is transpiring in our world, whether real or imagined. Shootings have become commonplace in our neighborhoods, schools, and homes. Not even churches are exempt. There seems to be more devastating storms, industrial accidents, terrorism, and wars too.

Worse, though, we seem to be short on compassion, and high on vitriol. I see Jesus dropped like an A-Bomb on the “enemies of Christianity”. I see people claiming that everything that happens is racially motivated; and people denying their own racial prejudice. I see people on the left and the right, firmly entrenched, lobbing verbal grenades at each other, leaving a vast chasm between them where the “sellouts – who won’t take a stand” protect each other from shrapnel as they try to prepare a table for all who will join them for a meal.

People in pain and frustration act out in ways that will never heal their brokenness, but instead send more broken in need of repair. They will not bring justice to those denied it, but deny it to many others instead. They cannot end their grief, but cause it for many more. Their actions are counter-productive.

Often-times they act out because they feel oppressed, and feel that no one hears their cries. We fail them when we refuse to acknowledge their pain simply because we cannot feel it from the safe distance from which we stand. No, we don’t grant permission to act uncivilly, but we should at least acknowledge that our experiences limit our ability to empathize with them. They (and we) need someone capable (and willing) to walk with us, and share our pain.

While considering the events of Ferguson, MO today, and the tone of opinions being expressed in social media over the last few days, I saw a post on Facebook from one of my nieces. She had been in and out of the ER for the last few days, and they had decided to bring her daughter into the world about a month early. Thankfully, my sister (grandmother-to-be) continued to update the thread. My nieces baby was born by C-section at 1:00 PM today, and weighed in at 5 lbs, 6 oz. Mother and baby are both doing well.

As we enter into the madness of the Christmas shopping season, and consider the chaos in our world, let us reflect on this…

When those who were oppressed and hurting, and despairing of hope, cried out in their pain and frustration, wondering if anyone heard their cries of anguish…, a baby was born.

Oh, and my new grand-niece’s name?

Faith.

As I wrote this, I was reminded of a scene in the movie, “Children of Men”. Humankind had been unable to bear children for about 20 years, when a woman was discovered to be pregnant. A group of people hid her and kept her safe. The child was born in the midst of war. And the baby began to cry. As the child’s cries were heard, the gunfire began to cease. Soon, the battle quieted, and only the cries of “HOPE” could be heard.

This!

I describe my blog on my Facebook page as a place for “random writings…”. As I seek to find myself as a writer I am finding that sometimes an idea gets stuck in my head and needs to get out. This is a result of one of those ideas. The thoughts expressed in the following “passage”  were birthed in my mind over a year ago. I then attended a poetry reading last Fall that made me feel like my thoughts would be best expressed in that forum. Words and phrases rattled around in my head for months before I ever wrote anything down. Then I wrote and rewrote several incomplete versions over the next several months. It wasn’t till late this summer that I “completed” this work. I had hopes of sharing it this summer, and also felt like I couldn’t really concentrate on writing anything else till this was finished. However, since I’ve not shared it, I keep going back to it and editing. So, it is still stuck in my head. That’s the curse of perfectionism. And I know it’ll never be perfect enough.

Here’s a warning though: It’s longer than my normal blog posts (Just over 1400 words) and it was written to be read aloud, so my punctuation serves that purpose (I’m already comma-happy and I know that).

This is not a poem exactly. It isn’t a short story, or any other known genre’ that I can think of. It’s just something I had to write. Maybe it’ll be incorporated into something else I write later. Who knows?  If you find it in any way inspiring, then I’m glad I took this chance.

This

“Hello Beautiful.”

Those were the first words he said to her as he entered the room.

She turned her head and lifted her eyes in the direction of the voice that she now found so familiar, offering the phrase that she had almost come to expect from him, as it was his favorite greeting for her, whether spoken or written. Though the attribution to her was still something she struggled to understand, and the title difficult to wear with confidence, she had come to believe, at least, that his words were an honest appraisal of the value that he held for her.

