The Extra Chair


 

 

–by Neal Lemery

(also published today in the Tillamook County Pioneer)

One year at Thanksgiving, Mom told me to set an extra place setting.  We’d counted up all the relatives who would be coming, and I was curious as to who she was adding. By my count, we hadn’t forgotten anyone and the place settings matched the numbers of who was coming.

“Oh, it’s nice to have an extra setting, just in case,” she said.  “You never know who might come.”

I was very curious, but she wouldn’t answer my persistent questions.

Thanksgiving morning came and we were all put to work on preparations for the meal. My dad had to go into work for an hour, and not long after he left, the phone rang. It was my dad.

“That’s fine,” she said.  “Of course. No problem.  The table’s already set and there’s an extra chair.”

She turned to us after she hung up the phone.

“We’ll be having another guest for dinner,” she said. She smiled then, and started humming a tune, as she turned back to the stove.

Sure enough, my dad arrived home with our mystery guest.  She was a co-worker, and had no other place to go for Thanksgiving. Her smile said it all, how grateful she was to be included.

Every year after that, we always set an extra place for Thanksgiving.  One year there was a flood and some neighbors couldn’t make it to their family dinner, so we set up another table and had another half dozen dinner guests.

One year, it was one of my friends in high school, needing a refuge from a tough time on the home front.

As always, my folks asked no questions, and passed no judgement.  The unexpected guest was welcomed with open arms and the first serving of turkey.

My wife and I continued the tradition, welcoming friends, making sure there was a place at the table.

The first Thanksgiving we had our foster son, we made sure he felt welcome, as family gathered to enjoy the holiday.

And, as if on cue, the phone rang, and I heard myself saying, “Sure, of course there’s room.  We’d love to have him.”

I made a special trip while the turkey was cooking, and brought his brother home for the weekend. We made sure to make him feel welcome, a part of the family. He responded with a tear running down his cheek, as he sat down in the extra chair.

Years later, after my folks had passed away, and our kids were starting their own families and had moved away, it was just my wife and I who would be home for dinner.

“Let’s set another place,” my wife said.  “You never know.”

A few days before, she called first one and then another friend, friends who were single, and who, it turned out, would be alone for Thanksgiving.

“Of course, you’re invited.  We’ll expect you at 1,” I heard her say.

We set two extra plates that year, and the Thanksgiving celebration became even more special, as two lonely people found a warm home and bountiful table to share, and our friendship grew. Thanksgiving took on a new, richer meaning that year.

One of our traditions, just as we sit down for the meal, is for everyone to share their gratitudes with the rest of us. There is so much to be grateful in our lives, and we so often tend to skip over giving thanks on Thanksgiving. Instead, we slide into talk about a lot of other subjects, forgetting what the day is really about.

Thanksgiving truly is a day to celebrate our gratitudes and to give thanks. And, often what I am most grateful for is that extra chair, that extra place setting.  I’m grateful for the company of someone who would otherwise be alone on the day we gather and give thanks for all that we have.  And that list begins with being thankful for each other.

 

Gratitude and Aspirations: My Intentions for the New Year


 

 

By Neal Lemery

 

 

“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”
― Epicurus

 

At the beginning of a new year on the calendar, I am reminded of the many things that I am grateful for in my life. I celebrate all of that, and seek to be mindful of those treasures: friends, experiences, opportunities, and being present in a beautiful place on this Earth.

 

Gratitude is being thankful. And, being patient for what has come into my life and what awaits me in the future. By living in the moment, I can fully appreciate and be grateful for what life has brought to me and who I am becoming. I am a work in progress. Perhaps I need to wear a “construction zone” sign around my neck to remind me of that.

 

Being present with my intentions, and focusing my intentions on what is to come is my goal for this coming year.

 

In this coming year, I intend to:

 

