Unexpected Gifts: Giving From the Heart


                        Unexpected Gifts:  Giving From the Heart

                                                by Neal Lemery

            Putting aside the hubbub, the seemingly endless demands on us to be “in the holiday mode”, I find my purpose and comfort in the quiet of the winter, as I contemplate what are the best gifts to exchange.

            The birds quietly chatter their thanks as I fill their feeder. The rest of the yard sleeps, as a few leaves, still dressed in their fall colors, cling to the branches. These moments are gifts to my spirit, and are given freely, without expectation. 

            The chance encounters in life can offer the best experiences, the most rewarding gift giving of the season. 

            While on a welcome road trip last week, I stopped for lunch. While pouring my coffee, the waitress mentioned her struggle with her trembling hand.  I took the time to listen. I recently came across an article that talked about that condition and a new non-invasive and pain free treatment. In a few minutes, our phones connected and she had the link to the article and the contact for the competent, state of the art clinic that could ease her condition.

            “I didn’t know about this. And I so badly want to be able to paint and draw again,” she said. 

            She gave me a big smile as I left, her relief at finding a solution showing in her eyes, her gift to me.

            I’ve lost touch with a fellow guitar player.  While playing one of his favorite songs the other day, I decided he needed a gift. I’ve come across some unusual picks that suit my continuing journey to be a better guitar player.  I have a few extra picks, so I mailed them to him, with a note thanking him for his friendship over the years.

I’m sure the postal clerk wondered why I had a big smile as I mailed that package.

            Often, the best gifts to give are the gifts of listening and appreciation. There are so many opportunities to simply be present with someone, to listen with an open heart, and to suspend judgment and commentary. Most of us aren’t asking for advice; we simply want to be heard.

            “To be by their side,” a counselor friend told me the other day.  “It truly is the gift we can all give. All it takes is our time and being present with someone in need of a good ear.”

            We all have our story, but all too often, our story doesn’t get heard. That’s all too often the gift we need to receive, as well as to give.

            When we prepare for the holidays and wrap our presents, perhaps we should write a kind note to a friend, inviting them for a cup of coffee or a walk in a beautiful place.  Let us suspend our culture’s pressure to give material things. Instead, we can give the gift of ourselves and our open, loving hearts.

published in the Tillamook County Pioneer, 12/16/2021

The Shirt Off My Back


                                    published in the Tillamook County Pioneer 11/1/2021

                                                            by Neal Lemery

            A familiar phrase we often use is that someone would give the shirt off their back to help someone else. Last week, that became reality for me and a young man, as we drove away from the prison where he’d been the last two and a half years. Our destination was a halfway house, where he could restart his life, find a job, and be a productive citizen. He has big plans: vocational school, a job, long hikes in the woods, a family someday. 

            Some will argue that the hardships and obstacles facing a parolee is part of his “punishment”, that one shouldn’t do the crime if you can’t do the time. Felons don’t deserve our kindnesses, and should be treated as the scum that they are.  They deserve their hardships, and it is their lot in life.

            I suppose those attitudes are easy to come by, and that the life of those getting out of prison is low on many people’s priorities and compassion.  Perhaps, until you get to know a person, and hear their story, until you match the face with the stories they tell of their lives.

            “Lock ‘em up and throw away the key” and the problem will go away.  Right?

            Well, those men and women will return to society, join the workforce, and will have family and friends, just like everyone else.  How they go about their lives, and the decisions they make, is fundamentally shaped by the resources they have when they walk out of the prison gates.  

            My young friend left prison the other morning with only a pair of pants, a sweatshirt, and shoes provided by the prison. No underwear, no socks, no coat, and no cash in his pocket.  His life savings, including the federal stimulus money (which we all received last year) was in a check.  Of course, he has no bank account, no ID except a prison issued ID card. His lost driver’s license hadn’t been replaced.

He has an Oregon Trail food stamp card, but of course, he needed a phone to activate that.  Yep, you guessed it. He had no phone. His family could have shipped him a phone that he could have picked up at his release that morning, but the prison never told them about that option. 

            The check for his money was $300 short.  The prison had decided to fine him for a rule infraction last week, and took away his inmate phone privileges on top of that. 

