Embracing Change


                                   

                                                –by Neal Lemery

Change is in the air. The rains have returned, leaves are turning, and autumn is here. 

Some change is welcome. Yet, I resist many changes. The old ways of thinking are comforting and soothing, predictable. I’m set in my ways, determined and often obstinate. I most always am thinking I have all the answers, I know all the facts, and I’ve always reached the proper conclusions. 

People I agree with have also miraculously reached these same conclusions.          

I can blame my attitude on age. But I was at least as stubborn in my younger years. Part of who I am and how I navigate life can be traced to genetics, and part on the times we live in. 

This is an age of contrariness, obstinance, and too often, argument for argument’s sake. That feistiness is often wrapped in the blanket of divisive politics and thinking that one’s own theology and morality should be everyone’s correct thinking.

There should be no surprise that our sense of current affairs, that focus on egotism, has persisted throughout human history. Heated politics has always dominated our country’ public forums.

            The chaos and uncertainty of the pandemic has shaken our desire for stability and “normal”. Our fears, assumptions, and problem-solving skills have been deeply shaken by the unpredictability, this “facelessness” of cause of this invisible and increasingly fatal infestation. The pandemic seems out of control. Many resist what others, often experts in the field, say are useful and life-saving practices. The issues don’t lend themselves to resolution and harmony. 

            All this argument increases our society’s divisiveness, making humankind’s informed responses less effective. I am reminded of Lincoln’s phrase: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

            And, real change requires that I deeply examine my own thinking, my own analytics, and look to correct my thinking and be better informed. I need to be more of a citizen and pay less attention to my ego.

            I am but one person. But I can make a difference in this world.

            This change of seasons brings us new tasks and new opportunities. We are being called to action, to bring new tools and new viewpoints to old problems and old thinking. 

            Angela Davis writes: “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.”

            Each of us is an instrument of change, a presence in the world for real fundamental change. It starts inside of each of us, and can then spread to friends, families, the institutions we are part of. Politics and society don’t change unless and until we as individuals change. It starts with each of us, almost on a cellular level.

            The opportunity for real change is here and now. It starts with me, and with you. Now. 

            What we need — facts, methods, organizing, communication — are literally in our hands. Change takes time, commitment, and persistence. We each and collectively have all of this, in abundance.

            “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson.

9/22/2021. Published in the Tillamook County Pioneer

Estuary Moment


                        

I slip through the veil of time

into primordial fog, forming then

disappearing, forming again over estuary mud,

all in scattered sunlight in misty motion.

The lowest of the tide about to turn,

solitary heron keeping watch, over silvered pilings from before my time,

in perfect stillness, outside of mankind’s world, 

vigilant, patient.

Ebb and flow, rise and fall, 

fresh fog shrouds the heron, silhouetted in bronzed September late morning 

light.

Incoming tide, in full flow, changing this place again —

eternal rhythms, sacred space for all who come, 

feeding my soul. 

                                    —by Neal Lemery

                                    9/16/2021

Living With Fear in Challenging Times


https://anchor.fm/neal-lemery/episodes/Living-With-Fear-in-Challenging-Times-e17256f

                                               — By Neal Lemery 

I can find a lot of things to be afraid of. Nights can be long and my imagination can easily flesh out the shapes and skills of many monsters.  Whether or not they might be real doesn’t matter, for they take root in my brain, where I can easily imagine them in all their hideous glory.  They feed on my heart energy, too, sucking away my sense of self-esteem and my sense of purpose in this world, to make it a better place and to live my life as a loving, caring person, governed by kindness and generosity.  

Those fears feed on my self-doubt, and the wounds left from previous battles and the cruel words of others, who have felt entitled to evaluate and grade my many possible deficiencies. They are partners with the insecurities that live in that mental file cabinet drawer labeled “not good enough”.  It is also easy to feed on the drama and gloom of the day’s headlines. 

