Category: Previous Year


Myself


⌘ My wife handed me this old poem a few days ago and I enjoyed it so much I wanted to include it in this missive:

“I have to live with myself, and so,

I want to be fit for myself to know.

I want to be able, as days go by,

always to look myself straight in the eye.

I don’t want to stand with the setting sun,

and hate myself for the things I’ve done.

I don’t want to keep on a closet shelf,

a lot of secrets about myself.

And fool myself, as I come and go,

into thinking that nobody else will know,

the kind of a man that I really am…

I don’t want to dress myself up as a sham.

I want to go out with my head erect,

I want to deserve all men’s respect.

But here in the struggle for fame and pelf (money),

I want to be able to like myself.

I don’t want to look at myself and know,

that I’m bluster and bluff, an empty show.

I never can hide myself from me,

I see what others may never see.

I know what others may never know,

I never can fool myself, and so,

whatever happens, I want to be,

self-respecting and conscience free.

―Edgar A. Guest, 1881

I believe the reason this poem was so meaningful to me was that it is something we all strive to do with our lives, to be true to the authentic person we think we are, to be honorable and to always do what is right.  I wish my parents had given this poem to me when I was a young boy.  I wish they had sat down with me alone and explained what it meant and that I should always conduct myself in that manner.  I am confident that I would’ve passed it on to my two children.  I thought about passing it on to my grandchildren, but they’re adults now and would probably think I was being presumptuous.  My great grandchildren live far away and don’t know me very well (my fault), so I’m not inclined to tell them how they should live their lives.  

I hope that I have lived my life in the manner that Mr. Guest described (despite being unaware of his insightful poem) and that I accomplished it by being true to my Christian faith. 

D. H. Lawrence said, “No creature is fully itself till it is, like the dandelion, opened in bloom of pure relationship to the sun, the entire living cosmos.”     

⌘ A few days ago I was talking on the phone with an old friend, formerly my next-door neighbor, and I asked him how things were going in his life.  He and his wife (Mary Beth) are close to my age (79), living with their oldest daughter and her husband, whom they adore.  Mary Beth has described her as the perfect daughter from the time she was a small girl until this day.  I doubt that my parents would ever consider using that adjective to describe my brother and I 😊.  I recall my mother telling me that I was a, “good boy” and I considered that high praise, but I never came close to “perfect”. 

Back to my conversation with John.  They live in a three-story home, with John & MB on the 1st floor, daughter and husband on the 3rd floor, and the living area on the 2nd floor.  They are having an elevator installed that will take them to any floor in the house.  I commented to John that I have not known anyone that had an elevator in their home.  I said that we have a friend up in New York who builds million-dollar homes and that he often takes us on tours of those homes, but we have never seen one with an elevator.  I could feel his smile traveling across the many miles of phone line between us as he responded, “Well, how about that!” followed by his trademark chuckle.  During our banter, I mentioned that I had visited my barber and gotten a haircut but was hesitant to do that because of COVID-19.  John responded that he didn’t go to the barbershop very often since he had little for them to cut, but he said that, “God just made a few perfect heads, and for those that weren’t perfect, he gave them plenty of hair to cover his mistakes.”  I’m sure our laughter filled both of our homes!  

Now you see why my wife and I still miss having our old friends next door, but the bus of life moves on and we are still aboard, just waiting for life’s next adventure.

⌘ My 2012 iPad informed me the other day that I could no longer update its operating system past version 9.0 and that 10.0 was now available.  Of course, I need to keep the latest updates on it for security and efficiency reasons.  I decided to purchase a new one, but to wait until “Black Friday” or “Cyber Monday” to do so.  After some research, I determined the price I was willing to pay and then waited until the day after Thanksgiving to get serious about looking.  Sadly, the price I was hoping to pay was not the price they wanted for their devices.  I opened up an app on my phone called “Offer Up” that allows you to buy and sell locally.  Sure ‘nuff, I found a slightly used iPad that had more features than I expected (keyboard, pen, and cover) and at a price much lower than I expected.  The only downside to this transaction was that the seller lived in Long Beach, California.  I made an offer that was $50 less than he was asking, figuring that would pay the shipping and taxes, and then I sat back and waited for his response.  Before long he responded by rejecting the offer, expressing his concern about getting his money.  He wanted to sell his device locally where the exchange would be in person and was unsettled by the prospect of his device being on the East Coast while he was 3,000 miles away on the West Coast awaiting payment. 

