Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer


 

 

By Neal Lemery

 

 

When I was a kid, Nat King Cole made this a popular song, and the lyrics still seem to sum up summertime on the Oregon coast, with an increasingly strong emphasis on the “crazy”.  My good intentions this year were lots of reading on the deck, working in my flowers and vegetables, and plenty of time for friends, taking it easy.

Summertime is paved with good intentions, yet the calendar has filled up with friends and relatives who live in other states “just dropping by”, numerous parades, festivals, concerts and fairs, and a steady pace of casual get togethers. The idle hours of reading on the deck by my flowers has become a rare hour here and there between all of the scheduled and unplanned activities. The dread of being caught in bumper to bumper traffic on the highway and too many people at my favorite haunts has cut into my summer plans, motivating me to cross off a number of calendared “fun” to dos. Instead, my reading chair on the deck is my refuge, my hiding place from the mob.

We paid the price for a visit to a friend’s open garden tour with an hour and a half of stop and go traffic on a Saturday afternoon.  What were we thinking? We even skipped our customary treat at a local dessert shop as that would have required making a left turn. This is, after all, “No Left Turn Season” and tourists are definitely in their “bubble of oblivion”.

My classic example of no thinking this summer occurred in front of me on the Wilson River Highway, with both lanes completely crammed full and traveling at 25 mph.  The out of state car ahead of me suddenly skidded to a stop and pulled a U-turn, forcing the oncoming car and me to burn rubber.  In their frenzy, they had to back up in order to fully turn around and head in the other direction, oblivious to the chorus of our collective repertoire of swear words.

I fantasized about a robotic State Trooper flying a drone, forcing them over with tractor beams and issuing a multitude of traffic tickets. Can I apply for a “tourist tax” grant to supply that needed addition to local law enforcement?

A friend calls the syndrome “tourist brain” and swears there is scientific evidence in support of that psychological condition. I know the local anecdotal evidence is overwhelming.

I wonder what all the emergency responders call it, but I probably couldn’t repeat their phrases here.

A long overdue class reunion challenged me to deal with a restaurant on full tourist overload, and spurred me to politely discourage a gaggle of out of town visitors intent on their ice cream cones at the Creamery.  I’m not up for dealing with 10,000 people clamoring for sugar on a summer day, preferring a quiet conversation on the deck with some iced tea, no parking lots and lines. After all, I’ve planned ahead and have a nice stash of ice cream in my freezer.

It’s time I take a deep breath, and look at the calendar.  Time is on my side. It’s only a few weeks until Labor Day. That Tuesday is our traditional visit to our favorite beach, as we celebrate “Take Back the Beach” day, my favorite summer holiday. We might even be bold and make a left turn.

 

8/14/2019

Struggling With Loneliness


 

 

–by Neal Lemery

 

I see a lot of loneliness in our society.  Ironically, it is everywhere, and often found in the busiest places of our communities.  With all of our personal technology, and seemingly effortless tools to “keep in touch”, we struggle with an epidemic of isolation. Loneliness is often invisible, seldom talked about, and not an easy topic of conversation. There’s a social taboo on vocalizing our emotional states, anyway, and falling silent and withdrawing is one of the traits of the lonely and isolated.

Three quarters of Americans have experienced moderate to acute loneliness. And, a quarter of us are at the high end of that emotional range.

Loneliness is most prevalent in ages under 25 and over 65. US News and World Report.

I recently came upon a friend, sitting by himself, head in his hands, in the middle of the busiest part of a big store.

Instead of tending to my shopping list and a busy day, I sat with him, and honored the silence between us.  He looked up, barely acknowledging me, and then resumed staring at his hands and the floor. He’s normally talkative with me, telling stories of his kids, his work, and his art. Now, just silence, and a lot of pain. I felt his loneliness in the air we breathed, and from the bench where we sat.

My friend isn’t usually like this, brooding and silent. There’s something deep going on, I thought, and I best take the time to just be here with my friend.

The silence deepened, but it felt comfortable. I could tell that my presence was welcome, and that I should stay.

