Holidays and Ponies

IMG_0019Ahh, the holidays are here again. While joyous in many ways, holidays present intense emotional challenges, particularly when a loved one is no longer with us. The worst time is the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas. We have survived Thanksgiving dinner, but now we face a build up–the endless preparations, anticipation and reminders of Holidays past–to a crescendo at Christmas. We think of whom we were with in years gone by and how happy we were then. How could we ever be that happy again? But, this can also be a time of great optimism. A new year is just around the corner and with the beginning of a new year, the possibility of greater things to come.

I recently ran across the following story:

A family had twin boys whose only resemblance to each other was their looks. Opposite in every way, one was an eternal optimist, the other a doom and gloom pessimist. Just to see what would happen, on Christmas day their father loaded the pessimist’s room with every imaginable toy and game. The optimist’s room he loaded with horse manure. That night the father passed by the pessimist’s room and found him sitting amid his new gifts crying bitterly. “Why are you crying?” the father asked. “Because my friends will be jealous, I’ll have to read all these instructions before I can do anything with this stuff, I’ll constantly need batteries, and my toys will eventually get broken.” answered the pessimist twin. Passing the optimist twin’s room, the father found him dancing for joy in the pile of manure. “What are you so happy about?” he asked. To which his optimist twin replied, “There’s got to be a pony in here somewhere!”

This time of year, it is easy to become the pessimistic twin, to cry over things that we cannot control, over situations in which we find ourselves through no fault of our own, and to worry about what others will think of us. But does it help? Of course not!

Be the optimistic twin. There is a pony in the manure pile. Survive the end of this year and look ahead, not back. Reinvent yourself for the New Year and many new years to come.

To learn more about surviving difficult conditions that we face in life, please read my recently published book, The Freshly Single Man’s Guide to Household Survival.

Of Heroes and Pink Flamingos

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I recently had the opportunity to run a 5K road race to honor and raise funds for charities started by the friends and family of a young woman named Vickie Soto. Vickie Soto was a young first grade teacher at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Vickie Soto loved children and loved teaching them. She also had a penchant for pink flamingos. For those of you who still do not recognize the name, Vickie Soto was killed when a deranged individual shot his way into her school with an assault rifle. He killed 26 people that day, including 20 first grade children in two classrooms. Vickie Soto was the teacher in one of those classrooms. While we will never know exactly what happened during that shooting rampage, all indications are the Vickie Soto died attempting to hide and protect the young children in her class.

They called her a hero. But what is a hero? Mark Twin wrote, “Unconsciously we all have a standard by which we measure other men [and women], and if we examine closely we find that this standard is a very simple one, and is this: we admire them, we envy them, for great qualities we ourselves lack. Hero worship consists in just that. Our heroes are men [and woman] who do things which we recognize, with regret, and sometimes with a secret shame, that we cannot do. We find not much in ourselves to admire, we are always privately wanting to be like somebody else. If everybody was satisfied with himself /herself], there would be no heroes.”

The day of the 5K run was rainy, windy and cold. Nearly 3,000 people, many dressed like pink flamingos, sodden and shaking with cold, waited at the start line. And then we ran. And as I slogged through the puddles, my toes numb with cold, I wondered to myself why I had not just rolled back over in bed that morning. What was the point of running on that dreadful day? I knew that I could run 5 kilometers. The question was, why do it on that cold and miserable occasion?

As I ran past the plastic pink flamingos used to mark the course, it occurred to me that the reason that I was running that day was that I was not satisfied with myself. That as I shivered from the cold and the wind, I could not possibly be what she was. That I could never demonstrate the courage that she demonstrated that fateful day, that day of her death. I was running because I wanted to be more like Vickie Soto.

Thank God for heroes and pink flamingos for without them we would have no reason to strive to be greater than ourselves. We would have no reason to get up from our warm and comfortable beds. We could not survive that which appears to be beyond our ability to withstand.

To learn more about surviving difficult conditions that we face in life, please read my recently published book, The Freshly Single Man’s Guide to Household Survival.

What heroes have inspired you?

