First, do no harm. Warning: May be toxic. Consumer beware.
I was listening to actor/dancer/writer Dick Van Dyke being interviewed on a show on NPR the other day. The interviewer asked him what, at the ripe old age of 90+, was his secret for happiness. He said that as he went through life, he tried his best to be non-toxic. He described the women he had been fortunate enough to be married to and the actors he had been fortunate enough to work with like Mary Tyler Moore and Julie Andrews, and even his parents as having been least toxic, and probably most life-supporting people he knew. He learned from them: the best way to be happy in life is to just be authentic, real, and yes, nice.
As I listened to this I of course began to think about my life. I have been doing that a lot lately as I am writing my memoirs. I began to wonder about the times when I probably should have been wearing a warning label. I know there are times over the years when I was a toxic person. I know I hurt some folks along the way. Usually it was because I was trying to be nice, and in doing so, I wasn't authentic. I wasn't honest with my feelings. When those feelings came out, they were painful and probably caused some harm. And, in an effort to justify myself, I think I probably was exposed to toxicity about as much as (or more) than I gave. That of course is beside the point.
Dick Van Dyke appears to be a very nice man. He is successful and has had a long, successful career during which he has brought a lot of happiness to millions. The same can be said about Mary Tyler Moore and Julie Andrews and many other public figures. But both Dick and Mary struggled with alcoholism. Both overcame it, though, and both shared their experiences with the public. Any toxicity there was meliorated by their subsequent authenticity. And I am surprised to learn Julie Andrews also wrestled with alcoholism and other demons. I guess it just part of the human condition. The bottom line is, however, not that we fall from grace, but how we come back.
It seems to me that telling your story is very important. How you tell it, says a lot about you. Christina Crawford wrote and scathing, toxic, tale about her mother, Joan. It would be hard for me to say who was more toxic in that story. I think Christina has made amends, but I can't say that for certain. In the end, what one shares of one's story and how one shares it says more about the storyteller than about the characters involved. Again, it may need a warning label.
My point is that it is most important to first do no harm. I assume it is part of the Hippocratic Oath for a reason. There's a quote oft attributed to the Buddha or to Arabic proverbs, but its source is uncertain. It goes: Before you speak, think: Is it true? Is it helpful? Is it inspiring? Is it necessary? Is it kind? Whether the Buddha said it or it's just a metaphysical imaginative truism, it really does make sense to ask yourself those questions before you speak. THINK. I hope I do these days. Especially in my memoirs, if is not true, not helpful, not kind, not necessary, not kind, you probably won't be reading it. At least not without a warning label.
I had an inspiration but I couldn’t remember it when I went to act on it. This happens more often than you would think. It happens especially in the still of the night when I awake for no apparent reason and the random thoughts begin to drift through my mind. Some of those thoughts turn into ideas which tend to foster inspiration. However, since it is the middle of the night, its dark, quiet, the bed in warm and the room is cold, I think twice about getting up and writing it down. Plus usually I have forgotten to bring my notepad upstairs again.
The next morning I awake and remember vaguely I had a very good idea in the night. But do you think I remember it? Of course not.
So, you get what I am talking about it. When you get an inspiration or idea, you need to act of it. And even if you just write it down, that is indeed an action! With any luck, you will then remember what it was about the idea that inspired you to do something. With me, its usually something to write about. Of late, I have not had many of those inspirations. It’s been a dry period. Real arid. Quite parched. Life, as it goes, got in the way. Of course, all that passes with time. It does. It really does.
So here it, my attempt, lame as it may be, to deal with this lack of inspiration thing. Of course, there is a school of thought that 99% of success is just showing up, facing the blank page and writing. Writing writing writing. You can’t always wait for inspiration. It doesn’t just happen. Sometimes you have to plow through, pen to paper and keep going. Sooner or later, inspiration will take over. It happens. It had happened to me and I am sure it will happen again. In fact, it is happening to me right now.
Okay, so I had this idea, an inspiration really. I thought it would be interesting to explore the idea of inspiration and how illusive it could be. But here it struck and I didn’t even realize it until now. So here you have it. And in the morning, I hope I remember all this. I don’t have my notepad handy right now.
My Dish satellite went out sometime Wednesday night. Thursday I went to flip on Today and OMG, nothing. Just a coded message that didn't tell me anything. Well, I checked my connections, plugged, unplugged, shifted boxes, waited, tried again. Nothing. Just code 31.345.xx0 yada yada blah blah blah. About 10 I called Dish. Very nice, patient. Have you tried this? Yes. Have you tried that? Yes. Is everything connected? Yes. Okay, let me log in. She logs in and finally determines...wait for it....something's wrong!
So we set a time for a service tech to come out. Tomorrow (today) between 8 and 12. They will call with a "narrower window" in the morning. Well, of course they call but I don't answer. No ID. My policy is: no ID, no answer. If no message left, I figure you really didn't want to talk me...or I didn't really want to talk to you! Anyway, back to the waiting for the service guy.
I believe he did call to say he'd be here right at 8am sharp. But his call showed no ID, and I strictly enforce my policy. I have gotten suckered into too many conversations with solicitors and wrong numbers to be bothered. But the good news it, I was ready when he arrived. Very nice, polite, went right to work. After about 20 minutes of testing this, checking that, going under the house (I don't even want to go under there!), he diagnosed the problem: a cable connection had come loose. Couldn't explain. It happens. Yes, I understand. At least it wasn't critters chewing. No, no chewing. So the receivers receive once again and all is well with the broadcast universe in my house again.
