Month: July 2014

The Long Haul

Those in your life who are there for the long-term likely have a certain way of handling the challenges of life. They know they will burn out quickly if they try to do everything at once, so they don’t.

When running up a hill, it’s best not to focus on the crest of the hill, but to lower your sights temporarily to the next step or two, and focus on making those. Look for solid places to put your feet. Without forgetting your ultimate goal, just focus on the next few steps. Those are doable. They will be a part of the overall goal, and will lead to the outcome you want.

So, to come back tomorrow, and the next day and the next, just focus on today. Tomorrow will come whether you vote yes or no, whether you pass or fail, whether you accomplish today’s goal or not.

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The Garden

The war on poverty has been won, at least in our neck of the woods. After a phone call, I just returned from my neighbor’s house with a bag full of the biggest tomatoes I have seen in a long time. Also, six large ears of corn from her garden were added to my bag of goodies. She had a wheelbarrow full of those tomatoes and corn on her front porch, and said she stopped picking because she got tired.

This is how local people keep each other’s tables full of good things. They grow more than they need, and they call all around to “come get some”. Another neighbor will be by tomorrow to get his. This is the non-bureaucratic way to feed people. With no mandates, no regulations, and no applications. No one around here will go hungry. In the small town I drive through each day on my way to work, there is a community garden, where many people come and work, and no doubt share, the plot of ground that has been set aside along a city street. Again, it’s there, just go work it, grow it, and eat and share it as you wish.

They best thing that officials can do is make it as easy for that to take place as possible, and that would mostly include getting out of the way.

The World and Your World

First, a disclaimer: I am very aware of world and national events, at least those I feel are important. I also have been more active in recent years letting my state and national level representatives know how I feel about issues. Yet, I have to realize my influence and opinion are limited.

Regardless of the intensity of my interest, I am not in charge of the world, the nation, the state, the county, or the city. I do not serve on a school board. I do attend some meetings in the local area, and did even serve as a state delegate to my party’s convention during the last general election cycle. However, for my mental and emotional sanity, my area of control consists of myself, my house, and (perhaps, somewhat) the person in front of me. One problem I encounter regularly is people stressed by the fact they are trying to control too much and too many people, and it’s not working. In spite of our best efforts, things still fall apart, and people make decisions without having the good sense to consult us first!

The good news is you can have influence in those areas. You also have control over the difference between good influence and bad influence. Little by little, the good influence will have an effect. If you’re fortunate, you may even see it. Be involved in your world, and the rest of the world will take care of itself.

Her Life

What I kept hearing when in the room with her and her daughters was a summary of her life. As her breathing became more shallow and more rapid, they talked to her and about her.

She had cared for and helped many people, and one daughter kept mentioning those people. “Thank you from _________ for helping her and her daughter.” She had built a life of steady, consistent love and care for all who she knew. Her life was worthwhile, and worth recounting. They had learned much from her.

What will your children/grandchildren say to you at such a time? Whether you will be able to hear it, we don’t know. They will hear and know, and it will be important for someone to say out loud the good things you have done. We can all start today determining what they will say at our bedside as we slowly slip away, which is what she did.

More Presence

I have written about this before, but (believe it or not) I have more to say about it. How do we accomplish “being present”? I will first clarify that I do not mean, “I will grace you with my presence.” That implies that another person is privileged that you showed up.

What I’m referring to is being present for the other person. In other words, they are the reason you are where you are. It is more a matter of being “with them” than allowing them to see you. If my goal is to be present, I have still missed the point. On the other hand, if my goal is for them to know I am present on their terms, I am closer to the mindset I seek.

“What difference does it make,” you ask. It makes a world of difference, to the other person. They know deep down whether you are there for you (and any others watching) or for them. They may accept whatever they can get, and will likely not say anything, but they will know. What’s more, you will too. There is little satisfaction in showing up to be seen being seen, but great satisfaction in knowing you were “with” another person, and you are both better for the encounter.

Local News

Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill once said, “All politics is local.” That is likely true, at least ultimately. Sometimes I wish the same were true about news. No offense to those in the news business, but it would be nice at times if we were not instantly informed of everything that happens in any part of the world.

When you think about it, the real effect of any incident, good or bad, is for those people directly affected by it. People doing good or bad deeds do so in a geographic location, and most people are not affected by it. Hearing about it continuously for days keeps us tense, apprehensive, and even afraid that such a thing will happen where we are. The chances of that happening are extremely remote, but we still think about it.

