A Path to Understanding Others

In the early days of the internship program at Forest Psychiatric Hospital, I was one of the psychologists who fashioned the training experience for the grad students newly invited to spend a year with us.

I recall suggesting the interns occupy the role of patients on their first day. The staff was told they were graduate trainees but not actual residents. The real patients stayed in the dark.

Everything else proceeded in the usual fashion for new admissions, including entering the facility, rooming with the inpatients overnight, attending group therapy sessions, and eating in the cafeteria.

At the end of 24 hours, the play-acting ended, and the future counselors began the formal part of their experience in a different psychiatric unit, as I recall.

Neither my colleagues nor I recognized the questionable nature of this deception, and ethics committees within universities and hospitals didn’t exist everywhere. I recommended it because I thought it essential for future psychologists to stand in the shoes of those they would be ministering to.

Nothing could compare to the lived experience, or so we believed.

Later, when I received supervision in administering and interpreting neuropsychological tests, I applied the same principle to myself. I asked the senior psychologist first to give me the examination. I wanted to “duplicate” the position of those who I would be evaluating. Only could I thereby create their “first-time” experience before I ever took the “doctor’s role.”

Now jump with me to what allows us, you and me, to understand people who live in circumstances different than ours.

Our automatic attempt to fathom their behavior and thought process — to see into their hearts and heads — comes from the perspective of the sense organs, what we have been told, our inborn nature, and conclusions based on the world we know.

The joys and sorrows our world has brought us, perhaps of a very different kind than they’ve faced, can only be used to approximate or serve as a translator to help us achieve understanding from our limited perspective.

Can we then latch on to the motivations and actions of those whose life experience is unusual to us? I am questioning not only mental health professionals but every one of us. Identifying with others takes an uncommon level of training and introspection.

Sometimes we humans draw the wrong picture of others, piling up distorted figurations like misshapen pancakes.

Our judgments are generally self-serving. We simplify the human experience and don’t wish to blame ourselves. Adverse reactions to those unlike us, those of less status and those who are “different,” are as plentiful as the fruit on a flourishing banana tree.

Herb Childress, in a brilliant book dealing with higher education, wrote about how we dismiss the complicated and unfortunate lives of others while taking on a sense of superiority over them:

There’s a strong hindsight bias that works to confirm one’s own positive traits, whether those traits are skill, talent, hard work, ot persistence.

Moreover, he continues:

But when successful people don’t acknowledge the role that things outside their control have played in their success, they don’t think to create those conditions for others; they imagine that the less fortunate are simply less worthy.*

It is easy and comforting to think the world is a controllable place where people usually get what they deserve and deserve what they get. If individuals dissimilar to “our people” encounter misfortune, we tend to prefer an explanation exempting us from the possibility it will happen to us. We sleep better if we think this way.

In a world fraught with differences, it becomes apparent how far many of us misunderstand the imagined lives others experience.

Do you really think you can get inside of (take your pick) a differently gendered soul situated in an unfamiliar social class, race, native language, or nationality? How about the personalities of those who have known periods of starvation, served in battle, been raped or molested, or beaten? I could go on.

Do you recognize the challenge of grasping the viewpoint, fear, or heartbreak of people who endured wartime, life-threatening disease, poverty, or genocide? Or lived 40 years before your grandparents did or began life 40 years after you, like your grandchildren?

Without knowing it, as a young psychologist, I was already blessed to observe the world within an island of relative safety and the misfortunes I missed.

Why? First, mine was a limited, cloistered encounter with the globe, born in a time of prosperity. My family met the criteria of the period for lower-middle-class. Mom and dad did their best to raise me in a neighborhood with uncommonly good public schools. College education was cheap, scholarships were available to win, and pollution and climate change were not yet on the radar.

The Chicago summer skies almost always displayed a beautiful blue instead of gray. I received a healthy body and a decent brain in the lottery I won from Mother Nature.

Gerry Stein was a white male in a white man’s world before civil rights legislation became national law.


But the limitations of my experience also told against my ability to understand the folks I treated. Apart from my training and the supervision I received, I was innocent of much about life, though my shelves included plenty of books and my ears had heard of terrible turns and tragedies.

Once in a therapy practice, the stories I listened to from the sufferers stood out. They educated me, though not by intention. Story after story, multiple layers of individual memories, thousands of tales and perspectives.

Yet I was still outside of them, away from them, as if peering through binoculars or a telescope. Some of my patients related their early life hardships involving disease and starvation, not anything I’d personally encountered or endured. Their emotions were not mine nor their wisdom, poor judgment, or sheer awful luck.

To better understand our fellow humans, we need to climb into their lives imaginatively, reimagine and extend our imagination beyond stereotypes into a different time, place, body, heart, and brain.

No one will require you to enter the psyche and anatomy of someone traumatized, desperate, horrified or delighted, ecstatic, or entitled. Going that far, the next step requires recognizing your limits of thought and feeling to grasp theirs.

It is essential, then, to create thought experiments, submerging oneself in “the heart of darkness.” It might be a precarious place of less control, more random acts, fewer models of successful coping, having to choose between medication and food, negative judgments, and the difficulty of finding someone trustworthy or understanding.

This is becoming harder to do these days, I would argue. When the USA had a military draft, abled-bodied men from different backgrounds shared the experience of basic training and going to war. Now we let the children of others “volunteer” to fight for us (making for wars we promote or oppose) without any of our “skin in the game.”

Inevitably, the offspring of wealth and education are more likely spared, while those without better job prospects enter combat more often than those who were “born on third base and thought they hit a triple.”

The warriors of whatever class suffer. According to the NY Times, “at least 6,261 veterans died by suicide in 2019,” and “nearly 16% of (those) deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have been diagnosed with PTSD.”

People at a physical distance from us are easier to misjudge, demonize, or forget and ignore in their pained existence. Indeed, from his contemporary home office, the boss can fire a person he rarely sees by emailing him a virtual pink slip. No one need ever speak to him to say the words.

No muss or fuss, no eye contact, nor an instant given to the essential humanity of the “other” — the soul dismissed both as an equal and an employee. War is also fought at distances of thousands of miles. Drones destroy people like us, operated by people like us seated in front of computers that might as well be video games.

How often do we think about someone in a third-world country making a garment we praise as “beautiful and oh so cheap!” Of course, it is inexpensive because the worker in a dirty, unairconditioned factory receives far less payment than she would in wealthier nations.

Her life is a mystery and misery to us, and we don’t want to hear more. It would be too hard to know. Challenging to consider, harder still on the dressmaker and her children to withstand.

We objectify those invisible to us or make them into cartoons. We think we understand their inner workings when we have no idea. The world becomes impersonal, good or bad, made of fellow humans we make into saints, sinners, or vague aberrations we describe as stupid, lazy, or evil.

