Why I Volunteer


                       

                                    by Neal Lemery

“Putting years of experience to work in our community on behalf of the arts brings excitement and joy. We take on unimagined projects that engage us intellectually, physically and socially. In addition to a sense of purpose, we find connection and friendship.” – Mary Corey, President, Hoffman Center, Manzanita, Oregon

            One of the organizations where I volunteer has a computerized volunteer reporting system, and I track my volunteer hours and mileage.  As tax time approaches, it provides me with some interesting numbers.  At the most, I think I only spend a couple of hours a week doing small tasks, but it adds up. The numbers go up as I realize I also volunteer in other ways, though I’m definitely a poor record keeper.  

Then, I mentally multiply that number by the approximately one hundred other volunteers in our organization. And that’s just one organization in one rural county. There are 1.8 million nonprofits in the USA, and over 65 million Americans volunteer. The number of hours and the value would be truly impressive; my calculator is not up to the task.

            Volunteer work has value.  The US Government calculates the hourly “rate” of volunteer value at $27.20/hour.  All that volunteer work really is value added to our economy, and our work provides service to the general public and to the operations of virtually every organization in the country.  

            Most volunteers don’t lend a hand as a way of improving the economy. So why do we volunteer?

            For me, there is both a sense of purpose and a sense of obligation.  For my entire life, I have benefited from the community, with countless organizations involved in my life and providing me almost every service and opportunity to improve myself that I can imagine. I’ve received a publicly funded education through high school, at very little cost to my family.  I’ve enjoyed the services of public libraries, police and fire services, transportation, communication, public health facilities and services, and the myriad other governmental and non-profit services and materials I have taken advantage of in my life.

            Yes, we’ve all contributed to those good works by paying taxes, and making some monetary donations, as well as paying many services out of pocket.  Yet, I certainly haven’t “balanced the books” by paying the full value for what I have received.

            Now that I’m retired, I have more time to return to the community what I have received in my life, a form of “payback”.  It is time to balance the books and to be generous with my time and abilities, and make my community a better place.  “Pay it forward” is a good motto to help guide our lives. 

            Volunteering and giving back is part of what citizenship requires of us.  Each of us is part of the whole. If we are able, we give back, making our community just a little better.  The work can be as simple as expressing a kind word, or lending a hand to someone in need, or offering some comfort and support.  Volunteering also means helping out when a group is taking on a task, performing some small task, and lightening someone else’s burden as we come together for an event. 

            Volunteering really has a very wide-ranging definition, and includes small acts of kindness.  Some tasks take less than a minute, and, over time, add up to our larger commitments to the common good. The work of the good neighbor, or a compassionate friend are all part of doing the work of the volunteer. 

            I also meet some nice people who are like-minded, giving and kind. They are good influences on me, and I am able to learn about their lives, and their charitable, good-hearted thinking. Being around them, and doing satisfying tasks gives me purpose.  I feel productive. And, I often gain new friends and am surrounded by happy, smiling people.  I feel I am part of the community and have a valuable role in bettering my community. Helping others also helps me. 

            Yet another benefit is learning more of what goes on in our community, how vibrant our institutions are, what services are available, and, most importantly, the wealth of talent and intelligence of my fellow citizens.  I become much more aware of the struggles of others and what are our community’s unfilled needs. Volunteering brings out the best in all of us.

            During the Pandemic, we can continue to be good volunteers.  Virtual gatherings and classes have been satisfying and informative.I write notes and letters to those I’m not able to safely visit.  One of my friends is a talented poet, so we swap poems and other writings, and act as editors and supporters for our creative efforts.  I post photos of nature and fun activities on social media, and try to keep my other postings upbeat.  When I see a funny joke or an inspiring quote, I’ll repost those, too. I also like to send a colorful and cheerful card, knowing there will be a smile at someone’s mailbox.  

            At the grocery store or post office, I’ll make it a point to say hello and have a pleasant and uplifting conversation. And, if someone needs a little help, I’ll make the effort.  A few pleasant words and a cheerful hello and nod behind my mask takes little effort, but can brighten someone’s day.  