As her eyes met his gaze, and she took steps in his direction, she felt a strangely comfortable discomfort. There was a comfort in being in the presence of one who cared for her so deeply, and held her in such high regard; who would cross Heaven and Hell to be with her. But there was an uneasiness as well. She knew the pain of broken trust, and she could not allow herself to trust too quickly, or too completely. He made her feel as though she were safe to let her guard down as he’d done with her, but she wasn’t ready for that level of vulnerability. Not now. Not yet.

She tried to mask her disquiet with a little laugh, not quite able to look directly into his eyes, and said to him, “Ha! So you think I look hot? Like this? In this sweater, and with no makeup?”

Not taking his eyes off of her, and closing the gap between them more, leaving only enough distance to allow them to see one another fully, considering the difference in height; reaching forward he took her by the arms, with a hand gently behind each arm, just above the elbow. Then pulling his hands forward, he let her arms slide through his loosely held grip until he held her by the hands; and answering her he said, “For the record, I didn’t call you hot. I called you beautiful. To call you hot would just be to recognize the way you cause my heart to race when I see you, or hear your voice, or receive a message from you; the way my pulse quickens the closer I come to you; or the electricity that passes between us when we touch; or the way my imagination can run wild if left unchecked. It would be to admit that I am a man who desires you in every way, and that you possess all that I crave.

“And I am.

“And you do.

“But when I call you beautiful, I mean so much more than that.

“Beautiful is the early morning sunrise after a stormy night, that greets you as you begin the new day; that reminds you that no matter the darkness that comes, the sun will always rise. It reminds us that there is something or someone out there beyond our daily existence that provides for us, and cares for our needs, and wants us to feel. Beauty grabs at our senses, causes us to pause and pay attention, and it inspires awe.

“Beautiful is the newborn baby – a mother’s firstborn – cradled in her arms, held closely against her body, feeling the familiar rhythm in her mother’s heartbeat and breaths, listening to the tune that she hums, and without opening her eyes, smiles…just smiles, as if she is wrapped snuggly in a blanket of peace, safety, tranquility, and love.

“Beautiful is the little boy, standing before his mom, freshly bathed, with his hair neatly combed, though still wet, dressed in his Sunday best, clean except for grass stains just below the knees of his pants, with his hands hidden behind his back. He looks up at her with a look that says that the woman standing before him is his whole world. Then a smile covers his face entirely as he presents to her the fresh bouquet of wild flowers that he had hidden behind his back, looking to her face for signs of the approval that he had gone to such great lengths to earn – a smile from the one who gives light to his life. And in that moment, unable to conceal the mist that now challenges her vision, she kneels down to his level where her arms can envelope him fully, smelling a blend of soap and little boy sweat, and she and he both know in that moment that the world is indeed a wonderful place.

“Beauty is apparent for those willing to notice. And It cannot be ignored without losing something of ourselves. It is a gift freely given and received in love. Beauty changes us in all the best ways.

“Beauty is the wild flower that pushes up through the crack in the sidewalk, bringing life where life was thought to have been choked out. It’s butterflies and lightning bugs. It’s full moons and great big starlit skies. It’s random acts of kindness. It’s an embrace and a kiss.

“Beauty connects the human race.

“When I say that you are beautiful, I am saying that you make my world a more wonderful place. I see in your eyes a compassion that makes me want to be more compassionate. Your smile – not the polite one that you sometimes use to conceal your true feelings– but the one that lights up your entire face when you laugh – brings me a joy that even I can’t comprehend. I find your voice soothing, your presence comforting, your insights thoughtful. Your existence makes me want to be a better man.

“I imagine this scene in my mind…

“In the courts of Heaven, the Creator stands before you. He looks upon you with the softness of a father who is looking upon the only offspring from his beloved, whose arms he can no longer feel around him, whose kisses have only lived in memory for some time now. He looks upon you with wonder, and with a love and compassion as would be reserved for the only living memory of His one true love.

“He brushes your hair back away from your face with His fingertips, so he can look into your eyes fully. And He lovingly tucks the stray strands behind your ears. His smile is genuine and fatherly as he looks upon you with pride, as His eyes trace each line on your face – the lines caused by laughter and tears, and those simply caused by the passing of years – all of which only add to your beauty. Much like battle scars, they are earned, and tell a part of your story.

“The moments pass, but time seems to stand still. The angels stand and watch in silent wonder of this intimate moment between Creator and created, between Father and daughter. It’s as if the world had paused, and all present lived only in that moment.

