Sticking Together

An old story is told of two men who went fishing in a small boat. The day was uneventful until one of them hooked a huge fish, which, in the struggle, pulled him overboard. He couldn’t swim and began to panic.

“Help!” he yelled. “Save me!”

The friend reached over and grabbed the man by the hair to pull him closer to the boat. But when he tugged, the man’s toupee came off and he slipped down under the water again.

He came up shouting, “Hey, help me! I can’t swim!”

So the friend reached down again and this time latched onto the struggling man’s arm. But when he pulled, the arm came off! It was an artificial limb.

The drowning man continued to kick and thrash around and his friend reached out a third time. This time he grabbed a leg and pulled. You guessed it — a wooden leg.

The man continued splashing and sputtering and calling out, “Help me!” until his friend finally called back in disgust, “How can I help you if you won’t stick together?”

And that is a metaphor for each of us. How can people in marriages and families stand a chance when they won’t stick together? How can religious communities, civic groups, schools and businesses get anywhere when they won’t stick together? And how can a nation or even our global village function well when it won’t stick together?

None of us lives in isolation. This experience we call life is a group outing. We’re in it together. And some conflict along the way is inevitable. But our highest priority, when all is said and done, has to be commitment to each other – sticking together.           

Archbishop Desmond Tutu put it this way: 

“We are made for goodness. We are made for love. We are made for friendliness. We are made for togetherness. We are made for all of the beautiful things that you and I know. We are made to tell the world that there are no outsiders. All are welcome: black, white, red, yellow, rich, poor, educated, not educated, male, female, gay, straight, all, all, all. We all belong to this family, this human family, God’s family.”

I can’t say it any more clearly.

Grace and Peace
Steve

Learning to Live Together

David Wallechinsky in The Complete Book Of The Olympics (Penguin Books, 1984) gives us a story that is worth retelling.

It is 1936. American Jesse Owens seems sure to win the long-jump competition in the Olympic games. The previous year he had jumped 26 feet, 8 1/4 inches – a record that will stand for 25 years.

As he walks to the long-jump pit, however, Owens sees a tall, blue-eyed, blond German taking practice jumps in the 26-foot range. Owens feels nervous. He is acutely aware of the Nazis’ desire to prove “Aryan superiority.” And as a black son of a sharecropper, he knows what it is like to be made to feel inferior.

On his first jump, Owens inadvertently leaps from several inches beyond the takeoff board. Rattled, he fouls on his second attempt, too. One more foul and he will be eliminated.

At this point, the tall German introduces himself as Luz Long. “You should be able to qualify with your eyes closed!” he says to Owens, referring to his upcoming two jumps.

For the next few moments, the African American and the white Nazi chat together. Then Long makes a suggestion. Since the qualifying distance is only 23 feet, 5 1/2 inches, why not make a mark several inches before the takeoff board and jump from there, just to play it safe? Owens does and qualifies easily.

In the finals, Owens sets an Olympic record and earns the second of four gold medals. But who is the first person to congratulate him? Luz Long – in full view of Adolf Hitler.

Owens never again sees Long, who is later killed in World War II. “You could melt down all the medals and cups I have,” Owens later writes, “and they wouldn’t be a plating on the 24-carat friendship I felt for Luz Long.”

Luz Long made his mark in world history and taught the rest of us a valuable lesson.

Someone else put it like this: “We can learn a lot from crayons. Some are sharp… some are pretty… some are dull… some have weird names… and all are different colors…. But they all have to learn to live in the same box.”

Grace and Peace
Steve

Every Been Hooked?

It was the late 1940s. Eastern Airline’s chair, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, had a problem. Customers were complaining because the airline was mishandling luggage far too often. When nothing else seemed to work, he decided to take drastic action. 

Rickenbacker called a special meeting of the management personnel in Miami. Eastern’s management flew to Miami and was told their baggage would be delivered to their hotel rooms. It wasn’t. Instead, Rickenbacker had the luggage stored overnight.

It was a hot and humid summer and the muggy hotel had no air-conditioning. Various corporate managers showed up to the meeting the next morning unshaven, teeth unbrushed and wearing dirty and wrinkled clothes.

There was no sign of the baggage all that day. But it was delivered that night, at 3:00 a.m., with a loud pounding on hotel room doors.

Rickenbacker opened the next morning’s session by saying, “Now you know how the customer feels when you mishandle his luggage.” He knew his team would be ineffective until his people learned to empathize with their customers. 

Psychiatrist Karl Menninger put it like this: “It is hard for a free fish to understand what is happening to a hooked one.” That is why Rickenbacker wanted his employees, starting with his management team, to experience what it is like to be hooked.

When we understand another’s problem, we will be more effective in business and personal relationships. And if we’re ever hooked ourselves and someone who “gets it” reaches out to help, something wonderful is likely to happen.