I calmly responded, “You will get your money.  In 80 years, I have never failed to pay what I owed.  There has to be trust on both sides—you that you’ll get paid, and me, that I’m getting a wonderful device.” 

I don’t know what changed his mind, whether it was the 80-year thing or the never failing to pay thing, but he immediately responded that he would accept my offer.  It always amazes me that life offers so many ways to make my existence wonderfully entertaining.  Maybe it’s because it takes so little to do so. 😊

“In the deep of the night, lying on my back, I ask myself what life is and I see that I do not know; but I also see that it is a royal thing to be alive.”  ―C.F. Ramuz


More Joy


⌘ I was sitting in my favorite chair in front of my workshop a few days ago, around 5 p.m. after several hours of work, and I was enjoying a good cigar.  Just as I finished it, I noticed a boat filled with people tying up at our pier.  My first thought was that they were lost and needed directions back to the Poquoson River.  That has happened before, so it was a natural reaction.  A tall handsome man in his 30s got out of the boat and walked through the backyard to where I was sitting.  “Hi Tom!” he exclaimed as he approached, which took me by surprise.  He informed me he lived down the street from us, pointing to his home not very far away, and he said that my wife had informed him he could tie his boat to our pier anytime.  He further clarified that the reason for his visit was that a married couple in the group was interested in buying our home when we were ready to sell.  My wife had informed him about our plans to move to a retirement community when one of their cottages became available.  We have been on their list for almost 3 years, though we were 8th in line at the time.  We have no idea how long we’re going to wait, so we have spent a moderate amount of time downsizing. 

Anyway, four people gathered around me, including the couple who wanted me to know their intentions of buying our home.  I invited them to take a tour of our house and they welcomed it gladly.  Before she went inside, my wife had informed me she was going to take a shower, so I had to make sure she was dressed before I took them in.  She was, so the tour began.  As it progressed, I could tell they were having trouble deciding how they would raise the money they would need for the purchase.  They live in our 12,000-strong small town, so I hope they’re successful.  My wife and I have agreed that we will help them if we can. 

When I see young people getting excited, it always lifts my spirits.  I think enthusiasm is the one characteristic we lose as we age.  When you look into the eyes of younger people, you see the hope and expectations of what the next day will bring.  Our grandson (Brandon—yeah, the same one mentioned above) helps us do chores around the house every week, and I see that same thing in him.  He always has a cheerful smile on his face and his eyes dance in his head as if he hears special music that we cannot.  He turned 26 a few days ago.  My wife and I were dating when he was born, so I have known him all of his life and he is like a grandson to me.  I proudly call him my “Bonus Grandson.”  I got that term from his older brother (Christopher), who included me with his natural grandparents in his college graduation pictures.  He had four granddads in that frame, and the photographer asked him how he had so many grandparents.  He calmly answered that “these two are bonus grandparents.”  That made me feel good.  So, I now have bonus sons and bonus grandsons. 

Anyway, back to the people on the boat who entered our lives a few days ago, who finally got back aboard and sailed down the river.  I could hear the enthusiasm in their voices as they slowly slid out of sight.  As my wife and I sat down for supper that evening, we could still hear and feel the laughter and joy they left inside our home.  We hope it stays a while.

Benedict De Spinoza said that “the more joy we have, the more nearly perfect we are.”  I agree wholeheartedly!

⌘ Our yard has been demanding our attention lately.  I sowed new grass in early October and refrained from any maintenance until the seeds had at least a month to germinate and grow to a height of 3 inches.  We had multiple storms pass over us during that time, which caused pine straw, tree branches, pinecones, and leaves to pile up.  I was nervous as I surveyed the work needed to get the yard back to normal, because it looked like a lot of work.  Our grandson (Brandon) usually lends us a hand, but he’s been off to Atlantic City for several days of fun.  He absolutely enjoys going up there with his friends and trying to win in the casinos.  I suggested to him that if casinos were continuously losing money, they couldn’t stay in business.  I could tell from his grin he thinks they haven’t seen the likes of him yet. 😊  My suggestion to him is to make sure he has lots of fun, then he can count his losses as entertainment.

Anyway, back to the yard.  Brandon returned home two days ago but has promised to stay away from us for at least a week to ensure that he doesn’t pass COVID on to us. 

Bottom line is, our yard couldn’t wait another week for cleaning and mowing, so it was up to me and my wife to get it done.  It took us 3 days, but our front and back yard look great, although sadly there are plenty of leaves still floating down to reverse all of our hard work.  I hope that by the time they are all down, Brandon will be available to lend us a hand. 