            All of these tasks really take very little time and effort.  Doing something for someone else makes for a brighter world. I’m often reminded of the saying that you get back ten times what you give. Lives have been improved, and I have been a small part of a bigger effort. And who knows how many others’ lives will be uplifted, even in small ways. 

When I help out, when I do something nice for someone, a smile shows up on my face and life seems brighter. That’s a really nice paycheck to receive at the end of the day, more than the $27.20 an hour that the government says it is worth.

1/5/2021

Acting with Kindness, at the end of 2020


                                    

                                                            By Neal Lemery

(published in the Tillamook County (Oregon) Pioneer 12/27/2020_

            “A tree is known by its fruits; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.” – St. Basil (329-379 AD)

As the old calendar comes off the wall and the fresh, unmarked calendar of 2021 takes its place, I marvel at all the events written on the old calendar.  Most of them are crossed off.  This year was the year of the Great Postponement,  the year of cancellations and re-dos, of reforming events and projects, to fit the times of contagion, “personal distancing” and self care. And, for most of us, a time of “society care”.  

            2020 was the year we didn’t plan and we didn’t want.  The comfortable, predicable and expected simply didn’t happen, and we had to adjust.  The old and familiar changed, and we have had to change with the times, whether we wanted to or not.  The inner child, the inner toddler in me wasn’t a happy camper, and my tantrums often played out where others could see what a naughty kid I could be.  I’m not alone in all that acting out. 

            Like most of us, I’ve discovered the satisfaction of having the time to focus inward, to take on and complete home projects, to savor experiences with myself and the people I live with, and to reshape our experiences in the greater community.  I’ve grown in many ways, and learned to appreciate the simple pleasures of a safe meeting with friends, a collective effort made possible by technology, and some peace and quiet in nature.

            While there have always been angry, selfish outbursts of social rage that are often based upon fear, ignorance, and anxiety, this year that ugliness has been fueled by a collective access to social media, and the often unpenalized human trait to act out and rage in public. This year agitators have thrown the proverbial gasoline on the coals of unrest, frustration and the impotence of not being in charge of our lives.  Society is changing, and the change is being forced upon us by the pandemic and the resulting economic and social events.  We’ve been asked to adapt and to be tolerant, but that doesn’t mean we like it, or can adapt willingly or with the best interests of the community in our heart.

            In all this, there is a renaissance in personal and community kindnesses. Cordiality, compassion and community caretaking have taken on a new importance.  Now, I cherish the chat with the barista as I drive through for a cuppa, or have a properly distanced lunch with a friend.  Zoom meetings have become a staple of community gatherings.  I’ve acquired new skills and have been able to be part of rich conversations from people from around the country.  In many ways, we’ve been able to accomplish a lot in virtual gatherings. We are more efficient and more organized, while protecting our health and coping with the absence of “presence” and side conversations.  

            We are more gentle in our conversations, more apt to express our appreciation, and extend courtesies and patience.  Sending thoughtful messages and showing respect for others have enjoyed a new vibrancy.  Meeting for coffee seems like a spiritual celebration. 

            Personal encounters have become special, deserving of my full attention and a mutual exchange of good wishes and small acts of courtesy.  Life has slowed down, and I no longer feel compelled to rush through the day’s errands and transactions. I have found that I have time to be kind.  

            Despite the nastiness of political rhetoric, headlines and the seemingly unending social media posts, we have become kinder.  We have realized that kindness matters.  The pandemic and the “Great Pause” have given us some mental space to appreciate and celebrate the small things that make life sweeter.  

            Often, practicing kindness doesn’t get our attention, but it is the undercurrent, the “fuel” of our society. We are all hurting, we are all adjusting, and we all cherish those small, sweet moments where one person does nice things for someone else.  This isn’t glamorous, nor does it gather much attention.  But, it is the fresh spring breeze that comes at the end of a cold winter, and we are all part of it, the “Great Kindness”.  A simple act, kindness, yet so powerful it changes the world. 

            “What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” — Jane Goodall

Inspiring Quotes from 2020


PROMISE YOURSELF …

To be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.

To talk health, happiness and prosperity to every person you meet.

To make all your friends feel that there is something special in them.

To look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true.

To think only the best, to work only for the best, and to expect only the best.

To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own.

