Marriage is NOT a battleground

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Imagine this:  a marriage or intimate relationship where there has never been an argument or, at the most, a heated discussion that ends with agreeing to disagree. No such thing, you say, but why not? Is it a prerequisite that such relationships must have fights about stuff? It all depends, as the lawyers say.

Most of the time such arguments are about power and control. In Carl Hiaasen’s New York Times Bestseller from the 90’s, STORMY WEATHER, there is a scene early in the book about a newly wed couple who are at Disney World for their honeymoon when the devastating Hurricane Andrew strikes the Miami metro and the husband declares they are going an adventure (to Miami) instead of Epcot to which she responds very negatively.

“Max, I don’t want to do this. Please.”

He gave her stiff, fatherly hug. She knew he was about to speak to her as if she were six years old. “Bonnie,” Max Lamb said to his new wife. “My beautiful little Bonnie, now listen. Disney World we can do anytime. …But how often does a hurricane hit? You heard the weatherman, honey ‘The Storm of the Century,’ he called it. How often does a person get to see something like that!”

Bonnie Lamb couldn’t stand her husband’s lordly tone. She couldn’t stand it so much that she’d have done anything to shut him up.

“All right, Max. Bring me my robe.”

He kissed her noisily on the forehead. “Thatta girl.”

What struck me about this passage, other than the utter absurdity of Max’s attitude and action, is how common such exchanges pass for “marital arguments”.  Anytime there are two people making decisions about anything, I would suggest neither is in control. The results of the conversation have to satisfy each one’s ideas and feelings. Otherwise, start over.


Someday little girls will grow up

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The other day after all the students were off my school bus I found a photo of a little girl. I pinned it on the dashboard and the next day a third grader said  “Hey, that’s me when I was two years old.” She is one of my favorites, which probably started Halloween before last when another kid,  referring to my costume, said of her “She is afraid of clowns”. That afternoon,  having taken off my rainbow wig to look a little less threatening, I chatted with her about it. Her conclusion: “I don’t think school bus drivers should be clowns.” So there, ‘…out of the mouths of…’

As cute and sweet as she is, she is not the only lovable child on my bus route but her photo from over five years ago was made achingly poignant by a fresh not-guilty verdict in a rape trial involving Dartmouth students. My little friend should grow up to be a young woman full of life and love and she should have all the protection we can give her so that she can thrive with strength. Agreed? Then how is it that in 2014 America on an Ivy League campus, a young woman,  asleep in her own dorm room be awaked to an unwelcome invader having sex with her and then find her accusations ignored by a jury?

I am sure some of you will try to justify the man being acquitted. You will talk about legal issues or substance abuse or maybe even use archaic male-superior arguments but imagine the female student is my beautiful third grader a few years in the future or is your daughter or niece or granddaughter. Then, if you can see through your tears of anger and sadness, try to come up with something, anything, rational about such a conclusion to this trial. I defy you.

When “good” people do inexplicable things

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Years ago when, for the first times ever, I rode public transportation in a big city, I was once in a crowded subway when I saw a woman’s bag about to slip to the floor. I reached out to catch it for her but she jerked it away with a “strong” verbal warning for me to keep my hands off. I was shocked and embarrassed but willing to learn the lesson: what seems like an innocent or maybe even admirable action on my part can be completely misunderstood and reacted to in unbelievable ways. I was relatively young at the time but too old to have not learned that lesson earlier. Talk about naiveté. You mean people understand and react as THEY can or wish, not as I want them to? Huh!

Now, this many years later, I continue to be given examples of this phenomenon and have to relearn the same truth over and over. Why do people do things that hurt my feelings when all I am doing is positive? A few years ago, I was up for a promotion to a permanent, benefited position in an institution where I had worked diligently and responsibly for over a dozen years. I was the only one, or so I and my co-workers thought, who was really eligible for the job. However, a few days after I had assumed the process would be completed, we received an email announcement from our supervisor that a new hire had received the position. There was no personal explanation to me, no rationale that I could see and no recourse.

I can’t count the times I have experienced this to one degree or another. Most people have. It turns out that I (we) have no control over what others think and do. Imagine that. Sometimes we are all in sync and other times, it seems, on two different planets. This is the case, in spite all our efforts to express, explain or exhibit our worthy and laudable behavior. So, it seems to me we have two choices, either waste a ton of emotional energy in reaction or remember what one of my favorite tee-shirt mottos says: It isn’t about you. Well, maybe sometimes it is a little bit but the same principle still applies. People who, under most circumstances, would not, if they thought of you at all, do the least mean thing to you, will sometimes effect you in hurtful ways.

