Category: 2023

God is my Boss

๐Ÿ’ซ Each day around 6 pm, my wife and I dutifully tread the 500 feet from our cottage to the dining room in “The Big House.” That is the nickname the residents of our retirement community call the enormous building that is the home of most of our residents. The people that staff the dining room are always polite and eager to serve, trying to make our dining experience enjoyable. The average age of our community is 82, so they are dealing primarily with people that like to complain. I know this because I am on the Dining Committee, so I often am told what is wrong with the service, the food, and how long it takes to be served.

All of us in our community are aware of how blessed we are, and yet we still complain. My wife hasn’t cooked a meal in almost two years. I have absolutely no home maintenance responsibilities, so I get to spend my time doing what I want. I play chess, practice guitar, walk the local tracks, and work out at our gym. Constantly, I have to ask myself, what have I done to deserve the happiness that follows me daily? 

Is it because of hard work, making good decisions, living a healthy life, and choosing the right person to spend my life with? I know it’s more than a combination of all those things. I know it because I have seen others do the same thing, and their lives turned out vastly different. So, why me? Why have I prospered when others did not?

I believe it’s because I have always chosen to work like God is my boss. I have stumbled along the way, but I have always worked my way back to that concept, and he has blessed me immeasurably. I have had my share of bad luck, and I have the wounds to show for it, but I have always kept sight of who controls my life, and I depend on Him daily. Winston Churchill said it so well, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” Well said, Sir Winston.

๐Ÿ’ซ I read recently that depression is a malfunction of the instrument we use to judge reality. I think most of us have suffered from depression at various times in our lives. Often, it is of our own making. Other times not so much so. We become good at masking our sadness so others can’t see it, but it’s like the hidden hot water heater on the upper floor; eventually, everyone notices it’s leaking.

That begs the question; if depression is a malfunction of something internal, is happiness also a malfunction? We have all been around people who seem eternally optimistic, never letting negativity or sadness into their lives. I desperately try to be that person with moderate success. It’s because I monitor the news daily, and I see the devastation in Ukraine, the callousness of Russia, and the many people worldwide who have trouble getting enough food every day. When you notice those things, enjoying the fruits of your life becomes practically impossible.

I prefer to think that cheerfulness is my normal default state, but that is not always true. I have concluded that life is filled with trade-offs, that they are everywhere and inescapable. How we navigate these trade-offs, rather than ignoring them, is what we need to do to have a good life. Octavia Butler said, “No single answer will solve our future problems. There are thousands of answers, at least. You can be one of them if you choose to be.”

๐Ÿ’ซ In my missive last week (Talking to Strangers), I included an essay on envy written by an artificial intelligence chatbot. I asked the readers to determine which one of the three included articles was written by the chatbot. My daughter-in-law (JoAnn) responded best: “When you write, I read every word with interest. When I read the one about envy, I got bored halfway through! It held no warmth; it didn’t feel personal”.

I have only been contacted by a few people, so most people can’t tell when it’s me or the chatbot. Or, as some may think, they don’t care. I hope that’s not the case ๐Ÿ˜Š. With the newfound abilities of the chatbot, I could have it write my missives for me, but that would be a waste of everyone’s time, including mine. My articles are meant to be a record of my thoughts at this particular time in my life. My goal is to have family members read something that I wrote 25 years from now and be able to say something about me and the life I’ve lived. A sort of family history. One of my granddaughters has expressed an interest in keeping my website going upon my transition to the other side, and I’m confident she will.

I don’t have a single letter from my parents or grandparents that I can read. Nothing that lets me know what they were doing on any day of their life and how they felt about their life. My family can never say that about me. I have missives on my website all the way back to 2007, plus I keep a daily journal that goes back to 1998. That would be too much about me for anybody, but having too much is better than having nothing at all. Oh, how I would love to have a letter from my mother or father. I have always known they loved me. I just wanted to see it in writing.

Dolly Parton said, “Find out who you are and do it on purpose.” My family will know who I am, and I’m doing it on purpose ๐Ÿ˜Š.