Patience

imageSurvival guides describe a horrifying scenario in which a car you are driving runs off the road and lands in a body of water. The electric windows have shorted out and no longer function. As the car sinks further into the water, the pressure of the water outside makes it impossible to push the doors open. You are trapped with a limited supply of oxygen as you watch the water rise higher and higher outside the car. Claustrophobia sets in and you begin to panic. You have to do something quickly to survive!

What you learn from these survival guides is that you have one technique available to you; you have to wait until the car fills fully with water so that the pressure of the water inside the doors equals the pressure of the water outside the doors. They will then open. Can you imagine the patience that this would require? To wait there quietly as death approaches. To prepare yourself. To take a deep breath. To wait there for just the right moment to act.

Fulton Sheen once said that “Patience is power. Patience is not an absence of action; rather it is ‘timing’ it waits on the right time to act, for the right principles and in the right way.” How seldom we recognize this principle. We expect immediate results. We demand, not only of ourselves, but of others, immediate action. When something is broken, fix it now!

But, not everything can be fixed so quickly. Why is that? As in the case of the sinking car, some things are beyond our control. We cannot control the laws of physics; it is only when sufficient time has passed that the pressure on both sides of the car door stabilizes and permits it to open. An easy enough principle, yet one so often forgotten in our daily lives.

My last post, “Freedom”, highlighted the importance of redefining our lives, of determining anew “what we have to lose”. At the top of my list of things important in my life is having a supportive relationship with my sons. God knows the issues that I have encountered in raising them on my own since my wife’s death! Sometimes I wonder if such a relationship is possible. As hard as I have tried quickly to fix the offending issues, the fix seems simply beyond my control. But, I believe that the end game is worth the effort. So, I will not admit defeat; I will “wait on the right time to act, for the right principles, and in the right way.” I will have patience, for patience is power!

When was the last time that patience provided power in your life?

To learn other important tips on household survival, see my book, The Freshly Single Man.

Freedom

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Both of my son’s were moving back to school the other day and I spent a rather melancholy afternoon by myself. My mind flashed back to a property law class that I attended many years ago in Denver. Property law is a study of an archaic group of rules dating back to our English ancestors. I will spare you the details of this tortuous endeavor, with one exception; the concept of fealty or allegiance to the feudal lord of the manor.

The property law professor was of no particular note as a teacher, a rather condescending individual who loved nothing more than to spew forth his knowledge of antiquated legal concepts that he was in the process of capturing in a textbook that he was writing at the time. But, I will never forget one particular lecture where he explained the system of fealty. He demonstrated how the king would meet with the soon to be designated lord of the manor on the designated lands and pick up a handful of dirt. After saying a few appropriate words, the king would hand the dirt to the lord. The ceremony would bind the two to each other and to the land. To make a rather long story short, the bargain was as follows: The King was providing the lord with the land, along with all the buildings and workers associated with it, for his unfettered use. In exchange, the lord was agreeing loyally to support the king. Now, loyal support meant not just telling everybody what a nice guy the king was, but providing a certain percentage of the grain and produce from the fields, and also, more importantly, raising a fully outfitted and provisioned army of knights to defend the king whenever the king requested.

At the point in the lecture where the professor was stressing the extremely onerous and expensive nature of having to provide a fully battle ready group of knights, a rather inquisitive fellow student started to squirm in his seat.  He could not quite understand the motivations here. He raised his hand and asked why the lord of the manor would agree to this tremendously onerous undertaking. Would it not be easier, he asked, just to say “no”.

It was the professor’s response that I will always remember. He quoted a line from the old Janis Joplin song, “Me and Bobby McGee”. The line, to which only Janis Joplin could do justice, was “freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.” The simple point that the professor was making was that the lord could have said “no”, but the consequence would have been the receipt of no land and no title from the king. Yes, he would have been free from his feudal obligations, but his life would have been devoid of all wealth and stature.

Well, my wife died a while back. The dog died a few months ago. Both sons have moved back to school. I am free! But what is “free”. Is it just another word for nothing left to lose?

Every few years, survival requires that we reinvent ourselves, that we determine what is important in our lives, that we refocus ourselves and that we determine what we have left to lose.

For more information on survival see my book, The Freshly Single Man.

When was the last time that you reinvented yourself?