To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future.

To wear a cheerful countenance at all times and give every living creature you meet a smile.

To give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize others.

To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.

To think well of yourself and to proclaim this fact to the world, not in loud words, but great deeds.

To live in faith that the whole world is on your side so long as you are true to the best that is in you.

–Christian D. Larson, “Your Forces and How to Use Them”

                                    Other Good Quotes

            “Get exposed to other people’s truths and attitudes change.”

                        –Barack Obama

            “People do what they want to do.”

                        –Dear Amy (advice columnist)

            “We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails.”

                        –Dolly Parton

            “A candle is a small thing. But one candle can light another. And see how its light increases, as a candle gives its flame to the other. You are such a light.”

            –Moshe Davis

“Writers write the books they need to read.”

            A modern proverb, repeated by Kathleen Parker

I Am Filled With Gratitude


                                    I Am Filled With Gratitude

                                                            By Neal Lemery

            Others may believe that Thanksgiving is radically different this year, that we are separated, socially distanced, and at odds with tradition. I hear people saying that how we will celebrate this very American holiday in 2020 is somehow a burden, an obstacle to our desire to want to be normal, and “back to reality”. 

Thanksgiving is a time of going inward, contemplating our lives and our community and counting our blessings. That mindset is all that is expected of us today, a day literally being a day of giving thanks. Thanksgiving as a holiday has no other expectations: no gifts, no parties, no special events except a shared meal with loved ones, and time to simply reflect and be grateful. I enjoy its quiet and its peace.

In that simplicity is a message for these times: gratitude. The pandemic reminds me of that fundamental value in our lives. We are reminded that simply being alive and breathing without a ventilator is good fortune, not to be taken for granted. We are dealing with economic and educational challenges being magnified by the times, yet we shall persevere and emerge stronger. 

When we have faced other difficult times, of wars and economic crises, we Americans have always paused to celebrate Thanksgiving. Locally, we’ve endured floods, power outages, and landslides. And, we have persevered. 

I’m at a loss to respond to people complaining about limiting the guest list for Thanksgiving dinner, an action taken in response to this public health crisis, a problem of life and death affecting all of us.  Like wearing a mask in public places, it is a small thing to ask to enhance the common good.

During World War II, my parents were separated for years, with the only communication being the occasional letter.  They did not experience the miracles of e-mails and virtual gatherings we take for granted today.  During this plague, we have much to be thankful for and can share our gratitudes with little effort. Forgoing a large dinner crowd and characterizing that as an unacceptable burden on individual freedom is an affront to the sacrifices endured by our ancestors, who gave up much for the benefit of all.

2020 has certainly challenged us, and in many ways it has strengthened us, marshalled our talents and intellect to take on new problems, and to work together for a brighter future. For all that, I am grateful. Happy Thanksgiving!

11/25/2020

Winners and Losers: Post Election Thoughts


            

                        By Neal Lemery

The quiet you are hearing today as you sip your coffee is the resumption of normal life after the frantic election season.  The passionate voices and political advertising noise are fading into the past. We can collect our thoughts without being bombarded, manipulated, and offered endless rides on the roller coasters of political hype.  I need to burn off the adrenaline and angst that the marketers and a number of my friends and neighbors have been firing up in our community life.  

            It might even be safe to have coffee with a friend and exchange pleasantries at the grocery store and post office without donning our political armor. I’d welcome a time of not having heated encounters that will erupt into cultural warfare and social media bloodletting. 

            One way to think of the election results is by listing the winners and losers. That’s painful and continues the divisiveness that has marked this political season.  And, remember, the “losers” are still around, still involved in our community. Like all of us, they should be a positive force for building community. 

Labeling and belittling people isn’t productive, to say the least. I, for one, have had my fill of negative politics this year. There will be other elections and other conversations and debates about important community issues.  Those discussions should include all of us, no matter who received the most votes this week.  

            There are real winners in this election:  For one, democracy and voter participation.  80% of those registered made the effort to vote.  Lots of people got involved and talked about issues, policies and goals that are important to all of us.  And, secondly, the community won.  All this energy and passion educated many of us about important questions and issues that affect how we live and where we go from here. Many of us are fired up to get more involved and bring about change.  