  • Be fully present when I am with others. I need to listen with an open heart and an open mind, and be tolerant of our differences and the wisdom and experiences of others. In doing that, I will learn and grow. Remind myself that I have one mouth and two ears for a reason, and that I am only learning when I am listening, and not speaking.
  • Work out of my comfort zone. Try something new, something challenging, and strive to have new experiences and opportunities. I will only grow when I am challenged. I only learn when I am uneasy with whom and where I am at. Allow others to be my teachers and guides. Be open to new ideas, new viewpoints.
  • Be a lifelong learner. Embrace new experiences, listen to different and challenging ideas, read books I disagree with, and be open to other ideas. Be tolerant and mindful. Wisdom comes from unanticipated sources. Remind myself that I may be wrong, that I can change my mind, that I am not all knowing.
  • Embrace creativity. See the art in everything in my life, and seek out the creative energies of others. Tend to the artist within me, and celebrate the messages of my Muse, pay attention, and allow the Muse to work through me as I create. Tend that fire, and allow the heat of the moment to fill my heart. Grow that creative energy by sharing it with others. In that, I grow community.
  • Build community in everything that I do, everything I say. Do that in big ways and in small, ordinary ways. Have the intention of building community without fanfare or ego, but instead because I am a child of the Earth and it is my moral and ethical duty to improve and grow community.
  • Be fully mindful of others. Heed the saying that one should walk a mile in the shoes of another. Every person has their own wisdom, their own Truth. Be a good example of what I value.
  • Live life according to my morals, my ethics, my beliefs in the goodness of others, and the unity of humankind. Small kindnesses can open hearts.
  • Speak out against intolerance, fear and hatred. While silence has its place in changing the world, let me be aware that there are also times to speak my peace, share my thoughts, and take action for the good of all.
  • Act according to my beliefs and my purpose in life. A good life is not all talk and no action. Be congruent with my thoughts and beliefs and act accordingly.
  • Social change comes from being a example of what I want to see in the world. Life is not “do as I say and not as I do”.
  • Avoid judgment. I strive to avoid assumptions, or jump to conclusions. I cannot assume the roads traveled by others. I seek to be compassionate.
  • Act with humility. Recognize that I don’t know everything. Life still has lessons to teach me. Be open to new ideas and new experiences.

 

12/31/2017

Thanksgiving, 2015


Finding Thankfulness and Gratitude in My Life

“Thankfulness is the beginning of gratitude. Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness. Thankfulness may consist merely of words. Gratitude is shown in acts.”
–Henri Frederic Amiel, Swiss philosopher

The harvest is in, the garden has been put to bed, and the weather has turned cold. The days are growing shorter; winter has arrived. It is the season of a comfortable chair, a warm blanket, a mug of tea and a good book.

It is also a time of being thankful and grateful. At Thanksgiving, we gather around the table, sharing food and companionship. It is a time of quiet celebration.

Thanksgiving is a quiet, contemplative holiday with few expectations. Simply being together and sharing a meal is all that the holiday seems to require of us. Oh, and the obligatory giving of thanks. In the rush towards the consumerism and frenzy of Christmas, it seems easy to slide right by this time of giving thanks, and plunge into the next holiday.

And, when we do that, we forget to pause and reflect, and to be truly thankful.

The real holiday, the real celebration this week is a time to go inward, to truly appreciate what we have in our lives, and how we are to live, to truly be children of God. Thanksgiving is all about love, in all of its dimensions.

This year there is much to be thankful for: the necessities of life, purposeful work, time with friends and family, health, and being able to serve, to be of service.

People in my life this year have achieved much. One friend is moving into a new home, his first, very own, this is really mine, home. A year ago, he was adrift, unemployed, unsure of himself. Today, due to his hard work and his belief in all of his possibilities, he has a rich, purposeful life.

Another friend is casting aside distractions and old misery, and healing old wounds. He’s taking charge, doing healthy things, putting his life in order.

Another friend passed a test in school. He conquered his fears, his self doubts; he has conquered his sabotage of a future of rich possibilities. He is ready to move on, and he has shown to himself that he can grow, and learn, and be successful. He has climbed his own mountain, and can believe in himself.

I am recharging my own creative energies. I am writing a serious book that gives voice to those who are less fortunate. I am immersing myself in creating music and art, and being an advocate for others. I am pausing to look at the beauty of the world, in this very moment, to appreciate who I am and where I am going.

All this is scary, terrifying work. What if I actually accomplish what I dream? Are there really no barriers, no limits to what I can accomplish, if I put my mind and my soul into the effort? I might be successful? Me? But, then I will have to take on even greater challenges, and be responsible for my effort. Really? Little old me?

Yes, me. I am the one. I am the one who can change the world, one little step at a time. Changing the world is really my job. And, I can do it.

We all have our obstacles. And we are all capable of success, and believing in our strengths, our possibilities.

I am a citizen of the world and I pay attention, I learn, and I try to apply my energies and my awareness to being an instrument of positive change.

We live in troubled times. Yet that has also been true in years past. Every generation has faced that challenge, and had to answer that question, can I really accomplish my dream?

I choose to be an agent of change, and to not retreat into silence and indifference. I believe we are called to respond and to act, to be proactive, to be God’s instruments of change.

Maybe I can’t wave my magic wand and achieve world peace. But, I can move in that direction. I can bring myself and my work into a state of constructive peacefulness. I can work to nurture that energy into my family, my neighborhood, and my community.

I can make a difference.

I can join with other like-minded people, and consistently do good works.

Each of us is a peace-maker. Peace making has to start somewhere.

“Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me,” the song says.