            We headed off to a city four hours away, to see his probation officer, and to check in at the halfway house.  But, he wasn’t sure where his new home was, or what it looked like.  

            He got out at dawn, when the sweatshirt kept him warm. Later on, it warmed up and he started to sweat.  He put on a determined face, not wanting to complain to me.  No one else had offered to pick him up and make the trip with him, so I was the only way to get him where he needed to go. 

            “Do you have anything else to wear?” I asked, knowing the answer as all his worldly possessions were loosely piled in a cardboard box in the back seat of my truck. 

            I’d needed to do an overnight trip to pick up my friend, due to the early morning release time, so I had a few clothes in my suitcase.  I dug out a shirt I’d bought for myself a few weeks ago, and gave it to him.  

            “Oh, no, I can’t take that,” he said.  

But I insisted and he managed a smile as he slipped it on.  It was soft, colorful and new, something he hadn’t experienced in the last few years. He looked away at the changing landscape, filled with fields, trees, far away mountains, and blue sky, things he hadn’t seen in his life for too long of a time. A tear rolled down his cheek, and I looked away, concentrating on my driving, and giving him some quiet time.  A tear fell onto my face, too, being reminded of simple things, and how so much in life I take for granted.

What I call Freedom Day is sacred space, where emotions often too intense to comprehend fill one’s heart. Often, there are no words, only tears and hugs.  

            We stopped along the way a few times — fabulous coffee in a small town’s only coffee shop, breathing fresh air at a roadside rest area overlooking a display of bright fall leaves and a river.  As we took in the serenity of the river, we found no words to speak.  He turned to me and embraced me, his hug saying it all.

            I parked outside of the probation office, waiting for my friend to complete his check in, and finding out where he was going to live.  I watched a drug deal go down across the street, and the parade of customers going to the nearby pot shop, some of whom had just left the probation office. 

            He settled into his new home, and the staff introduced themselves to me.  Good, deeply committed people, being kind and hospitable, as we settled my friend in, making his bed, finding out where the bathroom and the kitchen were.  

            “This will be fine,” he said.  “I’ll be OK.”

            He walked me to my truck.  It was time to say goodbye.  It had been a good day, good conversations, a trip of amazing natural beauty, and peace, a deepening friendship. And freedom.

            I slipped into Dad Mode, giving him one last hug, and a short sermon of Dad Advice, giving him one last dose of love, encouragement, and fatherly advice. 

            “I don’t have any money,” he reminded me, hesitation catching in his voice.  We’d had a talk earlier about his lack of funds, and I’d promised to spot him some cash, something to carry him through until he could get to the bank.  I apologized for forgetting my commitment, and dug out my wallet.  

            “That’s too much,” he said, but I wouldn’t take any back.  

            “Take yourself out for coffee,” I said, and added another twenty.

            “Here’s your shirt,” he said. He started to unbutton it.  

            “That’s your shirt now,” I said. “It’s part of our deal, part of what we needed to do today.”

            I got in my truck and drove down the street, lowering the window to give him one last wave. In the rearview mirror, I saw him wave back, and wipe away something on his face. A few tears wetted my face, and I gulped down what would have been a full-blown sob session.  

            The road home was quiet.  I was lost in my thoughts.  This wasn’t the first time I’d taken a young man from what we call “correctional institutions” to a fresh start.  Freedom Day, I call it.  And, sadly, the stories run together.  The lack of clothes, the cardboard box of possessions, the lack of financial care, the uncertainty of where they will spend the night and the next few months of their lives.  There’s the scarcity of family, too, and that points back to understanding why they were locked up to begin with.  

            I’ve read where the cost of housing one prisoner in our state prison system is close to $60,000 a year, and that mental health services, vocational training, and transitional housing are often the first to be cut.  My friend needs all of that. The system isn’t dealing with his depression, PTSD, and anxiety, not to mention his alcohol and drug issues, those necessities somehow not part of his life in prison, not part of his parole plan. 

            I gave him my shirt, and a few bucks for coffee.  And he gave me hugs, stories of his dreams, and, at the end of the day, a big smile. He filled my heart.  It was a good trade.