But I really shouldn’t complain as I know the exercise involved in that effort is good for us, raising our heart rate and keeping our muscles healthy, which stops me from sitting in front of my PC all day. 😊  

 As William Feather said so eloquently, “Next to doing a good job yourself, the greatest joy is in having someone else do a first-class job under your direction.”  I think Bill’s on to something, eh?   

⌘   A few days ago my wife and I were sitting at the breakfast table and the view from our breakfast nook told us that the rain was relentless, and that our activities need to be scheduled indoors.  I told her of my plans for the day and her eyes widened and an enormous smile covered her face.  “I know what you could do today!” she exclaimed.  My reply was too stern: “I don’t need for you to find things for me to do; I never plan your day, and you should not plan mine.”  The smile fled her beautiful face as easily as a bullet leaves a gun’s barrel. And I knew straight away that I had expressed myself too harshly.  I am right that I don’t want her to schedule my day unless it’s something we’re doing together, or something that needs my attention, but I really didn’t express myself in kind terms and she deserves better from the man, who, until the end of his time here on Earth, vowed to love her.   

All I can hope is that it reveals no meanness of spirit lying deep within me, tucked away in an unlocked room in a far corner of my heart. 

I was watching an interview with Alex Trebek, the longtime “Jeopardy” host who died recently of pancreatic cancer.  When asked how he wanted to be remembered, he softly answered, “that I was a kind man.”  He wasn’t interested in being remembered as the famous game show host, only as a kind man.  I think that’s how I also want to be remembered as I navigate my way through the “Old Age” labyrinth and face the possibility of death.  So all I have to do is find the little “meanness” room tucked away somewhere in my heart, put a solid padlock on it, and throw away the key immediately.  “All cruelty springs from weakness.” — Lucius Seneca.  There’s more truth in that quote than I want to accept.  Being a good husband doesn’t change who I am, it reveals who I am.  I need a moral compass that doesn’t always land on me.  An old Russian proverb says that “the wolf must pay for the sheep’s tears.”  I know that means I am responsible for my words and actions.  It’s up to me to find a solution to my dilemma!    


The Velveteen Rabbit


⌘ In The Velveteen Rabbit (1922 Children’s book by Margery Williams), the rabbit asks if becoming real hurts and the Skin Horse tells him that yes, sometimes it does, sometimes your eyes get rubbed off in the process and you’ll lose some of your shine, but that’s how you know you’re real.  We all know that life sometimes loses its shine and that we have to work to get that shine back.  The Skin Horse is talking about love, but I believe it applies to all areas of our lives.  

The story involves a stuffed rabbit sewn from velveteen that is a Christmas present to a small boy.  The boy plays with his other presents, which are more modern, and snubs the old-fashioned velveteen rabbit.  The wisest and oldest toy in the nursery, the Skin Horse, which was owned by the boy’s uncle, tells the rabbit about toys magically becoming real because of love from children.  The rabbit is in awe of this idea, but his chances of achieving this wish are slight.  One night, the boy’s nanny gives the rabbit to the boy to sleep with in place of a lost toy, and the rabbit becomes the boy’s favorite toy, enjoying picnics with him in the spring.  The boy regards the rabbit as real.  Time passes and the rabbit becomes shabbier, but happy.  It meets some real rabbits in the summer, and they learn that the velveteen rabbit cannot hop as they do, and they say that he is not a real rabbit.  One day, the boy comes down with scarlet fever, and the rabbit sits with him as he recovers.  The doctor orders that the boy should be taken to the seaside and that his room should be disinfected, and all his books and toys burned, including the velveteen rabbit.  They bundle the rabbit into a sack and left it out in the garden overnight, where he reflects sadly on his life with his boy.  The toy rabbit cries, but as actual tears drop onto the ground, a marvelous flower appears.  A fairy steps out of the flower and comforts the velveteen rabbit, introducing herself as the Nursery Magic Fairy.  She says that because he has become real to the boy who truly loves him, she will take him away with her and make him real to everyone.  The fairy takes the rabbit to the forest, where she meets the other rabbits and gives the velveteen rabbit a kiss.  The velveteen rabbit changes into a real rabbit and joins the other rabbits in the forest. The next spring, the rabbit returns to look at the boy, and the boy sees a resemblance to his old velveteen rabbit.