They are placed by us into one category, not in a position to straddle the line between worthy and imperfect, as actual beings do, including ourselves.

Once necessary for early man to survive, tribalism makes us quick to judge those who come from a distant place, look different, speak another tongue, and are as wary of us as we are of them. We fail to socialize with them, and our tendency to make them foes first and ask questions later diminishes us all.

It is too easy to think the evils of this world are due only to one group spawned far away who we can keep away. It is easy to think “they” plot against us and lie all day, every day. We degrade ourselves, no matter that some of the “misdeeds” of “those people” are real and some few corrupt.

If I were back in the position of training young adults, I might make another suggestion, more extreme than the one I described earlier.

I’d advise young people at an early stage of political life, law, or the ministry to spend several months living in the neighborhood of groups different from themselves. They’d seek medical care from their doctors, wear the same clothes, and eat the food typical of the location and its people.

Their job would include getting an ordinary job and making friends as newcomers. If these future authority figures took such training, participants might return to their homes with a fresh perception of the “strange place” they’d lived, now aware “they” are not as strange as previously believed.

A “draft” of young women and men into this kind of service to the world would also be a service to them.

I’d hope for a gradual enlargement of civility toward and appreciation of those encountered. It is even possible some of the young adults who ventured to do this might acknowledge that their judgments had been wrong and begin to hesitate to project their traits and biases on people outside of their close acquaintance.

Since this idea isn’t likely to happen soon, what can the rest of us do?

As a start, consider reimagining your parents’ lives before your birth. Talk to them or, if they are gone, interview their living relatives and friends — people who lived in the same place and time.

Assuming you knew your parents and have some memory of them, think and look through their departed hearts, experiences, schooling, and every other aspect of the time before you arrived and the possible impact your new life had on them.

If you are bolder, find someone on the other side of whatever divide you find most troubling these days. Exert the effort to find out their point of view, but only after first becoming friends. Ask questions and try to set aside prejudgments.

Talk less and listen more.

Perhaps someday, there might also be a virtual way for men to spend time carrying a child inside them and going through labor. No joke.

Enlightenment would grow from such an opportunity.

So would hope for ourselves and the future of the world.

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All but Laura Hedien’s photo were sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

The first image is a Looped MRI Video of a Healthy 13-year Old Female’s Heart Beating. Alith3204 created it. Next is a Green Banana Tree by Rosendahl.

A Pile of Stacked Gold Bars was photographed by Stevebidmead. Laura Hedien’s Chicago River Downtown appears here with her kind permission: Laura Hedien Official Website.

A 1919 Newspaper Ad for the Movie “You’re Fired” comes after Ms. Hedien’s work. Last is a shot of Two Blossom-headed Parakeets, a picture taken by Touhid biplop.

Erotic Transference in a World of Online Therapy

 
What happened when therapy became virtual at the pandemic’s beginning? Did erotic transference die quietly because of the physical separation of counselor and client? Did the small screen reduce the scope of sexual feelings?
 
Perhaps not, since I read no obituary in the news. Still, it is worth thinking about what has become of the inevitability of desire in the human interaction of some who seek treatment.
 
Erotic transference refers to the patient’s growing sexualized affections for the clinician in talking about her feelings and the significant players in the drama of her life. Parents, caretakers, past lovers, abusers, or others might metaphorically slip into these one-to-one settings unseen, producing an outsized and complicated response to the therapist.
 
The analyst begins to evoke dormant emotions he didn’t create.
 
In the pre-pandemic period, all sorts of detailed cues existed within the office, qualities that might have contributed to the sexualization of the other. The consulting room made these accessible to the client in a way they are not on a computer screen.

A shortlist included the following:

  • A view of the entire face and clothed body, front and back, bottom to top.
  • More noticeable eye contact.
  • Grooming characteristics and their impact on the sensory organs of the observer. Subtle skin tones, makeup, natural bodily scents or odors, perfumes, shampoo emanations, cologne, and pheromone production could encourage sexual arousal.
  • The way the person walked, moved, sat, reached, and shook hands.
  • His attire.
  • An intimate and unvarying background domain, quiet and the same each week.
  • The healthcare professional’s voice was unaffected by the distortion of a computer speaker or headphones.
  • Small facial expressions.
  • An absence of distractions as opposed to a less controlled setting.

Put simply, the office was an environment decorated and modified by the healer, made consistent and safe by him. It included objects little changed in successive sessions. Physical nearness to him was one of those stabled features.

Unintended changes from the old way of doing things should have worked against the emergence of passion in post-COVID treatment relationships. But perhaps there are other considerations:

  • The current unavailability of nearness to a doctor or psychiatric social worker might make them more attractive to some people. Imagine a client whose past experience with parents or lovers included their tendency to push her away or display inconsistency in expressing affection.
  • A new analyst, “out of reach” due to a change in the provision of psychotherapeutic services, could serve unconsciously as another chance to achieve the kind of love she’s searched for, the person “difficult to get.”
  • Unlike the doctor’s office, online contact gives the patient possible control of 50% of the framework for the meeting. Clients set up computers in bedrooms, bathrooms, automobiles, nearby pools, and other locations.
  • Although not all possess the ease of finding privacy, some capacity to arrange the decoration, lighting, and background is more available than prevails in another person’s building.
  • Since travel to and from the psychologist’s location is unnecessary, attire can also be controlled and sexualized.
  • Without the need to leave home, it becomes easier to drink alcohol or use other substances to disinhibit one’s emotions and become more provocative.
  • Many people watch TV and movies on their computers, iPads, and phones. The device thus transforms into a place of “performances.The sexualization of the session exists in a world of potential unreality, encouraging a client’s inclination to take a performative risk.
  • The power of words, an analyst’s kindness, and a level of attention the patient might never have experienced can still serve as potent aphrodisiacs. Remember, love relationships began and survived in the pre-computer age of letter writing.
  • In 2020 pet ownership rose to 70% of American households. Pandemic-driven starvation for physical contact and touch (skin hunger) may explain a part of this phenomenon. It might motivate an increased want for the caress (and more) from someone who appears devoted to your wellbeing.

To sum up, we don’t know the extent to which virtual (online) therapy increases or diminishes erotic transference. Many of the various effects of the pandemic are little studied, leaving anecdotal evidence at best.

We all recognize that humanity would not exist but for sexual appetite. Sex and love endure through wartime, plagues, environmental destruction, and more.

Think of Penelope, the wife of Odysseus, in Homer’s Odyssey. She waited 20 years for her husband’s return when he left to fight in the Trojan War.

The power of another’s gaze, warmth, careful listening, and voice remain available to us, no matter the change in therapeutic format. The enlarged distance from the therapist might even enhance his sense of mystery.

The hope for intimacy and the heartbeat of desire have survived with less assistance.