People whirled around us, the noise of shopping carts and kids, lots of conversations filling up the space.  My friend’s silence became even more noteworthy in all the chaos and tumult. Intuitively, I decided to stay, my friend needing someone to just be with.  Just being present is a valuable, and often greatly appreciated act of friendship.

My friend took a deep breath and sighed, and then began to talk, his voice barely above a whisper.  He told a tale of anxiety and despair, how life has been a struggle, and that no one cared about him.

“I care,” I said.

“I know,” he replied.  He talked more, the emotional dam letting loose, dark thoughts and pent up feelings spilling out, filling up the comfortable silence that we had. He looked me in the eye, and told a funny story on himself.

We laughed and he said he felt better, just being able to talk about life with someone.

“I’m better now,” he said. “You don’t have to worry about me now.  I’ll be alright.”

“And thanks,” he said. “Thanks for sitting with me and being my friend.”

A few years ago, I took an empowering training on being sensitive to depression and suicidal ideation. QPR Training. That experience gave me the confidence to tune up my intuition and my compassion, and be able to be of some help to those in need of help in dark times. I asked a few questions, and said I knew of some resources if he needed them. He said he wasn’t at risk, but he appreciated my concern and the offer.

He thanked me for being a friend, and for taking the time to care.

Isn’t that task in the job description of being a human being and living in society? We all need to be aware and to take the time to help a fellow human being.

The rest of the day, I was more aware of the loneliness around me, and in my community.  I made it a point to talk to people in the store, and say “hi”, how are you doing?”, and really meaning it.

The checkout clerk and I had a good conversation, and I realized that even though she was inundated with customers throughout her shift, the work can be lonely and isolating.

“There’s a misperception that loneliness means social isolation,” Dr. Dilip Jeste, a professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at the University of California at San Diego, said. “Loneliness is subjective. It is what you feel. The definition of loneliness is distress because of a discrepancy between actual social relationships and desired social relationships. There’s a discrepancy between what I want and what I have.”

Like most of us, I experience loneliness and depression.  Those emotions are part of my humanity, and likely are at least partly influenced by the turmoil and pressures of our society, which corrode my efforts to take care of myself and be healthy.  I’ve tried to build into my self-care regimen some tools to be less lonely, more connected with others. Among those tools are exercise, nutrition, taking time to be in nature, creativity, and engaging with others.

Volunteerism is suggested by Dr. Kasley Killam, in her article, A Solution for Loneliness, in  the May, 2019 edition of Psychology Today. She urges us to volunteer at least two hours a week, which can reduce our sense of loss of meaning, and reverse cognitive decline.  2/3 of volunteers reported they now felt less isolated, which addresses the fact that a fourth to half of all Americans feel lonely a lot of the time.  Loneliness makes many of us more prone to developing a wide range of physical and mental illnesses, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes and depression.

Self care, and community care.  They go hand in hand and make a better world for all of us.

 

6/24/19

Fathers’ Day — A Mixed Bag of Emotions


 

–by Neal Lemery

 

 

 

Fathers’ Day is a challenging holiday, and I’m relieved it has come and gone. The event is idealized in our culture, presented as a day of barbeques, family time, and lots of smiles about idyllic childhoods and loving, kindly fathers who have inspired us, who have taught us all about love, family, and healthy parenting. It comes across as cuddly and warm, yet for many, the message is one of conflict and contradiction.

 

On Sunday, I had good communications with many of the men I am proud to call “son”, and good friends, guys I can talk with, heart to heart. I’m relieved that they are doing well in their emotional lives, and able to freely express their feelings with me about fathering and growing up.  We’re at a stage, finally, where “I love you” is more easily spoken or written.

 

Yet, I have others I’ve mentored and parented who choke on saying the word “love”. I know they are struggling, challenged by how to find themselves and make sense of the confusion and chaos in their lives. Depression, addiction, broken relationships, and even jail time challenge them, as they keep searching for the tools and the paths to heal themselves and be able to move on in their lives. Guys don’t easily pick up the phone or text that they’re suicidal, high, or behind bars.  There aren’t any texting emojis that say that they aren’t good enough, that they’re failures and can’t get their lives together.

