52 Thoughts: Second Thought

 

IMG_3058

Photo by TJ Parker

People are good.  Inherently good.  For the most part.

I believe this.  I always have.

We just got done watching the Star Wars films, by the numbers, not in the order in which they were made.  Why do I bring this up?  Because the whole Darth Vader story is that anyone, if they give in to anger, fear, and hatred, can become dark, can become a force for evil, for negative energy.  Conversely, it also teaches us that there is hope, even for people who may be angry and fearful and full of hate.  There is good in us all.  Some of us may have forgotten it or refused to see it, but there is good.

OK, yes, this is corny.  But, it’s true.  Maybe not for the Emporer in Star Wars, who was so evil he could not be moved toward good, but even for Darth, there was hope.  There was a part of him that was good.  I know this is a weird time to bring up a character in a science fiction film, but I believe science fiction is often a good predictor of, and reflection of, where we are going and who we are, or could be.  It’s why I love it.

Many people I know want to look on these as dark times.  I guess, from a certain perspective, they are.   I myself fight against that feeling some days.  Yes, they may be challenging.   Yes, there may be things happening in the world that don’t jive with a personal point of view, and that’s hard.  It may seem dark.  It may even seem like there are evil people out there trying to do evil things.  Some of that is true.  Some of them are indeed the Emporer.  But, I truly believe mostly they are just people who don’t do things the way I or possibly you think they should.  Does this make them evil?  Inherently evil? No.  It can make them scary, for sure.  It can make them seem dark, absolutely, but they aren’t evil.  Most of them anyway.

We need to be open.  To remember to act with empathy. To try and see people for who they are, totally, realizing they’ve come from a place of having their own life experiences, instead of as just for what they’ve said or what they believe about a certain thing.  We need to ask questions, to listen to the answers to those questions even if they differ from what our answers might be.

People are inherently good.  If we start from that place, thinking that way, imagine what we could accomplish.  Imagine a world where people gave each other the benefit of the doubt, instead of just doubting.  If people acted from a place of understanding instead of fear.  From love instead of hate.  Darth might become Anakin all over again.  What a happy twist to the story that could be.

 

52 Thoughts: First Thought

 

12650814_1234978749849999_7138996268588438529_n

Photo by TJ Parker

It’s 2017.  I’m happy about it.  I kept waiting for it, ready to start anew.  Ready for a reboot.

Last year was stressful.  Surprising and tense and divisive and nasty.  Many good things happened in my life, but I was greatly affected by everything happening in the world, and that stuff, the stuff splashed all over mainstream media, was frequently disheartening and disappointing.

K and I spent the last weeks of 2016 doing daily random acts of kindness.  It helped both of us to be more positive.  To look at things from a different, and more uplifting, perspective.  We vowed, going forward into 2017, we would continue trying to look at the world from the place of kindness.  Continue to do random acts as they presented themselves.  I think we will.  We both believe kindness is key, a necessity.

I was thinking last night about the news, being affected by it, getting upset, etc.  After all, it’s still there.  Just because we’re in a new year doesn’t mean it all miraculously goes away.  I have friends who are so passionate about the state of things they are still posting political stuff on Facebook and Twitter.  I get incensed about certain events, just as they do, but I don’t post them.  It’s not my way.   My way is to post things I believe to be positive, uplifting, and kind.  It’s a different way of going at things, which is OK.  Mine helps me, theirs helps them I’m sure.

In that vein I started thinking about the effect all of this information has on me. Bombarded with news reports and posts about news reports and political events and health crises and how this thing or that thing is bad for you.  It’s easy to get sucked in, to focus on it all, to think that those things have significant value in my life.  But honestly, they don’t.  Yes, I do care about the world, I am concerned about a lot of it.  I am.  And K and I will be volunteering for a couple of organizations this year in order to try and step up and do something productive and positive.  But if I spend too much time thinking every day about all of it I’m not living right where I am.  I forget to look at what’s good in my life, there is a whole lot that’s good.  I miss appreciating great sunsets and how beautiful the light is shining through the trees.  I am not present.

