Not OK

Something’s changing in our country, and I’m dismayed. Over the last year or so, we’re losing the expectation that we will demonstrate basic respect for each other in public discourse. No group is completely clean on this, and there’s a reason that politics has long been called “dirty”. But we’re seeing a steep slide that needs arrested. A friend once told me that “words matter”…he was right.

If you don’t believe words matter, ask a child who’s just been bullied. If you don’t think words matter, ask someone who’s fighting depression. If you’re unsure if words matter, study Nazi history and see how a nation was manipulated to ignore (and even commit) atrocities against their fellow citizens.

America has always been a beacon of hope and optimism for the world, Reagan’s “shining city on a hill”. But we are rapidly turning into a mean and nasty place, where insults take the place of meaningful debate on how to make our great country even better, for all of its people. We, the people, must halt this decline. We must demand better from our public figures. We can do better…we deserve better…we are better than this.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”  –Martin Luther King, Jr.


Science

Galileo

Science has long been controversial, which has always baffled me. Galileo’s sun-centered heresy, vaccines, eugenics…even Einstein rejected the Big Bang theory for years in spite of growing evidence, all because of the theological implication of a beginning to the universe. Science has often been distorted in attempts to prove or disprove a particular worldview.

But I’ve always struggled with what feels to me like a misuse of science. Its purpose is to explain the world around us–not unlike philosophy or religion–though its primary question is more “what” than “why”. I struggle with any assertion that science represents certainty…even as science itself, but let alone as the final answer to one of life’s big questions. Ironically, as someone who’s wired utterly logically, I’m completely comfortable knowing we’ll never have all of the answers. I view scientific theories as simply our best guess at the time, with some theories simply having the benefit of more time and evidence.

Maybe that’s why I’m even more comfortable knowing I’ll also never have all of the answers that I want to the big “why” questions. It even seems logical that could be the biggest answer of all…that our entire purpose here is simply to wrestle with why:  why are we here, and what are we going to do about it? Science can tell us how photosynthesis works or how to build a smart phone, but it can never fully explain why the monarchs migrate or how the Earth landed at just the right distance from our sun to sustain life. The cool part is how science and philosophy each inform the other. Which is perhaps why science is so controversial, when to me, it is instead simply wondrous.

“By denying scientific principles, one can maintain any paradox.”  –Galileo Galilei


Illusion


Being a parent is an illusion that you actually have some control over the life of another human being. It’s easy to see how the self-delusion starts:  our children start out totally dependent on us to meet all of their needs. Once they hit the toddler stage, however, things get shaky, as they realize they have choice. But we retain our vast superiority in size, and with it, our illusion of control.

Then the teen years hit, and it all hits. We careen between peace and all-out war, spending much of the time in between in a tentative truce. They’re trying to grow up, and we’re trying to learn how to let them. The realization slowly sinks in to both of us that control has shifted. If we’re lucky, it’s a soft landing reality. If not, it can rip the relationship down the middle. Either way, it’s a painful lesson for all.

I count myself unbelievably blessed. I’ve always said that I don’t just love my kids, I’m fortunate to like them, too. But in the end, even the kids eventually acknowledge that any obligation on either side has now shifted to sheer choice. I’m hopeful, based on not a little evidence, that my children will choose to keep me in their lives.

“Each day of our lives we make a deposit in the memory banks of our children.”  –Charles R. Swindoll


Productive


The redbuds have blossomed into full glory, announcing that spring is really here. A particular one along my drive to work stands out. It’s the largest redbud tree I’ve ever seen…clearly ancient, with thick, gnarled branches, broken and nearly black with age. Despite its elderly status, its blossoms are thick and as cheerful as its younger companions along the roadside. Age has not diminished the beauty it offers the world.

The old tree is an encouragement, a reminder of what we can offer at every stage of life. Having passed the halfway point in my career, I’ve begun to face an eventual winding down of my “productive” adult years. I’m just beginning to think through how to stay productive until the end. I’ve never been one to sit on the porch and watch the world go by. While my husband deserves to spend some time together on the porch, I know I’ll need more than that for how I spend some of those slowed down hours.

Meanwhile, the ancient redbud gives me hope. I’ll smile at it as I pass by every day, watching it carry on until its own inevitable end. In its beauty and its shade, it is still productive.

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.”  –Henry Ford


Needed

She wormed her way into our hearts, this slightly strange, senior citizen rescue dog. Like no other dog we’d ever known, she behaved just like a dog raised by a fellow senior who lived alone would. She was quiet and unassuming, never causing a moment’s trouble. She didn’t seek out attention, but would sigh deeply when you hugged her. She wasn’t exceptional, except for the special place she held in our family.