10/31/2021

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

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

Tightrope: A Challenging and Compelling Book for our World


                        by Neal Lemery 1/17/2021

            If you are concerned about kids in your neighborhood, or you worry about your community, or the future welfare of the country, then Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope, by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, is a must-read book for these challenging times.

            A sobering and emotional (and very well written) read, Tightrope tells the stories of Kristof’s classmates and neighbors in rural Oregon, and stories of impoverished Americans across the country, in today’s world, which the authors call “America’s social Great Depression”.  The stories are the stories of the people most at risk in our society. They can be, as Kristof points out, the kids you rode the school bus with, the decent people who are still your mom’s neighbors. 

            “We need economic change, but also cultural change, and ours would be a richer nation if it were more infused with empathy, above all for children,” say Kristof and WuDunn.  Kristof, a New York Times columnist, and his wife look deep and compassionately into the lives of good people, the heart and soul of this country, and tell their stories of struggle. 

            Their previous four books, and many of Kristof’s newspaper columns, have taken deep and hard looks at social issues in what we would call the Third World. Yet, this book compels us to look at the urgent issues we Americans face today; our many problems are Third World problems, or worse.

            We need to “look at our society through the lens of moral grace,” is their heartfelt message.  

            The deep and bloody holes in our social fabric are revealed, along with tales of courage and determination, as well as hope.

This is a book of heartbreaking stories, but we hear about innovative solutions.  “Solutions are difficult and imperfect, but the right programs make a big difference.  “There is a path out of the inferno,” the authors write.  

This book was often painful, and at the same time offers hope and resources.  If you want to be a force for change, the book is both a wake-up call and a great resource.

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

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

Wanting Change: How Does That Happen?


By Neal Lemery

 

Often, I react to the news with despair, anger and frustration.  I remind myself that the “news” is often sensationalized, that the news business is a business, and that almost all the “good news” is not included in a news program.  Yet, what much of what is “news” stirs me up to wanting change, a different approach to old problems.

If I want change, I have to act.

If I am passive, then others will make changes, or not.  And those actions or inactions will likely not be what I want to see happen.  I will not have a voice.  My silence, my inaction diminishes my soul and my purpose in life.

“You must be the change you want to see in the world,” Mahatma Gandhi famously said.

Yet, to borrow a phrase from Al Gore, it is an inconvenient truth.

If I don’t like what I read in the news, then either I am an instrument to change the world, or I do nothing.  My inaction assures that I lose my right to express my disagreement with what is going on. After all, actions speak louder than words.

I am in charge of how I react, respond, how I am an instrument of change, putting action into my beliefs, and thus creating change, building a better world.

If I don’t like what I see in my community, my neighborhood, my family, then I need to step up and get involved, and become an instrument of change.

A healthier community starts with me. Put up or shut up.  It’s all on me.

The simple acts are the easiest and the most effective.  They have the greatest impact long term.

Here’s a list of actions for me, and, hopefully, you:

  • Invite a friend to coffee.
  • Play music, and teach someone else, sharing music with others, creating joy and community.
  • Start a conversation with a stranger.
  • Send an inspirational note or story to a friend.
  • Reach out to a prisoner, someone who is going through a hard patch, someone in pain.
  • Acknowledge someone’s loss, or a challenge, and offer them a compliment, a few words of cheer and encouragement. They are not alone.
  • Practice patience and understanding.
  • Don’t expect a reward or recognition. Acting anonymously can be very sweet.
  • Practice forgiveness and compassion, even if another’s words or acts seem hurtful.
  • Imagine walking in the shoes of another.
  • Remember the Greek proverb: “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they shall never sit in.”
  • Slow to judge, quicker to forgive.
  • Intend to follow the Golden Rule.
  • Examine your own biases and prejudices. Do some personal housekeeping. I’ve found this to be very humbling and enlightening.
  • Suspend judgement.
  • Don’t assume.

 

My ego gets in the way in this work, but if I am honest, I learn more about myself and the world, and I move forward to be a better human being.

 

And, the world changes, just a little.

 

9/21/2019