It’s so easy to be distracted, to look outside my life and focus on what’s wrong with everything.  But that would be a disservice to my life, and I definitely wouldn’t be honoring all the magic that exists in my every day.  The way to honor my life, to live it fully, to be present in it, is to notice the magic.  To soak up the moments.  To put my focus on the people and the sunsets and the smiles.  To pay attention when I’m having a great conversation, or when one of my grandkids laughs, or when my honey smiles at me a certain way.  To honor this beautiful life I have to be responsible for feeling it, being IN it.

So to hell with bad news, crazy politics, and all the negative crap.  I can’t change the whole world, I can only do my small part.   I will act with grace, or at least try to.  I will be present and faithful to this beautiful, amazing, glorious life I’m lucky to be living.  That’s where my energy needs to be spent.  On walks and dog loves and kisses and hugs and music and beautiful words and great meals with family and laughter with friends and taking photographs and writing and silly and kindness and joy and love.

This is what I will do. That is all.

 

 

Time to Get Out and Rake

8bc77-14733136_996517303791380_7421946732960808960_n

Photo by TJ Parker

I was sitting here at my dining room table yesterday looking out the sliding glass doors to my backyard like I’ve done countless times over the last five years.  It was a beautiful fall day in Illinois.  The sun shining, the air crisp, the leaves falling in cascades and covering the yard. I realized we’d have to rake again soon.

We took our dogs to the vet for their yearly check up, some shots, a blood test.  They are good.  They did well during the vet visit.  They got some treats from the girl at the Espresso Royale drive-thru afterward as we got our large breves with an extra shot.

After the drive-thru we came home and had a visit with our daughter and grand daughter.  Our grand daughter is not much over one and half, her second birthday is coming up in February.  She is busy and curious and is speaking sentences, which is a little freaky, but oh so cool, coming from such a young one.  Our grandsons didn’t talk this well this early, so it’s a bit of an anomaly for us, but really awesome.  She played with shells and rubber duckies and blocks and a wooden bus we have that has doors that open and wooden people inside.  She watched videos of dogs and her Mama dancing and some muppets.  She laughed.

We took a run to our local Menards to get some door tab insulation.  I actually have no idea what they’re called, but they do really help to keep that cold Midwest air out of the house.  We also stopped in to get toilet paper and a 16 count box of fruit cups in real juice with cherries in them.  We call them cherries and all of the grandkids love them.  We like to have some on hand when they come to visit.

We made a great dinner last night of our version of chicken parmesan with broccoli.  It was awesome.  We watched a movie, held hands, pet the pups, and decided to go to bed early to continue watching Good Girls Revolt on Amazon.  If you haven’t watched it, do, it’s pretty damn good.

I was incredibly sad all day, we hugged each other a lot, and in fact at one point I had a good cry, but…

Life, mine, ours, is beautiful.  It goes on.  It continues to move forward.  One beautiful moment and day after another.

And, as my honey says, no vote can take that away from us.  We have each other, our love, our life together, no matter what.   She is amazing.  My rock, my center.  I love her so much.

Today I got up, turned on the High Hopes playlist I started making, poured a cup of coffee, sat down, we talked again as we’d done yesterday about places we might start volunteering, and I looked out to the backyard where we are having another beautiful fall day.  There are tons of birds at our feeders and the wind is hitting the trees and creating a rainstorm of leaves out there.

We are really going to have to get out there and rake.

 

Shouting Out to the Void

970226_1264549013559639_2015577727281643272_nWe let ourselves forget we are all one people. People trying to be happy, to provide for our kids, to go on vacation, to pay our bills. We hug our children and grandchildren, laugh at silly jokes, watch movies, eat popcorn, tie our shoes. We want something better for our kids than we had, we want our grandchildren or future grandchildren to be happy, fulfilled, to find whatever success they might be striving for. We love our dogs and cats, fold our laundry, sleep, hug, cry, work in gardens, clean our houses, wash our dishes.

I don’t know when we forgot. I don’t know when that happened. Fellow man. Something you don’t hear much anymore. Do unto others. We might hear that some, but it doesn’t seem like people abide by it, or they do, but only sometimes.

Kindness, love, togetherness, a willingness to help each other. Without judgement or condemnation or a sense of being somehow better than someone else. I can tell you, you are not, I am not, better than anyone else.

