On the Other Side

One of my favorite sayings is “If something seems too good to be true, it usually is.” I am pretty sure I read it first in one of my detective novels when a seductive blond approaches our hero in a bar. He does think to himself “If something seems too good…” but goes along only to fall victim to her scam. So, do not we ever learn?

Give him a break. Most of us act on the “wrong” instinct. Opportunity knocks. Why take up too much time thinking about it? That dream contact in a bar; that dream job or promotion; that lost bag of $100 bills; etc

Watch the movie A Simple Plan for a moving, sad example of this. When three blue collar acquaintances come across millions of dollars in lost cash they make a plan to keep their find from the authorities but find complications and mistrust weaving its way into their plan. (quote from IMDB)

No spoilers here, but keep watching to the end. If nothing else this story makes clear, once again, how dangerous or fruitless it is to leap before looking. Or however you want to put it.

I wanted to put this into words after reading the Annie Light poem, “The Sound of It” in The Writer’s Almanac today. Sometimes when we are on the other side of that dream we share her thoughts:

“…Time passes in crooked ways in some tales,…I drove away convinced of nothing I had been so sure of before,…


We can do it…so let’s do it!

I have a coverless, water-stained copy of an Unitarian Universalist meditation from when I served as an interim minister in that denomination in the early eighties. It is  73 Voices Chris Raible and Ed Darling, Editors. (Check out the UUA Bookstore for a whole list.)

Today I share one of my very favorite pages.

Assurance   -John Corrado

Be gentle with yourself;

You’re okay.

Life has no erasers –        but  life is okay, too.

Don’t wait for forgiveness.

The only forgiveness you get

is that you take.

Don’t be afraid.

Have faith.

Say “yes” in spite of the temptation to say “no.”

Be a healer.

Address the world with wonder. Engage it with courage:

Daring love Daring trust Daring hope.

Open your soul as if

it were a window

Letting the sun shine in

and letting the light of yourself out.

You can  do  it.

We can  do  it.

So let’s do it!

Marriage is NOT a battleground

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.

When “good” people do inexplicable things

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

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

“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.

The Time I Shot a Bird

When I was 10 years old I got a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. It looked just like the Winchester rifle, The Gun that Won the West” which I had seen on the saddles of all the cowboy heroes in all the westerns kids like me loved.

(That the Indians only had bows and arrows in the beginning and that “winning” the western territories of North American meant killing the people who already lived there, seems to have not been a part of my elementary education)

What a thrill. There were little cardboard tubes of BB’s, tiny shotgun pellets, which you poured into the rifle to be ready for rapid-firing. It had lever-action cocking, you had to pump it for each shot, just like Tom Mix or Buffalo Bill had to do with their Winchesters when they whipped them out of the saddle holsters with the leather thongs. Once you learned the technique you could lock and load with the best of them.

So with a big smile on my face I went outside to, well, shoot my new rifle. The first targets were Coke bottles or tin cans but the ultimate target to “shoot for” was a bird. Now, if you are hunter, you are thinking “Yeah, so?” but maybe you had a parent who also shot animals for sport. As for me, I don’t think I my father had even held a weapon since his days as a member of Florida National Guard back in the 20’s and even then only for formations and parades. So when it came to “hunting” I was on my own and that is the good news and the bad news all in one.

The point of this story is that I had a hunter career of only a few hours. When I finally had the chance to sight my rifle on a blue jay and pull the trigger, I killed it and immediately burst into tears. I don’t what I thought, in fact I didn’t think, I just aimed and fired. It just seemed like a good idea at time. I ran in the house crying to my mother who I am sure had sympathy but was silently wondering about mental stability.

I have had many friends and pleasant acquaintances over the years who were hunters and fishing folk. I never told them they were wrong. It’s also not like I don’t kill creatures. I spend a lot of effort this time of the year trying to rid our kitchen counters of big black ants. My daughter and I killed a mouse with the traditional deadly snap trap. I even had the terribly sad task of holding our beautiful seventeen year old cat, Punkin, as the vet administered the lethal injections for obvious humanitarian reasons. However, a hunter I am not nor will be. Self punishment, such as marathons, maybe, but killing animals for the fun of it, no thank you.

Once a few years ago, as he neared the end of his life, we sat with Bill Coffin in his living room in Strafford, Vermont while he watched yellow finches at the bird feeder outside his window. Here is what he said: “Nature is much more interesting when you realize you are about to return to it”. I think of that each time I fill my bird feeder just out the kitchen window where the blue jays, possibly exacting revenge for their ancestor I assassinated in Florida in 1949, eat everything before the sparrow can get there.

Huh! On a journey to return to nature? What a concept.

A few vital minutes in the morning

“Jane and I have always professed different philosophies about language: she will use meditation while I use prayer for the same set of words.”
-Mark Belletini in the Forward to Jane Ranney Rzepka’s FROM ZIP LINES TO HOSAPHONES

As soon as my Macbook comes alive every morning and I sign into my Gmail, I read three daily posts.

Most of the time, the first one is Today’s Gift, a subscription from Hazelden, the famous treatment center based in Center City, Minnesota but now with locations around the country. These are excerpts from a variety of 12 Step daily meditation books.

Then I usually go to the Stillspeaking Daily Devotional, meditations written by a very down-to-earth and wise group of United Church of Christ ministers.

Finally (I should say “for now”) I open up the Daily Compass, readings submitted by Quest for Meaning, the Church of the Larger Fellowship, Unitarian Universalist Association.

Sounds like a major task, doesn’t it? Well, it isn’t. I would guess that even with pauses to think about what I just read, it may use up 10 minutes of what time I would probably just waste playing Bubble Witch Saga on Facebook anyhow. That little bit of time could be compared with brushing my teeth or showering, things I need to do to maintain my body. These emails are in fact things I need to do to maintain my soul.

This is not all that meritorious. I am not in the least trying act holier than thou. What I am saying should be pretty obvious: there are certain exercises that I must do or things deteriorate. I hope this mental or spiritual activity each day helps keep me emotionally balanced, maybe even make a little progress.

What are these readings anyhow? Are they religious, maybe propaganda or just more of the flood of Internet postings? Are they meditations, words of guidance, centering readings or….? They help me so what difference does it make? I don’t care what they are called if I find the needed nourishment.

Counting to 10 (No, really…)

In the last couple of weeks I have received some communications that I reacted to with more anger than I remember having in a long time. This is not good, being mad feels terrible.

It is also dangerous to the soul. Thus, the motto found on some church basement walls: “HALT: Never get too hungry, too angry, too lonely or too tired”, which cautions I often ignore.  The hungry part is there because who can eat while storming around screaming and threatening whoever I think caused it. Then, that kind of behavior is definitely anti-social and lonely. Finally, tiring, leaving me ragged and dragging. Sorta makes the case for putting up the poster in a prominent  place for meeting goers to see.

Words of advice in these situation is often “Count to 10.” However, if you want that to work remember to go very slowly or maybe better, “shampoo, rinse and repeat” ’cause the first time through probably won’t do the trick. It doesn’t for me anyhow.

When I finally get there I remember a couple of important things: 1) Inconsiderate people do mean and hateful things to others on a regular basis and 2) I don’t have to sacrifice that much emotional energy raging against their idiocy.

Oh yeah, I should mention, from their perspective they think they are justified. So doing battle with them is even more foolish.

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