 

I love them anyway, and try to communicate that, but often it is a one way street. Some of my letters addressed to a prison don’t get a reply, but I write anyway. I’m a gardener and planting seeds and adding water and fertilizer on what appears to be infertile ground is part of that work of faith.

 

Like other holidays, what we are supposed to be honoring and acknowledging conflicts with our own reality and our emotional journeys through life. None of us have lived the idyllic life, being parented with the ideal, perfect father, and living our own life free from emotional baggage left over from our childhood. We experience our own roles as men, fathers, and the complex task of helping to raise kids and navigate our own turbulent emotional waters of adulthood. The road is often bumpy.

 

It is a day of conflicting emotions and fake messages, including this Instagram posted on this Fathers’ Day from Bill Cosby, once television’s ideal dad, and now an imprisoned, convicted sexual predator:

 

“Hey, Hey, Hey…It’s America’s Dad… I know it’s late, but to all of the Dads… It’s an honor to be called a Father, so let’s make today a renewed oath to fulfilling our purpose – strengthening our families and communities.”

 

Emotional predators, especially those who have projected a wholesome image through the media, and hold themselves out as a role model of virtue and integrity, have no credibility coming across as the ideal dad. No, Mr. Cosby, you are not “America’s Dad” anymore, and I reject what you are trying to project upon us.  Your social media posting is a mockery of what Fathers’ Day needs to be.

 

I’m not alone in thinking about the challenges of being both the child and the father, and dealing with sons and daughters who are conflicted about dealing with the idealization of parenting, how to emerge whole, or at least not emotionally ravaged from childhood.

 

I Googled “father anger” and saw there were 185 million hits. It is a rich topic for writers, and all of us who are trying to make sense of masculine anger.

 

“It’s not being a man that makes men prone to anger, but being socialized to be “masculine,” which studies suggest is hard to separate from a propensity for angry emotions. Societal expectations about how to be a boy are evolving, but many men are still taught that anger is one of few acceptable emotions for them to express. When toughness and independence are highly valued in men, this inevitably leads to outbursts.”

–Virginia Pelley

https://www.fatherly.com/love-money/relationships/good-dads-anger-problems/

 

The greeting card section at the grocery store doesn’t have Fathers’ Day cards about anger, about emotional abuse, and the challenges of having a real deep conversation with dad about growing up, and how to navigate those troubled waters.

 

Talking about emotions and childhood trauma are still taboo topics for many men at social gatherings, as well as one on one.  I’ve also seen adult children who are called at a funeral to eulogize their parent struggle to put into words stories about their parents’ lives, trying to balance truth telling with unresolved emotions about the tough times with mom or dad.  A funeral isn’t expected to be very healing for anger and rage.

 

However, the subtleties in the stories that have been edited to be spoken at a funeral can convey a willingness to be real, to connect with family on what has often been stuffed away in the family closet of secrets. There remains the deep need to tell the truth, and to heal.

 

Being open and honest about such experiences has been seeing the light of day in recent years.  Popular figures have been telling their stories, and numerous books dig into the challenges of familial rage and dysfunction.  The “Me Too” movement and other acts of cultural courage over the past few decades have modeled the benefits of being open and having the courage to start to heal.

 

In the last few years, work on addressing Adverse Childhood Experiences(ACEs) has been a breath of fresh air and provided opportunities for understanding and healing, much to the benefit of our society. Educators are now becoming informed and are implementing innovative approaches to helping kids.

 

Many of the men I’ve mentored have had the benefit of good counselors and therapists, friends, and lovers who have helped in removing the thorns of abuse, self-debasement, and emotional sabotage.  For many people, the vicious cycle of generational emotional paralysis and impotent rage has been exposed to the light of understanding, and been broken, or at least interrupted.  For all that work, I am heartened, and I can see society moving and changing, Bill Cosby’s recent comment notwithstanding.

 

I try to convey to my sons and the other men in my life that we are all entitled to our anger and our rage, that the wounds we have experienced should be acknowledged, and that healing is possible.  Dealing with the mixed emotions of Fathers’ Day is part of that work. It is a reminder of how far we have come, and how far we need to go in our journeys.