We all have our story. Be a listener, and hear someone speak their truth, perhaps for the first time. Let everyone’s story be told, and be heard.

Each of us can do an act of kindness and compassion. Pay an act of kindness forward. Buy a stranger a coffee, help an elderly person with a package, talk to a friend, visit the sick, the lonely, the imprisoned. Maybe bring a meal to a sick neighbor. Volunteer.

Strike up a conversation while waiting at the grocery store check out. Ask the clerk how they are doing and listen to their answer. Hear them, deeply and compassionately. Hug a friend who seems upset, lost, without hope.

In any of that work, there is kindness and compassion. You are giving of yourself, and you are showing others how to be human, how to be kind and loving.

“Be the change you want to see in the world,” Mahatma Gandhi said.

Our example, just something simple, can change one person’s life. And in that, we change the world. We make our planet just a little better.

Isn’t that the Golden Rule? Isn’t that what the prophets, the scions of great religions have preached? Isn’t that being an instrument of God’s love for every one of us?

Each of us is special, unique. We are here for a reason. And, isn’t that reason to show love and compassion, to be kind, generous, thoughtful of others? By our example, we show the way, we demonstrate how people should really live, how we really are the children of God.

Today, I give thanks, and I am grateful. And, in my own, small way, I am making a difference, I am changing the world, one small act of kindness at a time.
—Neal Lemery, November 24, 2015

Fifteen Gratitudes


Fifteen Gratitudes

Several friends on Facebook have asked me to list three things I am grateful for, and to continue that for five days.

I’m a bit of a rebel, so I am not following that format, but still making my list of fifteen things I am grateful for:

Family. No, not the biological family, necessarily, but the people I am close to, those I feel a kinship with. They love me, without condition, but also with loving criticism and support. They speak up when they feel I need a lesson, or some encouragement, or need to, perhaps, change direction or reconsider my point of view.

Friends. Real friends. Friends who speak the truth, who are there for me and will sit with me, in silence, when times are hard. They are present in my life, and offer me unfiltered and true wisdom and fellowship.

Nature. A continual experience of beauty, simplicity, peace, and a constant reminder that I am part of the Universe, part of the cycle of life, part of a Plan that remains a mystery, but also a constancy in my life.

Growing older. I am continually reminded of the Cycle of Life, of seasons, of cycles and rhythms, and thus, a sense of order and place for myself in the Universe. “This too, shall pass” puts a lot of problems in perspective and helps me move on, not sweating the small stuff, and being able to handle the Big Stuff, as well. With age comes experience, and wisdom, as well as lessons that need to be relearned.

Community. In life, there are others there to help, to support me, to offer something as simple as friendship, a sense of place, a sense of belonging. I am part of a Greater Whole. And, in that, I have my own unique role to play. I am important, as well as being part of something bigger than myself.

A thirst for education. I am eager to learn, to take in new information, new ideas, new perspectives. In that, I grow, I expand my horizons, I gain a new perspective. In that, I give myself permission to discard old ideas, old viewpoints, and see the world as being in motion, being dynamic. When I learn, I change, and thus I find the change to not be so hard, because when I change, I grow.

Music. When I immerse myself in music, I find rhythm, cadence, and connection. I find voice, and I find ways to express myself, digging deep into emotions. Listening, playing, being caught up into the moment and the experience of music, I am connected, and I find a big part of myself. In that, I discover new ways of thinking, new approaches, and I grow.

Real, purposeful conversations. Real, honest, uninhibited conversations with others, exploring new ideas, learning of the experiences of others, and how they connect with the world, how they relate, and, in that, being challenged to look at my own ideas, my own experiences, my own purpose of being here. I often get this when I am mentoring young men, but I welcome such rich experiences anywhere, with anyone.

Getting out of my comfort zone. I find new energy when I move out of my easy chair, my usual way of looking at something, finding new ideas, and challenging the old ways. I don’t easily embrace change, but change makes me move on, makes me throw a few of my old ways, stale ideas, and old habits, out the window, making room for something new, and hopefully, something better.

Ancient ways. Be it the lighting of a candle on a dark evening, or telling stories around a campfire, or sharing the rhythm and fellowship of a drumming circle or a walk on the beach, or taking in a sunset, or kneading a loaf of bread, there is comfort and space to grow in doing something primeval, just like my ancestors did. I connect, and feel a peace, a comfort, away from the hectic craziness of modern society.

Art. Making art, experiencing art, letting those voices and those experiences spend time with my soul, letting that expression speak to me, and giving time to let that soak in, become part of my life, part of my experience. In that, I find peace and a sense of purpose that goes deep down into the core of my soul.

Sleep and rest. Quiet time. Time to muse, reflect, slip into my Dream World, putting aside hectic activity and just Be. Away from the distractions and noise of modern life, I connect to being truly human, truly a child of the Universe.