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The first image is called Sculpture in Paradise by Philip Jackson, located at the center of the cloisters of Chichester Cathedral. The photo is by surreyblonde from Pinterest. Next comes Khao Luang Cave Temple, Phetchaburi, Thailand, sourced from Cheezburger.com/ Finally, Factory Butte, Utah, a 2019 work by Laura Hedien with her permission: Laura Hedien Official Website.

The Difference Between Winning and Losing

Much of the Western World preoccupies itself with winning and losing. Think of sports, getting the highest grade at school, job promotions, and making more money than your neighbor (though you’d never say so).

The woman featured in this essay wished to instruct us of an essential, uplifting difference between winning and losing as we tend to define these two easy words.

Gerda Weissmann Klein understood the importance of things on a scale we cannot imagine unless we endured her late teens and early 20s beside her. Born in 1924, the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939 led to the loss of her family and a series of slave labor work camps, detestable treatment, and a starvation diet.

Forward-looking advice helped save her. Her father insisted she wear ski boots if the new authorities took her away from home.

The ever dutiful teen complied with her dad’s wishes despite the approaching summer. The youthful Ms. Weissmann otherwise might not have survived repeated below-freezing winters. Such circumstances predicted near-certain death for those without adequate footwear.

An imaginative, dissociative skill enabled her tenuous existence, too. Some days, she occupied her head with frivolous, trivial things like a party she’d host after the liberation.

Holocaust survivors speak of whether each prisoner fully faced the otherworldly horror show of their lives. It helped if one intuitively blocked a part of one’s psychological vision rather than reckoning with the frank catastrophe enveloping them without letup. These responses were a matter of natural tendencies, not a thoughtful choice.

Those who dissociated (as Gerda did when she planned her party) had some slight chance of survival if enormous luck was also on their side.

The depth of the abyss then lost some of its downward pull.

—–

This woman’s father also required another promise of her: never to commit suicide, no matter what.

That, too, would be tested.

Sometimes we stay alive for others, for promises made to them, and for lives cut down.

It would have been easy for a person robbed of the early years of her life, family, and friends never to forgive those responsible for the crime, including the country from which they came.

Not so for this lady. Shortly after her experience of slave labor began, she arrived at a factory producing fabric for the German Army. There she faced a 40-year-old female guard wearing black: Frau Kugler.

I never (before) heard a human voice that barked.

She had a face like a bulldog. But her looks completely belied what was underneath it all.

She turned out to be the hope, the inspiration, perhaps the knowledge that all Germans weren’t cruel. She was a warm, caring human being who’d been given the job obviously because of her looks and because she had worked at the factory before the war.

She put a lie to the lips of all those who said they had no choice.

On one occasion in the same installation, Gerda and three other young women awoke in their barracks almost too ill to move. Kugler came to them and tied Weissman’s shoes.

“Girls, get yourself together. It is life or death today,” dragging them to their work positions and propping them up at the machines they needed to operate.

The sick, weakened girl noticed a man behind her later.

He dispatched those unable to perform to Auschwitz, a place of even greater jeopardy — an extermination camp. The lady guard was not kidding when she urged and helped them get back to work.

—–

The group to which Ms. Weissmann belonged moved from place to place, subjected to the whims of their overseers. The killing could be arbitrary, disfiguring brutality just as random. When not laboring on textiles, they laid bricks and emptied coal cars.

Yet friendship was also part of her strange existence, and unexpected kindness could be a balm.

My friend Ilse Kleinzahler, who died a week before we were liberated, once found a raspberry in the gutter on the way to the factory. It was in Grunberg, one of the most miserable camps, and she saved it all day long.

Ilse carried it in her pocket. The temptation must have been incredible, (but) she gave it to me that night on a leaf. She had plucked a leaf through the barbed wire, washed it, and presented me with one slightly bruised raspberry.

Most people think of (the Holocaust) as unrelieved horror. I like to remember some of the things in camp, how people helped each other. I want to tell young people about that, that there was friendship and love and caring.

Still in those ski boots, a three-month, 350-mile forced winter death march represented this survivor’s final trial during the war. Those who tried to escape or were unable to keep up were shot.

That strange road of winter woe began for about 2000 young Jewish women, all of the camp’s occupants. Fewer than 150 survived.

As the conflict wound down, the enemy army recognized their own lives were in peril and fled the approaching Allied Armies. This was the day before Ms. Weissmann’s 21st birthday.

Gerda and the human remnants of the experience remained in an abandoned Czech bicycle factory after the soldiers took off.

Much luck is involved in all such stories as if some sadist throws dice to determine people’s destiny. A demolition device set by the Nazis to destroy the female population within the building failed to detonate.

Gerda was standing in the doorway of the factory when a U.S Army jeep could be seen in the distance.

The driver saw her and stopped. One of the men inside walked up to her.

I remember the aura of him, the awe of disbelief … to really see someone who fought for our freedom. He looked like a God to me.

The Lieutenant asked if she spoke German or English. Ms. Weissman nodded, then added, We are Jewish, you know.

The soldier stood silent for what seemed a very long time, his eyes hidden behind the sunglasses he wore.

So am I,” he said.

Kurt Klein, the man she talked with, later became her husband.

He continued, using a formal manner of address unused by the Nazis because they believed the incarcerated “not worthy of life” (Untermenschen): Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and others, including their own mentally ill.

Instead of disrespect, Lt. Klein asked if she might take him to visit the other “ladies.Then, as they entered the factory together, he opened the door for her. His words and actions opened something more.

This was the moment of restoration of humanity, humanness,” she said in her post-war descriptions of returning to civilization.

The officer was overwhelmed by the sight inside. Women wasted away, near death, staring with vacant eyes.

With a sweeping motion of her hand toward the emaciated crowd, his white-haired, 68-pound, 21-year-old “guide” uttered a quotation she learned in school during the “before” times.

Noble be man, merciful and good,” wrote Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the German poet. They both shared in the grim irony of words they knew from a poem called “On the Divine.”

Gerda Weissman Klein became a public face in the United States for the survivors of the genocide and those less fortunate. Living in Buffalo, NY, and later in Phoenix, AZ, the couple had three children, eight grandchildren, and 18 great-grandchildren.

Mrs. Klein’s story is conveyed in her own spoken words and those of her husband in the 39-minute 1995 movie, “One Survivor Remembers.The film won the Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject and was based on her book, “All but My Life.

At the 1996 Academy Award ceremony, she was on stage beside the film’s director Kary Antholis as he spoke. Her turn came, but a musical cue to depart began just as it did, along with the gentle prodding of an usher.

Mrs. Klein remained silent at the microphone.

The applause and the orchestra stopped. She then offered words to an audience of people who had been thinking and talking all night about winning and losing:

I have been in a place for six incredible years where winning meant a crust of bread and to live another day.