 

6/17/2019

Immersed in the Richness of Community Life


 

 

by Neal Lemery

 

 

I found myself in the heart of the richness of my community’s life the other day. Tillamook High School charity drive students were handing out checks to a wide variety of community organizations, funding grants for over twenty community projects and activities.

The money comes from a ten day frenzy of fund raising in February that engaged the entire community.  High school students, along with parents and other community volunteers, pitched in to raise money.  Car washes, dinners, garage sales, a scrap metal drive, donkey basketball, silent auctions, and other events made sure that you have no reason to cook dinner that week, or stay at home on a rainy evening. The high school classes competed with each other, and organized the various events so that every day was filled with tempting meal choices and other activities.

It was also a week of socializing with the rest of the community, reconnecting with old friends, and strengthening our community ties.

“It’s all about relationships,” I heard on numerous occasions.

The fund raising capabilities of these kids is phenomenal, usually raising over $200,000 during the week, astonishing in a rural area of maybe 8,000 people.  Half of the funds are given to the Doernbecher children’s hospital, and half stays in the community. This is an annual affair, and has been going on since the 1950s, when it started as part of the March of Dimes campaign against polio.

The student committee invited community groups to apply for grants, and again, the community reaps the benefits of our hard-working, community-minded youth.

This year, $56,000 was given to local non-profits to support their own charitable activities in the community.  Applicants have to justify how the funds will improve community life.

I gathered with people from other organizations, as students began handing out the checks. We shared our stories with each other, eagerly chatting about where the money would go, how people’s lives were touched.  We are so rich in the ways that we help others, and make a real difference.

I happily received one of the checks, destined to help one of my organizations improve its capacity to serve the community, and to give youth another activity to enrich their lives.  There were smiles all around, as the students connected with us, as we shared the joy of giving back to the community, and building better lives.

“Bending to a common purpose is more important than arising from a common place…”. (David Treuer, The Heart Beat of Wounded Knee)

As we all gathered in front of the high school, we stood united.  In this small town, I didn’t see an unfamiliar face. We had all played a part in the charity drive, and now, we had come together, to share the rewards, to invest back into the community, and build again in service to the common good.

That sense of satisfaction, of common community purpose continued on, as I stood in line at the bank a few minutes later with some of the others who had received checks.

“A special day,” one of them remarked. “A day of giving back to the community, and making a difference.”

This celebration was in sharp contrast to what I’d just seen on the national news, filled with stories of disasters, political discord, and crime. How nice is it, I thought, to be part of building community, rather than hearing of social discontent and chaos.

As the passive observer and a consumer of the national political and cultural scene, I keep wondering what is my role in all of that.  I tire of being the passive witness, the feeling of impotence and paralysis.

Can I be an instrument of change?  Rather than just hear about a problem, I could step up and be a force for making a difference. Yet, most of the organizations that operate nationally, seem to be only wanting my check, or me to sign an electronic petition, rather than invite me to roll up my sleeves and take on a problem, fully engaged, hands on, giving a little of my talent, a little of my sweat and time. I yearn for that sense of connection, and relationship.

That opportunity is right here in front of me, I realized. Here and now is the place where change can and does happen.

Locally, there are ready made roles for all of us.  Our neighbors, our friends, and family are deeply involved in local life, in activities that are changing how we live, providing opportunities and resources for others in our community.  Almost literally outside of my front door, I can be involved, and I can help make a difference in other people’s lives and the health and wellbeing of my community.

I saw that in the smiles of the high school students the other day, their joy a reflection of their own hard work, their own commitment to the community, their satisfaction in applying their own talent, time and sweat into making a real difference, in building better lives and a better place to live for their neighbors.

 

 

5/1/2019

One Person Making A Difference


 

 

–by Neal Lemery

 

The daily news can be overwhelming, and often paralyzes me into a state of inaction, frustration, and disappointment on how I fit in. I wonder if my life really has meaning. Nothing I can do will make a difference, part of my brain rationalizes, pushing me into idleness and despondency.