            No matter what the election returns mean to each of us, we still live in our community. We still have family, friends, and neighbors whom we value.  We are still together, and we still share our lives, our hopes, and our dreams.  I still want to believe that the vast majority of us are good people, who are living their lives with compassion and a determination to make a better world.  

            Life goes on.  No matter who received the most votes, our community issues are still here, and still need our attention.  We still have work to do.  Not necessarily political work, mind you, but vital work nonetheless. Together we are stronger.

                                    11/4/2020

Taking On Change


Taking On Change

by Neal Lemery

The pandemic is a time of postponement, not taking care of business. Life now has a lot of waiting around, and my frustration and impatience show up in high numbers on my emotional dashboard. The personal “to do” list seems to keep growing and has few check offs.

In normal times, my life’s challenges usually get resolved with me realizing it is a time to change. And that work to refresh is always so productive and satisfying. In these times, much of what we are facing seems out of my grasp to change. Most things get booted down the road. Like the virus, procrastination is becoming the new normal.

I often escape into my music. I pick up my guitar and find some solace, literally tuning out the world. Even there, there is a need for change. In guitar speak, it is realizing it is time to restring my faithful six string acoustic.

There’s a lifespan for good steel guitar strings. All my chord making, strumming and picking literally wears out the wires, as well as providing proof of my labors with bigger callouses on my fingertips. In that playing, oil and dirt from my fingers are rubbed into the strings. My picking and the vibrations becomes tiresome to the guitar (and probably the rest of my household).

I play my guitar for its mellowness, harmonizing tones and its predictability in terms of the sounds that are emitted, consistent with one’s repetition of chord patterns, strumming, and finger picking. One gets to mix it up, of course, by using different sizes and materials for strings, and the qualities that are unique for each guitar.

Other variables are at play: the type and age of the wood, the thicknesses of materials, the design, humidity, and how precise you are in tuning each string. You add other variables, too: the methods and styles of finger picking, flat picking and slides, plus little touches like pull offs, hammer ons, and chiming; not to omit the likely dozens of other techniques and styles I’ve yet to hear about, let alone begin to attempt. Guitars become “sweeter” with age, the wood conditioned by time and playing to evolve into an even more expressive instrument. It is a metaphor that I appreciate more the older I get.

Yet, it all goes back to having strings in good shape. It really is the simple things that make a big difference in how my guitar sounds in a day. Aside from all the complexities and sophistication of the accomplished musician, it is the act of restringing and putting on a set of new strings that makes my guitar come alive again. Sometimes, you just need to get rid of the rust and dirt and the “worn out” aspects of life.

I procrastinate, doubting myself that it really might be time to change the strings. I’m good at the kind of self-talk that talks me out of making a needed change. I’ll bargain with myself, offering excuses like time, or effort, or thinking it really hasn’t been that long since I put on the strings that are there now. I ignore the principle of guitar strings that age and wear out are a function of how much you play, versus what the calendar might say.

It’s not like I have to run down to the music store for a set, or that the cost will break my budget. For all their magic, guitar strings are a bargain. I almost always have on hand good to high quality strings, engineered for a long and vigorous life, with promises of crispness and high-quality tones. And, I have all the little tools, wood cleaners, and the other gizmos of the specialized world of guitar string replacement. I learn by trial and error in my music. My string changing regimen is a product of years of redoing and reliving most every mistake you can make, plus having some exciting adventures along the way.

Today, for instance, was the reliving of the occasional crisis of having a wooden peg pop out and plummet into the depths of the guitar box. These little pegs, which I want to think are insignificant, are really essential. They secure the little “ball” end of the string snug in the hole in the body of the guitar. They grasp one end of the string, so you can then tighten it, eventually giving enough tension on the string that it will vibrate and produce a note.

When pegs run wild, I feel helpless and inept, adding salty language to the experience. The peg then plays hide and seek, rattling around the inside, and getting caught in nearly every crevice of the various wooden bracings inside. I do the dance, holding and shaking the upside-down guitar in every angle and configuration, hoping to maneuver it to come out of its cave and rejoin its companions on the face of the guitar. There is the added chance of having the peg flying through the air and lodging under the nearest piece of furniture, prolonging the chase. More excitement comes when the cat decides to help.