Since the blessed day of my liberation, I have asked the question, ‘Why am I here?I am no better.

In my mind’s eye, I see those years and days and those who never lived to see the magic of a boring evening at home.

On their behalf, I wish to thank you for honoring their memory, and you cannot do it in any better way than when you return to your homes tonight, to realize that each of you who know the joy of freedom are winners.

Gerda Weissmann Klein passed away on April 3, 2022, aged 97.

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The top image is the early teen Gerda Weissmann during peacetime. It is followed by A Helping Hand, the work of Safiyyah Scoggins and Laura Hedien’s Alaska Road Sign, 2021. 

Finally, the U.S. Lieutenant Kurt Klein, who became Gerda’s husband, and her speech at the Academy Awards Ceremony in 1996. A Helping Hand was sourced from Wikimedia.org/

What is Your Legacy? The Simple Answer is Within Your Reach

The future is like a taxi driver awaiting our direction. “Where to?”

What we leave behind at the end of our trip — our legacy — attempts to answer the question, “When I pass the baton, what will the next runner receive?”

Does emphasizing personal success, outsized ambition, and individual prosperity leave something worth a lifetime?

Will a career of stature make the best life and legacy?

Here are two alternatives routes worth considering. The first is the path one woman pursued searching for “the good life.” The second adds you to the picture.

Really.

To begin, please read this eloquent description of the female I mentioned:

Legacies are hard things. As a teacher, you have no idea, usually, what’s going on on the other side of the table, and you won’t know for 20 years, 30 years, 50 years — you probably will never know what the lasting effects are, so I wouldn’t claim much. But I’ll say that Amy was an absolutely masterful teacher.

I was pretty good, but she was fabulous. And she was fabulous because if a student asked her a question, she turned it back on them. She didn’t feel obliged to give answers. She was there to make them think and think harder.

A student would say something, and if it was halfway good, she would say, “Another sentence …,” and it was flattering to the student to think they had another sentence in them, besides the best that they’d give you.

They searched for it, and they found it.

The other thing to say about her is that the women students, especially, saw and treasured in Amy the fact that she integrated naturally and easily a beloved life of teaching and learning, and a beloved life of marriage and family.

She wasn’t proving a point. She just did it. The students were invited into our home. They saw all aspects of her, and a lot of the students gravitated to her for this reason.

I am sure you realize the last sentence identifies the speaker as the husband of this remarkable educator. Amy Kass died in 2015, and the quotation comes from her mate, Leon Kass. If I listed all their combined achievements, you would be humbled, but they include books, civil rights activism, medicine, and much more. Concerning what her husband highlights, she was an instructor in the humanities at the University of Chicago.

What else do the words from the man tell us about his wife, the direction of her life, and the possibility of one’s own legacy?

He underlines a grace in her interactions with the young people who wished to learn from her. She lifted them by evoking their best — thoughts unexpressed but for her attempt to provoke their self-questioning, careful reading, and rejection of easy answers.

Amy Kass must have been the type of instructor you encounter once or twice in a lifetime — if you are lucky.

The kind you never forget.

Her partner mentions more than her professional attainments. He highlights how she lived, emphasizing her love for him and their family. She opened herself to other relationships out of her love of people.

As a professor of classics, she not only talked with her students about how thinkers in antiquity valued nobility of character, but she provided an effortless illustration in her everyday actions by being generous, eager, honorable, devoted, strong, and considerate in the classroom and beyond.

Now, the second answer I promised follows from the first. To leave a fine legacy, you needn’t become famous, make tons of money, or raise heroic children.

Attempt to match the guidance Marcus Aurelius, the ancient Roman emperor, gave himself:

No matter what anyone says or does, my task is to be good. Like gold or emerald or purple repeating to itself, ‘No matter what anyone says or does, my task is to be emerald, my color undiminished.’

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 7.15

This much — to be good — we all control. There is no need to listen to all the bullying or tempting voices which diminish or entice you.

The word legacy might sound too grand for such a modest approach to each day, but it is also brave. You will touch many lives and leave behind invisible traces of yourself by taking the advice of this statesman and Stoic philosopher.

Virtue is possible now, this instant, and all the time ahead of you. It is yours if you make it so. I’ll bet Amy Kass would have agreed.

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The painting is called School Teacher by Jan Steen. It is followed by Holger Ellgaard’s photo of the Carl Milles sculpture, Guds Hand (The Hand of God). They are sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

Of Clocks, Weddings, and Getting Cold Feet

It could have happened to you but probably didn’t.

The young man was 28 years old and in love with a 21-year-old beauty. His prospects were not great, but he finally landed a steady job at the Post Office near the end of an economic downturn.

Marriage was now possible; his intended said “yes,” and her parents gave their permission.

The next step was getting a marriage license.

The betrothed pair agreed to meet in downtown Chicago at Marshall Field and Co., now known as Macy’s. That block-long edifice faces State Street on the west, Randolph on the north, and Washington on the south.

The time was set. From “Field’s,” they would make the short walk to City Hall to obtain the legal document.

“We’ll meet under the store clock,” he’d said off-handedly. She quickly agreed.

The day came, and he arrived at the appointed time, right below the clock at Randolph and State as promised.

Only she wasn’t.

What happened? Why the delay? Was she injured?

Perhaps, she got cold feet.

Meanwhile, a lovely woman aged 21 stood at the corner of Washington and State.

She thought to herself, “What became of Milton? He’s so punctual. Where might he be? I’m standing under the clock as we agreed!

You see, a slight misunderstanding occurred. Marshall Field’s had two clocks, one at each State Street corner.

It wasn’t long before one or the other figured things out and walked toward the corner opposite. There was an embrace, a kiss, much relief, and the lovers proceeded a little late. The marriage license in hand, the wedding followed later that year.

Nineteen Forty, in case you’re wondering.

Both the bride and the groom showed up on time and in the right place.

My parents’ wedding.

How easily it could have gone wrong, in which case, you wouldn’t be reading this because I wouldn’t have written it. I’d not have been the product of “a twinkle” in my father’s eye, as he sometimes referred to me.

And my wife couldn’t have married a man who didn’t exist. Our kids and grandkids:poof,” along with my brothers, their children, grandchildren, etc.

Casio W-86 digital watch electroluminescent backlight (i)

Standing alone is hardly unheard of, whether at landmarks, dates, or the alter.

Take the 2005 media circus surrounding Jennifer Carol Wilbanks, who disappeared to avoid wedding bells, later falsely stating (to explain her absence) she had been abducted and sexually assaulted.

The worst tale I ever heard from one of the people involved concerned a “high society” ceremony. Big money, a glorious setting, gifts galore, newspaper photographers, and tons of people.