“He cups your face with both of His hands, letting His fingers rest along your jaw, His palms against your face, His thumbs brushing your cheek bones. His eyes are like deep pools whose waters are barely contained.

“I see His chin tremble and His lip quiver. As He starts to speak, no sound escapes His lips. He swallows hard against the lump that has formed in His throat. Heaven stands silent in awe and anticipation. Clearing His throat, He finds just enough air to utter but one single word. As a tear, no longer able to be contained, spills over from it’s reservoir and hits hard upon His cheek; without any other sound to compete for hearing in all of Heaven, He simply says, ‘This!,’ as if to say that you are the pinnacle of His creation, and the final word for beauty.”

Now, having said all these things to her, he stepped toward her. Letting go of his grips on her hands, he moved his hands up her arms and pulled her toward him. He pressed his lips to her forehead. Then wrapping his arms around her, he pulled her into an embrace. With his right cheek against hers, he said to her softly, “And THIS is how I see you. And THIS is why I call you beautiful.”

After holding her close to him for a moment, he pulled back, with his hands firmly on her shoulders, till he could once again look directly into her eyes. With his eyes now glistening, he added, “Because I can conceive of no greater beauty. You are to me, beauty defined.”

What Makes You Think You Can Do That?

It’s been a year now since my inaugural post. I still struggle with the discipline of writing consistently, but I feel that I’ve come a long way. The fact that this blog even exists borders on the miraculous.

I’m not a risk taker by nature. I have a tendency to play it safe. Risks can produce some really wonderful things that we might never know without taking a chance. However, the flip side is that they can cause great embarrassment, shame, and/or other long-term negative consequences (like debt) if they don’t pan out. I’m not saying that I don’t take risks. I do. They just have to be well calculated. Or I’ll act on the advice of someone I trust. I don’t trust myself to weigh the risk in a stock purchase, for instance. But, I do trust my cousin-in-law Ed enough, that if he tells me where to invest my money (Let’s pretend for the moment that I have some.) I would do so. I would, because I trust his financial savvy, as well as his care for me not to lead me astray. I’ve cared too much about what people think of me for most of my life, but I put much more stock in the opinions of people whom I feel care most about me, who want to see me succeed.

I suppose I should have realized it much sooner. I have always loved to read. My heart has often been captured by a well-turned phrase. I do remember being praised by Mrs. Bennett, my third grade teacher, for a story I once wrote. Although I don’t remember anything about the story itself. And I really hadn’t recalled that fact in a very long time. And Mr Bender, in the seventh or eighth grade, looked at me with genuine astonishment when I actually wrote and delivered my persuasive speech assignment on why I thought students should be able to chew gum in school. He asked me where that guy had been for most of the semester.

Through most of school, including college and graduate school, I really didn’t like to write papers. I say I didn’t like to write them, but actually I think I’ve always been scared of using incorrect form in writing, or that my writing would not be interesting. This is still true. I have perfectionist tendencies, and a bit of a lazy streak when it comes to writing. I think it’s because I don’t want to expend a lot of energy on something that won’t be good enough anyway. But…I did have a few successes in writing through the years – when I actually did my assignments.

I also have a tendency to find my way to the office and school supply sections of any store I go to. And I can kill as much time in Office Depot as I can Best Buy. What am I usually looking at? Pens. And journals, or stationary. I often spent no money. But other times I would find a good buy on a journal, or a pen that felt good in my hand and wrote smoothly in my tense grip. Some of my favorite gifts have been pens, as well. But I didn’t realize for a long time why I had an “obsession” with writing tools.

I was always very quiet when I was young. Some of my newer friends might find that hard to believe. And I have often been accused of over-thinking things. Guilty, as charged. And, as I have said, I am a recovering people-pleaser. Therefore, I have taken way too much direction in my life from the opinions of others.  Looking back, I realize just how little I believed in myself. But, then again, my low self worth came through conditioning. I don’t remember much praise in my life – though I’m sure there was some. But I can recall all too well when I was told that I didn’t measure up, and would never amount to much. I think some of my accomplishments were simply to prove them wrong. However, it was the few people that I knew truly cared about me, who would give me affirmations, and point out things that I did well, that had the best effects in my life. I suppose this is why I like teaching. I see kids that have been emotionally and verbally (if not physically) beat up by peers, parents, and life. Somewhere inside them, locked away and buried deeply, are gifts the world desperately needs to see, hear, experience. And those gifts will never be experienced until someone cares about that child enough to see what they can’t see, and lovingly and patiently draw it out of them in a safe way, and help them see their own beauty. That’s the most important thing an educator (or any other human) can do for another person, in my opinion.

