“Your actions do not have to be big to make a big impact.” This is a statement I heard recently from the woman who started Lasagna Mamas, a movement gaining momentum across the country. This group spreads good will by preparing and delivering lasagna meals to families in need. What a wonderful idea. It is heartwarming to hear that some people do such good deeds.
When I am happy, I write. When I am confused, I write. When I am bothered, I write. This week, I am confused and bothered. So, I write. Perhaps clarity and peace will come once I put my thoughts on paper.
My current state is a result of hearing of a third family in crisis, the latest of which is a former politician running for a seat in the U.S. Senate. He is a politician that I have voted for before and planned to vote for in this election. He was predicted to win in one of the most important races, if not the most important race, other than that of the highest office, in the country. A few days ago he admitted to sending sexually explicit texts to a woman who is not his wife. More recently, it has become obvious that there has been more to that relationship than texting. The impact of this news on the election is unclear. The impact of this news on my vote in this election is just as unclear.
This news follows the news of two other families going through the same or similar family crisis. These are not politicians running for office, so the damage isn’t as public, but all are tragic. In one of these, the other woman has surfaced. In the other, no “other” has surfaced yet, but I predict will. My theory is that a man does not leave his financial security, all of a sudden no longer happy in his marriage, unless there is an “other” involved. The same is often also true when women leave their marriage, but I don’t think, to the same degree. Since the purpose of this writing is not to focus on “why” one of the marriage partners decides to leave the marriage, or the differences between men and women making these decisions, I will not continue with the “why” one leaves. My focus is “why” one stays.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I must acknowledge that I have personal experience with this subject. I was divorced in 1980 after almost ten years of marriage. The details of that are a private matter, although known to family and close friends.
After being single again for four years, I remarried. Mike and I have been married for thirty-six years. I have lived long enough to know that things can happen in life to shake the foundation of marriage, even after 36 years. But I am not expecting that the foundation shaking will crumble the structure of our marriage. The reason I believe this has something to do with what I think is lacking when most marriages dissolve, especially those in which there is an “other” involved.
One chooses to stay in a marriage due to values and commitment. Not because it is easy to stay. Not even because one is superhuman and thus never tempted. One chooses fidelity when one has a value of fidelity and commitment. Being true to oneself and those whose lives our decisions most affect makes it possible to remain committed, even when, and maybe most especially when, one doesn’t feel like it. Committed people do not base their decisions on feelings. If feelings governed behavior, we would all be obese couch potatoes. When we get off of the couch and take that walk or work out, our commitment has kicked in and overtaken our feelings. When we eat healthy and a reasonable portion, our commitment of health has kicked in and overtaken our feelings of comfort. Commitment is the difference, not feelings.
The most recent news of the inappropriate relationship of the politician and the other woman, more than the situation of the other two families, is why I am confused and bothered. I do not know either of these three families well, and not the politician at all, other than as a voter. While I am saddened by the family disruptions in all three, (and the countless others out there,) I am not really touched personally by them.
The situation involving the politician affects me because it creates a dilemma for me as a voter. I am definitely not a single-issue voter; life is much too complex for that. While I am opposed to infidelity, my concern with infidelity as a voter is not based upon what I think about that on a personal level. Although the personal is political, this is a practical matter to me. What do I now do as a voter given the developments with Cal Cunningham? I cannot make this decision based upon how many other politicians have behaved in this same manner. Not John Kennedy, not Bill Clinton, not John Edwards, not Donald Trump. I am not voting for them. I will be voting for Cal Cunningham, or not.
I now have to decide if Cal Cunningham’s dishonesty in his marriage implies that he will be dishonest in what he has promised the voters. How is he to be trusted with the lives of the electorate if he has been so careless with the lives of his family? How do I know?
There is no way to know. I just have to determine in the best way that I can whether Cal Cunningham’s values represent the commitment he needs to make to those he must serve. My decision cannot be made based upon my personal opinion about his failures. It must be based upon values and commitment. Not my values and commitment, but his.
While I do not yet have peace about this decision, I do have more clarity.
Uncle Barry, our family’s patriarch, turned 90 years of age on September 29, 2020. Due to COVID, we have not seen him since last Christmas. But a birthday of this magnitude needed to be celebrated, although the celebration was on a much smaller scale than we would have liked. Mike and I travelled from Raleigh to Suffolk, Va. to visit with Uncle Barry on his birthday and took him out to dinner. It was a sweet visit. Although I did not want to “interview” him, I did ask him a few questions about his life and his recollections.
I asked Uncle Barry if he ever thought that he would live this long. He replied, “I had hoped that I would live until the turn of the century.” That obviously was 2000, twenty years ago! Longevity is in his maternal genes, his mother living until she was 87. He had four brothers, all of whom have passed away, and most at older ages; one at 93, one at 81, one at 76, and one at 34. He had three sisters, one who died at 91, one at 89, and one at 84. The brother who died at 34 died from an accident; all of the others were from “old age.” Uncle Barry’s father passed away at 62 from a heart attack. His parents were divorced, and although Uncle Barry knew his father, he never knew any relatives on his father’s side.