This game is sometimes played with a guitar pick. My personal record for chasing the reluctant and shy guitar pick inside the guitar is a (now) laughable three weeks. At best, the usual plastic pick is worth, maybe fifty cents, but still, it’s the principle of the matter and a personal challenge. Man vs guitar pick. I WILL prevail.

The string changing ritual offers other challenges, such as squinting sufficiently in order to thread the thin wires through the holes in the tuner pegs at the other end of the guitar, so you can then wrap the wires around the pegs and begin to tighten them. The shiny wires blend in well with the chrome tuner pegs. In this stage, it is easy to qualify for a Purple Heart for Guitarists, by giving yourself a substantial poke in the finger. My guitar is frequently sanctified by my sacrificial efforts, accompanied by that now well used salty language.

You have to put the strings on in the right order, of course. Each string has a different diameter, with lower notes produced by thicker strings. That seems simple and logical. But, we’re talking me and mechanical tasks. Disasters can occur, with a brand-new string in the wrong place that’s tightened too much, accompanied by the unexpected loud twang of a broken string. Then there’s that deep feeling of ineptitude. Another box of strings is now on the table, adding to the potential confusion. I’ve learned to practice rituals of how I lay out the paper string packets and the manage the order of installation, much like a priest officiating at a high mass.

It is even more fun with a 12 string guitar. String changes on a 12 string increase the challenge by several magnitudes of difficulty, where the rubric requires the lowest four pairs (courses) to be tuned in octaves, but the top two courses are tuned in unison on the same note. Doubling the number of strings and the number of pegs that can go wild more than doubles the fun.

As one hits the home stretch, with all six new strings in place, you get a sense of impending success. When you finish up the tuning ritual with the electronic tuner and the seemingly never ending turning of the pegs on the tuner machines, the transformed guitar begins to sing its songs with a fresh, much improved voice. I’m always struck by the sweetness of the new strings.

“Wow, I should have changed these long ago. The new ones sound great,” I usually proclaim to the household, causing my wife to mutter that I always say that when I put on new strings. Still, it is continually a fresh and delightful discovery, each and every time. I am, perhaps, a slow learner.

I coil up the old strings, and attempt to put them in the garbage can, along with the handful of snipped off string ends, from both the old and new sets. This tangle of wires always resists me, usually breaking free and uncoiling onto the kitchen floor, attempting to evade my thick-fingered efforts to corral them and restuff them into the can. After all our quality time together, they just don’t seem to want to leave. It can be another perilous time for exposed fingers and toes, another opportunity to earn a Purple Heart for Guitarists. Now, though, I can see them in all their dirt and grime, the finish worn off and dull, any new effort to bring forth any decent sound doomed to failure. Tired and worn out, they are ready for a rest.

The rules and the pleasures of guitar string changes applies to other parts of my life, as well. I learn a lot from this occasional task. Familiar jeans well past their prime and faded, torn t-shirts and flannel shirts, with ripped sleeves, deserve similar replacements. Shoes, however, are the worst. I can easily wear out a pair of my favorite hiking shoes, my daily attire, until every last aspect of padding and support are long gone. A new pair tells me immediately that the old shoes were at least several months past their lifespan, and that familiar phrase again crosses my lips, “I should have changed these a long time ago.”.

These discoveries can be applied to other aspects of my life: toothbrushes, cracked glassware, chipped plates, bent forks, even one’s favorite chair. I can apply these lessons to my community life, as well: overly familiar places to hang out and tiresome, sometimes toxic people who refuse to grow in their thinking and experiences.

My guitar teaches me a lot about life: perseverance, consistent practicing, having a regular time to focus on some quality “me time”. And, change.

We can wake up in the morning, engage the world, and remark to everyone within ear shot, “I should have changed this a long time ago.”

