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

What I Am Learning From The Pandemic


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                                                                        by Neal Lemery

            The last year has taught me many lessons, and I hope I can fully absorb and retain the wisdom of these times. The lessons are often challenging and messy, and I struggle to make sense of these times.

  • We human beings are very vulnerable to disease. In this age of “miracle medicine”, technological wonders, and astonishing discoveries and advances in medicine, we can still contract a new disease. We find ourselves susceptible to random life-threatening illness. I am not in control. 
  • There are angels and miracle workers among us, serving as true caregivers. 
  • Humans are survivors.  We have survived other pandemics.  After the Black Death, Europe experienced the Renaissance. 
  • Many of us disregard lifesaving information and medical guidance. 
  • Society is easily prone to mistruths, falsehoods, and deliberate lies. We can be easily manipulated and frightened by deliberate propaganda and gaslighting.  Many of the proponents of falsehoods and distortions do not have the best interests of the community at heart. Instead, they are destroyers and terrorists.  
  • Finding truth is a necessary and sometimes lifesaving skill. Skepticism is useful. 
  • Relationships with others is an essential element of a healthy life and personal sanity. 
  • Human touch and social interaction are vital to my health and my daily life. I can be depressed and lonely.
  • Technology, with its access to information, virtual meetings, seminars, and other gatherings, can be very useful, giving us a sense of connection.  We can conduct our business and be engaged in learning from our homes.  Yet, those virtual connections lack the intimacy, the “spark” of in-person conversation and true interaction. There’s basic human chemistry in that. We are truly social beings, and need to be physically together to share the most essential aspects of our communication.
  • We can be amazing problem solvers and managers of new and challenging situations. We are resourceful and creative. When faced with a common challenge, we can pull together and take collective action. Yet, we often find fear in that success, doubting ourselves for being successful; the “not good enough” thinking. It often takes courage to declare that we can be good at managing the Pandemic. 
  • Life is precious. Relationships are precious. We need to gather together to both celebrate and to grieve. Not doing that is painful and often stifles our souls and fuels our fears and doubts. We can be saboteurs of our best intentions.
  • We can be argumentative, strident, and stubborn in our opinions.  Our personal pride and our egos can derail us from attending to our common desires for a better society. We often fail to realize that our anger and divisiveness are really expressions of our passions and our collective desire to be a society responsive to our needs and our goals for a better world. We struggle with the small stuff and often pass by our common aspirations. 
  • I have again discovered the value of quiet in my life, times to be contemplative, reflective, and simply present in the moment.  American culture focuses on being ever busy, always “doing”. In the newly discovered stillness, I can appreciate the value of rest and uninterrupted thought.

5/21/2021

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

Honoring Earth Day


 

Every day is Earth Day, because this is my home, and I breathe the air, drink the water, feed my body, and co-exist with all of the other beings and lives on this planet. I live here and I am a steward of this place, the only place I have in the universe.
This week, I planted seeds, pruned, weeded, mowed, watered, fertilized, and tended, in both the biological sense and the social sense. We are in this life together and should care for ourselves, each other and our home.
Being in places of great beauty and abundant life, I watched, I learned, I appreciated, I connected.
I tended and cared and nurtured. I tried to act with kindness and compassion, being a good neighbor, a good member of family, a good citizen of this earth.
Hopefully, what I do in my life helps others grow, find peace, and be comfortable with their own place in this world. Hopefully, I am a force of constructive growth and love.
And, hopefully, what I do, and what I choose not to do, and act, and be, will make a positive difference in this world, and make it a better place.
Honoring the earth, caring for it, being a good steward, is a spiritual calling, and is being in harmony with all that is around me.
Honoring the earth is a sacred duty.

–Neal Lemery, April 22, 2017

Taking Care


 

 

“Take care.” It’s a popular thing to say, as friends part, or end a phone call.

There’s a great need now to take care in our culture. I’m seeing a lot of pain, a lot of anxiety, a lot of doubt and uncertainty as to who we are as a nation and a culture. There’s a lot of doubt, of losing a sense of purpose.

When I watch the evening news, or peruse the headlines in the paper, I find myself emotionally wringing my hands, or throwing them up in anger. I’m close to my boiling point.

“What can I do about it?” I wonder. How can I take care?

Not much, I’ve concluded. But I can make a difference where I live.