Everyone came other than the groom, who didn’t call ahead to cancel or apologize. Not by letter, e-mail, phone, or text, and certainly not face-to-face. Not ever.

And then I encountered an internet story of a young man who went through the wedding ceremony, only to startle the assembled crowd of well-wishers upon completion of the union.

He informed them of his intention to get an annulment the next day because of his new wife’s recent sexual escapade with the best man.

Moreover, the groom then whipped out photos to verify his report.

Now some would say, “everything happens for a reason,” and everything turns out well in the end.

I am not one of those people. I believe in accidents, lucky and unlucky, which seem to be randomly distributed despite our effort to avoid adverse events.

As far as happy endings are concerned, they happen, although not everything ends happily.

Still, we must make the best of things.

The humiliated young woman of the “high society” wedding did marry a man who loved her to pieces and showed up on the right day to prove it. They’ve been married forever, glued together in love. Sticky, I guess.

And, it’s hard to argue the fellow who promised annulment would have been better off attached to his temporary spouse.

Let’s hope they both learned something and went on to find happiness elsewhere.

In the end, when you are young, most setbacks are relatively brief, no matter how long the endless time seems.

Of course, whatever children might have emerged from the last two ill-starred matches never came to be.

A good thing? Not a good thing?

Did we miss the next baby Beethoven (who was born of a miserable marriage)?

I can’t say.

All I know for sure is that I’m glad my folks had enough confidence in their love to stick around and that one of them walked down the block in search of the other.

If not for that — well, you know.

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At the top, one of the two State Street clocks of the old Marshall Field and Co. store in Chicago, now known as Macy’s. The Macy’s photo is by DDima.

The second image is a Casio W-86 wristwatch photographed by Multicherry. Both of the pictures were sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

Searching for Closure: the Challenge of Loose Ends

Closure is a “sometimes thing,” to use an expression from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess.

Most of us want our uncomfortable emotions gathered and tied, but knots on the human package tend to loosen. Feelings leak out because they are squirmy, slippery parts of every life. Endings find a way not to end whenever they discover a quiet, tender crack through which to wiggle.

Breakups and losses happen to everyone. Usually, one party wants the book to close more than the other.

The latter experiences greater relief than grief. The other carries the heavier burden of pain and seeks an escape or another chance.

Perhaps he enlists distraction, alcohol, drugs, and medication, to no avail. Sometimes therapy, rebound romance, and faith also fail to heal wounds. What then?

Some wait and hope. They want to unend the end, begin the friendship or love anew, hoping the guy or girl realizes the loss. The seeker — the one with more anguish — searches for renewal, not dissolution.

Maybe he hopes his distant dad will finally say, “I love you, and I’m proud of you.For years he pretended the old man’s opinion didn’t matter.

Then the father dies, and the not-so-sunny boy learns the ache didn’t get buried with the man. He relives the pain over conversations remembered or never achieved.

At least, this survivor can grieve to the level of acceptance. Papa shall not come back, so all the solutions belong to the younger man. His situation can be both harder and more straightforward when his late father resides in “a world elsewhere.”

If a friend or lover is a call or email away, the possibility of a reunion may continue no matter the odds.

The long-standing therapeutic approach to bereavement involves expressing feelings — love, hate, sadness, emptiness — all of it. Over time, these should quiet themselves.

Standard techniques to advance the process include writing farewell letters one never sends, “speaking” to the deceased at an actual or ad hoc gravesite, role-playing a conversation with the one you cared about, or burying a note as a symbolic departure.

All these try to turn the abstraction of loss into a material or ritualized object, something you can see, hear or enact.

Some people, however, sustain their preoccupation with the other. Without intent, they train their minds to return to her repeatedly. They watch videos of her, listen to recordings of her voice, read her texts and emails, view photos of the loved one.

Friends, too, do this, not just people with romantic attachments. They remain absorbed in thoughts of estranged companions, replaying the events leading to the rift, analyzing and reanalyzing the why of it all.

Wondering whether there is a way to mend the bond continues the one-sided relationship. If these expenditures of time don’t end, the person engaged in them becomes an enemy of his own healing. His hope prevents a final goodbye and a step that might offer something more attainable.

Some romances can be rekindled, others transformed into friendships, and buddies return for various reasons. When those efforts work, here are some contributing factors:

  • Both individuals remember the best times and still yearn for reattachment, though at least one hasn’t said so.
  • One of the former partners hasn’t made an effort because of fear of rejection or anger.
  • Both members of the couple have changed in the ways necessary to create a more lasting bond.
  • One of the pair has reflected on the mistakes he made. He would welcome the chance to apologize if the other would listen. This could permit as much closure as the singleton requires. If the other reciprocates, an avenue to a fresh beginning may open.
  • The two souls feel incomplete without the other half.
  • No other relationships or responsibilities, especially with a spouse, would be compromised by taking up the old connection.
  • Life events or thoughtful changes have not caused one to recognize the need to maintain distance.

Reconnection can be wonderful if the two once again experience joy. When the attempt fails, it may at least remove hope and set dreams of recommitment aside. The “final” unhappiness might be a necessary step toward letting go. From the bottom, one can only rise.

When I continued to practice, patients sometimes asked what they could do to reclaim a failing or terminated relationship. No single answer works for all, and the counselor who dares to offer a confident prognostication walks unsteady ground. Even so, when my clients reported a long period of unanswered calls, texts, and emails, the unstated message was clear.

This time of year — dark days, pandemic, political and media-fueled rage, heightened anxiety, and more — increases our desire to embrace those we’ve loved and still love. Moreover, reaching out in the holidays might reduce the chance of a rude reply.

Still, not everything in life can be put right. More frequently than you might think, neither person in the split is wrong. Instead, their interests no longer coincide. It can even happen that two hearts are together in their breaking.

Before any new attempt to reattach, ask yourself whether the other is essential to you, recognizing most of us are not. Reflect on past losses, recalling your hard-won buoyancy and resilience.

A recent conversation with a close friend illustrates how hard letting go can be. She wondered …

Does “acceptance” require giving up asking “why”?

GS: I need to know a bit more to understand what you are looking for.

Your response gets to the heart of my question. I am questioning going down the rabbit hole of gathering more and more information. Is it intellectually crippling to turn away from that effort?

GS: Knowing why is not always possible. Neither is turning away easy. Life always has loose ends ...

My friend asked her daughter-in-law the same question. Here was her answer:

I don’t think that it’s human to stop asking questions. Acceptance to me is more about being at peace with whatever answers we get. Acceptance is also being OK with not knowing, with not getting answers.

A wise young woman.

Here’s to a New Year full of wisdom and kindness, enough to repair a world of broken hearts.