Grace and Peace
Steve

Love is worth it.

55 Years and still counting

Even though her toddler was pitching a fit from the seat of a grocery cart, one mother was unfazed. “You may as well give up on the crying,” she said as calmly as if she were soothing her to bed instead of leading her out of the store.  “It won’t work. You’re stuck with me for 18 years.”

That little child may not know how lucky she is to be stuck with her for 18 years. Even when she’s cranky, out of sorts or otherwise going through a phase, her mother will be there. She’s stuck with her. Most relationships that truly matter are built on that kind of sticking-power. And not everyone has someone they can always count on to stick around.

A university instructor posed a riddle to her graduate education class. “What has four legs and leaves?” she asked, hoping the students would realize that by considering alternative meanings to the words “legs” and “leaves” that they could arrive at the solution – a table. However, one woman unexpectedly answered, “My last two boyfriends.” Maybe you can relate.

People will leave relationships for any number of reasons. And sometimes we should put certain relationships behind. Not every friendship or romance has a healthy future. Sometimes we bring along so many destructive problems and behaviors that a happy relationship has no chance of long-term survival. Sometimes addictions make staying in a relationship impossible. Sometimes leaving is necessary.

But there’s also a time to stick around. Something all relationships of many years have in common is this: every one of them is made up of people who have had plenty of opportunities to bolt or quit, to move out or to move on, but they stuck around.  Maybe because they knew that the people they love are not always “lovable” or easy to be with, and that’s okay. They want a relationship that matters, one that is important and lasting, and that kind is nurtured by patience and understanding.  

Author John Gray sometimes tells about a young mother who asked her visiting brother to get her some pain pills. He forgot and, when her husband returned home, she was upset and in pain – more than a bit crazy. He experienced her anger as a personal assault and exploded in defense. They exchanged harsh words and he headed for the door.

His wife said, “Stop, don’t leave. This is when I need you the most! I’m in pain. I’ve had no sleep. Please listen. You are a fair-weather friend. If I’m sweet, you’re okay; but if I’m not, out you go!” And then tearfully, and more subdued, she said, “I’m in pain. I have nothing to give. Please hold me. Don’t speak…just hold me.” He held her and neither spoke – until she thanked him for being there.

I suspect there will be plenty of other times their relationship will be tested. And I also suspect that every time it goes through a rough patch and survives some sort of adversity, every time they decide that being together is important enough to stick it out and fix what’s wrong, then it will change. Maybe not much, but a little. And in time, little by little, that relationship, their “togetherness,” will become a thing of beauty; a pearl of great value.

And definitely worth sticking around for… Shirley has stayed with me through war, many years of school, about every illness one can imagine, when I was spending more time at work than home, and all the ups and downs for 55 years and more. We have enjoyed it all and loved each other through it all. Thanks for sticking with me all these years. It has been a “hoot and one-half.”

Grace and Peace
Steve

All Together Now

We are hearing this thought “We are in this together” a great deal this year. We are learning, perhaps the hard way, that we depend on each other for a lot of things, even daily life itself. I wear a mask everywhere I go and it is not political it is gospel… “Love your brother as yourself.” I do not want to be responsible for the ill health or death of another person. I have yet to eat in a restaurant… we have delivery. I have yet to get my hair cut because I am just not safe… with all that is wrong with me I could stub my toe and end up in the ICU on a ventilator. I would rather not temp fate.

It seems to me that we all need to do our part to become part of the solution rather than part of the problem. I agree that there are many reasons why our Covid-19 positives, hospitalizations and deaths are greater than any other country in the world… we think we are entitled to individual rights which trumps everything else. As we read the Constitution and the Bill of Rights we find that there are limits to those individual rights we so proudly claim: We have those rights as long as they are for the common good. I have included limitations to the 1st Amendment by The Conservation.

  • All constitutional rights are subject to the government’s authority to protect the health, safety and welfare of the community. This authority is called the “police power.” The Supreme Court has long held that protecting public health is sufficient reason to institute measures that might otherwise violate the First Amendment or other provisions in the Bill of Rights. In 1944, in the case of Prince v. Massachusetts, for example, the Supreme Court upheld a law that prohibited parents from using their children to distribute religious pamphlets on public streets.