I shout these things out into the world occasionally. Like now. I wonder if anyone is listening. If there’s anyone out there who feels the same. I’m filled with hope and sadness all at the same time. That’s life. Beautiful and ugly, soul killing and uplifting, all things at once.

Shouting to the void helps a little. At least, I say to myself, I’m putting out a positive message. I’m saying, out loud and in print, be kind to one another. Be gentle with the feelings of your fellows. Be empathetic. Be helpful instead of hurtful. Be understanding.

After 10 Minutes on Facebook

I just spent 10 minutes on Facebook and now I have to write a blog post.

Oi!  I can’t take it.  Politics, division, divisiveness, people being crappy, showing their dark sides, thinking it’s funny.  It’s not.

I don’t care who you support.  I have my opinion, know what I’m going to do come November.  I expect you do too.  Why must we, over and over, post things on Facebook that are cruel character assassinations of candidates.  I mean on both sides.  I just saw it from both sides.

If you post, post something that includes facts, reflects your educated opinion, or supports your position in a classy way.  What’s with all the personal attacks?  Where did common decency go?  When did it become OK to publicly deride someone?  Sure, public figures sort of open themselves up for criticism.  So, criticize them intelligently.  I’m so sick of the memes showing one candidate or another with some intended to be cutesy, but isn’t, superimposed quote or other additions.  My God people.

We are better than this.  Our culture, with social media, has sunk so low that people think this crap is funny, when in fact it’s bullying behavior.  What are we teaching our kids?  That it’s OK, if you don’t like someone, to post something terrible about them, disparaging about them, out there for the world to see?  That it’s OK to make fun of other people?  That just because you don’t like someone you can publicly humiliate them?  Because every time something like all the ridiculousness I just saw is posted, that’s what you’re saying to your kids.  That it’s OK to bully, to deride, to act like a total ass, to treat others with disrespect.  And then, later, when your kid posts something about someone because they don’t like them, what are you going to say?  No no, you shouldn’t do that.  I guess that’s just a case of do as I say, not as I do.  We need to teach respect, kindness, love.  We need to be teaching you can disagree in civil way.  You can not like someone, but you don’t have to make fun of them, and in fact you shouldn’t.

If the goal is to get people to change their minds politically, you’ve missed the mark.  What you’ve accomplished is showing you can be mean, you can be nasty, you’ve shown your lesser self.  I don’t want to see that side of you.

Again, you don’t like someone, fine.  You don’t like them.  Feel the need to plaster your feelings all over Facebook… fine.  I’d rather see what you’re up to today, get a little photo of your shoe or your workspace or your beautiful smile, but if you must post something, if you just have to dip your toe in the cesspool, then be smart, be kind, be classy about it.  Simply post a status message saying… I support this person, and this is why.  Or, I don’t support this person, and this is why.  Re-post an article you think makes a good point.  Keep the slander, the meanness, the jerkdom out of it.  Would you?  Could you?  Will you?  Won’t you?

Crap, I’m slipping into Dr. Seuss… that’s how serious this has gotten.

I guess it’s just so tough to go on social media and see posts from people you love that turn your stomach.  That make them seem different than the people you thought they were.

Elevate.  Rise above.  Be the people I think you are.  Please.  I can’t take it.  I just spent 10 minutes on Facebook and I had to write this post.

Maybe There’s Hope For Us After All

IMG_5153I believe we all basically want the same things, even if we don’t agree about how we might get them.  Trying to understand each other, giving each other simple respect as human beings, goes a long way.  We all have different experiences which inform how we’ve decided to live our lives.  There are many ways to happiness.  My way works for me, yours works for you, we can agree to disagree.  And if we can, if we can stop trying to tell each other what to do, how to live, if we can be forgiving and generous of spirit, we can be sympathetic, we can hope.

I’m not a religious person.  Spiritual, yes, religious no.  But even so, through my life I’ve been fascinated with organized religion.  I’ve taken classes, studied, and I’ve been exposed to religions of differing kinds through my family and friends.  I have seen people, in regards to their religion, be their best selves, and I’ve seen them be their not so best selves.