Uncle Barry is my uncle by marriage. He was married to one of my mother’s sisters, Aunt Bebo, who passed away in 2000. He and Aunt Bebo helped “raise” me. He was the most constant male figure in my life and cared for me as a daughter. He and Aunt Bebo had two sons; his oldest passed away years ago at 40 years of age from a heart attack. His youngest son lives a few hours away from him and is in good health.
Uncle Barry has always been a worker, serving in the military for four years, working for the FAA for many years, and having a lawn care, lighting, and irrigation system business for many years as his last career. At 90 years of age he still services some of his irrigation system clients.
I asked him if looking back from this age, is there anything he would tell his younger self? Never being one who “woulda, coulda, shoulda,” he only had one answer to that. “I learned the importance of finishing what you start at a later age. I didn’t learn that until I was in my 50’s. I wasted a lot of time until then. It is important to finish what you start.” We can probably agree to that.
Uncle Barry still maintains his home, living alone in an area where there is little family nearby. Since he is with our extended family for holidays and other events, Mike and I have talked about needing to prepare for the time when Uncle Barry needs to consider moving closer to us so we can care for him as needed. We have talked about that with him previously and discussed it again this week. He is open to this. He had already told us that he has “my affairs in order for when I pass .” The time until then is where our focus with him should be now. These are not easy decisions for any of us to make, but not making them early enough is a mistake.
It is likely that many reading this are much younger than 90 years of age. Regardless of our age, none of us know how long we will live. Since we cannot determine the quantity of our years, perhaps it is time well spent for us to focus on the quality of our years. The answers to a few questions can help us do that.
Are we living the life we want to live? Are we able to spend much of our time doing things that bring us joy? What would we tell our younger selves, perhaps with time to change some of what we want to change? Maybe not easy questions to answer, but we will answer them, just when? Will the answers come while we still have time to course correct?
Happy 90th birthday to Uncle Barry. He has earned his celebration.
Today we enter the last quarter of 2020.What will we do with these three months that are left of this momentous year? Pandemic or not, it is time to make whatever time we have count for more than obsessing over masks and social distancing, as important as those are. It is time to make sure we are being our best selves, living our best lives, for however many years we have.
The pandemic has changed many things about our lives. For us, one of those things is whether or not to travel. While we stayed close to home in the spring, we began to venture out in early June. As we have done so, we have been careful about wearing masks, social distancing, and minimizing our exposure to others. But we have begun to travel again, although on a more limited basis than is our norm.
Many people are dealing with a level of stress that is at epidemic proportions. The pandemic has accelerated what was already problematic for many in our society. While we may not be able to relieve the stress for others, we should at least not add to it. What we say and how we say it can hinder or help.
It is so easy for some to judge, and to sound judgmental when talking with others. If we could just listen more and better and hold our comments until the other person asks for our opinion, we would have less conflict. Instead of doing this, too often some become directive, telling the other person what they should do. Instead of acting upon the knowledge of “Walk a Mile in my Shoes,” and showing more empathy to others, some become arrogant, giving others unsolicited advice. This is not helpful, and in fact, can be hurtful.
Dr. Laurie Santos, the Yale Professor whose “Happiness” course is the university’s most popular course, lists the following tips for living a life of well-being:
Practice Deep Breathing
Do Acts of Kindness
Focus on What You Control
Exercise, Eat Healthy, Sleep Well
Actively Practice Gratitude
These tips for living a life of well-being can help us manage stress and conflict when dealing with difficult people and situations.
#1, “Practice Deep Breathing” is always good advice. When one hears something from someone else that could precipitate a reaction, breathing deeply can turn that reaction into a state of calm.
#2, “Do Acts of Kindness” is one way to get outside oneself and help others. Nothing helps us to overcome the stress of life more than reaching out and helping someone else.
#3, “Focus on What You Control” has direct applicability to managing stress and conflict. While we may want to, we cannot control the behavior of others. When others are difficult, we do not have to get caught up in it. What we can control is how we respond, and what power we allow the behavior of others to have over us.
#4, “Exercise, Eat Healthy, and Sleep Well” are important in keeping us physically healthy. When we are physically healthy it is much easier to be emotionally healthy.
#5, “Actively Practice Gratitude” helps us to focus on our lives, being grateful for what we have, all of it; even our problems. We only have to think of someone who is no longer alive, and who would love to be, to know that life itself is the greatest gift. Being grateful for life is our duty. We owe this to those no longer with us.