As a teen-ager, one of my dreams was to be a singer. I sang in my church’s youth choir, then young adult choir. But there were people whose opinion mattered to me because of my relationship to them, rather than because of any expertise that they had, who would tell me that I sang flat, or gave me other negative criticisms. Always negative though. Never encouraging. It wouldn’t matter later even, when I took a chance and sang a solo at my church when I was in college, and a music teacher told me that my voice had a nice resonance. It didn’t matter because other opinions had more weight for me. After a while I pretty much stopped singing altogether. I was even leery of singing alone in my car out on the open road, for fear of judgment and the feeling of shame. I’m still working on this.

I realize these things about me more now. I spend a lot of time processing the whys of my life. I gave way too much power away to those who should not have been trusted with it. It may take me a while to learn some things, but once learned…they’re pretty solid.

So how do we know that we’re good at something? Or how do we know if we have the aptitude, or gifts to try? Don’t we rely on some outside affirmation? I realized that there was something in me that wanted to write. What I didn’t have was the belief that I could; or that anyone would want to read what I wrote if I did.

Then it happened. And it all started to change.

In catching up with a long-lost friend, we were exchanging parts of our stories electronically. We were casual in writing, but trying to cover years of personal history. In the course of exchanges, she told me that I was, “an amazing writer”. Of course I thought (and think) that she was being kind, but it was like the planets had aligned in that moment. Though her words were kind, I also felt that they were the most genuine compliment that I had ever received, that she actually believed what she said about me. In many ways, I believe that was the beginning of a rebirth for me. I am convinced that this blog would never have happened if she hadn’t seen something in me that I couldn’t see in myself, and if I didn’t trust her as I do.

Pens and paper, and even education, did not make me a writer. Neither did (or do) my laptop or blog (although the blog allows me to fulfill a legal definition). They are merely tools. If I have any ability to write, it is because someone, whose opinion I value, and whose word I trust, said I was a writer. And that’s what makes me think I can write. And that’s what makes me strive to be amazing at it. I feel I have a ways to go, but this chapter in my life is still developing. Thank you for the part you play by reading.

Turning 50: A New Beginning

So, I am coming upon a new milestone in the middle of this week. I officially reach mid-life (Since my maternal grandmother lived to be 100 I can say this.).

 

Thanks to the magic of social media I have been observing many of the “kids” I grew up with, and went to school with, turning 50. Many of them, except for their online presence, I’ve not seen since high school. Many of them have grandchildren now, as do I. Time really does fly.

 

When I was in school the “oldies” were the songs of my parent’s generation. Now the term includes the music of my childhood and early adult years, and even beyond.  And, just as I could never see my parents as anything but old, I am looked at by my son and students as an “old guy”.

 

Physically, I get a few more aches and pains now. I have to live within my limits. And, occasionally, I am reminded of them clearly.

 

As I’ve approached this marker (over the past few years, actually) I’ve taken some steps to slow down (if not reverse) the aging process. I’ve made diet changes, and added some physical and mental exercise to my routines. I play word and math games, and read, to keep my mind as sharp as possible. As an aside, I should add Facebook debates, but I’m trying to lay off of them. (They’re usually pretty fruitless.) And I take walks in the neighborhood (which has both physical and mental benefits).