I never understood, growing up, why my Grandma on my father’s side played favorites with her children and her grandchildren.  Her choices seemed arbitrary, nonsensical.  There seemed to be no precipitating event or behavior that caused those choices.  I was, without a doubt, a favorite.  My brother was not.  When I was small I didn’t know this, or realize it, but then I grew.  I became aware of the behaviors of adults, of the kids around me.  I started to notice how my grandmother treated my brother.  It wasn’t good.  I was all cakes and smiles and praise and good cheer, he was insulted and degraded and made fun of.  When I noticed this, I started not wanting to go to grandma’s house anymore.  I loved my brother and I knew, innately, that my grandma’s behavior was cruel and mean and not at all acceptable.  I couldn’t get past how she could be so nice to me, buying me gifts, playing games, be so loving, and then be so awful to him.  He’d done nothing wrong, yet she acted as if his mere existence repulsed her.

My grandma was also very religious.  Religious as in talking in tongues, holy rollers, and tent revivals.  This never bothered me in and of itself, though it did scare me a lot when I went to church with her and the preacher was screaming and people were falling down in the aisles.  When I visited she would sometimes tell me stories from the bible, always choosing Revelations and emphasizing how if people weren’t good they would be branded and burn.  Scary stuff for a 7-year-old, but none of that really ever deterred me from seeing her, not even when she took me to a tent revival and had me saved by another screaming man.  I started not wanting to go see her on church days, but really I still loved seeing her.  Until, that is, I realized how she treated my brother.  Once that realization hit I instantly felt an incongruity.  I wasn’t more than 9 or 10, but I remember thinking how she was a person who espoused religious beliefs of love and faith and hope, but acted against them.  She was a hypocrite.  What I felt about religion told me it should be about love and understanding and compassion, not cruelty and judgement and disdain.

The other side of my family, my mom’s, wasn’t religious at all.  I found out later my mom’s mom had grown up in a religious household, but events happened that caused her to turn away from organized religion.  I think they all went to church as a family, for a time, but eventually that faded out for most of them.  When we visited my Mom’s parents religion was never discussed.  Instead we were taught to play chess and backgammon.  The arts were encouraged, books were encouraged, music was all around.  So was laughter and love and a very tight sense of family.

I grew up in a home with an atheist (my step-dad) and an agnostic (my mom).  We didn’t talk about religion much in our house, except when my step-dad mocked it, or my mom would explain that she thought, fundamentally, the tenants of organized religions were mostly good (do unto others, kindness, hope, love, compassion) but that organized religion, in the hands of some, seemed to be used to control, conquer, and judge people.  My mom, who treats people the best of anyone I’ve ever met, with respect and compassion and kindness, was and continues to be a great  role model for me about how to be a wonderful human.

Fast forward several years in my life.  I’d taken many courses on religion, read many religious books (large sections of the Bible, the Tao, Buddhist teachings, tenets of Hinduism, parts of the Koran, etc., etc.) and had formed what is the basis of my own spiritual thought.  No one religion encompasses what I think and feel, but they all actually have things in common, and have in their own way contributed to my philosophy.

I’ve had great experiences with people who are religious as well.  Being gay, this is a tough thing as many religious people condemn me for being who I am.  But, I have some wonderful people in my life, who are very religious, and have shown me, over and over, what love, truth, kindness, and understanding are.  Which is why I want to talk about my friend, Pat.  I met him a long time ago, 17 years or so.  We worked together, were office partners, and ended up loving each other like brother and sister.  He is a super religious guy.  Very much a man of his beliefs, very solid, very sure.  I respect him immensely for that.  As you can tell, I’m not a Christian person, and I’m gay, so our deep and abiding friendship was somewhat of a surprise to both of us.  And yet, it continues.  I have deep love for him, and I know he shares the same feelings for me.  He has been, at times, a youth pastor, a regular guest preacher, and very involved with whatever church he has belonged to over the years since I’ve known him.  He’s moved a bit so has had to change churches more than once, always finding a church home and always getting very involved with it when he does.  I also respect him for that.  He’s a man of faith, and his faith is strong.