If we didn’t have such a huge appetite for the information, news outlets wouldn’t have the audience to which to report, and they would move on to other things. Add to the picture the 24-hour news cycle, and they have to talk about something. When there is nothing new to report, they still have to talk. Thus, every opinion available is heard, and analyzed, and then the cycle starts again. I would love to hear a major news outlet say simply, just once, “There’s nothing new to report on the recent __________. We will update you as new information becomes available.” I might stick with that outlet.

What Counts?

I recently read an essay that quoted Albert Einstein. The quote stated, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” This is from a man who is famous for his work where formulas are used and where things are always counted.

This bit of wisdom goes far beyond today’s empirical knowledge, and ability to calculate. It is uniquely human in understanding. It may be true that something as beautiful as a musical piece and be reduced to mathematical intervals that are predictable, but that does not mean we look at the formula instead of listening to the piece! The key is to know when to listen, and when to formulate.

How easily do we know what needs to be counted, and what counts? While a point can be made that a person was absent for the last five years, and that has been counted; but what counts is that they are present today. On the other hand, if they have been absent for five years, it may not count (as much) if they show up today. It would depend on who you ask. Preaching 50 sermons a year may be counted, but only those who heard something worthwhile can decide if that preaching counts.

Local Leaders

What’s the best thing about school board members, mayors, city councilmen/women, aldermen/women, county commissioners, and even state-level representatives? The answer is, they are usually accessible! Many of us have contacted our congressional representatives, only to receive a canned reply that says they really didn’t read our letter or hear our voice.

The more local the leader, the more likely we are to actually talk to them. The sheer volume of correspondence received on a daily basis in Washington D.C. makes it difficult to respond to each one, though this is not an excuse for not doing so. Once a person gets used to the the atmosphere in our nation’s capitol, I believe the less credibility those of us “back home” seem to have. After all, we simply do not understand how things are done at the national level.

It’s true, we do not. The reason is because we are used to working where things actually need to get done, at the level where our neighbors and friends feel the results of our decisions immediately. So, we are careful to make wise decisions and make policy accordingly, because we must be able to explain our reasons for doing so. Accountability is an important thing.

More Overalls

Another visit, and she said he could talk all day if I had time. I took some time, and it was worth it. He’s wearing overalls again today, as I believe he does every day.

Part of the acreage they own was bought from a St. Louis man who purchased the place strictly for hunting and fishing. He had gotten good use of it for several years for both purposes. One day he called the farmer and said, “If you want to buy my place, meet me at _____________ and bring me a check.” The farmer did, and then owned the place. I wish I had the creativity to make this up, but since I don’t, I had to get it straight from him.

On the place, he kept a “jack” (male donkey) in the pasture. Donkeys are excellent to keep coyotes and stray dogs away from other livestock. Every time the farmer rattled the chain on the gate, no matter where the jack was, he would bray. (This probably meant he was going to to be fed.) But that was not all that happened. Every time the jack brayed, every male turkey in the area would gobble. He noticed this happened every single time.

Some hunters from Michigan came to the area to visit and hunt on a neighbor’s land, but they had not seen any turkeys. The farmer told them exactly what to do if they wanted to see some. He told them about the gate, the chain, the jack, and then told them to go toward the closest gobble they heard.

Just as prescribed, they rattled the gate chain, the jack brayed, the turkeys gobbled, and they were gone about 20 minutes, and came back with two gobblers.

What I love about this is the predictable nature of nearly everything they have done together over the last 67 years. She said, “We worked hard, but we’ve been blessed.” Without discounting God’s favor on them, I also believe the life they chose to live had a lot to do with the good things they have enjoyed.

Overalls

Did I talk about overalls before? It’s not the overalls themselves, though they are extremely practical. It’s the people who wear them. Recently I visited a lady whose husband sat beside her hospital bed in his pair of well-worn overalls.

He talked of their years together of plowing with mules, growing sorghum, cutting wood for the neighbor when he was sick, and raising little lambs in an old car with the seats removed. All done no doubt in the stand-by wardrobe of that generation: overalls. With their many pockets, bib held up by the two straps, and long wearing toughness, they were a perfect fit for the hard-working people who wore them.

I have a couple pair. I do some farm-type work, cutting and splitting wood for the winter stove. Maybe someday I’ll even have a tractor! Yet, mostly I hope I can live up to the reputation of overalls. When I wear them, I have to do something constructive. I can’t just lounge around and do nothing. That wouldn’t do them justice. Maybe we all need a pair.