Lady became an orphan around the time Megan became critically ill. Her owner–the aunt of the wife of a former colleague (the thinnest of threads, when you think about it)–had passed away, leaving her shuttled between family members looking for someone who could take her permanently. That’s where Facebook kicked in. Her picture melted our hearts, in spite of the turmoil we were going through. At the first sign of stability on our end, we pulled the trigger–she was ours. We had no idea what we’d done.

What we learned was that she was desperately needed. She was needed, by a fellow former orphan and her family who were still healing. She was needed, to show us what it is to love and accept someone very different, just because that’s who they are. She was needed, to show us that taking a leap of faith to give, even in the middle of chaos and uncertainty, turns out wonderfully. She was needed to prove that love always wins, when you allow love to lead.

We told her goodbye today; it was one of the most difficult things I’ve done. She was only with us for two years, but she left a permanent mark. You were a good girl, my sweet Lady…good girl.

“There is only one happiness in this life, to love and be loved.”  –George Sand


Strangers

I’ve always had a strict rule of only friending people on Facebook that I know well. Over the years I allowed exactly two exceptions to that rule:  the new husband of a long-time friend, and a fellow author recommended by a trusted friend. My rule has served me well for years…until now.

Since the election, I’ve been feeling my way on how to respond. I have hope that this greatest country the world has ever known…Reagan’s shining city on a hill…will find areas of common ground and overcome its great divide to move forward on important issues. But I’m also left with very specific concerns. I’m concerned that health care will suddenly be made inaccessible to my teenage daughter, who so desperately needs it, but who is uninsurable given her health history. I’m concerned that long-term, otherwise law-abiding immigrants will be deported, breaking up millions of families against the will of 90% of Americans. I’m concerned that trade protectionism will hurt the U.S. economy and our standing in the world. And I’m concerned that the progress we’ve made toward acceptance of all races and religions and lifestyles will be reversed.

And so I’ve begun connecting with groups who are taking these issues on, banding together to ensure that our government doesn’t believe it has a mandate in these areas. And in so doing, I suddenly have Facebook friends who are strangers. I may never meet them, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t already know them, at least a little.  There’s the mother of 3 small children from Massachusetts who believes fervently in social justice. There’s the Stanford professor who’s fighting to ensure that the science to which she’s dedicated her life continues to have a voice in our government.  And there’s the wife of Obama’s head of the Center of Medicare and Medicaid Services, working to protect health care for the most vulnerable Americans. We’ve never met. We have no mutual friends. We have no shared experience. But we share a vision for our country and our families. Because of that, they are not strangers.

“Truth stands, even if there be no public support. It is self-sustained.”  –Mahatma Gandhi


Mother-In-Law Jokes


I’ve never told a mother-in-law joke or even laughed at one; I’ve never found them funny. My late mother-in-law was a saint.

Pauline Maryann Houser was born the oldest of two daughters in Mena, Arkansas, to Anderson and Kathlyn Houser. She dreamed of becoming a fashion designer. Instead, she was swept off of her feet at 19 by a handsome, WWII B24 gunner seven years her senior. Gordon MCleary was four years and one divorce beyond the war, though he never really left it behind. Their first son was born the year after they married; 13 other children followed over the next 24 years, a total of twelve boys and two girls. Sadly, they outlived two of them. After my own daughter’s critical illness last year, I have no idea how they survived their deaths.

Life was never easy for Mom, but she didn’t let it break her. Dad drank, to fight his demons from the war. With that many kids, the month always outlasted the paycheck. My husband remembers being hungry at the end of the month…leftovers were a new concept when we got married. You can’t really keep a house nice with twelve growing boys, since you never know when you’ll find freshly hunted squirrels or car parts in your kitchen sink. There was no way to referee all of their daily conflicts. I think that it’s nothing short of a miracle that she kept them all in one piece, let alone clothed and fed, until they reached adulthood.

But the most amazing thing about Mom was her disposition. Through it all–the poverty, the child loss, the shenanigans by her kids–she was the sunniest person I’ve ever known. In the 25 years that I knew her, I can count on one hand the number of times that I heard her speak ill of anyone. Those rare occasions were reserved for ex’s who had hurt her kids, her unforgivable sin. No matter what they did, she deeply loved and fiercely defended each of her children. She was the epitome of a loyal, loving mother.

I miss her greatly every day, but especially on Mother’s Day, her birthday, and Christmas. She loved me like a daughter, and I wish I could again tell her how much she meant to me. Mom – you are missed, you are loved, and you made a difference.

“The heart of a mother is a deep abyss, at the bottom of which you always find forgiveness.”  –Samuel Taylor Coleridge