I can see the glass as half empty or half full, and the problems of the day either a disaster or as opportunity.  Life has an abundance of choices, and opportunities to act with courage. 

We all have choices.  Every generation, every time has had its challenges. Society has faced and managed other crises and obstacles, and the human spirit has prevailed. Now it is our time to deal with today’s challenges, and we are well-equipped to take them on. We are the descendants of generations of successful problem solvers and leaders.  

I am my own gatekeeper, the captain of my own ship.  I am the one who has the power to let others in, to march around my heart, and speak to me on a deep, personal, and vulnerable level.  If their presence does not serve me well, then it is up to me to show them to the door and to leave me in peace.  I remind myself that I live my life for me, and not to please someone else. 

If I let fear run my life, to be the governing principle of my existence, my personality, and my spiritual essence, then I need to own that choice, as well as the consequences of that mindset, that perspective of how my life is to be managed and lived.  I suggest, however, that such a mindset, of fear and doom, such a psychological software package, is contrary to my own self-interest, and my own self-benefit.  Being fearful is not who I want to be, nor how I want to live.

Today is Rosh Hoshana, the Jewish new year, a time of self-reflection and new beginnings. I am both comforted and motivated by these wise words from the Talmud:

“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

9/7/2021

published in the Tillamook County Pioneer, 9/7/21

A Time to Give Back


            September seems like a good time to start fresh, to start a new year.  It’s the beginning of the school year, it’s harvest time, and the weather is changing. 

            September is also the new year according to Jewish tradition, and is the start of the ecumenical year in the Orthodox church.  It is the historical new year in Russia, and was the start of the new year in ancient Egypt.  

            A new year is a time of new beginnings, a fresh start, new resolutions to change our ways and to move ahead, adapting to change. 

            This year, September seems like a good time to reassess how we are living, how we are coping with all the changes and challenges that the pandemic has brought. 

            I’m ready for a fresh start, looking back, but also looking ahead.  We are called to look at the fruits of our labors this busy and often confusing year, a year we have been compelled to make continuing adaptations in our lives.  Looking at September as a new year is my way of not only assessing what we are doing, but where we need to be going, how we can be builders of a better world.

Denzel Washington calls us to look inward. “At the end of the day, it’s not about what you’ve done with those accomplishments.  It’s about who you’ve lifted up, who you’ve made better. It’s about what you’ve given back.” 

            I’ve just completed a postcard poetry festival, sharing short poems I’ve written on post cards, and mailing them to a list of strangers, who are also lovers of poetry.  They are sending me their poems, too, sharing their creativity and inspiring all of us to bring some literary beauty to the world.  I’m carrying that idea further, sharing some inspirational quotes or short poems to people and local businesses that have brightened my life during these challenging times.  

            We can all bring a bit of cheer to our corner of the world, and make a difference, giving back. 

(published in the Tillamook County Pioneer, 9/2/2021)

Spreading Some Good Cheer


                                               

                                                                        By Neal Lemery

            “Be a reflection of what you like to receive. If you want love, give love. If you want truth, be truthful. If you want respect, give respect. You reap what you sow.”

                                                                        –anonymous

            I’m often frustrated by the news of the day, or the way life has become a real challenge to some of my friends and neighbors.  Some days, I just pay lip service to my frustrations, and realize I’m whining, but then I realize I could take action.  

Each one of us could do better, and I believe we all have the ability to bring about change.  Do we simply lack the will to make the change, to do the right thing, and make our corner of the world a little better?  Or is all the inaction because I haven’t found the magic wand to cure all the woes of the world? 

“Put up or shut up,” as my grandmother would say when I’d just complain and whine. 

            Change is often hard, and requires will power to move ahead or change direction, to live our lives differently so that we don’t keep repeating old and dysfunctional patterns of behavior.  We expect that of our kids and we expect that of others in our lives.  We often don’t expect that of ourselves, though, and keep ourselves moving in the same old ruts, then wonder why life doesn’t improve.  One counselor friend calls that “stinking thinking”. 