With cooler mornings and the days beginning to shorten, we will soon ease into fall. It won’t be long before the leaves turn into vibrant oranges and gold. This particular season shows us more than any other how wonderful change can be. Many of us start to prepare for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. We are engaged in moments that create memories. An advertisement recommends “Spend More Moments in the Moment.” What a wonderful message. Too often we are so busy going, doing, and acquiring that we fail to be present in the moment. But all moments are not the same, even when they create memories. And all memories are not good memories.
1. When time is up, there is no more. This is obvious, you might say, but not necessarily obvious in our behavior. We too often go through our days assuming we will have more time. Until we don’t. No more time to clean out that storage shed that we put things in years ago, and planned to go through, and didn’t. Now, someone else will have to do that, and make decisions about that stuff. It may not be stuff in a storage shed. It may be things in an attic or basement. The point is the same. If we haven’t needed or wanted the stuff stuck in a shed, attic, or basement out of sight for years, do we really think someone else will? No, we don’t really think that. We just don’t take action to do it. We will get to it later, then later is too late.
2. If we do not record the combination or give the keys to our locked cabinets to someone, they are left having to figure out how to get into those. If we have valuables in those locked cabinets and haven’t made our wishes known about them, others will make those decisions. Our valuables may be in drawers or boxes instead of cabinets; the point is the same.
3. Our most precious possessions are our loved ones. Not our valuables, our money, or our other tangible resources, but our loved ones. It is those closest to us that we cling to in our last days, not our stuff. Then why do we spend so much time and energy accumulating stuff and less time with those we love, until it is too late? You tell me.
4. The importance of making time to share our stories, recipes, and memories. I remember our nieces and other family members gathering around my husband Mike’s Dad a few years ago during Thanksgiving and recording their “interview” of him. While having the information he provided about his life as a young man, his military years, and other details about his life, hearing his voice as he talked about those is even more of a treasure, especially now, since Dad is gone. The recipes I have in the handwriting of my special aunt Bebo, special friend/second “mother” Shirshee, and first mother-in-law MawMaw Pennington, are more valuable than my “valuables.” Memories shared together of our recently departed friend Jim made our time of mourning also a time of joy. Are you making time to share stories, recipes, and memories while you still can, or will these die with you?
5. The need to spend our time on things that really matter to us. I found myself wondering if what I was spending my time doing today was really worthwhile. Even if the city I was in, where I spend a lot of time, was where I wanted to be. There are no easy answers to these questions for me. But I hope that when the answers are clear, that I will be able to follow their lead.
6. The need to get my affairs in order. This includes my financial affairs, including an updated will; the Living Will; Burial or Cremation, and where I want my ashes or body to go. Details for my funeral or memorial service, if those details matter to me. Some reading this may think making plans for some of this is premature. It may be. But is it, really? Only if I do not care what happens to my financial resources, my service “sending me off,” and my body after death. I realize this is not what we want to think about and make plans for. But if we are financially responsible, and if we do care about what happens when we die, we will make these plans, so our family knows our wishes, and is able to grieve without the worry of these details.
7. The importance of making every moment count. The need to spend our days focused on joy, beauty, and health. Joy, not pleasure, for pleasure is transitory, and joy is life sustaining. Beauty, even when there is so much around us that is focused on division, not beauty. Health, so we are able to enjoy our life and our loved ones, able to play, able to dance, able to walk on the beach.
“To see the world in a grain of sand, and to see heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hands, and eternity in an hour.” (William Blake).
Our family lost a good friend to cancer last week at the young age of 48; Jim Townsend. Jim lived and most of his family live in or near the Alabama town in which I have deep roots. Although I left the area almost forty years ago, I have maintained close ties with friends there who are more family than friends. I have traveled back to visit at least once a year, and at other times for important events. I just returned from Jim’s service, and spent several days with his mother, Judy, my dearest and longest friend. We talked, cried, and laughed, and ate wonderful food prepared and delivered by many friends. I was awe struck by the volume and quality of the food. I think people in the deep south show their love and support through food like no others do. Perhaps there are lessons in this for others of us.
We all experience problems and blessings, pleasure and pain, and joy and sorrow. We never know when any of this will come, and the best we can do is be prepared when it does. I have had some of all of this lately.
As for problems, in the past month we have had several problems at our home in Raleigh. First, our microwave exploded and started a fire. Thankfully, we caught the fire and were able to extinguish it before it did any more damage than to the microwave itself. Just a few days later, we noticed our second level HVAC system was not working. That was a fairly minor repair. Then we noticed water coming through the ceiling in our master bedroom. Upon exploration, we realized a tree had fallen and cut a hole in our roof; a small hole, but one that did enough damage to be disruptive, nonetheless. That same night, our sewer alarm went off, and the sewer intake line was clogged and had to be cleaned out. Again, not major, but disruptive. Remember, all of this happened in one month! A close friend and our daughter asked how many signs we need to know it is time to sell this house?!