Modern communications, the Internet. Yes, it can be and is distracting, noisy, interrupting of old rhythms of the day, but this is also an incredible source of knowledge and education, and connecting with people, despite geography. This can be a curse, but it is also a blessing, and a great means of being connected with others.

The kindnesses of strangers. Every day, I have experiences where others are kind, generous, helpful, appreciative, supportive. I try to acknowledge that with them, and also with myself. I am grateful for such kindness, and I hope to believe that being kind of part of our humanity, and part of our culture.

Being able to recognize that I am grateful for so many things, that I can express my thankfulness, and to be appreciative, and that others value gratitude and believe kindness, thankfulness, and gratitude are essential, and deserve to be recognized, and celebrated.

8/28/2014

The Gratitude Jar


The Gratitude Jar

Tonight, New Year’s Eve, my wife and I will make a new Gratitude Jar, and place it on top of the refrigerator, next to some note paper and a pen. And, as 2014 unfolds, we will each take time to jot down an event, a gratitude, something that brightens the day.

And, as the year progresses, the pile of notes will grow. Last year’s quart Mason jar proved to be too small for the abundance of good things that came into our life, so this year, we are moving up, finding a bigger jar to hold our jottings of happiness and delight in our lives.

Around Thanksgiving, we will open the jar and make a list of the events, big and small, the memorable, and the nearly forgotten, and find, once again, that we are so very rich in abundance of the gratitude that is ever-present in our lives.

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson

I need to be reminded of the richness and the blessings in life.

Being Thankful


“Let us remember that, as much has been given us, much will be expected from us, and that true homage comes from the heart as well as from the lips, and shows itself in deeds.”  ~Theodore Roosevelt

Yes, the Thanksgiving dinner table will “groan” with an abundance of food, and a delightful gathering of family and friends, and rich conversation will mark the feast. We will pause to hear each of us express what we are thankful for in the past year, one of our favorite traditions.

And, in that telling of thanks, there will be a few tears, and a few laughs, and my heart will be filled with gratitude of what I have in my life. People new to our Thanksgiving table will remark about the goodness of speaking about what we are thankful for, and sharing that with others.

Yet, I try to express my thanks in more than words. As Theodore Roosevelt said, truly giving thanks is putting our gratitude into action, into our deeds.

This week, I sat with two of my young men in prison, each of them at a crossroads in their lives, each of them struggling to move ahead, to grow, and to steady themselves on their paths. Their particular challenges were different, but each of them steeled themselves, dug deep inside of their souls, drawing on their resilience and their growing self esteem, and moved ahead.

I marveled at their strength, and at their insight into their challenges and dilemmas. In the short time I’ve been privileged to be in their lives, I have seen them grow into healthy, strong men, gaining confidence and perspective on how far they’ve come, and what potentials they have to make it in the world.

I found myself giving thanks for the privilege of simply being present, as they worked on their problems, seeking solutions, weighing alternatives, and doing the gut work they each needed to do in order to move on. What each of them were working on, and what each of them accomplished was bloody, gut wrenching, soul challenging work.

There was old ugliness and pain, stuff all of us would probably want to find easier to ignore, and keep buried deep inside. Yet, they plunged in, dealing with the ugly past, the old patterns of thinking, and simply did the work. They tried out their new tools, and embraced the light they want to have in their lives, leaving behind the dark, sad past.

Their challenges, and their deep, thoughtful, soul changing work, brought tears to my eyes. Their stories of their childhoods, and their heart wounds, and search for love and acceptance in this world, tore at my heart. Yet, they accepted who they had been, and embraced who they are becoming. They are moving forward, with courage and with love for themselves, at last.

Being a witness, and a cheerleader at times, I was humbled by their perseverance, their determination to move forward. They faced change, and moved on. They faced uncertainty, and complex choices, yet each of them knew where he wanted to go, and what they wanted to accomplish for themselves.

I learn from them all of the time. They inspire me, they mentor me, in how to live a healthy, productive life. They teach me that one’s past is not necessarily the predictor of one’s future, that one can change and move away from disaster and bitterness, and into a life of sanity and unconditional love.

Outside the prison walls, our society faces challenging problems, and dilemmas that seem to defy solutions. And, soon enough, these young men will be leaving prison, and living their lives as free men. I am excited that they will soon be free, and will soon take an active part in our country’s life and culture. They are strong, capable, and determined men, men with brains and a healthy way of looking at life, and who they want to be. They will be rich, productive assets for the rest of us. They have much to teach each one of us.

I am thankful for them, for being able to be a small part of their lives, and, in a small way, help them move on and be strong, loving, and amazing young men.

—-Neal Lemery, 11/27/2013