======

The top painting is Mt. Fuji from Kishio by Kawase Hasui, 1937, from History Daily. Next in line is the Narrows, Zion National Park, December 2020 by Laura Hedien. Blaue Kegelberg by Gabriele Munter follows, then Tragedy by Franz Kline, 1961. Finally, just below is Northern Lights at the Arctic Circle by Laura Hedien. As with the first photograph, these come with her kind permission: Laura Hedien Official Website.

Plans Before Sunset: A Woman Who Says “Yes” to Life

I once met a famous man who said, “We are all in transit.” Just passing through. Best, then, to talk with someone who willingly provided her perspective on the lengthy journey.

As she approaches her 10th decade, this lovely individual offered more than her share of wise guidance just by describing her plans. They do need revision on occasion, don’t they?

Before you hear her voice, let me give you some background.

Catherine Pearlson (CP) was born to the generational expectation of taking your male spouse’s name when married. These days we might perceive it as an automatic first step toward removing one’s identity. Men in the business world trimmed off some more of her selfhood, despite her degree from one of the finest universities in the world. Remember, she lived in the real-life version of TV’s Mad Men moment.

Her dad died early, but CP benefited from a kind stepfather and a sparkling presence, as well as three qualities in equally short supply: resilience, boldness, and wit. She persisted and persists.

Losing friends and loved ones infiltrates any long life, but Ms. P. continued to say yes to the crazy journey each of us encounters, no matter how much time it took to reclaim herself. Her will and self-affirmation survive, despite more than one serious illness from which she rebounded.

Catherine has known the death of one spouse and divorce from another. Here is what she told me:

On Monday, I was at the Senior Center when I noticed a flyer on the wall:

Therapy for Healthy Seniors

It spoke to me.

My ex-husband passed away a few weeks ago, and it took me back to a dark time in my life. The feelings always lurked inside, ready to emerge. They returned me to the birth of my current name and the beginning of my best identity. The yin and the yang.

A few days later I met with the therapist. She radiated kindness as I recounted the familiar stories. The general outlines. She asked about my goals. Here’s what came up after I went home:

  • I want to make peace with myself before I die.
  • I want to accept the people who populate my life for who they are as they reveal themselves to me.
  • I want to spend my time doing things that reflect my vision of my best self. Pretty lofty targets. But I guess that’s what goals are, right?

This charming woman mentioned inventing her name. I asked her for details.

In the aftermath of my divorce from my second husband, I realized I wanted to choose a last name for myself.

If you had asked me at the time, I would have said the desire came from not wanting to go back to my maiden name and certainly not wanting to keep my married name.

Now, in hindsight, I know it primarily came out of a yearning for my own identity, no longer attaching myself only to the role of a wife or mother or my determination to do something creative in the world.

I chose Catherine Pearlson because it sounded like a writer’s name.

Here’s one unexpected thing I learned from doing this: when I told my children, my family, and my friends about my new name, not one of them questioned the decision.

They accepted the alteration straight away. My inner conviction came through to them. This was a significant boost to feeling right about the first step in my new identity.

Upon severance of the marriage, the judge said I could change my name for free as part of the divorce decree. I refused. I counted up my pennies and paid for the name change as an independent action.

My friendship with CP popped up in the last few years. She is a glowing delight, still learning, still finding a way forward even during a pandemic, and still writing, too. I hope her words speak to you as they did to me.

How many people do we meet who are beautiful inside and out, with a dash of wisdom, too?

=======

I have changed the name of “Catherine” to protect her identity. The first image is the Umm al-Fahm Skyline at Sunset by Moataz Egbaria. Next comes Crepuscular Ray Sunset – Telstra Tower, Canberra by Fir0002. Finally, Preparations for the Open-air Concert of the Dülmen Summer at Wiesmann Sports Cars, Dülmen North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany (2018), by Dietmar Rabich. They were all sourced from Wikimedia Commons.org/

The Ups and Downs of Thinking Like a Therapist

Therapists possess a “hidden” talent, but one with a downside. Their peculiar way of looking at the world creates an occupational hazard: the “gift” widens our difference from those whose approach to life is more matter of fact.

This strange flair enabled me to do my work well. My profession included providing written opinions to colleagues who wished to better understand their patient’s psychological status and diagnosis. Others requested my services as an expert witness in civil lawsuits, which developed into a small portion of my practice.

A district court also chose me to help evaluate the State of Illinois Department of Mental Health. Of course, the capability of which I’m speaking served my clients too. Otherwise, I could not have fathomed who they were, why they lived in the manner they did, and how to calm their distress.

The “secret” is in the act of questioning — how a counselor thinks and ponders his excellences, limitations, and mistakes, not just those of others. Now, though retired, I ask myself even more about the information I encounter daily, the people I speak with, and the books I read. Though I no longer search for habitual patterns in the affairs of my clients, the phrase continues to describe my approach to analyzing conduct.

The authors who capture me do more than tell a story. They attempt to leave clues to their timeless vision of mortal creatures individually and in groups.

Like them, this tendency to search for such markers was part of the reason I became a clinical psychologist. We are something like archaeologists of the soul.

Perhaps the first question I wondered about as a boy was, “Why am I me?” That is, why did my sense of self, my emotions, and my internal identity reside within a particular body and not that of, say, my next-door neighbor?

Other than genetic and evolutionary reasons, I never came up with an answer. Nonetheless, this was the first “thoughtful” question of my life.

I hoped to explain the peopled planet to myself. I remain curious. All of you who read me are of interest to me as well.

In the book of Ecclesiastes, from the Bible’s Old Testament, the following line speaks to what I’m addressing, including the act of thinking like a therapist.

“For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.”

This takes the reader to some dark places. When you ask lots of questions, you see things about creation you might not be happy to face.

Even so, if you don’t figure out how to see in the darkness, you will block understanding yourself and quite a few of those you meet.

Psychological night vision enables other skills: finding opportunities in troublesome times, spotting pitfalls before you fall into them, admitting weaknesses you ought to master, and discovering a way to assist others and help make the world a better place.

Thus, it is necessary to interrogate yourself since you are the only chap you control.

We all are prone to tendencies quite different from the kind of scrutiny I’m describing. Most of us prefer simple answers and wear metaphorical sunglasses to shield ourselves from mankind’s darkness as much as we can. The way we try to determine if someone — let’s call him Person A — is good or bad provides an example.

Your solution to the dilemma of classifying Person A depends on how you define the sinful/saintly divide and, significantly, under what conditions you think the individual is good or bad. Say, in the cafeteria, in the bedroom, at work, or raising his children.

Since we lack access to much more than what A tells us, what others tell us about him, and receive no 24-hour video surveillance of the poor guy, we usually take the incomplete data we have and assume the bloke displays consistency in every circumstance.

Psychologists recognize this isn’t so.