9/30/2020

A Time for Commitment


By Neal Lemery

Today, wildfire smoke fills the sky, forest fires are fiercely rampaging my state and county, and the Covid virus remains unchecked. Businesses, students, and teachers are having to learn new ways, and our world often seems upside down. This time has its challenges, yet we are called to take charge and forge ahead. We have the gift of opportunity.
Our world is changing, but it always has. Obstacles and adaptations are part of our history and a part of daily living.
The only constant in life is change. That phrase is a cliché, but it speaks great truth now and is our call to action.
These times are really no different than any other era in humanity’s existence on the planet. We have survived much worse crises and disasters than what the current times have presented to us.
We humans are survivors, adaptors to life-threatening and life-altering circumstances. Natural forces of every kind, plagues, famines, wars, and tribal conflicts have always been in our lives.
Often, we don’t do well at coping and our selfishness and emotional outrages result in misery and devastation. We can truly be our worst enemy. Most changes seem out of our hands. We can think this state of being out of control makes us helpless.
We can adapt, we change, and we move forward. We can be instruments of change today. We are, after all, in charge of our attitudes, our intentions, and our actions. How and what we think, what we plan and the steps we take, even the direction, lie within us. We can be determined and focused. We can become educated. We are able to do our research, and inventory and manage our resources. We can plot our way forward.
That work is the heritage we’ve gained from our ancestors, who were masters at adversity and adaptation. If they weren’t successful at that work, we wouldn’t be here, and our DNA wouldn’t have the “software” that empowers us to successfully solve problems. We wouldn’t have all the asserts and the benefits of a strong and vibrant civilization.
This year has its own seemingly insurmountable list of challenges. At times, there seems no end to new problems and often bizarre situations. Yet, such challenges are our history. How humankind has dealt with and often overcome these challenges is truly our heritage. We have literally built our culture and our civilization upon the ashes of daunting challenges.
Such work can also be our own legacy. Certainly what we can do today, this moment, are our marching orders, our map out of the wilderness of seemingly insurmountable problems.
This is our moment, our opportunity to rise to the challenges we face.
Make your list. Label the challenges, our collective to-do list. This list can be daunting, but the work is nothing new in the eyes of our ancestors and the lessons of history.
A journey begins with one step, and continues forward, one step at a time. Our history shows us that the work of just a few leads to significant life-altering results.
Your patience, your experience, knowledge, talent, and intestinal fortitude can be a significant contribution to some fundamental work and progress. One person can advance civilization and inspire others to accomplish great deeds. Our collaboration, our energy, our passion to live our values and take action are what is needed now.
Let’s get to work, together, united, and committed to moving ahead.

9/11/2020

Finding My Way


 

 

by Neal Lemery

Podcast

“What should I be doing with my life?” a friend asked me the other day.  I echoed the cliché about following your passion and left it at that.  But that’s not much of an answer.  It was incomplete, and not respectful of a sincere question, one I still come across in my own life.

I recently read an essay about a young person’s path of self discovery from an elementary school teacher, to musician, and now, reformed, changed up to a teacher of song writing and music.

“I don’t recall any defining moment of decision to focus primarily on teaching music over performing it.  I think it revealed itself in small steps, one choice at a time. It reminded me of Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet (1903): ‘I want to beg you, as much as I can … to be patient toward all that is unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves … Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given to you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.’

“I don’t make a living from songwriting, but writing songs is critical to living my life.” Her songwriting “brings me closest to myself. By allowing myself deeper self-knowledge, I found I was able to follow the breadcrumbs from there.  And I still am —songwriting continues to allow me to stay centered and take whatever next step feels right.”

“That said, I must admit, I squirm when anyone says: ‘Follow your passion and you can make a living doing anything.’ Clearly these folks underestimate the sheer amount of effort and dumb luck required to make this a true statement.

“Whatever your passion, go ahead. Follow it. By that I mean: be aware of what grounds you most, start there, and be flexible.

“What is the meaningful work in your life? What grounds you? Where do you feel most recognizable to yourself?’ ‘Live the questions,’ as Rilke says, to which I add the path lies in asking them, not answering them.” (Avery Hill, What Does It Mean to Follow Your Passion? Local Lore newsletter, Portland Folkmusic Society (Sept/Oct 2020)

 

My own roadmap through life is a series of questions and slogans, ones I come back to and reflect on in a quiet moment. I crave those small slivers of life I’ve tried to find for myself during the day, the ritual part of some of the disciplines and practices I’ve sought to establish for myself.  Perhaps I, too, am trying to live the questions and not worry too much about having the right answers.