 

Yesterday, as I have been doing for a couple of weeks now, since letting my gym membership lapse, I was working with a set of weights that my son got at a garage sale a couple of years ago. It’s not a lot of weight, but it’s sufficient for a decent workout. (This is about being healthy, not body-building). Anyway, after doing a few sets of squats, and some core and upper-body lifts, I was feeling pretty good. Then I set the weights aside, and thought I would do some exercises that I remembered from PE classes as a kid. Remember the windmill? That’s the one where you stand with your feet spread apart, and from a standing position, you bend your waist and reach for your left foot with your right hand, then stand back up. Then repeat with your left hand to your right foot. Yes, that one. That’s when I threw my back out. No weights involved – just my muscles, joints, and gravity. I’ve spent the better part of today on an icepack. I did go to a movie this afternoon with some friends. When I got up to leave the theater after the movie was over, I felt like the tinman from the Wizard of Oz, in need of an oil can.

 

My eyes, though, have been diminishing now for just over 10 years. I couldn’t type this without my reading glasses. It was hard for me to accept the weakening of my eyesight. My eyes were great till a month or so before I turned 40. I can’t pick out as much detail anymore. And I really dislike fine print and product labels.

 

I’ve always enjoyed a strong sense of hearing also. Yet I can’t always discern pitch as well these days. On a good note, I think my singing is getting better!

 

I also have found in the last few years that I have a more difficult time controlling my tears. And I feel things very deeply. Even today at the movies, they showed a trailer for the upcoming movie “Interstellar”. I don’t know if it will be a good movie, or not, but the trailer made me cry. Movies, music, pictures, acts of kindness – they all carry the possibility of bringing tears.

 

But despite what seems like negatives of aging, there are some definite benefits.

 

As I’ve learned that I cannot always trust my eyes to accurately report my surroundings, so that serves to remind me that we don’t always see things the same way. And that doesn’t necessarily make either of us wrong (or right, for that matter). Just as I sometimes have to hand something to someone else and ask, “What does this say?”, so I inquire of others, “How do you see this issue, and why?”. I believe that we all have limited vision, but collectively we can see so much more.

 

The loss of pitch discernment causes me to listen more intently. I have to work harder to clear my head of the noise of my own agenda to clearly hear what you are saying. I have learned that everyone is capable of contributing something beautiful to the conversation. I think one of the greatest compliments I ever receive is to be quoted (in context, in an affirming way). I think we miss out on many pearls of wisdom because we are formulating and rehearsing our response rather than truly hearing the other side of a conversation.

 

My physical limitations cause me to be still just a little more. To rest. Breathe deeply. Take better care of my body and soul.

 

My tears? I don’t apologize for them. They come from a life of feeling, connecting, pursuing goodness, and realizing my own imperfections. They express both grief and joy, anger and love. They come when I see the world at it’s worst, and at it’s finest. To feel deeply is not a weakness. And to express those feelings is to be authentic. Neuropathy is a danger of many diseases. It causes you to lose feeling in your extremities, most especially your feet. Without the nerves firing as they are designed we don’t always know when we are wounded. We are more susceptible to burns and cuts because we lose the reflex action to draw back from heat or something sharp. Untreated wounds can get infected. Tears are proof that we can still feel. Pain and longing are better than numbness, because they drive us to change.

 

As I turn 50 this week, I know that I’ll never have the body of a 20- or 30-year-old again. I accept that. But I also know this: I’ll have 50 years of experience being human; I have had many successes and failures (and I’ll make more of each); I have made and lost friends (And I have a few that are more valuable to me than all the riches of the world.) and; I have brought happiness and sadness to others. There are things that I would go back and change if given the chance, and things I would never change (even painful experiences, because they helped shape me). I regret the times that I have caused others pain, or disappointed people I care for. But, with all said and done, I like who I am.

 

I am not perfect by any stretch.

 

But I like me.

 

My next 50 years, I’ll use the lessons I’ve learned over the last 50, to try to do more good than harm, to see more clearly, to listen more carefully, to experience all of life more fully, to love more completely. And to do all these more grace-fully. I am beginning a new chapter. Clean page. Fresh pen. I am HOPEful, and have much more story to write.

 

 

Wait Training: Examining the Virtue of Patience

Over the last holiday breaks, at Thanksgiving and Christmas, I saw more movies than I had in more than a year before that. I enjoy seeing movies on the big screen. But it’s not quite as enjoyable when I go to the movies by myself. So, when I had a movie buddy to join me, I took advantage of the situation. And I like to get to the theater early, about 30 minutes before the scheduled start time, so we can visit, and so I can see all the trailers for the upcoming movies. I discovered that I would become interested in some movies that I normally wouldn’t, because the trailer made my friend laugh. I enjoyed the sound of her laugh. I remember seeing the trailer for “Anchorman 2” and thinking it was utterly ridiculous. But she laughed. And it was a genuine, childlike kind of laugh. It infected me. The next time I saw that same trailer, I saw it through her eyes. And I actually saw the humor in it.