            Often, the real work of making a better world goes back to the basics, the simple things that changes lives.  The action can be a simple as a short conversation, or the gift of some flowers or a book or a casserole dropped off at a friend’s house.  When I’ve been the recipient of such small acts of kindness, I am often transformed and enlightened, and the clouds in my life are lifted.  Opportunities open up, all because of a simple act of kindness. It is the power of feeling valued. 

            “I care” goes a very long way in brightening our world.  Yes, some problems are monumental and need years of commitment to be remedied.  But, the relationships to implement those solutions are based on acting on healthy and compassionate thoughts.  The foundation of that work is in the details, the small things that add up and bring about real change.

            “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.” Malala Yousa Fzai. 

            I recently read about Dolly Parton’s generosity.  She grew up in an impoverished rural area of Tennessee.  After talking with others about the county’s dismal high school graduation rates and literacy statistics, she took action.  She engaged high school students to motivate them to graduate. She funded teacher aides for every first-grade class, after learning that having one on one tutoring and attention in the first grade dramatically reduced dropout rates and boosted academic and social success for teens.  Every kid began to receive a free book every month.  The cost was not astronomical, but her money was prudently invested in small things that transformed lives.  That money, and, more significantly, that level of compassion and interest, made all the difference for all of those kids. Someone noticed and cared. 

            That generosity continues today, and those programs have been utilized across the country. That work addresses basic needs and advocates timeless values of individual attention, one on one relationships, self-worth, and putting books in the hands of eager young people. 

            We can all do that kind of work and give attention and kindness to those in need. 

            It can start with a few kind words in the line at the grocery store, or meeting for coffee with a friend who needs a compassionate ear.  It’s a hand-written note put in the mail to someone who did a kind deed.  Maybe the kindness wasn’t out of the ordinary, but you can at least notice it and tell someone they are appreciated.   When you are the recipient of such kindness, “pay it forward” is genuine magic and greases the social machinery.  

            If you want to change the conversation, if you want to bring about real change, it can start with you.

7/22/2021

Laurel Hedges and the Evil Lurker, by Karen Keltz, a book review


A book review

“In Laurel Hedges and THE EVIL LURKER, precocious, persistent 11 year-old Laurel mucks through mounds of adult lies to find her father before a threatening menace can find and terminate her and those she loves.”

Here’s what I think:

            Spy thriller, mystery, adventure!  It doesn’t get any better than this for an entertaining story that takes you into the life of a very clever girl whose life is a series of unanswered twists and intrigues.  I came to love Laurel and her intuitive pursuit of the truth, and how she unraveled the many questions of family life that come her way. Noted and talented author Karen Keltz spins an engaging tale that makes this middle grade novel a page-turning story for any age.  One of my friends praised the book by saying she couldn’t put it down, and I would agree. 

            Keltz hits it out of the ball park with this tale, and Laurel Hedges and the Evil Lurker joins her first book, Sally Jo Survives Sixth Grade, as clever and engaging storytelling at its finest. 

Find it on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Laurel-Hedges-Lurker-Karen-Keltz/dp/B0991J4R27/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=Karen+Keltz&qid=1626369564&sr=8-1

Celebrating Independence and Honoring Our Responsibilities


                       

                                                —Neal Lemery           

Celebrating our independence is a challenge for these times, and we are hard pressed to rise to the challenges facing those who signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776.  

            Those British subjects publicly declared their rebellion against their lawful government, asserted the new concept of self-determination and self-governance, and mutually pledge to each other “our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor”. 

            At the end of the uprising, many had lost their lives, their homes, and their livelihoods. In that six-year war, they had begun a new country, and the traditions of a federal democratic republic. It was the world’s first successful assertion that government should be based upon the consent of the governed. It was morally right to overthrow their government. 