Part of my brain likes to see the world in terms of “either/or”, a process of sorting out options in convenient, systemically ordered piles.  What brings me joy? What doesn’t bring me joy? Those questions, that approach to looking at life, can eliminate the boring, soul-killing tasks and obligations that don’t advance what I value as good uses of my limited time on Earth.

I’ve been trying to be around my chosen family, who aren’t usually the biological relatives. I want to avoid toxic people, their poisons often putting me down, diminishing me, which is often a slow chipping away of my goodness, my purposeful direction.  Knowing that I can choose my family and friends liberates me and expands my potential.  I strive to be a better manager of “family time” and take nourishment from those who enrich me and challenge me to excellence.

I’m an advocate for finding purpose and meaning in life through service to others.  I try to reach out and practice small acts of kindness and charity.  I work on my empathy and my self-actualization through kindness, volunteerism, and my creativity.  Even a few minutes of gardening, picking up a piece of trash, or saying a few kind words to someone at the coffee shop or the store are forms of service and community building.  You change experiences and attitudes, and bring the proverbial ray of sunshine into an encounter.  Your attitude can be contagious and transformative.

Another dichotomy in my life is to decide to act either out of fear or out of love.  I can cringe through life, my sword in hand, obsessed with seeing the world as a disaster waiting to happen, my role in it as the continual failure, fulfilling my expectations as one who is inadequate and “no good”.  Or, I can flip that, seeing the world and my experiences as acts of love, as possibility to do good, and to advance the values and ethics that I cherish, and build a better world.  That work always starts in my little corner, with my own two hands and my own heart and voice.  Words and small acts of kindness do make a difference, and become the tools of my trade, a builder of a better world.

When I have a clear intention, good actions follow from that.

I strive to be my own best friend, being kind to myself, helping myself across a busy street, or sitting with myself in a challenging situation, offering myself comfort and solace.  I can be an advocate for myself, a calming presence, a voice of reason and support, and offer myself a big hug and a shoulder to cry on.  I can pull out the handkerchief and lovingly wipe away the tears. Those are transferable skills to be present with others, but I often benefit from practicing that good work on myself.

I practice self-care.  I’m my own best nurse.  I can plump up my pillow, put on the extra blanket, make myself some comfort food and find my teddy bear at the end of a hard day.  The idea of “holding space” for others, by simply being present and attentive, also applies to me.  The rest of the world’s insanity can be swirling around me, which is a reminder for me to hold some space for myself and be self-caring, to be the caretaker.

I do best at problem solving when I can see the Truth.  Truth is often elusive, and others who seem to want to do harm to me, or use me, take my time and money, will manipulate the truth, bending and distorting it to their own advantage. I’m prone to be a people pleaser, and default to thinking that others are always genuinely caring and kindly with me.  But, that action by others is often manipulation and deceit.  It really is my task to know what is the truth, and to recognize deception and truth bending for what it is, a means of lying and fraud.  In that truth seeking, I need to hold my own self to the fire, to be self-critical, evaluative, assessing.  I need to be aware of my own self-talk, my own ways I sabotage myself.  It is a question of self-actualization, self-esteem, honoring and valuing my own friendship with myself.  It becomes self-advocacy and self-assessment, self-love.

I need to see myself as unique, special, one of a kind.  I do best when I deeply discount other people’s opinions about me.  What others think of me really has nothing to do with me.  They are caught up in their world, and their thoughts about me only help them explain their own perceptions of themselves, their own belief system.  They don’t really know me anyway, especially the part of me that is the precious, unique parts of my soul that are God’s special gifts to me.  The judgments of others are simply opinions, and really are uninformed opinions, not based upon Truth.  My own value, my own place in this world really is none of their business.

I try to declutter my life.  That can start with things, but that work becomes especially effective in managing my relationships and encounters with the world.  It goes back to the “does it bring me joy” question.

There’s also the “three gates” approach for managing what comes out of one’s mouth: is it true, it is necessary, is it kind?