One of the trailers that we saw on a couple of occasions, was “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”. This is not a movie that interested me at all. I’m not really a big Ben Stiller fan anyway, and the trailer didn’t hook me. I’d never really read the story, and it looked like a story of a guy who just had a rich fantasy life. No thanks. I’m not saying that I wouldn’t watch it if I was asked to, but I wasn’t planning to.

Then Two very good friends of mine, Bryan and Shanna (a couple whose wedding I had the very good pleasure of officiating in 2008), had gone to see this very movie. And Shanna told me that she thought that I would like it. Now, Shanna knows me very well. She not only knows me…she gets me. She knows the movie scenes, songs, books, that will move me. She knows the very moment in a story where I’ll choke up and reach to dry my eyes. So when she tells me that I would like a movie, I can take her at her word.

A few days later, Rhonda, my movie buddy, told me that whenever she saw the trailer for Walter Mitty, it reminded her of me. A little puzzled by the connection, I asked her why. She said that it was because I waited till later in life to start living. Ouch. But that observation actually came from conversations we had shared. After Rhonda moved away to continue her education, I went to see the movie. And I found it poignant.

I have to admit that waiting is one skill at which I had become quite adept. As a very reflective person for all (or at least most) of my life, I wrestled with knowing when to wait, and when to act. I heard people that I respected say to pray, and wait. To trust God to act. I thought, if I acted, I was being impatient or impulsive. But, if I waited, I might be seen as lazy or disobedient.  So I waited for insight and direction. And I dealt with the internal dialogue that kept asking me if I was waiting, or simply procrastinating.

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary says that to wait means:

to stay in a place until an expected event happens, until someone arrives, until it is your turn to do something, etc.; to not do something until something else happens; or to remain in a state in which you expect or hope that something will happen soon.

And to procrastinate means:

to be slow or late about doing something that should be done : to delay doing something until a later time because you do not want to do it, because you are lazy, etc.

I have probably earned a gold medal, trophy, or at least a merit badge by now for both of these. I have developed a great deal of patience in waiting. But, I often procrastinate doing what I THINK I’m supposed to do, because I could be wrong, and may act because I have just grown tired of waiting. Not everyone will appreciate this dilemma. But some will understand full well. Am I exercising patience, faith, trust? Or am I being lazy, disobedient, avoiding responsibility, afraid to disturb the cat? Since patience is seen as a virtue, and procrastination is seen as…well, NOT at all virtuous, it would seem a good idea to get a firm grasp on the difference between the two – if a firm grasp is possible.

I probably come about my aptness for waiting somewhat naturally. My mother has always shown great patience (Well, ALMOST always – she did raise 3 kids, and spent many years keeping others in the church nursery). But I think waiting was a skill that was honed for me by circumstance. I was a middle child. Quiet. Unassuming. Often seemingly invisible. I would often sit for long stretches in the living room of our home as a child, watching a program on the television that I had little or no interest in, waiting for a commercial to come on so I could ask my father for permission to do something. Then, I often waited much longer for an answer. I learned early to believe that the wait was worth it if it ended with the desired answer. Though it more often did not. Sometimes the wait was just a waste of time.

The difference between a worthwhile wait, and a waste of time, is the result. And the results are rarely something that one can be sure of. There is a marked difference between waiting for a paycheck, that has been earned, and waiting for the results of a game you’ve bet on, or an investment you’ve made. One you have reasonable assurance that it will happen because you’ve earned it. The other, you simply hope you’ve made the right decision and it pays off.

There is waiting that causes anticipation and excitement. And waiting that causes anxiety. Some brings both. There is waiting for which you know the outcome, and waiting for which you don’t.