            “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

            Today, we still struggle with giving practical meaning to those words, how that governance is structured, and what are the responsibilities each of us has as a citizen. We are still debating who is entitled to what rights and what voices will be heard.   

            The yearning to divide ourselves and shape new forms of governance is still part of our collective debate. In Oregon, some want to separate from our state and join Idaho. Others advance the ideas of the State of Jefferson or forming a new country, Cascadia.  Still others openly engage in insurrection and defy basic democratic institutions. 

Often, that debate ignores our history and the values of our precious liberties. We sometimes seem to have forgotten the Constitution’s directive to “provide for the general welfare” of our country. 

            We’ve always been a noisy and sometimes discordant society.  Early settlers defied the law and set up a provisional Oregon government at Champoeg in 1843. Pro-slavery and discriminatory language has a long presence in our state constitution. Tumultuous sessions of the legislature are not just ancient history.  The last election cycle was filled with heated debates and disagreements on fundamental principles.

            History is written by the winners, which is why we look today at the Fourth of July as a great celebration of our nation’s cherished values and achievements.  We tend to minimize how hard fought and tenuous that rebellion was, and the how deep the sacrifices that were made to establish a new country. 

Franklin Roosevelt spoke of the Four Freedoms: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. We need to be advocates and freedom fighters for these ideals. 

Part of our celebration, and part of performing our civic duty is that we are also responsible for caring for this nation and its founding principles and ideals. We are caretakers and trustees for those ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence. We are the torchbearers, the educators for future generations of Americans. Today we also need to “mutually pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor” for the good of the country.

            7/4/2021

Teachings From the Pandemic


                                    

                                                            by Neal Lemery

            This last year and a half has been chock full of lessons and experiences, forcing us to adapt, often reluctantly, to changes in how we live, be with family, work, celebrate social life and participate in the experiences we are used to having. 

            I’m often reluctant to accept change, let alone welcome it with the sense that our lives will be better.  I like my routines, but the Pandemic has pushed me way out of my comfort zone.

            Now that the vaccines are here, and many of our cherished patterns and activities are returning to our lives, in altered forms, we are still not “back to normal”.  We now are adapting to new routines.

            “The New Normal” can be liberating.  Those activities and obligations we often didn’t enjoy much can be substituted with new approaches to living our lives.  Virtual meetings and classes can often be more convenient and efficient than in-person gatherings. In some ways, participating in government is simplified, by clicking on a link and interacting with legislators and other government agencies. 

Now, I realize it’s possible to talk with health care providers and other professionals without the need to travel. The experience may not be ideal, but most of our interactions are productive, and certainly time efficient.

 Conversations with family and friends are a more welcoming experience.  The last few months have allowed us to travel and again be physically present with others, teaching me that a big part of my social life is physical connection.  

            We have been learning that much of our society’s work can be handled remotely, that where we live has enormous value to our wellbeing and sense of purpose.  We look at the value of personal services and professional interactions really are essential, and that every job is important.  

            Each day is a new opportunity.  The ancient Greeks recognized that: 

            “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”   —- Heraclitus  

            An old song teaches that we can persevere and change is coming:

“…

“Oh, there been times that I thought
I couldn’t last for long
But now I think I’m able, to carry on

“It’s been a long
A long time coming
But I know a change gonna come
Oh, yes it will.”

                                    “A Change is Gonna Come”. Sam Cooke

            Throughout the ages, change comes.  We grow and adapt, because we should. And if we don’t, we stagnate, we rust, and decay.  Life is like that, pushing us forward, into the new.  

            I’m often grateful for the changes and the resulting need for me to stretch and learn.  The old, tried and true ways can become stale, and I weaken if I am not challenged. There’s enough “unexpected” that happens in life that ensures that life doesn’t get old and boring. 

            We have opportunities now that didn’t exist before. Let’s discard what hasn’t worked and embrace what now does work, for the good of all of us.