I’m a verbal guy, opinionated and outspoken.  I share my opinions, probably too freely. I’ve been trying to apply the “three gates” practice in my interactions with others.  I’m trying to tamp down the judgmental aspects of what I say, and apply these “filters”.  In that, I am working on being a better listener, and actually welcoming the times of quiet, of being present, and holding space for others.                                8/29/2020

A New Start


 

by Neal Lemery

 

Organizing

Straightening, thinking through

Planning ahead

Pushing away the detritus, the distractions

Taking out the trash

Visioning the vision

Seeing the possibilities

Options for change, renewal

The essence of what could be

What could become, could evolve into.

 

New thoughts, new values, goals

Aspirations

Looking over the clouds

Tomorrow’s sunrise

Next year’s promise, potential

Twenty years from now

A hundred years later

Could start today

Now, this minute

A step in a new direction, on a new path

With one footprint in a different, unexpected place.

 

A slight alteration, deviation

Far from the norm, the usual

The predicted, the expected

The status quo—

An opportunity, today.

 

I just have to make that first step

Now.

 

8/5/2020

Citizenship and Conversation in a Disjointed Time


 

By Neal Lemery

(Podcast)

In this pandemic year, our craving for “normal” pushes back against the new rules of social interaction. What lies ahead of us grows even murkier.  Uncertainty is the new mantra of who we are as a society, and where we are going with our own out of sorts lives.  Simple acts of normalcy such as going to school, shopping for groceries, dinner with friends, and a weekend getaway take on all the traits of unpredictability.

 

Nothing seems routine anymore. The old patterns of life now can be simply “paused”, the calendar becoming a mess of cross outs, erasures, and question marks.

 

Sound medical advice, scientific wisdom and evidence-based practices run the risk of being politicized in loud, partisan fashion. Wearing a mask at the grocery store now can be a political statement. Nuances and logical development of analysis are discarded if favor of “right vs wrong” and “us vs them” viewpoints. We don’t seem to be able to even agree to disagree or admit we need more information.

 

Serious discussions about racism and discrimination, the role of police, and how we look at history are now mixed into the swirl of our pandemic responses and thinking.  Political rhetoric grows more heated and polarized.   “Them” and “us”, “right” and “wrong”, “liberal” and “conservative” are becoming the short slogans that can fit on a baseball cap.  Efforts to simplify and quickly label perspectives and opinions are pushing out the deep discussions on public policy and the rich stew of community discourse and public debate that are at the heart of a healthy democracy.

 

Instead, we are experiencing a “shoot from the hip” attitude, with no room for civilized conversation and thought.  Being persuasive and convincing in one’s opinions and views is replaced by an angrily shouted slogan and no room for disagreement, however polite or thoughtful.

 

We are all hopefully looking for a sense of civility, order and normalcy in our lives. I find myself weighed down by all the “pausing” of social life, and the angry, strident rhetoric of public opinion.  Sarcasm and rage, and downright nastiness and vitriol now seem to occupy center stage in public forums.  That approach to our collective life is toxic and exhausting.

 

I should remember that, perhaps, I might be wrong in my views, or that the situation is more complex and requires more information than I have been willing to admit.  Like any effective theologian, scientist, or teacher, I just might not have all the facts, and might not be considering other ways to look at an issue.  I might not have all the answers.  And, I might even be wrong.

 

Many turn to social media to air their own views or the rant of their favorite commentator of the day. In their role as a publisher and editor in the public forum, a significant number of Americans ignore their responsibility to be factual, to educate, and to add to thoughtful debate that will improve our society. Be a builder, not a destroyer.  If you are going to be a journalist of sorts on the public stage, then act like a professional.  It is a public trust.

 

 

 

We have “paused” the democratic ideal of thoughtfully listening to others.  We aren’t doing a good job weighing the viewpoints of others, and striving to achieve a collective, informed response and thoughtful viewpoints. Instead, the quick opinion, shot from the hip, seasoned with sarcasm and hostility, dominates. Public conversations have turned into shouting matches.  Snarky slogans and nasty put downs of others fill our screens and public interactions.  We often forget that “conversation” means a respectful interplay and heartfelt communication.

 

Our freedoms of speech and expression are precious and should be cherished.  And with freedom comes responsibility.

 

 

7/17/2020