I can take care in my community. And, it is something I can do, rather than sit on the couch, tap my foot, and bemoan to my wife about how things could be different. Talking back to the TV doesn’t seem to do anything.

A few weeks ago, a friend suddenly lost his son. It was a great tragedy, but what could I do? I still don’t know what I can do, but I did reach out to him. I went to his house and just sat with him, letting him talk, letting us sit there in silence. He was not alone, and I just listened. I went with him to the funeral home, and prayed with him, holding him as he cried.

At the funeral, I spoke the words he wanted said. I welcomed people, listened to them, and held them close. We cried and we grieved, and my friend was not alone.

A friend should not grieve alone, and there was a community of grief, holding my friend close. And, maybe that’s all that we can do, grieving together, taking care of each other, in that awful journey of grief and shock and bewilderment.

“I don’t know how to do this,” my friend said.

“None of us do,” I replied. “But we take care of ourselves and each other.”

“That’s all we can do.”

Another friend had a heart attack, and I sent my prayers, a few words of comfort, a message of “take care”. And, he is, and I am.

Another friend needed to talk, to get a worry off their chest, and let it out. So, I listened, and loved them, and listened some more. As we parted, we said those words, “take care”, and we will and we did.

I cared for a public space this morning, a small garden in a parking lot, often busy with people on a mission, with business to take care of, the never ending errands of life. I pruned, weeded, planted new plants, and added some fertilizer just before the next spring shower poured down. Most visitors won’t notice it, but some will. And, this summer, as the plants grow and bloom, and the empty spaces fill in, there will be some beauty to be enjoyed, a quiet respite on a busy day. That garden will “take care” of someone in need of that quiet moment.

What I did wasn’t much and it won’t make the evening news, but in other ways it was a lot. I made a small difference in one corner of the world.

I “took care” and, in this crazy world, that makes a difference.

 

–Neal Lemery

4/14/2017

 

 

Suicide: Getting to Resilient


Suicide: Getting to Resilient

 

Five percent. One out of twenty. That’s the reality of our community, our country. Within the last year, one out of twenty adults seriously considered ending their life.

Suicide. It is an epidemic, and we don’t talk about it much. Suicide talk is taboo. Don’t go there. But, we must.

Every person needs to be connected to at least one other person, and to be able to reach out, talk about depression, sadness, and hopelessness. We all need hope, an expectation that there is a tomorrow, there is opportunity for change, that our lives make a difference, and that life is worth living. Life’s problems can’t be only on our own shoulders.

Last week, I was part of a workshop, getting trained with skills to take on this intensely personal problem, to be a first responder in addressing suicide in our culture. Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) is a national movement to develop a first response model in our communities. Evidence based models and techniques gave us the tools and the confidence to reach out and connect with someone who is possibly contemplating ending their life.

Invite a conversation, and plunge into the “perfect storm” that is roaring through their lives, and make connection. When the signs are there, find the courage to “ask the question” and begin talking about suicide, and options for change, connecting them with you and connecting them with resources to be able to move ahead with their lives, and regain hope.

Suicidal thoughts have stormed through my own life, sometimes ending lives far too early, or paralyzing people with deep depression and isolation. Surviving family and friends are wracked with uncertainly and chaos, leaving profound questions unanswered and lives thrown off track.

Making connections is what changes lives and saves lives. What I’ve learned in life, and relearned at the ASIST training, is that you do connect. You do reach out, engage people, and show your genuine concern for them and their well-being. You connect with your own humanity and your fellows, and make that vital one to one connection.

Showing concern and empathy, and making that connection often saves lives and gives people a new sense of hope and possibility in their lives.

Help make them safe now, and help them develop their plan to be safe now.

When you have that conversation, make those connections, one to one. And, help them connect with others; not only with friends and family, but professional care givers and health care providers. Be the gatekeeper for them and help them find their way.

The National Suicide Prevention Hot Line, 1-800-243-8255(TALK) is a valuable resource. I’ve added it to my phone contacts. Other resources: http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org, Youthline (1-877-YOUTH-911) and their text: TEEN2TEEN@839863.

Connect with your local mental health services provider. In my hometown, Tillamook, their crisis line is 800-962-2851.

All of these services operate 24 hours a day, because suicide is a 24 hour a day issue of community wide concern.

Help build a resilient, safe community.

—-Neal Lemery 9/1/2016