Friday, December 19, 2014

Appreciating Others

Having an attitude of gratitude for everything we have in our lives is very rewarding because when we are in a state of gratefulness, the better our outlook on life and we tend to have a more optimist attitude not only for ourselves, but for the world around us.  When you look for the good, the more good you will find. 

We know how important this is when finding things to appreciate that matter to our own everyday lives, but what about the appreciation we show for others?  When was the last time you let someone know how much you appreciate them or said thank you for all they do?  When was the last time you even said the words ‘thank you?’ 

There are so many people who show up in our lives, who have done a service or a kind deed, and we need to show our appreciation, not just towards those individuals, but towards groups of people.  There are a couple of groups, out of many, whom I would like to show my appreciation in this article.  One is towards first responders.  This can include law enforcement, EMT’s, firefighters, our military, and anyone else who puts their lives on the line to be of service to humanity. 

Currently, all law enforcement is taking a hard hit because of the harm a few officers have done to others.  Of course, when anyone harms anyone, they do need to be held accountable.  But there are many, many more who do so much good in the world and who help so many people.  These are human beings who care and just want to be of service.  They never know when that one day will be that don’t make it home to their families.  They’re constantly on guard and have to make split second decisions to decide if someone has a gun and/or is going to cause harm.  So, to all law enforcement….I thank you!

Firefighters are another group that are under-appreciated.  Some get paid and others serve on a volunteer basis.  Again, they never know when they might get caught in a fire, be burned, or not make it home to their families.  They risk their lives to save others, including our beloved pets, and our belonging.  To all firefighters…I thank you!

EMT’s and other emergency personal also risk their lives to help people.  They save lives through medical procedures until they can get the victims to the hospital.  Many citizens belong to groups that respond to emergency events by volunteering their time.  To all emergency responders…I thank you!

Our military personnel are also doing a service to our country for little pay, and risking their lives to help keep America safe.  To all our military personnel…I thank you!
All the above groups see things and deal with things no one should ever have to see or deal with.  After seeing horrific events, they then try to be with their families and go about their day.  It’s tough on all of them. 

Another group that needs our appreciation is our teachers.  Until I started subbing in the schools, I didn’t have a clue what teachers were dealing with.  It’s not like it was even a generation ago.  I gained a whole new appreciation for what they deal with on a day-to-day basis.  They don’t just work 8:00 to 3:00 as most people think.  They work evenings, weekends, on their vacations, and many will spend their own money for their students.  So, to all teachers….I thank you.

There are many other groups that need our appreciation as well and you can add your own.  Of course, there are many in any profession who need to be weeded out because they’re not doing a good job or they may be causing harm to others.  But let’s not hold what those do against the whole. 

How can we show our appreciation?  Saying thank you, sending a card, and giving flowers or gifts are a just few of many ways.  When you give the gift of appreciation, you not only make the other person feel good, it also makes you feel good, too.

Voltaire said “Appreciation is a wonderful thing.  It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.”  Randy Pausch stated “Showing gratitude is one of the simplest yet most powerful things humans can do for each other.”

And to all my readers, I’d like to say thank you for your love, support, and encouragement, and I appreciate you!

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper December 19, 2014.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Stop and Smell the Roses

“Hey Mister, where you going in such a hurry; Don't you think it's time you realized; There's a whole lot more to life than work and worry; All the sweetest things in life are free; And they're right before your eyes.

Before you went to work this morning in the city; Well, did you spend some time with your family; Did you kiss your wife and tell her that she's pretty; Did you take your children to your breast and love 'em tenderly.

Well, did you ever take a walk through the forest; Stop and dream a while among the trees; Well, you can look up through the leaves right straight to heaven; And you can almost hear the voice of God in each any every breeze.

Oh, you've got to stop and smell the roses; You've got to count your many blessings everyday; You're gonna find your way to heaven is a rough and rocky road; If you don't stop and smell the roses along the way.”  (Written by Mac Davis and Carl Severinsen; Published by EMI Music Publishing.)