    The right to liberty
  • Some anti-maskers object that masks violate the right to liberty. The right to liberty, including the right to make choices about one’s health and body, is essentially a constitutional principle of individual autonomy, neatly summarized as “My body, my choice.”
  • The 1905 case of Jacobsen v. Massachusetts shows why mask mandates don’t violate any constitutional right to privacy or health or bodily integrity. In that case, the Supreme Court upheld a smallpox vaccination requirement in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  • The court said that the vaccination requirement did not violate Jacobsen’s right to liberty or “the inherent right of every freeman to care for his own body and health in such way as to him seems best.”
  • As the court wrote, “There are manifold restraints to which every person is necessarily subject for the common good. On any other basis, organized society could not exist with safety to its members.” In a 1995 New York case, a state court held that an individual with active tuberculosis could be forcibly detained in a hospital for appropriate medical treatment.
  • Even if you assume that mask mandates infringe upon what the Supreme Court calls “fundamental rights,” or rights that the court has called the “very essence of a scheme of ordered liberty,” it has consistently ruled states can act if the restrictions advance a compelling state interest and do so in the least restrictive manner.

Rights are conditional

  • As the Jacobsen ruling and the doctrine of time, place and manner make clear, the protection of all constitutional liberties rides upon certain necessary – but rarely examined – assumptions about communal and public life.
  • One is that constitutional rights – whether to liberty, speech, assembly, freedom of movement or autonomy – are held on several conditions. The most basic and important of these conditions is that our exercise of rights must not endanger others (and in so doing violate their rights) or the public welfare. This is simply another version of the police power doctrine.
  • Unfortunately, a global pandemic in which a serious and deadly communicable disease can be transmitted by asymptomatic carriers upsets that background and justifies a wide range of reasonable restrictions on our liberties. Believing otherwise makes the Constitution a suicide pact – and not just metaphorically.

    The Conversation is an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts.

I hope this helps all of us to see that we are all part of the common good and we either help or hinder that good by what we do. Please consider these words in the spirit of healing in which they are intended.

Grace and Peace
Steve

The Way of Beauty

The last few years I have learned to love some spicy food. We like to treat friends to favorite homemade spicy dishes. I especially love Jay’s Deli’s Chicken Gumbo soup. It is hot…hot… hot. It is nowhere near as HOT as Byron White’s Kemchi. I’ve heard people comment on his kemchi, “I’ve heard of people who preach hellfire, but you’re the only one I know who hands out samples.” Byron was always wanting me to try it, but I knew to always refuse. Gumbo is hot. I understand Kemchi is hellfire.

These days, however, my body is starting to tell me to be more selective in my diet. I have to be careful of overdoing my gumbo soup. I still like it, but in smaller quantities, and instead of once a week I have it maybe once a month. I relate to the woman who stepped off the scale and was asked by her husband what the verdict was. “According to the height table,” she replied, “I should be about six inches taller.” 

But more important than the food I put into my body are thoughts I put into my mind. Thoughts of bitterness like, “I hate her!” Thoughts of despair like, “I’ll never be happy again.” Thoughts of fear like, “I could never do that!” And thoughts of worry, thoughts of greed and thoughts of self-loathing…“I’m so stupid.” A constant diet of these killer thoughts will destroy any of us long before heartburn or cholesterol.

The indigenous Navajo people of New Mexico, Utah and Arizona (the Diné, as they call themselves) have an expression for this. They traditionally believe that how they fill their minds will shape their lives. So they want to fill their minds with that which is good, harmonious and edifying. They speak of “walking and thinking in the Beauty Way” – ridding their minds of all that is destructive and filling them with that which is good and peaceful. 

With beauty, may I walk.
With beauty before me, may I walk.
With beauty behind me, may I walk.
With beauty above me, may I walk.
With beauty all around me, may I walk.

(Excerpt from the Navajo Night Way Ceremony)

The Beauty Way is the way of love and contentment, peace and kindness. It is the way of patience and courage and, above all, harmony.

In old age, wandering on a trail of beauty,
lively, may I walk.
In old age, wandering on a trail of beauty,
living again, may I walk.
It is finished in beauty.
It is finished in beauty.

(Excerpt from the Navajo Night Way Ceremony)

What are you putting into your mind? James Allen has said, “You are today where your thoughts have brought you; you will be tomorrow where your thoughts take you.” Fill your mind with life-affirming thoughts and tomorrow will find you farther along the Beauty Way.

Grace and Peace
Steve

The Good Ol’ Days

Remembering the old days…

Of all the weeks of the summer we chose this week… the week the hurricane is forecasted to hit Myrtle Beach. Well, there is another, more important reason we chose this week… August 7th will be our 55th wedding anniversary. We didn’t get to spend it at Myrtle Beach mainly because I was in the Marines and my Commanding Officer would only give me the weekend off. So, bright and early, 5:30am Monday I had to be back in the barracks ready for duty.