Blood Part 2

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The other day I was at my Vet’s Office.  You see, my dog, Cinder, was dying.  I met Dr. Jim several years ago after my wife died and I was left to deal with the family dog.  Dr. Jim was always very understanding of how important my dog was to me and to my sons.  Cinder was my wife’s dog and has been one of the links to her life.  It was hard to see Cinder (much like my wife) curl up and die. 

Over the years, I have come to know Dr. Jim fairly well.  During my office visits with Cinder, we would discuss his fishing and my sons.  During my last visit, I gave Dr. Jim a copy of my book, The Freshly Single Man.  I am not certain why I gave it to him.  I just thought that he might be interested.  He called me back later that afternoon.  He had read most of the book.  His comment was that perhaps I am limiting my market too much.  While he has lived on his own for many years and knows how to take care of himself, he indicated that his girlfriend’s daughter would be a perfect market for the book as she seems to know very little about the subject. 

Dr. Jim  called me back the following day.  He had finished the book and had one criticism. He said that in all of his days as a vet, he has found that the best way to get blood out of clothes is with a mixture of cold water and table salt.  He mixes the salt and water to make a paste that he works into the stain and then rinses with more cold water.  He has found that this process does less harm to the fabric than hydrogen peroxide (as I recommend in my book and in my post “Blood”). 

Since Cinder died, I am sad to say that I will likely not see Dr. Jim for a while . I am pleased, however, to have made a new friend, shared my book with him and received his input.  If we look deeply enough, we can always find some positive outcome no matter how painful the immediate event. Who knows, at some point maybe I will get a puppy!

For other tips about how to master household chores, please see my book The Freshly Single Man.

What challenges have you had with simple household chores?  

Blood

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Last week my sons and I visited my elderly parents in Colorado. While I was anxious to see them, I also knew that it would be difficult. They are aging! We all do, but seeing your parents age, your own blood relatives, reminds us of our own mortality. I thought back and remembered all of the times that I had with them. The times when my wife was still alive. I miss those times and realize that they will never occur in my life again.

While we were visiting, I learned that they had a large television in the basement that needed to go to the garage, so it could be taken to the dump, so that they could buy a new one. After all, these days no matter how big the old TV is, there is always a better one with a bigger screen, and the old one is now worthless.

While moving this behemoth of a TV, I somehow cut myself and was bleeding all over a brand new Polo shirt. I remembered that a nurse friend of mine (whose husband is a doctor) once told me that hydrogen peroxide works great on removing blood from clothing (who better to learn blood removal from than from that duo?) I poured a generous amount of the peroxide on the bloodstain. It bubbled up when it contacted the blood, and I then blotted it off with a dry paper towel. It worked well. The Polo shirt was saved.

On the plane ride home, I couldn’t help thinking; life is so much like the TV and the blood. We can focus on getting old like the TV and know that we will soon be replaced. Or, perhaps it is better to focus on the blood. We can find solutions to our day to day problems. We can live and have happy and fruitful lives while we still occupy this earth. I want to focus on the blood!

Focus on the positives in your life. It might not be easy, but you will be surprised what it will do for your outlook.

Learn more in my book The Freshly Single Man.

How have you dealt with the stains (either figuratively or literally) in your life ?

Compartmentalization

Compartmentalization

I use the word “compartmentalization” to describe the process of dividing up our thoughts in order to be able to focus on specific tasks at hand. After my wife died, I was inundated with tasks to complete. Not only was I still working full time, but I now had a house to run, two kids to raise and a dog to look after. I was overwhelmed and I could not face it! I found very early on that if I faced all of the tasks that I had to complete at once, I simply would not be able to cope. I had to break my world down into to smaller parts or “compartments”. I could then focus on each compartment at a time and cope.

I found that the best way to do this is to make a list of all of the tasks that I have to deal with. I write them down, and then prioritize. I put a #1 next to the things that have to be done soon. A #2 for the next group and so on. If I don’t get the priorities exactly right, I don’t worry about it. Then I focus on the #1s and get to work on them. I don’t think about #2s or #3s, just the #1s. I get the #1s done and then I move on.

What organization issue have you run into?

Read more about how to survive on your own as a freshly single man in my recently published book The Freshly Single Man.