But as disruptive and annoying as these problems are, they are just annoyances. They come with home ownership, although not often all at the same time. I do think they could be a sign, and I am just not paying enough attention. Still, they cannot be compared to the pain and sorrow of losing a loved one, which we have also experienced, just today. I hesitate to discuss these in the same article, for they are so very different. But my heart is heavy, and the annoyances we have had in our home this month just took a significant back seat in importance. It is important to recognize how quickly our perspective of what are real problems changes.
My friend who has been with me through all of my life’s major experiences since I was 16 years old (52 years), lost her son to Cancer this morning at the young age of 48. We are all heartbroken, but I cannot even begin to imagine my friend Judy’s grief, losing her first-born child. There can be no greater grief than burying a child. Some reading this have prayed the same prayer that I have prayed through the years. The prayer does not need to be verbalized; you know.
I do not understand how some people who are so good, such as Jim Townsend was, have the problems and illnesses they have, and suffer so much, while others, who don’t seem to be good people, seem to soar through life problem free. I know I am judging and asking questions to which we have no answers. I ask forgiveness for that. This loss is so raw.
Jim Townsend, your death puts a deep hole in my heart. I wish I still had the coffee table your dingo boots put a major scratch in many years ago! That is one of our favorite stories, told again just last night. There are many stories, and many memories. But I do not need that physical reminder of you. But I will keep the text that you sent me in July that said, “I can’t imagine my life without you in it. Love you so much.” Imagine that from a 48-year-old guy. Jim Townsend, I can’t imagine life without you. You will live forever in my heart.
Many people know that innovation is the key to success in the current and future business world, even if they do not know how to be innovative. Given the pandemic gripping the world, innovation is more important now than ever before. Unfortunately, at the very time that innovation is so needed, it may be harder for innovation to be stimulated. While innovation is required for many businesses to even survive, too many people are simply doing the same things in a slightly different way, expecting dramatic positive results. Innovation is different than that. Innovation is not “Thinking Outside of the Box.” Just think about that. How long have you heard that phrase, “Thinking Outside of the Box?” Likely, for many years. Now, how innovative is that?! Not very. Is “Thinking Outside the Triangle” more innovative than “Thinking Outside of the Box”? Probably. That is just a very simple example of the fact that we are not really focused on innovation, even when we think we are.
What is required for innovation to occur? First of all, we must think differently before we can do differently. If we can’t think differently, we will not be able to do differently. How do we think differently? We have to be open to new ideas. One way to train ourselves to think and do differently is to change the order of things we do regularly, such as when we brush our teeth, and in what order we floss and brush our teeth. There is no right or wrong way to do most of the things we do regularly, but we get locked into patterns without even thinking about their order. When we change this, we have an uncomfortable feeling. Try it, and you will experience the discomfort. By changing the order of some things that we do automatically, we are training ourselves to think and do differently. This practice prepares us for bigger and more important changes and can improve our ability to be innovative.
Another behavior that can help us to think and do differently is to think more analytically and challenge our own assumptions. While all of us have biases, some are better able than others to challenge their own assumptions. This includes turning our thinking inside out. A simple exercise illustrates this. I might think, “Women are more nurturing than men.” To turn that thinking inside out I can change that to, “Men are more nurturing than women.” Some reading this would not agree with the second statement. Even so, does that mean they must agree with the first statement? No. The two statements are not mutually exclusive. How can this be? By altering the statement, we may find something that most people will agree with regarding the nurturing abilities of women and men. For example, “Many women are more nurturing than many men.” True? Possibly, or maybe even probably. We can also even say that, “Some men are more nurturing than many women,” and that is likely true. If we were to say, however, “Many men are more nurturing than most women,” we would find many women and men who could disagree with us. So, have we thought more analytically and challenged our assumptions? Most likely.
Becoming more innovative also requires that we become more flexible. If we are always doing the same things in the same way, we will only have what we have always had. If I only spend time with the people I know best and am most comfortable with, how will I ever expand my experience with and benefit from the strengths of those who are different?
Back to the pandemic for a moment. Many businesses have suffered immensely, some not surviving. At the same time with the same set of circumstances, the pandemic has resulted in new businesses and new revenue streams for other businesses. Think of the businesses now making masks. Also, some restaurants that were previously only dine-in now have a thriving take-out business. The failure of some businesses to change themselves as our world has changed has resulted in the demise of too many businesses. The ability of some businesses to adapt and become innovative has created dynamic new services and revenue streams.
One does not decide to become more innovative and it immediately happens. It does not happen by just thinking differently, or even by doing differently. Becoming different requires vision, commitment, practice, and even patience. There are often missteps along the way. If the vision is clear however, and if the commitment is solid, then innovation can and will occur.
Do not allow yourself, your company, or your organization to be boxed in. THINK OUTSIDE THE TRIANGLE!