Respect: seems in short supply

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The passing of an icon always brings opportunities to reflect. There is no doubt that the recent assigning of Aretha Franklin to the “late” category offers up just that chance. I just saw a cartoon, a very respectful one, on the opinion page of my local paper, with an image of the Queen of Soul. The caption read R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Thoughts came to mind of just what that meant to me before I read the content of the cartoon.
Respect is something that seems to be in short supply these days. When I look at the lyrics of Aretha’s song, I see she’s asking for a little respect from her significant other. This respect, just a little bit, is long overdue. She provides support to this individual in several ways, while he evidently carouses about with nary a care. I find it interesting that she makes no appeal for him to cease his outside behavior. Instead, she only asks that he demonstrates a modicum of respect when he gets home. That seems to me a lot less than what I would require; however, that seems adequate for peace at home.

Here’s the heart of the reflection to which I alluded earlier: We live in one of the most divided times I’ve witnessed in American history. At my age, I’ve seen many times of division. It troubles me to no end when I see public officials, elected and not, make disparaging remarks (personal attacks) about anyone. Oftentimes, divisive comments are offered up with some expedient goal in mind. There’s usually some pliable base of support that waits to hear such comments. These remarks validate what they’ve been thinking, emotionally energizes them, and gives them a sense of superiority over “those folks.” You know, “those folks” who on the outside don’t look like us. Those folks are great targets for lobbing accusations against; for placing blame on for birthing all the ills of our society. The trouble with that frame of thought though is that those folks have little collective power to influence society in the manner for which they’re being accused. I believe it would be accurate to call them scape goats.

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Those folks, without doubt, have long traditions of supporting our country even with the knowledge that their sacrifices will go unnoticed. History is replete with examples of them shedding blood, sweat and tears for the good of the order. They continue to follow a model for personal growth and development, community and national support that never seems to get them the R.E.S.P.E.C.T they deserve. I don’t think I need to mention here who those folks are. You know who you are, and if you’re reading this, I can easily imagine the diversity of the makeup of your legions. I’ve been around a long time, and I’m still singing the refrain: “Just a little respect.” God loves and respects us all. Who are we to argue with Him?

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

Your story is important

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In our times, blogs are being written, books are being published, talk shows are being produced in what seems to be enumerable measure. Most, if not all, of these public presentations are touting aspects of someone’s story. Have you ever thought about why someone’s story is worthy of publication, and another person investing time to soak it in? It would seem obvious; however, I don’t think most of us give much thought to the fact that that’s one of the most valuable commodities we have, our stories. Have you ever found yourself mesmerized as you listen to someone share details of some dramatic moment in their life?

There was a time, before our digitized age, when people sat around some point of reference: a fireplace, the city gate, the dinner table to share stories. Stories carried valuable information. They gave people a sense of belonging to something much larger than themselves. They connected people with the past, the present and gave some indication of what their legacy would be for future generations. Stories are still being told. If you think millennials don’t appreciate the value of stories, think again. Their incessant use of cell phones and other tools of technology are sustained by stories. Yes, maybe not stories as previous generations might perceive them, but stories none the less. Instagram pictures are stories. They provide visual renditions of what’s happening in the lives of each person who shares them.

When it’s all said and done, what else does society have to drive it forward but stories? Some in society have learned how to capitalize on storytelling. They write books, produce movies and plays. What would our houses of worship have to offer their congregants without stories lifted from sacred texts. Have you ever noticed how small children develop an appreciation for storytelling early? Their parents, if they’re well engaged in their development, will often ask: what happened at school today? If the question was followed by a sincere attempt to listen, the child will usually offer salient details about the escapades of the day. They start to learn early just high powerful stories are, when told in a way that produces mind cinema.

Your stories are important. Don’t think it egotistical to think so. There are others who might find value in listening to or reading your stories. Younger family members can gain greater appreciation for where they came from by listening to your stories. Have you ever really listened to the older folks at family reunions share stories of their life’s experiences? Often the older ones, who were born before 1950, possess a certain talent for oral presentation that has been lost in subsequent generations.

I have a confession. My primary motivation for blogging is to hone my ability to tell my story. If you’re reading this, I hope you can appreciate my humble attempts at sharing my perceptions, my renditions of the world around me. Your stories are no less important than anyone’s. Find your tool, your outlet for telling your stories. Your stories could very well be the purveyor of truth and encouragement to others.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

This ain’t your grandpa’s America

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One of the things I dislike most, and I assume many Americans do also, is going to the division of motor vehicles (DMV). This morning I found myself having to make a trip there. I recently bought Chris a new car, and unfortunately, I had to make that dreaded trip to register the vehicle. Lest you think I’m about to write about the frustrations of visiting the DMV, I should shift gears right here and begin my musings regarding the point of this piece.

I decided that I would go early, to beat the crowd. It was eight forty-five in the morning when I arrived, and my number was thirty-two. Number ten was being served. I decided to make the most of my stay by observing the people, who were experiencing a layover in government purgatory as was I. It didn’t take me long to realize that the diversity of people there was impressive. This is something I had never really paid attention very much to before.