I have to work hard to countermand that kind of thinking, which is ineffective and against all of my values and spirituality.  I bring value to the world. Everyone does. Creating change and spreading love is the essence of my purpose on this planet.  Yet, the negativity and depressive energy seems to be persistent and ever-present.

Others, with great wisdom, take on this feeling, this social attitude that often seems pervasive.  They turn it around and urge us to be proactive, to initiate change by engaging with others.  And, often that work is not a shout out to the entire world, but quiet, thoughtful work, one on one, giving an individual some attention and direction.

Oprah’s new book, The Path Made Clear: Discovering Your Life’s Direction and Purpose, is a delightful and inspiring collection of quotes and short essays on empowering yourself to change your attitude and the world.

“When you know, teach. When you get, give.” – Maya Angelou.

We are all teachers and givers. That is what we are here for, the purpose of life. As a child, I found great joy in life in simply being with others.  The greatest satisfactions came with experiences with others.  Sharing, giving, teaching, it is all the same, moving us towards our purpose, our life force of one’s love to others. I often get side-tracked, and forget that profound lesson I learned as a child.

When we give, when we teach, when we share of ourselves to others, that spreads out into the world, like a pebble tossed into a pond.  The good from that rebounds back to us, often in ways we may not recognize or even be aware.  And, often that echoing is seen many years later, our initial altruistic act nearly forgotten.

The time frame for that fits no pre-conceived schedule or expectation. Often, I sense that “return on investment” as a surprise, a new, unexpected gift back to me.

At other times, my investment seems like a poor choice. The recipient of my attention, my nurturance and loving, acts out with meanness, anger, and multiple acts of self and social destruction and violence. I see numerous acts of narcissistic rage and self-harm, a desire to “win at all cost”.

The addictions of this world, be it drugs, violence, selfishness, or other toxins, often can seem to be the winners on the battlefields people create to try to make it through our lives.  I can’t change the world by having bigger, more deadly weapons in my arsenal.  Such escalation only increases the casualty lists and leaves the world poorer, more broken. Hatred is a no-win answer for any problem. And, it turns me into a nasty, vitriolic shell of my true self.

“There is no more neutrality in the world. You either have to be part of the solution, or you’re going to be part of the problem.” – Eldridge Cleaver.

If I am patient, and understanding, and willing to step to the side and let the storms of rage and loathing pass by, the inherent goodness can still be found in the ashes of the outcomes of frustration and acting out.  In those moments, there is often a “sweet moment” of opportunity.

I try to turn it around, and rather than fling my own spears and shoot my own arrows of hostility and rage, I get in touch with my own gentle side, and respond with compassion, patience, and reaching out to them.

Such an approach is not without its challenges. But, I’m stubborn and persistent in my own path of being an instrument of change.

A few words of kindness, a smile, a warm and welcoming handshake can be disarming.  If the recipient of my outreach responds with a look of need or even acknowledgement of my message, then the communication has begun, and the path of their day of anger and rage has been changed.

Just listening, with compassion, is a revolutionary act.

People do change. It is often a small change, but it IS a change, an alteration, a glimpse of an alternative on how one should feel, how the day can be navigated in a different way, even in developing a vision on living an intentional, purposeful life based upon love.

Perhaps in those small acts, I am a rebel, a revolutionary, going in a direction that isn’t what is expected of me, or the place in this world other people perceive I should occupy.

“You reap what you sow.”

I can be the good farmer, the good steward of my own heart and its bounty.  If I take care of my own little corner of the world, and let my garden grow, then I can later share my harvest with the world.

When I reach out to someone and suspend judgement and bias, if I give of myself and my life force, then I’m being genuine, real, and open.  That person I’m in touch with gets the real me, a person striving to be an honest, straight-forward bit of love and care, with all of my own imperfections and challenges.

Like all of us, I’m a work in progress.

That gift of me can help fill an empty spot, ease a pain, help heal a wound, even start a conversation.

“Someone cares” can also be a very powerful, world-changing message, a key ingredient in letting another person move closer to their true potential, and find an easier path to their own peacefulness and gentleness.