Pat and I once had a very long very heartfelt conversation about my being gay, what he thought of it, and what he thinks the bible thinks of it as well.  At the time we had this conversation, which was several years ago now, he was not pro gay marriage.  He is a religious guy and he felt (and probably still feels) that a traditional marriage ceremony is inherently a religious ceremony.  I, who am now legally married to my partner of over 13 years, obviously disagrees with him on this point, but that’s OK, he doesn’t argue it with me.  We agree to disagree, which is OK too.  What he said to me that day, about my being gay, was beautiful.  He said that nowhere in his bible (and he knows it exceptionally well) does he interpret that people should be judged by anyone but God.  He said God teaches judge not lest ye be judged.  Judging, in and of itself, is a sin as great as any other.  He said it wasn’t his place to judge me.  He said it’s his place to love me, be kind to me, be accepting, and let God do what he will.  He believes that man is not God, and therefore shouldn’t think that he/she has the right to act as if they are acting for God.  I love Pat.  His beliefs are strong, and they don’t allow him to condemn me.  He would never do that.  He has often said he wants to bring me to his church and talk to the congregation about love, about our relationship, about how two very different people can form beautiful bonds with each other and how that’s what it should be all about.

This country, that I happen to love, was formed largely by people fleeing religious persecution.  People who weren’t able to worship and believe as they wished without consequence from their government, fled to a place where they could worship and believe as they wished.  We’ve somehow forgotten that.  If a person is not a Christian, in my experience, many Christians now seem to believe they have the right to tell that non-christian person they are somehow less than, and that they should, in essence, be cast out.  When did it become OK to judge?  When did it become OK to feel that because you believe a certain way you have the right to tell everyone else how to believe, how to be, what to do?  When did it become OK, with total arrogance, to feel that condemnation was a right anyone could have.  I don’t tell anyone what they should believe.  My feeling is that what works for you, as a person, as far as your belief system goes, is yours.  Your relationship with God, however you see him/her, is your business, your right.  I will not interfere with that, and I expect not to be interfered with.

I also expect that your religious beliefs, whatever they are, stay out of my government.  There was a reason for separation of church and state.  It was meant to protect us from any one group, who might gain power, from asserting its beliefs and wishes on to the rest of us, who could be in danger of experiencing consequences for not going along.

I know a lot of Christians now believe they are being persecuted.  I don’t see that, but I’m not them.  For all I know, it could be happening.  But here’s the thing, persecution because of religion has been going on for centuries. Since the beginning of religion.  Perpetuated both by and against people of varying religious beliefs.  I don’t think any one group, whoever you are, has the right to tell another group what to believe, how to live based on those beliefs.  Nobody should be discriminated against because of their beliefs, whatever they are.  If you have a set of rules, morals, tenants you live by based on your religion, more power to you.  I have mine, and they are no less real or valuable than yours.  As long as your beliefs aren’t hurting anyone, believe what you will.  We fear what we don’t understand.  When we fear we sometimes strike out.  When we fear we don’t always act as our better selves.  When we fear we create division and anger and hopelessness.  All things contrary to what I believe is the most important part of any religion and/or belief system… love.

I know there’s no answer, and I know some people will disagree with me, may even become incensed or angered by something I’ve said here.  And I guess that’s OK.  You are entitled to your opinion, to your feelings.  As I am.  But if you do get angry, remember this… I’m not angry with you.  I just want us to talk to each other.  To realize we are all just trying to get through it the best we can, with the most dignity, compassion, and love in our lives as possible.  I think, ultimately, most of us want the same things.  To be respected as human beings, to be allowed to believe as we wish without repercussions from our government or our fellow humans, and to live the happiest of lives possible.  If we can just meet at that place, with that realization, maybe there’s hope for us after all.

Looking With Our Better Eyes

IMG_1785I was just reading a piece I have in draft, one I never posted here.  It was a general rant about how much of what we read, see, are offered to take in via news and social media, is negative, derisive, and ugly.

I’m not going to post it.

I still agree with what I wrote.  How I’m tired of the negative, how I yearn for the positive. But I’m too old to be on the playground, and that’s what it feels like.  It feels like what it was to be out on recess, caught in the middle of some ridiculous name calling fight.  How those fights seemed to escalate into the absurd and how the passion for those ludicrous arguments seemed to escalate as well.  Escalation turned ugly, pushing turned to shoving, sometimes turning to blows.  It’s exhausting.