I remember in my twenties, when I used to visit the DMV, there was no doubt diversity; diversity of thought flowing through the minds of the customers; diversity of faith, beliefs; diversity of the kinds of vehicles folks drove to the place. However, most of the people were either black or white. We all sat quietly, with our body language pronouncing in hush tones our clear frustration. That frustration was often increased when someone finally made it to the counter to be informed by an emotionless, plaster-faced government servant that they had all but one piece of paper. Although society had assigned rungs on the social ladder each of us was to perch, our visit to the DMV was an equalizer almost the same as death and taxes.

This morning, I noticed something different. Yes, the of legacy of frustration abounded in the place. I think most of the folks there, tried to beat the crowd the same as I. We never gave any thought to the idea that like minds may very well lead us to the same place at the same time. After finding my seat, I began to occupy my time the same as so many others waiting in this dark, human corral, fidgeting unproductively with my cell phone. I noticed something else while I looked about to locate one of the hard, plastic chairs to rest my body, very few people were sitting in a chair next to anyone. If there were elbows touching, chances were that the people sitting next to each other were friends or relatives. I watched with fascination a couple, who had pulled a number and probably had to wait for an hour or more, looked with hope to find two chairs next to each other. Although there were many vacant chairs in the place, they chose to stand instead of sitting next to anyone else or sit apart from each other. Personal space and comfortable space, next to a familiar being, are premiums in a place like this.

The salient point I want to make though, is that the patient, albeit frustrated souls waiting to be served on this fine Monday morning, reflected a rainbow of God-created humanity. Contrary to what I used to experience decades ago, there were people of Asian ethnicity, African, European, Hispanic, and this is just my assumptive mind at work. Without surveying the folks present, I had no way of determining just how many ethnic and cultural varieties of folks were there, reduced to a level of sameness that only the DMV can accomplish. I thought to myself, this is America today (in Arkansas), not New York City or Los Angeles. We reflect the makeup of the globe. We are a land that has sprung from joy and pain experienced by multitudes. Though our sins are many, our greatness can only be enhanced by recognizing and cherishing the diversity of humanity that has brought us thus far by God’s grace. My grandpa would be proud. I hope most grandpas, alive and late would feel the same.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

Stop and smell the roses

100_0876One thing that longevity gives you, as time passes, is the invaluable perspectives you can take on metaphors. The title of this piece is enriched with so much metaphorical value that seems to be triggered, for me, when I experience certain things. One can be weighted down with many troubles of the world: health issues, family issues, political shenanigans of all sorts, and just plain stuff that makes life an overwhelming challenge at times. But, then something happens.

I’ve been dealing with some sort of respiratory issue for the last seven days or so. I don’t want to sound too disgusting; however, some amount of detail is warranted here for you to get the picture. Mucus has been flowing nonstop. I’m exhausted from using tissue. Is that enough detail? I had to make a run to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription for some eye drops I use to regulate the pressure in my left eye, which suffers from early stage Glaucoma. It’s July 31, 10:30 in the morning. When I stepped outside, the weather was beautiful. Normally, in Arkansas, during this time of year, the thermometer is fast approaching the mid-nineties. This morning greeted me with a temperature of seventy-seven and a nice cool breeze that gently caressed what would normally be a sweat drenched body. Rather than instinctively switching on the air conditioning in my car, I rolled down the windows and took it all in. In other words, this was a “smell the roses” moment that I couldn’t let pass without some thankful notice.

This thankful moment ushered me into thinking that life presents countless opportunities for us to “smell the roses”. Do we always avail ourselves of these moments? Do we ponder, meditate, soak in what’s been put in our path? I’ll speak for myself here, I don’t. (Come on, you probably don’t either.) There was one other thing that happened this morning that made me feel particularly joyful in my brief run to the pharmacy. I had had a conversation with my oldest daughter earlier. A conversation, which I wouldn’t wish on anyone. She was diagnosed with breast cancer recently, early stage. Her oncologist saw no need for surgery but did prescribe a regimen of low dose chemotherapy and radiation. Now there are two of us in the family fighting the “Big C”. Now, my daughter can identify. Not to be critical of the rest of my family, whom I’m certain loves me deeply. The truth is you must walk closely to another person to even approach full understanding of what they’re traversing. My daughter is walking beside me now, treading nervously through waves of chemotherapy and side effects in her early steps. I’m convinced she’ll walk well, as her faith in God carries her when she feels as though she can’t walk. She’ll discover moments when “smelling the roses” will be unavoidable. You might ask me, where’s the joy in that? Believe me, it’s there. It’s not in the fact that she has cancer, but in knowing her faith will allow her to see numerous “smell the roses” moments.

I recently had a major “smell the roses” experience that I’ll never forget. As far back as I can remember, I’ve been a big fan of Anita Baker. Her sultry style of delivering the words to a song has always been captivating. This year I turned sixty-eight. My daughter, the fellow cancer patient, bought concert tickets and arranged lodging in a nice Airbnb in St. Louis for Chris and me to see Anita. What made it an even more a “smell the roses” experience was that the concert was on my birthday. Birthdays themselves are great “smell the roses” experiences for me, as God blesses me with more time to grow, and I hope to become wiser and closer to Him. This was my sixty-eight birthday, two weeks after the death of my mother. Even her death, a tragically sad event to say the least, gave me opportunity to retrospectively smell all the roses she brought into my life.

As you walk through this life, I recommend you keep your proverbial sense of smell (mental and emotional) on strong alert so you can smell, and soak in all the good stuff that’s placed before you. I dare say its positioning isn’t happenstance.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.