We all need to heal.  There are more than enough wounds in life that need to heal, to ease the pain in our hearts, to feel that we truly belong to our community, that our own life matters and has purpose.

I can make a difference.  I am valued for what I do, who I am, and what I can contribute to others.

“Give to this world what you want to receive from the world, because that is what you will receive.”  –Gary Zukov

 

4/23/2019

 

 

Age Isn’t A Number


 

 

—Neal Lemery

 

“Ask yourself how old would you be

 

If you didn’t know the day you were born.”

—Toby Keith, Don’t Let the Old Man In (2018)

 

When Toby Keith wrote this song, he was inspired by a conversation with Clint Eastwood, as they looked at aging, and what they were doing with their lives.  After their talk, Clint Eastwood filmed a movie and Toby Keith wrote this song.  Not bad work for two duffers getting together for a round of golf. They know the secret of life and of living well.

 

There’s a message in his music for all of us.

 

We’re all getting older.  As each day goes by, even each minute, we have choices on how we live, what our attitude is, and, ultimately, what our intention is in this world.

 

Each day is a gift. We shouldn’t rely on someone else’s idea of how to measure who we are, what we have done, or how far we are along in the journey of life.  Age can be a number, but I like to think of life as a state of mind.  It’s not a square on a calendar, or a calculation based on what’s on your driver’s license.

 

The real question is not quantity, not a question of measurement and numbers, but rather, quality.

 

For today, and every day, I ask myself, how can I live life to its fullest? What conversation, what experience, will bring forth my own creativity, my own expression of the wonders of this day?

 

3/22/2019

Grieving and Growing


 

 

By Neal Lemery

 

The weeks before spring, before the world comes fully awake from its winter slumber, and bursts forth with flowers and growth and new hope for a bright and joyous planet, is a time of contemplation for me. And now is a time for me to grieve, as lately I have lost some good friends.

 

Once again, the world is teaching me, and today’s lessons are about loss and leaving, about life and what we are here for. Like everything else in the School of Life, I don’t have much say in the curriculum or the class schedule. Yet, it is my job to show up and learn the lessons of the day.

 

My friends’ time has come and they have moved on, leaving this world.  I wasn’t ready to say goodbye, but then, I never am. I can rage and scream and cry, but all that is not very productive.  I still feel empty inside, and not really sure I know how to honor their lives.  I look at how their lives have shaped my own, enriching me, and given me tools and ideas from which I can be a better person, and make a bigger difference in the world. There are always lessons to be learned, and ways for me to improve myself.

 

The spaces they filled in my life are empty, though I try to fill that up with something creative, something that will make a difference in this world, as if to make up for what they aren’t doing in the world anymore.  But, that’s a fool’s errand.  I can’t fill in the gaps that they have left in my life, and I can’t duplicate what they did, or would be doing now if they hadn’t died. Each of us is special, unique. I don’t think we are here to be clones of those who have moved on. Each of us has our own work to do here.

 

In my own life, though, I can better my own life, being more of a giver, a teacher, a creator, and a lover of the world.  That’s what my lately departed friends would want too, if they were sitting here having a cup of coffee with me.  They’d be pretty insistent with me, not being people who would cry in their beer, or host a pity party on their untimely and undesired demise.  They wouldn’t want me to be doing that either.

 

“Get on with life,” I can hear several of them say. “You’ve got more work to do. Now, get to it.”

 

Look at what you have taught, what you have created with your hands, and how much love you have spread. That’s the directive I’m getting from the Universe, as I wake to another day, and wonder, once again, what I am here for.

 

It’s not my time yet to go.  So I must go on.  I must spend less time thinking about those tears in my beer, and get out into the world, get a move on.  The departed ones are still with me, in many ways, and I still hear their voices, and their ideas and wisdom.  They were in my life for many reasons, and it is up to me to discover all that they have given me in our all too brief time together on this planet.

 

I have much to learn. The days are getting longer now, and the sunshine is warmer. Spring is coming, and life is renewing. It is time for me to grow, and to love more than I have ever thought possible.