What may be most frustrating is that nothing can be done about it.  One could have email addresses or phone numbers and even possibilities of face-to-face confrontations but all the argument and explanation in the world won’t really change anything. It is, as the trite phrase goes, what it is. That being the case, forget it and go on to something more fun, an NFL game on TV or a nap!

P.S. Women like the one on the train have it right. So, guys, leave them completely alone unless you get an authentic invitation from them.


Aging can be painless

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A few years ago I performed a wedding in a couple’s rural New Hampshire home. It was simple and meaningful and I felt good about it.  Not too long after that, one of them posted a story about getting their license and deciding how and where to be married. In the article she referred to me as “…the elderly justice of the peace…” Now, I would like to say that I don’t dwell on disconcerting comments about my age and indeed it wasn’t too long before I forgot it but it did, in fact, bother me. After all who wants to get old,  especially when that means that time is more likely to be running out? I am sure there are plenty of older people who are coping better than I but let me run some thoughts about aging by you.

Almost everyone I have asked agrees that they don’t feel their age. Sure, when trying to jog across a busy intersection or stoop over to pick up something dropped on the floor, the physical reality rears its ugly head but otherwise we feel as young as ever. That’s a good thing especially when younger people don’t reject you based on numbers of wrinkles or gray hairs. Of course, lots of them do but I know hundreds who don’t. Forgetting what year one is born in and simply being oneself works wonders.

Ally Waters who graduated from high school with my son, Joseph

Ally Waters
who graduated from high school
with my son, Joseph

Another important thing to remember, as macabre as it sounds, is that we all die, some earlier and some later. Things like not smoking, watching your weight, eating less junk food, and exercising every day are critical. However, it is not that such activities will protect you from dying, it is they will most likely make living more fun.

Fun, indeed plus joy, excitement, anticipation, love, these are things that make aging painless and they are not that hard to find anytime, anyplace. I have a silly cat who expects to be lifted to the table every morning when I sit down at my computer so that he can look at the window. Then after he accounts for all the chipmunks he turns around and starts a loud purr while he reaches out and touches me on the shoulder. Now, tell me, how in the world can you think about getting old with a pet like him around?



Another thing to do is engage people as you go about your day. When I ordered a couple of pastries at Starbucks this morning, I asked for them to be put in a bag to which the twenty something barista responded “Oh, you don’t want me to throw them at you?” I had a rejoinder but that didn’t matter. What really counts is that she felt she could say that in fun.

I don’t remember exactly when I first really, really got that some day I would no longer be here. I do recall it was an adrenalin rush like none other. It turned out to be OK though because it sparked in me a subtle but actual new appreciation of the days that I did have while I am still here.

Andy Rooney, the wonderful 60 Minutes curmudgeon was interviewed after his retirement. One of the questions was “Do you think about dying?” His answer is classic “Yes and I don’t  like it.”

And so it goes


Ask me no questions, I’ll tell you no lies

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“They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living that demands rigorous honesty”
From Alcoholics Anonymous (The Big Book) Chapter 5 “How it Works”

Is there a single human who has not told a lie? A rhetorical question, of course, because we all started off with something like “I didn’t do it, she did it” and then went on from there.

How is that working out for you? As for me, I’ve had mixed results. Well, not really mixed, falsehood has never served me all that well.

One of my more embarrassing attempts at misdirection happened several years ago when my high school daughter accidentally ran up on the curb with her car and flattened a street sign. Neither of us realized she needed to report it to the police and wait there for them. So since it was a Sunday morning a few minutes before worship started, I told her to come on to church and we would take care of it later. A few hours later while we ate lunch at a restaurant, one of her friends came to the table and said “There is a cop taking pictures of your car.” So, brave dad that I am, I told the officer that it was my car and that I did it. To which she responded that somebody walking their dog said a young woman was driving the car. With just a slight hesitation, I owned up because, as they say, no matter how far down the wrong road you have gone, turn back.

Unfortunately, deceit is usually knee-jerk. We still do it when experience has shown us how fruitless it always is. We obviously don’t learn from the mistakes we see all around us. In “The Politician’s Wife”, a TV drama, a woman’s life is turned upside down when it is revealed that her husband, a member of the British Parliament, has been having an affair with a former prostitute. As is almost universal in these situations, he says that the indiscretion was a one time thing happening as a result of all the trite reasons. Of course, no surprise, not only was it actually a long term relationship but it was still going on. “Twas ever so!”