As we all know, when we become adults responsible for ourselves and for others, life does become real and, at times, hurts.  As the Skin Horse said, “you lose some of your shine.”  I believe one of our goals has to be putting the shine back into our lives and conveying that invigorating attitude to others in order to encourage them to do the same.

I never had stuffed toys as a kid so I don’t have fond memories of them, but I did dream about being a grownup and what I would do with my life when I became one.  I did not achieve many of the things I dreamed about, but I became the man I wanted to be.  When all is said and done, that was most important. 

“One of the most adventurous things left us is to go to bed.  For no one can lay a hand on our dreams.” — E. V. Lucas            

⌘  If you walked into a restaurant or diner back in the 50s and 60s and ordered a cup of coffee, you would hear the server yell out such phrases as “a cup of Joe 50-50” (half coffee, half milk) or “Java blonde with sand” (coffee with cream & sugar).  If you wanted decaf with non-fat milk, then it was “why bother” 😊.  You can still hear the waiting staff in smaller restaurants use special phrases for particular orders, but not so much in larger restaurants.  They just write it down and stick it on a revolving stand for the cook to grab and fill.  It has always amazed me how coordinated the routine is in a restaurant.  Some servers are kind and others are just trying to get in their shift and go home.  I’m guessing that when your pay is low and you depend on the generosity of others to meet your financial obligations, it makes for a very stressful day of work.  I always try to tip at least 20% and sometimes more if the service is good (which often depends on how well they respond to my banter).  I realize that dealing with the public all day long could be an exasperating experience since all their customers aren’t as pleasant as my wife and I are 😊, so I try to be generous.  My tips weren’t always so kind when I was a young man, and I regret that.  In my defense, money was in short supply and I had a young family of four to provide for.  I believe the motivation for me being more liberal with my tips now is that I failed to do so way back then.  Will it make up for my failures?  I doubt it, but it makes me feel better now.  As Lucius Seneca said, “We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.” 

⌘   A few weeks ago I hurt the thumb on my right hand, and it hurt the entire day.  As the day progressed, I tried to ignore the pain, but it kept inserting itself into my activities.  The nail also turned black.  I have had many nails turn black, mainly toenails because of running, and they eventually come off with a little prodding, but they were never painful.  As I turned in for the night, the pain was still there and wouldn’t give me any relief, but when I awoke the next morning, it had disappeared.  All that remained was the dark circle underneath the nail.  What a relief! 😊

I have friends who are in pain 24/7 and I’m at a loss to explain how they deal with it.  I know that we all have varying tolerances for pain, but I don’t know how you deal with it when it is always there.  One of my friends tells me that her constant pain is an 8 on a scale of 10.  I would rate my thumb pain as a 5 and my fretting over it seems so silly when compared to hers.  I have family and friends who have suffered so much and died from cancer.  I see people on the news who are suffering from COVID, and I wonder how I would deal with it.  I have always thought of myself as being able to accept adversity, but I’m not so sure now.       

We all hope that during our lives we are blessed by not having a permanent illness or injury.  Many do, but many do not, and some of those who don’t are our friends and relatives.  Some of our misfortunes are because of our lifestyles (smoking, drinking, overeating, and so on), some because of our genes, and some are just fate.  In my religious beliefs (Methodist), God never promises us he will spare us from sickness/injury, but he promises to be with us as we endure it.  That is my hope if tragedy strikes me. 

Albert Camus said, “The climax of every tragedy lies in the deafness of its heroes.”

⌘   Some say the most powerful word in the English language is “help” (“ayuda” in Spanish) and I believe that to be true.  Most of us are probably reluctant to ask for help, wanting to be independent and handle things ourselves.  Some use the word often, which diminishes its value.  Personally, I refrain from asking unless it’s absolutely necessary.  I was never close to the word as a youngster because in my world then I was always given an order.  That may explain my reluctance to ask for help, but that has not prevented me from helping others, which has become more of a priority as I have gotten older.  I believe the penchant for helping others came to me in my 50s as an idea or goal I wanted to accomplish.  We all know that ideas are like children and you don’t want them to go into the world in rags.  I wanted my idea of helping others to be significant, so for the last 30 years I have made it a priority in my life to help not only family and friends, but strangers as well.  The rewards are many, as the warm feeling that emanates is repayment in full. 

An old Hindu Proverb says, “Help your brother’s boat across, and your own will reach the shore.”  That’s a nail I can hang my hat on. 😊