Few folks want to see the shady side of those about whom they care. And we tend to dismiss kindnesses in those we dislike. Thus, we form simple, unitary opinions: A or B, good or bad. Questioning, for me, attempts to take a deeper look. We are more complicated than any superficial examination reveals.

It is easier to come to judgments about others than reflect upon why they are the way they are and in which situations they are different from their usual manner of self-presentation. As suggested, no one is constant — just one thing — always the same no matter the circumstances.

Still, we mostly get a glimpse of what is obvious.

The Stoic philosophers knew better than the simplifiers. They emphasized that no one achieves awareness of himself until he has been tested, if then. The trials they referred to include various temptations, dangers, moments demanding moral or physical courage, and how we respond to calamity. What you do then, not what you think you would do, defines your character.

In case you wonder, I got a passing grade on a number of these tests and failed others. So I’d like to believe. Ha! But — and I emphasize this — a better judge always must be a lady or gentleman at the head of the courtroom, not the one on trial. We forgive our lapses with disturbing frequency.

Much of the human world lives in a rationalized daydream of moral innocence. People believe they would survive unstained in situations they’ve never encountered and praise their purity without supporting evidence.

On the other hand, determining and criticizing someone else’s compromised or imperfect nature comes easily. Moreover, we do need societal judging, without which there would be full-time chaos.

However much judging is required in the world, one should take care since those who cover the mirrors in their own home almost make a profession of pointing fingers.

The kind of questioning I usually engage in nearly 75 years in the making. I imagine the process will continue to develop. It involves less categorical judgment than previous versions in my three-quarters of a century among all of you and those I knew who came before and left before me.

In describing a life of questions, I’m not recommending the practice as necessary or wise for all. The tendency to do so has chosen me in the God-given nature with which I was thrown into the world and the early life unique to me. I have merely decided to exercise and refine the process.

The skill is also the property of most therapists to an uncommon degree compared to those who make a living in other work. Nor would I recommend it to anyone much younger.

Young people are better off taking life as it comes, enjoying and learning from their initiation into adulthood. To make questions useful, the art of examination must be based on sufficient experience and knowledge of humanity.

We require the many encounters we endure along the way. Surprises and disappointments that only come with “living it” provide essential information and awareness.

Studying from the mountain top or staying on guard, away from the numerous challenges of proceeding through time, leaves one with enormous blind spots. The only way anyone should take on a mountain ought to be on an expedition, if then.

Youth also is a time of passion built into the hormonal flood. While the biological flow can be trouble, it is the source of much joy if you are lucky enough. We discover so much without knowing it as we proceed through the thicket of all the rapid changes in a youthful body.

The “first times” shower and dazzle we poor souls, or should. They come with new schools, new friends, new environments, new loves, and alterations to the world around us.

It is not a time for standing from an objective place outside of and distant from experience, a marginalizing choice. I realize this from having taken such stances early, though fortunately, I decided to enter the fray of existence because I realized I needed to reshape myself.

In his poem “The Archaic Torso of Apollo, Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “You must change your life.” You, meaning each of us, in our never-ending response to the internal and external torrent in addition to the river of time’s usually gentler flow.

From the now distanced standpoint of recognizing there is more time behind than ahead, I also increasingly put my ego aside. When trying to investigate something, beginning with the unconscious intention of defending your ideas, you reduce the chance of rearranging beliefs and learning new lessons.

This position requires humility, a stance from which you realize, “I do not know everything, and I’ve not had every sort of life experience.”

I am enlarged by conversations in which I listen to the answers I am getting to my questions and what others ask or tell me. From this perspective, in the best cases, I learn more and am enriched by human contact and knowledge.

When the encounter works, as I hope it does some of the time (whether reading a great novel or speaking with someone who will engage me with fresh notions and reflections), I consider myself lucky and sometimes become a better person. That is, I intend to.

Another way I’ve grown is the result of looking at those occasions when I was unkind.

For a therapist, there is some overlap between performing your vocation and the position you take as a private conversation partner, at least for me. One needs to remember who this person is, their sensitivities, what might prompt their discomfort, etc.

The individual’s reactions also raise the prospect of questioning him (and yourself) about the state of play between the two of you and whether he desires something different from you. The word “play” needs to be taken in two ways. First, as the playing field of life and second, as a space offering the freedom to enjoy the other — with a watchful eye for the emergence of friction or animosity.

For those personal and therapeutic relationships not going well, it is appropriate to consider whether the conceptualization you’ve created of this individual is erroneous.

Did you miss something? What? And how does this insight revise or complete your picture of him? Importantly, does this knowledge lead to changes in your words and actions in the future? You are always doing this in performing your job, less often with friends and acquaintances.

Since retiring, the questions I repeatedly focus on include the larger human dilemma and the pattern of history leading everyone to this moment. I wish to find out what those I’m close to, and the great minds of history think about this remarkable thing on loan to us, which we call life. Also, how they, the living souls I love, understand themselves.

I reflect on my life, look back at a few regrets, and try to adjust to a world and a physical self in flux, moving in the challenging direction we all come to do with age.

An old friend once emphasized the importance of asking “the second question.” Here is another way of describing the process in which I engage. Most people don’t do this. The common spontaneous expression “That makes sense” too often stops the evaluation without considering alternatives. As the old saying tells us, “Common sense isn’t so common.” You might be surprised by what happens if you ask “the second question” or even a few more.

Some people are made uncomfortable by the questioning. Even those more open should not feel like you are putting them on a witness stand of confrontation, indifferent to the tender spots they try to hide. I’d venture very many members of the human race set aside the task of self-reflection, confident they already understand themselves.

An acquaintance of many years recently told me he was free of regret about his life and was at a loss to remember any significant injuries he did to others. I suppose I’d say he hasn’t reflected enough, but he is a happy man.

Perhaps wisdom lies in his approach if the goal of life is happiness instead of self-awareness and becoming the best self one can be. Certainly, we all want the joy.

As to where to discover the wisdom, that’s a question for you, too.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Above are four examples of Mark Rothko’s work in an art form called Abstract Expressionism. All are untitled, except for names that refer to the colors employed. The top 1963 painting derives from the Smithsonian Institute. Next comes Purple, White, and Red  (1953), then works from 1967 and 1969. The last three can be found in the Art Institute of Chicago.

 

Finding the Balance between Effort and Surrender

Wisdom turns up in unexpected places. Who said, “Life exists somewhere between effort and surrender”?

The legendary and still active 44-year-old quarterback in the National Football League, Tom Brady, might be the most recent.

Many discovered this before him, including Danielle Orner:

Life is a balance between what we can control and what we cannot. I am learning to live between effort and surrender.
I imagine the Buddhists came up with something similar long ago.

How does this apply to therapy?
 


The most distressed of my patients — the joyless ones — inhabited one end or the other. Those who took the effort to an extreme sometimes achieved material or professional success but almost always encountered repeated frustration to obtain it.