You may be saying to yourself, “I would never do such a thing”, but, caution, there is something known as self-deception which may be the worst of all. At some level we are just sure what we think, how we feel, what we are, would not be acceptable to others. Then our daily lack of any consistent transparency defines us. We come to believe our own lies and as in Hamlet’s immortal line,”..there’s the rub” because in that disparity lies the root of much human misery.

Try this. Be exactly who you are for 24 hours. Don’t go out of your way to express negative feelings to others but also stop and think about it each time you consider even a minor cover up. You may find it didn’t lower you in anyone else’s opinion. You will certainly save emotional energy and you will experience a new sense of freedom.

If you like it, keep doing it. Authenticity might turn out to be a great choice.

What is an “American”?

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In fourteen hundred ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

This coming Monday, October 8, 2012  is a national holiday officially called Columbus Day.Unless you were, like me, looking out the window that day or had a bit more enlightened elementary school teacher, then you learned all about Christopher Columbus “discovering” America. Maybe you even heard the whole poem with the throwaway stanza at the end:

The first American? No, not quite.
But Columbus was brave, and he was bright.

Sometimes I wish I had not been talking to the other kids in the back row so much because I was well into my late 20’s before I began to realize that white males of English descent were not supreme. (A fact ironic in itself because Columbus was Italian sailing for a Spanish monarchy). In graduate school in Chicago I was fortunate to participate in a small group racial awareness exercise. Sadly, as I quickly discovered,  many of the casual references to people of color that I took for granted were so inherently bigoted that I couldn’t believe I uttered them. Then too much later, having found a wonderful, strong woman to be my wife, I woke up to feminism. I guess it is pretty much inevitable that if you are in privileged group you will be pretty slow to see the ramifications of your outlook.

A few Columbus Day’s ago now, It struck me that I  had that same nonchalance about Native Americans. Sure, I no longer talked about the wild indians attacking the cavalry but I still had a ways to. One day I said to my much more perceptive spouse that I wondered why in the world people coming here from Europe in the 1500’s and subsequent centuries didn’t simply have a working relationship with the indigenous dwellers, thinking about the many things each culture could have learned from each other. Her answer: racism. She was right. Just study the various laws and treaties regarding land ownership when white people were arguing about their divine right or at the very least their superior power over the land through the the courts. Those who were already on this continent were “savages” and as such had no part in such decisions.

I like holidays but I wish this one wasn’t so tainted. I don’t really think calling it something else really helps either, what with the Atlanta Braves fans doing “The Chop” and the NFL team of our Nation’s Capitol being called the Redskins. The only hope seems to be changing one mind at a time as happened to me along the way. Consider: are you listening to those who would enlighten you?

When are you going to get a real job?

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One of my Facebook friends, whom I knew long before the Internet, responded to my new job as a school bus driver with “Now I know you are old.” Very funny. Ha Ha. She should watch me doing pushups.

It did start me thinking about our perception of people in certain jobs. There is not much doubt that all of us stereotype at least some of the time. We talk about “ditch diggers” or “garbage collectors” as if those jobs, however they are defined, are the lowest of the low. I wonder though.

One time many years ago, I showed up at a Galveston, Texas temporary labor office only to be sent to be a small Gulf oil rig tender as a deck-man while the boat was in harbor. It was described as a job in which “you must be willing to do what average and ordinary people are not willing to do.” That was an understatement. Picture a typical high school boy’s bedroom and multiply that by 50 or so bunked in one section and add the large shower area. Then just imagine a tornado going through just before you walk in to clean.

The obvious point is that real people actually do this kind of stuff. Mike Rowe does many of them on the Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs” and it is clear that he is always relieved that each particular episode is finished. Even if we who sit in air conditioned offices or jet from city-to-city in our vocations think we are not that bad off, what in the world would do without those workers?

One of my fellow school bus drivers admitted that his family bugged him all the time to get a “real” job. I wonder if any of them were a parent standing with their kindergarten girl or boy, entrusting that child to to the driver on the yellow bus, would they dare say it was not a significant role in the life of the young people.

I really don’t mind my friends making fun of me. I give it back in spades. Meanwhile, next time you see a person in a job that you think is probably beneath you, remember, first of all, that is a real person at work and, secondly, who would do it for you if they didn’t?

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