Friday, August 30, 2013

REACH OUT, Even When it's not Comfortable

Since passing on some of what I have learned in life is supposed to be one of my reasons for writing, I’m going to pass along something I just learned, or figured out, or whatever.  I caught on to something I should have recognized a long time ago, that acts of kindness or friendship don’t have to be perfect nearly as much as they simply have to be done.

A blog friend of mine suffered the loss of a loved one this week.  She and I have never met, but we have exchanged a few comments on each others blogs and I feel like I know her well enough from reading what she has written to call her a friend.  In any case, on hearing of her loss, I wanted to express my sympathy.  All the overworked phrases, “so sorry for your loss” “deepest sympathy” etc. came to mind but just seemed too trite to use.  After some more pondering, I finally came up with something I could put in a Facebook comment format that I was comfortable saying and sent it off.
It was only later, as I thought about what I had written, that I realized it wasn’t what I said, or how well I had conveyed the sympathy I felt that mattered, only that I had said something at all.  “I don’t know what to say,” is an often heard refrain.  When someone is hurting, we want to help but often feel that there is nothing we can offer that will do any good and are even sometimes afraid we will cause more pain.  Unfortunately, reluctance because we might say the wrong thing can easily be interpreted as indifference.  Someone once said, “The opposite of love is not hate;   it’s indifference.”  It isn’t as important that we always say just the right thing as it is that we not leave the impression that we just don’t care.  The grieving person might not even notice that we have reached out, but if no one reached out their pain could be much worse.

As I think about this subject, I realize that I have been on the other end of it before.  My dad ran a gas station for a number of years after he quit farming.  He had a series of boys/young men who worked for him and to a number of them he and my mother became almost surrogate parents.  They listened to their problems, fed them meals, celebrated their birthdays, and generally treated them more like family than employees.  When Dad died, I expected that some of those boys, now men, would come to “pay their respects,” and I was acutely aware that none did.  I’m sure that many of them had good reasons why they weren’t there, but their absence nonetheless caused additional pain in an already painful time.

When you can reach out to someone in pain, do it.  You may not do it perfectly, or even as well as you would like to, but you can be sure it will be better than not reaching out at all.


Monday, August 12, 2013


The summer solstice is just a few days past and I am reveling in the long summer evenings.  Thanks to daylight savings time and our location on the western edge of our time zone, twilight in June lasts until almost ten o'clock.  Those long, soft, golden rays of light angling across the yard never fail to increase my joy.  I know I must get annoying sometimes with my constant "Life is Good" mantra, but I just can't help myself.  I can only hope it is infectious.

This is another post that has been sitting around for a while waiting to get "finished."  It is now the second week of August so I had better wrap this one up soon or let it wait until next year.  The days have actually started their headlong rush to the miserable short days of winter;  the sun is noticeably further south as it comes through our west facing windows at the end of the day.  Crisp fall days with the smell of burning leaves in the air are not too far away.  All this means is that I will have to look  harder for the joy that each day brings, and not let myself think about the next round of warm summer evenings with too much longing.  It's time to tell myself once again, "THIS is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it."


Monday, August 5, 2013


In the summer of 1967,  having  lost my student exemption a few months earlier, I was drafted into the army.   At age 22, I was older  than most of my fellow draftees, with most of a college education.  In spite of these things in my favor, I was as uncertain about my prospects in this strange new environment as any of the other young men in my group of inductees.  I was, in a word, scared.
We were harried and harassed by barking sergeants from one place to another.  “Tighten up that line!”  “Attention! Left face! Forward march! Halt!”  Strange commands we had never heard outside the movies came in a continuous stream.  We were lost and far from home, adrift in a strange new world where we knew no one and any past experiences we had had were useless and forgotten.  Looking back, I can see that this was the first step in forging the bond that is the essential part of turning a bunch of individuals into a unit that can perform the impossible task of combat.  By picking on us and stripping us of our civilian identities, the sergeants were turning us into US.  

At the time, it only seemed that they were bent on maximizing our discomfort and proving that we were unfit for service.  They nearly had me convinced that this last part was true, or at least something to worry about.  I remember being distinctly doubtful that I could meet the army’s expectations, wondering, “Can I do this?  Can I be a soldier.”  I don’t think I actually thought about what the consequences of failure might be, I simply dreaded the prospect of failing.

Then, into all this fear and worry, came salvation.  It came in the form of another young soldier, a Spec4 (Specialist 4th class) working as a clerk checking the inoculation forms of the line of men I was standing in.  He wore glasses, weighed maybe one twenty, and looked like he would be hard put to even pick up an M14 rifle, much less fire one.  He took my papers, checked them off against his list and handed them back.  As I moved on to the next station I was thinking, “He made it through basic.  He has even been promoted.  What have I been so worried about?  If he can do it so can I.” 
That was the last time I worried about “making it” in the army, and when I left the service after completing a tour of duty in South Korea it was with a sergeant’s stripes on my sleeve.  I came out of the army with the confidence that comes from a set of experiences I could draw on for the rest of my life;  beginning with that one in basic training.