I want a revolution of thought, I’m getting bogged down without one.  I want kindness, ideas, offered solutions, compassion, a recognition of simple human dignity.  I don’t think I’m the only one.  I think most of us feel this way, even as we sometimes find ourselves participating in those playground-like antics.

What if, for a day, we posted only something positive.  The old adage, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.  If that’s you, post a photo of a sunrise or a cute puppy, or your grandchildren instead of that negative thing you are about to post.

What would that feel like?

I get up, I make my way to the french press and the tea kettle, I get my steaming mug of freshly made delicious coffee, I empty the dishwasher, I fold the laundry, I open my laptop to check email, then I head to my news feeds and finally Facebook.  I’m shocked to see news articles about new inventions and good deeds and how even though I may not agree with this politicians views on this or that thing, they have good intentions, or are good in this one area, or they’re smart.  I see that everyone seems to be posting how happy they are about this or that event, or friendship, or job opportunity, or the tasty hot meal they had last night.  I read about how this guy, running for this office, had this idea to solve this problem.  How interesting.  I hear that even though Democrats and Republicans and Tea Party people are staunch, they are fair, and understanding, and compassionate toward those who don’t agree with them.  I see kindness and forgiveness and goodwill toward fellow humans.  I see us disagreeing with respect.  I see sharing and helping and love.

Life is a matter of perception.  It always is.  We can look and see terrible things in our opponents, in the government, in each other, or we can look and see that even though we don’t agree it doesn’t make either of us a monster.  It doesn’t make either of us an idiot.  From there we can have reasonable discussions, we can listen to each other, we can gain understanding, and we can start to move forward, freed from the quagmire of distrust and finger-pointing and nastiness.  There is something to like in almost everyone.  Just as there is something to dislike.  We see what we want to see.

We can see the negative in things, in life, in each other, and we can dwell there.  If that’s the case, that’s what we will notice, that’s what we will pick up on first.  The problems, the differences, the ways in which things are not right.  Or we can see the positive in things, in life, and in each other.  We can dwell there.  In that place there’s forgiveness, problem-solving, things to build on, there’s hope.

It’s up to each of us to decide.  I’d just like it if I could wave the magic wand and for one day we helped without criticism, we offered opinions without disparaging someone else, and we talked about solutions with kindness, instead of venom and animosity.

I believe, with all my heart, each of us is doing the best we can in the world.  Making our way the best we know how.  Sometimes what we do is not that great, and most times if it’s not that great it’s because we faltered, or we were never taught a better way, or we ran into something that spiraled out of control.  We don’t know anyone else’s story.  We can’t presume to know.  We also can’t presume to think our ideas, our solutions, our way of doing things is the only way, or even the right way.  There are many paths to a good solution, there are many “right” ways.  Yes, there are wrong ways too, but we must make people feel safe in order to help them change.  We must make them feel listened to, just as we like to be listened to.  We can’t bully, or push, or strong arm people into our way of thinking.  Most of us hate being told what we should be doing, but we don’t mind being talked to, respected for our opinions, and offered other opinions in return.  We don’t mind a good chat.  We all feel we should be respected.  That doesn’t change with position or ideology or background.  We all want to be respected as human beings, and we all should be.

I don’t expect that we’ll all hold hands and sing Kumbaya, but wouldn’t it be great if we went at things with that in our hearts.  If we were open, loving, and kind.  If we all realized we were in it together.  Facing it together.  Because we are.  None of us are in it alone.  Everything we do, small and large, effects other people, and spreads like a ripple out from ourselves.

I can only start with me.  So this is me saying to me that I’ll try to be more present, more aware of what I say, how I say it, what I put out into the world.  I’ll picture the faces of friends and family, I’ll try to act with hope and kindness and understanding.  I will try not to judge.  I’ll try to be fair.  I will try to be a better listener.

Sure, we have a lot of problems, but there are also so many things that are good and beautiful out there.  Look around.  See them.  Feel what that feels like to see them.  To use a line from The Abyss, a movie I love, “We all see what we want to see. Coffey looks and he sees Russians. He sees hate and fear. You have to look with better eyes than that.”

Look with your better eyes.  Look with them, and see.