6/15/2021 

To One Suddenly Departed


                                                

            I can take you for granted so easily. Often, you would be there in my life, a friend, one who listens, one who cares, full of life. Today, you are quickly gone, and we will talk and laugh together no more. I struggle to know what to do with all of this. Our lives together are gifts, more fragile than I want to see. 

And I grieve.

            You were steadfast, dependable, present for me and all the others in your life who have depended upon you to care, to comfort, to share with them the small moments in life. You were a bright light for so many.

            And I grieve.

            Such times together and such friendships seem ordinary, until they aren’t there anymore. Today, there is a void, an emptiness, a forever silence now that you are so quickly, so unexpectedly missing from us. Your dependability, your presence, your wisdom in my life has not been unnoticed, certainly not unappreciated, and now thoughts of you with us are painful, incomplete, confusing.

            And I grieve.

            Your laughter, your smile, your presence in our lives is now reduced to history, but has not gone unappreciated, nor unvalued. You are forever a part of me.

            And I grieve.

            I know now that you knew all that, and we were both brave enough to be honest with each other about friendship, how important that is, even when its value goes unspoken. Some truths do not need to be spoken to be recognized and honored, cherished.

            And I grieve.

            In this new emptiness, I hear only silence in the wind, and the echoes of all that I have cherished in our friendship.  In your absence, there are spaces in me that leave me less than whole. I remember you for all the good times. In that remembering, you live on in my grief.

Neal Lemery  6/3/2021

A Small Act of Kindness


                                                

                                                                        — Neal Lemery

            “Carry out a random act of kindness, with no expectation of reward, safe in the knowledge that one day, someone will do the same for you.”   — Princess Diana

            The day often offers so many opportunities to be kind, with only a few moments, a few kind words, a charitable act.  The occasion offers such potential to ease someone’s burdens, to be a messenger of joy and compassion, to be simply human with each other.

            I find myself getting caught up in my to do list, my errands.  I become caught up into the American behaviors of rushing through the day, being abrupt, and not engaging with others on a human level. Yes, I can check off my list, and feel a sense of accomplishment, but I often leave my humanity and the humanity of others often neglected, pushed aside by feeling obsessed with getting my work done.

            The other day, I was part of a simple business transaction, paying a craftsman for his labor.  He was meticulous, professional, and took pride in his work, which I realized was heartfelt and respectable.  I took time to thank him, and handed him a check, with a generous tip.  My wife asked him about his young son, asking to see a photo.  For the next few minutes, we all oohed and awed over the cuteness of the photos and a sweet video that expressed his contagious laugh, the two-year old being exuberant about life and the simple joys in life that a two-year old can so easily spontaneously express.  The interaction became a celebration of life and parenthood, and the joys that a small child can bring to the world.

            I was thankful that my wife and the craftsman were patient with me, and took the time to pause and celebrate the joys of parenthood.  I was again reminded that life is sweet and simply joys need to be shared and enjoyed.  

            The barista at the coffee shop drive-through always shares her kindness and cheer with me.  Her demeanor and courtesy may be a part of her job description, but her good works she shares with her customers are also part of her character, part of her work to enhance the community, and brighten the lives of her customers.  Each of us can do that work as we live our lives and interact with others. 

            The simple acts of kindness, seemingly insignificant at the time, are often the most cherished moments that others experience. The value of what we do in a spur of the moment, without much thought to taking a moment to be kind, can be enormous and widely influential. 

            Kindness is a two-way street. We often don’t realize that we need to experience a little kindness from others, as well as being the recipient.  Our burdens can be heavier than we realize, that we are sometimes lonelier or more needy than we know.  While it is “more blessed to give than receive”, and that mindset makes for a better community, we also need to replenish our own “well” of goodness, charity, and kindness.  And, in receiving the kindnesses of others, we allow them to find a place to share their love.  Allowing others to give to us is also a gift of love. In the sharing lies the fruit of kindnesses.  

5/31/2021