I have spent enough time waiting in my life that I just accept it as part of being human. From lines at the DMV to renew a driver’s license, to holiday shopping lines, to hurricane evacuations that move at a snail’s pace. From waiting in line outside a concert venue or eagerly anticipated movie sequel, to taking a child or grandchild to see the friendly white-bearded man at the mall, to waiting for a text, email, letter, or phone call, from that special someone. Waiting is just part of the journey. You just have to learn to deal with the inconvenience of waiting when necessary, circumvent the lines that bring the least reward if at all possible (I would much rather make purchases online than fight Black Friday madness, for example.), and make good use of the time spent waiting.

I have learned (and am still learning) that there is a difference between passive and active waiting. Passive waiting waits for life to happen to you. It’s praying that God will act, and then sitting back to watch the show. Let go, and let God, as some say. You may argue that prayer is not passive. And I would agree. However, I don’t think we should limit our responsibility to that of praying only. At least, in my experience, I was too often still on my knees when I should have been moving my feet. I spent too much time distrusting the inner voice, and waiting for a neon sign to point the way. I was waiting for the world to change around me, rather than to get up and be an agent of change myself. I was waiting on God to DO SOMETHING! And now…I think God was waiting on me. And despite a few of my friends who want to remind me that my heart is “desperately wicked” and can’t be trusted, I think God is whispering to me that He has placed His heart inside of me, and I should trust it.

So I actively wait for the world to change (I expectantly wait for the world to change.). I pray for wisdom and direction, pausing at times for clarity because of the weight of my decision, and then act upon my understanding. Perhaps it is because I most likely have fewer days on the horizon than in the rear-view (although my grandmother lived to be 100, and I am not quite 50) but I just don’t want to waste time. I’d rather spend it well. I’d rather spend my energy, time, and HOPE, on the things I value most. It may be necessary to first reassess the world through a different set of eyes. Then, perhaps, just as it was true for Walter Mitty, great adventures await me (and you) in the second half of life.

Losing Hope to Find It: Pruning Life for New Growth

It’s nice when we can become known for something positive rather than negative, for a good character trait rather than a flaw, for success rather than failure, as someone who brings a smile and comfort and not disdain and disappointment. Truth is, I’ve been (and am) known for all those things, good and bad. I have decided though, (and have to remind myself often) that I want to be better known for the positive side of those things. For this reason, it makes my soul smile when someone tells me that when they see a post, or sign, about HOPE, they think of me. It makes me feel like I’m doing something right – like I’m spreading antibodies to help build immunity against despair.

But what is HOPE? Is it seeing the glass as half full rather than half empty? Well, that’s a start. But HOPE is much more than that. To me, HOPE is a posture. It is a feeling and belief (faith) that allows me to endure pain, sadness, and trials of all kinds, because I am confident that there is a purpose for it all – something that gives it all meaning – or something better on the other side of my struggle if I can endure it.

My love affair with HOPE may have started as a defense mechanism (or morphed into one) that allowed me to deal with unpleasant or difficult things in my life that I felt I had no power, or right, to change. I would set my sight (vision) on a point ahead in the road, and tell myself that if I can just push through till I reach that point, things would be much better. Then the pain will end (or at least lessen). Or I will be given some insight that will help me understand where my trials are producing worthwhile benefits, for myself or someone else.

When I get finished with school…
When I get this debt paid…
When this business makes a profit…
When we get moved…
When I get that job…

I tried to set my sights on goals that I was quite sure would eventually happen, instead of something that might or might not (although sometimes they were quite improbable). If it did not come to fruition, I would set a new goal. The most difficult thing was when I reached each successive point that I had fixed my sights on, without the pain and trials lessening. And all that seemed to be changing were the pages on the calendar, the wrinkles and gray hairs looking back from the mirror, and the weakening of the eyes and body. Time became my enemy when I once thought it my ally.

The blessing and the curse of mid-life is a change of perspective. Not only do you continue to look forward down the road and reset your sights, but you look back on the tracks left by the journey so far, and you ask yourself what the road ahead looks like based on the history of the road already traveled.

A friend of mine recommended a book, based on a vague status update that I had put on Facebook when I was feeling a little less HOPEful than normal. It was a book called “Necessary Endings”, by Dr. Henry Cloud. I ordered a copy based on her recommendation (She has a counseling practice, though she is a friend and not my therapist.). I read it in one or two days. I was amazed at the relevancy this book had to my life. And strangely, my friend didn’t know the particulars of my struggles, and she hadn’t read very far into the book herself at the time that she recommended it.