The above is one of my favorite songs from one of my favorite entertainers, Mac Davis.  It’s been a long time since I’ve heard this beautiful song, but the words ring just as true for me today as they did back then.  What was interesting was that while I was watching TV and trying to come up with topics to write about, including this one, at that exact moment someone on a TV show said “you have to stop and smell the roses.” it. 

So many times in our lives, we get bogged down by so many things.  We think they’re the big things, but I really think they’re all the little things that keep adding up.  Let’s admit it, the big things don’t happen that often, but the little things are almost every day.  Some have the attitude of ‘when it rains, it pours’ or they’ll affirm Murphy’s Law ‘if anything can go wrong, it will.’  Anyone who is familiar with the power of our thoughts knows that if we have that attitude, then yes, bad things will continue to happen because we tend to get what we expect. 

I’d like to offer another option.  How about if we stop and smell the roses?  Literally and figuratively.  Think instead ‘if anything can go right, it will!’  Or, ‘when it rains, it pours so many good things in my life.’  There is so much good that happens every day if we will just look and notice, and once you get in the habit of noticing all the good, big or small, the more you will notice.  When I look outside my window or when I drive to work, I’m so grateful for the beauty of nature.  I thank the trees, the clouds, the critters, the flowers and everything else for being in my world.  I’m grateful that I do have some work to help pay the bills, that I have a car that runs, a roof over my head, a warm bed to sleep in, food to eat, clothes to wear….  There are many who don’t even have any of these. 

Another thing I do is to mentally tell everyone and everything I see that it’s beautiful.  “Hello, beautiful tree!  Hello, beautiful bush!  Hello, beautiful mailbox!  Hello, beautiful person!”  You’d be surprised how changing your perspective to seeing everything as beautiful can change your outlook on life and the way you see your world!

Yes, there is a lot of ugliness in the world when it comes to people harming one another, war, poverty, hunger…  That doesn’t have to be the reality that we focus on, though.  That also doesn’t mean we ignore the ‘ugly’ as we should always keep trying to make the world a better place.  But when we see more beauty than ugly, then we have something to strive for because we see how beautiful the world can be.  We will create what we believe.

Therefore, as we go about our day, let’s practice by stopping and smelling the roses.  Look for the good and the beautiful in everyone and everything.  We can start with our family and friends, and then extend it outwards to people in our everyday lives.  Find something loving and kind to say to them even if it’s just a simple compliment or a smile.  Brighten someone’s day with the beauty of your own magnificent soul and let your light shine! 

Confucius said, “Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.”  And Ralph Waldo Emerson stated, “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.”

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper December 12, 2014.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Letter from a Prisoner

At one time, I was corresponding with a convict in a prison.  He seemed to be sorry for whatever put him there and really wanted to change his life around.  We were both concerned about children and the state of the world.  So many children, from little ones to young adults, are suffering in the worst ways.  Many come from broken homes, feel unloved and unwanted, are desperate for love and a sense of belonging, and many will do anything to fill that need.  Some will join gangs to feel accepted, some will commit crimes, many drop out of school, some run away, and some will commit acts of violence where lives are taken.

I asked this gentleman if he would be interested in writing a letter to our children, which he happily did.  I never had the opportunity to share it, so I would like to do so now.  I hope this letter will help those of any age who are thinking about making a wrong choice in life and that they will know that all choices have a consequence.  And if you know a child who is hurting, who is one of the desperate ones, maybe you can become a mentor, show him/her that you care, and help him/her to live a good and positive life.  Sometimes all it takes is for one person to make a difference in their lives.  In the meantime, here is the prisoner’s letter: 

"As I write this, I am sitting inside a fence at a large prison facility.  I am not going to try to lecture you or tell you how you should live your life.  That decision is yours and yours alone.  Have you ever heard the saying, “I’ve been there and done that?”  Well, I have been there and done that, and that is why I am writing this.  Hopefully, what I say will mean something because I am speaking from experience.