Okay, so I told you all this when really, what I wanted to ask was. Do you get a weird feeling when a stranger is poking around in your house? I mean, what do you do? I try to act non-chalant. I try to find things to do to keep me out of the way. I try to keep the dogs quiet. I am occupied, but it feels vaguely uncomfortable with someone in the house wandering around. What does he think of my housekeeping? What if he finds a hidden treasure? A dead body I knew nothing about? What if he thinks I'm weird or? And then I shout inside my head, Who cares???
So finally he leaves. I give him a good review. Another crisis resolved. Another subject for a blog about the trivial matters of life. And yet, its not so trivial I guess. It is just part of the new norm. Strangers in your house. Awkward pauses, waiting around. Trying not to appear stupid yet not wanting to appear a know-it-all interferer.
The good thing is I can catch up on Day of Our Lives. John has been captured. His son brought in as a hostage. Brady proposed to Teresa, really? Joey is going to confess to killing Ava because he can't let his dad take the rap. Kate is getting involved with yet another bad guy...well, you get the picture. I guess that is why waiting for the tech guy to fix my satellite is not all that exciting.
My great grandfather immigrated with thousands of other Irishmen during the Great Potato Famine of the 1830s. From the northwest rocky coast of Ireland he left his home in Donegal to eventually make his way to central Pennsylvania. He eventually settled in a small town called Smoke Run, population then and today about 200 more or less. The Irish were not welcome from all I have read. Like so many "refugees" who left their homes in search of better lives, so it was with my ancestor.
It is hard not to think about this today on St Patrick's Day. I pull out my green, send Erin Go Bragh and Top of the Mornin' greetings to most of my Irish and Irish friendly friends and family. Tonight I will feast on corned beef and cabbage, roast potatoes, maybe scones and drink some Guiness or Harp. It is indeed a fine day for celebration. But I also will remember how my family came to America as refugees from a land that was stricken by a great famine. Eventually they were assimilated and became as American as anyone born here.
In the year 2000 I went to that rocky coast in northwest Ireland. I hoped to find something of my ancestors there. Not much was to be found. I searched the Donegal cemetery, went to the Donegal Castle and spoke with some locals. A man who worked at the cemetery told me that he remembered something about the McMurrays. They were mercenaries from Scotland who worked and defended another great estate on a promontory point nearby. He said the ruins of their modest cottage were still there. Of course, I suspected he may have told this story to many an ancestor searcher, so I took it with a grain of salt. I also knew we probably had immigrated from Scotland to Ireland, so, who knows for sure?
Being Irish by birth or adoption or lineage, I treasure my "green" blood. I love to tell tall tales and occasionally tip a mug of suds. I too have immigrated as did my ancestors from my homeland in Michigan to California, a much different experience to be sure; but seemingly in keeping with the ways of my forefathers. It is a grand day to be Irish, so I will relive the legends of the past as I choose and carry with me the hearts of my father, grandfather, great grandfather before me. To this I say, God bless and remind you that today, because St Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland, we are all Irish and Cead Mile Failte, a thousand welcomes!
I recently posted a picture of this lovely floral arrangement created by friend in honor of family member who has recently died. I thought they were so very pretty and I knew they were taken from his garden. It was my fortune to be able to bring them home to enjoy their beauty. The post sparked a brief commenting conversation as follows:
MH: So glad you can enjoy the flowers afterwards. I hate seeing them just die alone in church during the week after. The one positive thing about funerals is the nicest people go to funerals. Family, friends, neighbors! All there for one reason.....to say goodbye to someone they cared about.
DC: I still have the plant from my nephew's funeral. It was a potted lily, not a bouquet. Yesterday my neighbor put out two bouquets of flowers with a sign that said "Free". What a great idea. How thoughtful.
MH: I prefer giving a plant, it is a living reminder someone can keep and grow for years! A small tree would be nice if you know there is a place for it, even in a near by park or the cemetery near the grave!
It struck me how we use flowers to express what is in our hearts, but our minds cannot find the words to speak. And, yes, it is nice that when the flowers sent are not left behind to wilt and fade, but go home as a small measure of comfort reminding those in grief that life, as we know it, will go on; just not the same as before. Never the same.
White roses evoke reverence, humility, innocence, and youthfulness. --Teleflora.com
There seemed to be many white roses at the service, perhaps because the one who passed was young and actually very humble. Our reverence of his passing seemed to restore his innocence, and remind me of how I feel like mine has been lost at times. There is hope to return to that time when life was full of possibilities and it might just be realized “on the other side” as whatever comes after death is often described
I suppose that flowers, when they’re through blooming, have some sort of awareness of some purpose having been served. Flowers didn’t ask to be flowers and I didn’t ask to be me. ---Kurt Vonnegut
Vonnegut's words resonate with me on a very spiritual level. Flowers are truly a symbol of being for the sake of being. Whether they have this awareness, it is difficult to prove by analytical study. But I do agree that flowers didn’t ask to be flowers just as I didn’t ask to me. But I do have some awareness that I do have a purpose and although I sometimes forget that I do, my purpose leads me even when I am not mindful of it.
Finally, I found some words from Oscar Wilde. This about sums up what life is all about in many ways. We do forget this most of the time. There is so much that is ugly in the world: people who are cruel, ignorant and base, desecrated earth, polluted seas, smogged air that we breathe. But there are still flowers in the world. And they are the language of love and sympathy and joy. “A flower blossoms for its own joy,” said Wilde. So I’ll close with this from the1956 autobiography, The Walter Hagen Story by golfer Walter Hagen.
You’re only here for a short visit. Don’t hurry, don’t worry.
And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.