Talking to Strangers


๐Ÿ’ซ Sometimes, life seems to be chocked full of changes. I have noticed as I’ve gotten older, they occur rapidly. Several friends passed away recently, and my wife and I have had concerns about our health lately. Quite a few of our friends and family are struggling with health problems. With all of our issues, as we age, an emerging body of research shows that talking with strangers can make us feel more optimistic, boost our empathy and sense of belonging, and give us a feeling of connection.

That explains why my attitude always is positive. As a younger man, I wasn’t that way. Still, when I met my wife in the early 1990s, I noticed she would unexpectedly start a conversation with a stranger. That may be why she was so personable and easy to be around. I tried it and discovered, to my surprise, that when I did, it made me feel good; some of the stress in my life evaporated, and I had a feeling of self-worth. Thanks in part to my wife and my wiliness to try something different to improve my life, I now have many, many friends, and I feel a vital part of the community I live in. We have several close friends, but many more make us feel welcome to enter their world as we invite them to interact in ours. 

I have become a fan of the adage, “Don’t count your money, count your friends.” Talking to strangers is easy and often results in a stimulating conversation. As a young kid with nothing to do, I learned how a friendly chat can entertain and stave off boredom. Still, I outgrew that lesson as a young adult and didn’t relearn it until I met my wife. 

Sometimes, my wife kinda wishes I wasn’t so talkative, and I know this because she has told me so ๐Ÿ˜Š. I know what I say is no more important than someone else’s. I often walk away from a conversation thinking that something I said didn’t sound exactly like I meant it to, but that’s a risk you take when you’re guilty of taking too much. I’m guilty of cutting someone off before they finish their thought, and I’m working on improving in that area.

Besides my wife, I know others who talk easily to strangers. My high school classmate, Elsie Dee, whom I still stay in touch with, accomplishes that task easily. My mother was also easily engaged in conversation. I have a few male friends with that trait, my friend Reese being a good example, and so is my friend Mike. All of us must try harder to engage in conversation, whether with a stranger or a friend. We now know there are healthy dividends when we do. 

When I think about how much I engage in conversation, this quote comes to mind, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” ~ Blaise Pascal. Hmm, that’s different from what I’m thinking ๐Ÿ˜Š.   

๐Ÿ’ซ Envy is all around us if we stop to notice it. It is way more than a troublesome emotion. Psychologists believe that Envy is an emotion that has existed from the beginning of life, that it’s innate, and must be controlled. I believe that it’s an emotion that everybody possesses but to which no one admits. People readily admit to other emotions, like anxiety, depression, inferiority, etc., but Envy? We don’t admit, not even to ourselves, but above all, we keep our Envy a secret from the person whom we envy. No one I have ever known has profited from Envy. On the other hand, many have been cursed by envy. Do you remember the Biblical Cain? He murdered his brother, Abel, because of Envy. What about Joseph? His brothers sold him because of Envy.

What really is Envy? Envy is a bitter feeling which arises when we see another person has something we do not have, but would like to have. This feeling makes one desire to see the envied person hurt, disgraced, or toppled from his position. Envy is like a cancer which slowly takes over a person’s thinking, so that he feels others’ fortunes are his misfortunes; their profit is his loss, their blessing is his bane, their health, his illness, their promotion, his demotion, and their success is his failure. 

It should be noted that Envy isn’t the same as a comparison. Envy involves making comparisons, but to compare is not always to envy. You can compare yourself to another person and yet feel no envy. 

Some psychologists believe that Envy is a learned characteristic which children pick up early in life. It is especially prevalent in people who feel they are failures. Envy is almost always an expression of inferiority. Consciously, or unconsciously, the envious person considers themselves inferior to others, and he doesn’t like it when others succeed. 

Envy affects our thinking so that we look for faults in other people, and we rejoice when they fail. It influences our speech and leads us to gossip, criticize, and spread rumors that can harm others. It hinders our getting along with other people. What is worse is that Envy separates us from God, and he resents Envy!