But we have always loved Myrtle Beach. I have often said that when we die we’ll go to Myrtle Beach. Seems reasonable. For those of you who were in our little gang (back in Greensboro) we remember coming to this place each summer… even as we drifted apart over the years… it remains an almost sacred place. It is hard to replace the peacefulness of sitting out on the balcony (11 stories up) feeling the breeze, hearing the waves crashing against the shore… seeing the moonlight on the water… just remembering the old times… when Wendover was two lanes, from the Bore and Castle to Hot Shopppe, What-A-Burger, walk up McDonalds, Guilford Dairy Bar with their Banana Splits and hot dogs, our first drivers license and our first traffic tickets, not to mention all our classmates and teachers at Page High School… to Myrtle Beach.

This will not be some heavy theological treaties but just to remind us that it just may be helpful to sit back, close your eyes, relax, and remember some of the good ol’ times… and be thankful for all the people who have crossed our path through all these years. We have all taken different paths, had many different experiences and lives. Allow yourself the luxury of remembering. Perhaps, just perhaps a smile will come to your face and maybe a warm thankfulness will fill your heart. If that happens… you will be blessed.

Thanks for being part of our memories.

Grace and Peace
Steve

PS: Shirley asks us all to reply to this post by adding all the other places we remember… like Antons, Janice Theater, the old Sears building, Prego Guys, the shag, nettletons and weejuns… no prizes will be awarded except the joy of sharing our memories. Send this post on to all your friends who do not receive it.

Beautiful Old People

A reporter was interviewing a 104-year-young woman. “And what do you think is the best thing about 104?” the journalist asked.
    
“No peer pressure,” she replied.
    
A friend once said: When I was in college, I worked in an after school daycare center with a marvelous woman in her mid-seventies. One day she was complaining about her age. “All my friends are old and crippled,” she remarked. “They’re either crippled in their legs or crippled in their minds.”
    
I know that growing older is not easy, at any age. Columnist Dave Barry talked about it when he turned 40. “If I don’t warm up before throwing a football,” he said, “I have to wait approximately until the next presidential administration before I attempt to do this again.”
    
But even with its aches and pains and a variety of other problems, aging does have an upside. Sister Mary Gemma Brunke has so beautifully written:
    
“It is the old apple trees that are decked with the loveliest blossoms. It is the ancient redwoods that rise to majestic heights. It is the old violins that produce the richest tones. It is the aged wine that tastes the sweetest. It is ancient coins, stamps and furniture that people seek. It is the old friends that are loved the best. Thank God for the blessings of age and the wisdom, patience and maturity that go with it. Old is wonderful!”
    
“Beautiful people are acts of nature,” it has been said, “but beautiful old people are works of art.”
    
I hope someday to be a work of art.

Grace and Peace
Steve

Guess Who Really Listens?

I recently learned of a research organization that asked several thousand people, “What are the most serious faults of executives in dealing with their associates and subordinates?” (By the way, this also applies to teachers dealing with their students and parents with their children.) Several faults could be chosen. What do you think was mentioned most often? 

Sixty eight percent of the respondents said the biggest problem they see in the workplace is a consistent failure to see the other person’s point of view. In fact, that was mentioned twice as often as anything else.

Apparently, the people they value most in the workplace are those who try to understand others. And we know that is true in all kinds of relationships. We don’t always need others to agree with us, but we do need to feel heard. We need them to at least understand what we are saying. In fact, feeling heard may well be one of our greatest emotional needs. Without it, we can feel disheartened, we believe we don’t matter and we find ourselves increasingly unhappy and lonely.

Grade school children demonstrate this important human need to be heard. In some schools, children seldom talk about personal problems with their teachers or the school principal for fear of consequences. But do you know which adult in the school they sometimes feel safest talking to? The school custodian. Often, the custodian is a person who will listen without judging; an adult who won’t discount what was said.

And something amazing can happen: when we decide to try to hear another’s point of view, we make allies out of enemies and friends out of strangers. It’s a way of building strong emotional bridges between people. Not just any bridges, either – bridges to the heart.

Grace and Peace
Steve

Till The End of Time

A student was asked to write an essay about the Quakers. He wrote: “The Quakers are very meek, quiet people who never fight or answer back. I think my father is a Quaker. Not my mother.”

Some people, like his mother, may be more verbal during conflict. Others may want to quietly mull the problem over a bit before talking about it. But conflict is a natural and even healthy part of relationships. It is especially important to resolve differences with people we care about and, when conflict is handled correctly, it can actually bring us closer together. 

Author and counselor, Charlie Shedd, reports getting this note on the kitchen counter after some unresolved conflict with his wife: “Dear Charlie, I hate you. Love, Martha.”
 
What an interesting note! She told him she was angry, but she told him something else, too. She told him that, in spite of her present feelings, she loved him. Through it all, she was saying, she will always love him. 

A basic commitment to love one another is the foundation upon which caring relationships are built. When in conflict with those closest to you, that decision to love – through it all – is vital. No technique, no amount of training, however important, will do more to get you through those tough times.

Grace and Peace
Steve

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