I had learned to tie a rope on HOPE and hold on with all my might. To just DEAL with it. HOPE was as necessary for my life as oxygen. And Dr. Cloud affirmed how important HOPE was for life. But…imagine my shock when he proposed that my pain was not likely to end until I GIVE UP hope. He said that I have to give up hope in something for which hope was unreasonable.

“It is imperative that you give up hope if your hope is not a hope at all but just an empty wish. But how do we know the difference between wishing and hoping? When most people talk about tomorrow and wanting something in their lives to be different or to get better, they use the word hope. Dictionary definitions of hope contain two elements. The first is a ‘desire or expectation’ for something in the future to occur. ‘I hope this thing turns around.’ The second is usually ‘grounds for believing’ that something in the future will occur. ‘She sees some hope because of next year’s product line.’ The real problem is when we have one without the other: a desire without any grounds. That is hope based not on reality but on our desires, our wishes.”

Sometimes (and this is exceedingly difficult, and even unnatural, for me to do) it is necessary to give up hope in something that is expending your energies and time, and has already shown (through sufficient investment) that it is to no avail, in order to continue to embrace a more reasonable HOPE.

It has been said that change will not occur until the pain of remaining the same becomes greater than the pain of the change.

If a hamster is going to run, do you suppose he would rather run through tubes or mazes that bring some reward, than on a wheel that leaves him tired and dizzy, getting nowhere? Perhaps it is a blessing that the hamster may not live long enough to despair, when he sees how pointless his efforts are.

I think the big fear is (I know it is for me) that we may give up hope too soon. It’s like tunneling for gold for years deep into a mountain, never reaching it. You come to the point of exhaustion and despair, feeling that you have wasted your life away. You want to give up. But you don’t know whether you may strike the mother-lode with another day’s digging, or eventually die having never realized your hopes. If you give up hope and turn back, you’ll never know for sure. To continue, or to give up; either is a risk. Either can lead to bitterness and despair, or freedom from your tyranny, and renewed HOPE or reward. The decision is necessarily painful and sobering. This is not a time for flipping a coin, especially if it involves other people’s lives. And most decisions do.

This isn’t just a matter of finding happiness or contentment. I’m talking about purpose. I’m talking about being the best version of yourself, and using your unique gifts to make the world better for your having done so. Are you putting hopes in things that threaten the HOPE that gives your life its meaning? If you want to hold onto HOPE, you may have to give up hope in something – whether it be a job (or career), a belief, a stance, a relationship, an obligation – that is keeping you from it (and I’m not talking about something that is just making it more of a challenge to achieve, but is prohibiting your success). I think it is interesting to note that the Greek word that is translated as perfect, or complete, in the Christian New Testament, has the connotation of having reached one’s purpose. Such as when Paul said that he had finished the race (2 Tim 4:7).

If the hamster spends his days and his energy, running…and ends up lying dead beside the wheel where he gave it his all, only inches from where he began, will we say that he finished the race? I guess it’s possible, if you think that a hamster’s purpose is only to provide his captors with amusement.

As the writer of the letter to the Hebrews has said, we must throw off every weight that hinders us and trips us up, so that we are able to run the race set before us (Hebrews 12:1). An ill-placed hope can become an anchor or a stumbling block if it keeps us from fulfilling our own unique calling. And this is coming from one who HOPEs, and finds it heart-breaking to give up on anything or anyone. But I have found it to be more heart-breaking for a person to have gained the world and lost himself in the process.

Insanity has been defined as continually doing the same things and expecting different results. Sometimes we need to realize that it is insane to keep hoping that something or someone is going to change, if the record clearly shows otherwise. But you have to decide for yourself when that is. You will have to deal with the consequences whatever you decide.

I just cut my rose bushes back, as I do every February. Some people would  think that I’d killed them. They definitely look that way. But soon, if you visit me, you’ll see lots of beauty emerging from those now-dead-looking plants. I still have to wait for the new growth. But the pruning was necessary first. A necessary ending.  And now the nurturing. Then the beauty. Ahhh, HOPE!