I am reminded of this quote by Theodore Roosevelt, “Comparison is a thief of joy.”

๐Ÿ’ซ My wife and I recently visited some of my high school graduates living a few hours away. We represented the 1959 (me), 1962, 1969, and 1976 classes. There was, perhaps, a dozen of us, including spouses. We all gathered at the Longhorn restaurant to enjoy a good meal and discuss our hometown and old friends. We were a noisy group, and Longhorn patrons at tables close to us could tell we were enjoying ourselves and tolerated the noise we made. It was great talking with people I knew as a teenager or was raised in or near Oakwood, VA. 

There is a special bond among people with similar pasts. Our group of graduates grew up in a coal mining community, so we grew up being pro-coal. As adults, we know that coal is bad for our environment. Still, when you consider eliminating what was responsible for your survival growing up, you face a severe dilemma. The county I grew up in had several hundred coal mines; now, it has two. Back then, the coal was extracted by going into the side of a mountain or strip mining. Today, they dig a shaft down 1,500โ€“2,000 feet and start the process of coal extraction. Sadly, very few coal miners wear masks, so their health suffers over time. Black Lung reparation is so tricky to get it may as well not exist. Many families lose loved ones in their 50s & 60s. 

My father was a coal miner and suffered for 13 years before passing. He had two brothers that were miners, and they suffered a similar fate. 

So, all of us at our get-together several weeks ago had something in common; we had members of our family that benefitted from coal mining but suffered the consequences of that association. We prefer an alternative to coal mining, but realize how much that would affect those still depending on it for jobs. Consciously, I say let’s wean ourselves from coal, but my heart says otherwise.

I go back home every year and have done so since graduation. I plan to continue that until I’m 105 and can no longer drive ๐Ÿ˜Š. When I’m there, I’m back in the 50s & 60s, and I’m home. Everyone there treats me like the Prodigal Son and welcomes me with open arms. What a wonderful feeling that is. That’s when the hillbilly in me gets to escape ๐Ÿ˜Š. I think Lao Tzu hit it on the head when he said, “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”

๐Ÿ’ซ The current internet buzz is about a new piece of software called ChatGPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer), developed by a firm called OpenAI, with financial backing from Microsoft ($10 billion). It was launched late last year and has been touted as the next “BIG” thing. 

Essentially, it’s a software model trained to follow thought and language patterns like a human does. Students at Harvard and Yale are having ChatGPT write their thesis. The sad thing is the professors cannot tell whether the student wrote the paper or the Chatbot. With that in mind, I instructed the Chatbot to write one of the three articles above to test that theory. See if you can spot which one, and if you have the inclination ๐Ÿ˜Š, write me ( and tell me which one you think it is and why. I included a quote at the end to make it more difficult since I always do it๐Ÿ˜Š.  