One of the most important tools you are going to need to face the world is a good education.  I dropped out of school in the eighth grade, and even though I later got my GED and some college credits, I still regret not completing high school.  Though you may think your teachers, parents, and others who try to help you may not care about you…they do.  The advice they try to give you is based on both their experiences and the fact that they do care about what happens to you.  The first piece of advice I want to give you is to get an education.

I was like a lot of you when I was growing up.  I thought I was the coolest and toughest thing on two feet.  I also thought I knew it all and nobody could tell me anything.  Looking back over the years, I now realize that I was a total jerk, a loser, and I really didn’t know anything.  I also wish I would have listened to the many people who tried to help me along the way.

The old story about being from a broken home, or growing up in a bad environment, is the reason for me messing up, and it is a bunch of crap.  My parents divorced when I was twelve years old and I grew up in the projects in Pennsylvania.  We had very little to eat most of the time, and besides rummaging through trash cans for clothes that others discarded, I also resorted to stealing in order to have the things I thought I needed to be cool.  That isn’t why I ended up where I am today, though, or why I have spent so much of my life in prison.  I am here because, I, and I alone, made the wrong choices in life.  Nobody held a gun to my head and made me do anything.  That is the second piece of advice I want to give you.  Always be willing to take responsibility for your own actions.

I thought it was cool to get drunk all the time, get high on drugs, raise hell, and have a good time with the ladies.  Sure it was fun.  Or so I thought at the time.  For everything we do in this life, there is a price, and I am paying that price now.  There is nothing more precious than your freedom.  The freedom to go where you want, when you want, and to do what you want.  My every movement is controlled in this place.  I am told when I can eat, when I can take a shower, what time to go to bed and get up, and when to go to work.  In the thirteen years since I have been locked up, I have only seen my family three times.  I have a son who was born shortly after I got locked up that I have only seen eight or nine times.  He is presently in foster care and I don’t even know where he is.  I cannot send him letters, a birthday card, Christmas card, or anything.  Although I love him very much, he probably feels I do not.

As far as prison itself….  The best words I could probably come up with is that it sucks.  It is true that many of us have our own television, radio, and so forth, but none of the “goodies” we have can make up for what we don’t have, and what we have to endure in here.  No matter how tough you think you are there is always someone trying to prove he is tougher.  Every day you live on the edge.  You have to worry about defending what you have because there is always someone wanting to take it from you.  You have people in here who will kill you just for looking at them the wrong way.  If you are black, you have the pressures of being forced into a gang, and even the gang members are not safe.  If you are white, you are constantly on your guard against the other gangs because most of the gang members see you as just another white dude who is part of the system they feel put them here.  And there are other gangs of various races.  Don’t get me wrong.  There are a lot of good white, black, and other races in here, but they are in the minority.

You can never let your feelings or emotions show because at the first sign of weakness, the so-called tough guys will be on you like white on rice.  I am fifty-five years old and I am very capable of taking care of myself, but there is not a moment that I let my guard down.  You have to watch everybody, even your so-called friends, because even they will take advantage of you if you let them.

Do you think I am still cool and tough?  Only within my own mind because the reality is, the really cool people are those on the outside of this place.  The cool ones are those who can work where they want, enjoy their time off with their families and friends, go to sleep at night possibly holding their partner, instead of a pillow for comfort.  The cool ones are like you, the people who have a choice of what they want to do with their life, and not have someone else tell them what they are going to do. 

I regret my past life with every ounce of my being, but I cannot change any of it.  If I could, I would do it in a heartbeat.  I have twelve months left until I get out of here, and I am counting the days until I can again be like you…free and able to enjoy life on the outside.

Whether anything I said in this letter matters to you or not is up to you.  If you do not care about your life, and you do not want to listen to the people who care about you and are trying to help you, that’s fine.  They have a bed waiting right here for you.  The one thing you never have to worry about is the system running out of beds.  They might even let me out early so that they can give my bed to someone who doesn’t give a heck about their life.  I hope that someone isn’t you.

People can bend over backwards to teach you, but only you can learn."

Published in the Putnam County Visions magazine December 2014 issue.