Satchell of Memories

๐Ÿ’ซ I have a large drawing of the coal camp I grew up in (Page) hanging over my desk. An old friend (Reese) gave it to me, and I cherish the memories it triggers. It looks exactly as I remember it. When I make the yearly trek back home to visit family and friends, I always drive up to where that camp was (it was torn down in the late 1950s) and think about the people who lived there. My aunt Beulah is the only adult from that camp still living, and most of the children from there have lost touch with each other or passed away. I still stay in touch with many of my high school classmates, but very few from the coal camp I spent my childhood in. We were stuck between two mountains that only let the sunlight in for about 6-7 hours each day. Our fathers went to the coal mine each morning, and our mothers cleaned the house, washed clothes, and read a lot. We, kids, were always looking for a game to play or something naughty to do. Life, at least to us children, was simple: find someone to play with. My mother would send my brother and me out of the house after breakfast (during the summer) and instruct us not to return until lunch. She was cleaning the house and wanted it to remain that way until dad got home. If we wanted a snack, we snuck in the back door, grabbed a biscuit, and then dashed outside before being discovered.
I recall how slowly time passed during those summers and how eager I was for school to resume. I was also keen to become an adult and make my own decisions. Adulthood arrived quickly. I remember boarding the bus in front of our home in southwest Virginia, headed for San Antonio, Texas, and basic training in the US Air Force (1959). I remember looking out the window of that bus as it drove away and thinking that part of my life was over and a new life was beginning.
Now, I’m sitting here at my desk, looking at the drawing of the Page Coal Camp and reminiscing about my life of long ago. I see myself as a nine-year-old boy with a bag of coal slung over his shoulder, struggling up the hill to our house so there would be fuel for the furnace to keep us warm. That was back when all kids had work assignments, and no one was excluded from contributing to the family’s survival. Those assignments were always in addition to schoolwork and were accepted without protest. I never remember protesting to my parents about a task I was assigned. It would have had a minor effect and likely resulted in a severe tongue-lashing.
I recall telling my dad that I wanted to play high school football (9th grade), and his automatic answer (continually) was, “No!”. I immediately walked down the hall to the kitchen and implored mom to convince him to change his mind. In a few minutes, he called me back to the living room and said that I could play football, but “It damn sure better not interfere with your chores!”. I hastily assured him it would not. On a lot of nights, they were finished at 10 pm. No, I didn’t feel sorry for myself, that was just the way life was. I felt my father was justified in expecting me to carry my part of the family load.
So, I’m left wondering why I choose to think about “the good old days?” Maybe, it’s not because they were better than my life as an adult, but because of an inner need to believe that my core values were derived from that period in my life, that morals were better back then, people were more honest, friendships more lasting, religion more ingrained, and happiness was always just around the corner?
That certainly begs the question, would I want to return to that life? After all, moving back to my hometown has always been within my power. Why haven’t I done so if my life back then was much better than it is now? Of course, the answer has to be that life wasn’t really better; it was only so in my memories of that time.
Janet Malcolm said it eloquently, “The past is a country that issues no visas.” I agree with Janet, except to say that it issues large satchels of memories ๐Ÿ˜Š.

๐Ÿ’ซ I was watching “Yellowstone” on TV the other night, and one character, a cowboy, told another cowboy, “We’ve all been thru things that other people will never understand.” That’s a pretty astute observation for a cowboy. I understand he was only repeating a line of the script, but someone thought that cowboy was up to making a point in that way. Most of us are guilty of thinking anyone with a cowboy hat and a horse is a genuine cowboy. Probably, some people walking around with just a cowboy hat on, never having ridden a horse in their life, think they are the real McCoy. The same could apply to a young man that drives a pickup truck, wears jeans, and speaks profanely, thinks he’s a “Redneck.”
Many of us go thru life wanting to be what we’re not. It could be the aforementioned cowboy/redneck, a sports coach, or the most essential, hard-working person in your office. Then the time for a layoff comes, and you are one of those included to receive the dreaded “pink slip.” If you’ve ever received that piece of paper telling you your company no longer needs your services or tells you the college you wanted to attend has rejected your application, then you’ve been thru something many people will never understand. If you call your father to wish him a happy 89th birthday and he says the doctor told him he has two months to live (that actually happened to my wife), you know he’s going thru something you will probably never really understand, unless something similar happens to you. That’s when you know you’re in over your heart. That’s when you feel guilty about acting like a nice person instead of being one, knowing you should get in your car and drive the eight hours to be with him during his time of need.
Thomas Wolfe said in “You Can’t Go Home Again,” “Something has spoken to me in the nightโ€ฆ and told me I shall die, I know not where. Saying: Death is to lose the earth you know, for greater knowing; to lose the life, you have for the greater life; to leave the friends you loved for greater loving; to find a land more kind than home, more large than earth.”
Many of us go through life wanting to be important, achieving great things at work, being a good spouse or friend, and helping those in our lives who need us. Eventually, as we travel through life, we reach the age where we look back and recognize the folly of life’s many stages. Wanting to be a “Redneck” or “Cowboy” is undoubtedly a prime example of immaturity.
C. Adichie said it best, “I think you travel to search, and come back home to find yourself there.”

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