Their singular focus also entailed costs for marriage and family.

A number of these, usually men, tackled life as if on the playing field where the domination of the opposition demanded mastery. They viewed problems as a series of obstacles to be overcome to the point of relentlessness. Such individuals were formidable but not easy to live with.

Openness, they believed, revealed weakness.
 
Serenity lay beyond their reach, leading to treatment.
The ones who specialized in surrender gave in to fear out of a lack of confidence and a punishing history. The human beings they encountered fell into the category of potential deliverers of harm, a kind of enemy army. Intimacy and emotional risk lived in the same category.

The safest way of surviving, as they believed, was to trust no one. Pets frequently provided warmth people didn’t.
 
In each of these cases, the counselor’s job is to ask the patient the cost of their favored strategy. If they identify the price, treatment goes forward. A bumpier path lies ahead if the individual has not reflected on the downside.

More than a few continue to defend their preferred choice. They will, perhaps, encounter more emotional pain or disappointment before choosing to make necessary alterations in their style of living. They might require reflection upon why they decided to be the person they are. However, a clear decision might not have occurred since none of us know our motives in every detail.

Many of my clients found their approach to life as children or teens. The solution appeared as the best available choice for the circumstances of the time, place, and people who surrounded them. I’m speaking of parents, relatives, schoolmates, and teachers. Keeping your head down and avoiding attention developed into a necessity for survival.

Time and experience reveal less satisfaction in the course of their lives. To the extent they become aware of the limitations growing out of their existing style, a search begins to remedy their discontent.

The world had changed around them, and the behavioral choices of decades past came to provide less profit and more loss. It was as if the new tires they put on their human vehicle years ago became threadbare.

With enough pain, the motivation to seek a better way ahead emerges.
 
 
But what of the balance between effort and surrender? That idyllic place is a moving target. Always.

I once asked Rick Taft, who managed investments for a living, whether he believed the stock market would rise or fall. “It will fluctuate,” he said.
 
This is true for stocks and most everything else. Just as the weather changes, we retain no promise of health, happiness, wealth, or much else. But if we can stop depending on a smooth life course, we have taken the first step toward emotional balance.
 
Without a single, permanent, satisfying spot between effort and surrender, what then? Here are ten suggestions:
  • Take opportunities where and when they arise. Doors open, but not always more than once.
  • Recognize the only unchanging experience in life is change. You cannot freeze the planet or our bodies in place, as the climate reminds us. Learn to become a tightrope walker on a windy day.
  • You do not have to take every opportunity, but take more than are comfortable if your nature is hesitant. Pull back instead if those instincts tend to push you to jump without looking.
  • Life will unsettle you, as it does to all of us. Resolve to reach for joy in small things, lest the inevitable unfairness of some days wrecks your disposition.
  • No one thinks about you as much as you believe. Others spend too much time with a miniature version of themselves buzzing around their brains. The focus outside of themselves emerges less often, except in moments of outsized feelings like love, hate, and fear. Therefore, don’t worry endlessly about looking foolish and making mistakes, lest you recall embarrassment long after the crowd has moved on.
  • You’ll grow more if you do more and find some exhilaration in daunting moments, balanced or not.
  • Learn to meditate, beginning in a calm and quiet circumstance when possible. Daily practice centered on your breath (as the top video suggests) reduces your chance of being swept away by a stiff breeze or worse.
  • No one figures out their life. Few of us fully display our pain and confusion. Do not be fooled by appearances.
  • If you can find a tender and consoling hand, reach for it. If you see a needy soul, extend your own to them.
  • Smile and laugh. Most of our worries don’t become a reality, and among those that turn out as we feared, a remedy might be found with time and effort.

We live in transit — in a perpetual transition, no matter its static appearance. A man in a train moving at a steady pace has no sense of forward motion except when he looks out the window. An observer outside the train, however, wouldn’t be in doubt about the fellow’s progress.

With the above in mind, think of life as a series of alternatives. The midpoint between them should not always be your target:

    • Sleeping — waking.
    • Seriousness — laughter.
    • Learning — teaching.
    • Following — leading.
    • Being for yourself — being for others.
    • Head — heart.
    • Action — contemplation.
    • With people — alone.
    • Reading — writing.
    • Contemplation — spontaneity.
    • Being in the moment — being conscious of yourself.
    • Looking back — looking forward.
    • Listening — speaking.
    • Getting — spending.
    • Indoors — outdoors.
    • Accumulation of material things — reaching for experiences.
    • Assertion — passivity.
    • Diving in — waiting.

Are you disappointed I have not offered you a simple answer to this puzzle?

Sorry, I am too busy working it out for myself, searching for each day’s new balance!

———-

Beneath the top video are the following images, in order:

  1. An 1891 poster from Wikimedia Commons of Félicia Mallet by Jules Chéret.
  2. Tears of Blood  by Oswaldo Guayasami.
  3. An incredible view of Lake Misurina, Italy, from History Daily.
  4. The Example of One Choice Question, a screenshot simulation from the TV show Are You Smarter Than the Primary School Students? Taiwanese version. The picture’s author is 竹筍弟弟 (talk) from Wikimedia Commons.

    On Adult Attachment to Children

    There is nothing like the wordless sadness of a beautiful face dear to you. I’m referring to the small, huggable, wide-eyed ones when overtaken by uncertain illness.

    “Mine!” is one of his favorite words, claiming property his bigger brother shows an interest in. The malady, however, offered nothing he wanted to keep.

    The upbeat mood of the smiling, sweet-as-chocolate cherub melts in a few minutes. Energy departs, spirit evaporates, words transmute into inexpressable discomfort. The flush of heat rises, but the body descends.

    The sick two-year-old loses his chatter.

    My youngest grandson does not reach for a hand — doesn’t lead you to a toy, or a place, or try to have you for himself instead of sharing you with his six-year-old brother.

    It must be tough to be a little fellow, hard to make your imperfect utterances understood.

    Now he wants the hugs only a mom and dad can supply — seeks their comfort and embrace, the safety he can’t describe.

    You watch this happen. COVID fertilizes your fear, growing like Jack’s speedy beanstalk. The concern is new, though other epochs had their own dangers — smallpox, polio, plague …

    The moppet slumps into slumber. You depart, but the precious person grips your heart, now shadowed by a cloud.

    The day passes. Your wife’s sleep is fitful.

    The golden boy holds the sorrowful power to instill worry.

    Daughter #2, his mother, sends a message early the next day.

    A long nap, his parents’ knowing, double-duty attention, food, and more sleep sweep the danger away. The tentative all-clear sounds.

    The news makes the sun shine brighter today. The superpowers of small children extend to the stars.

    Sir Francis Bacon wrote, “He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune; for they are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or mischief.”

    What the writer didn’t say might have also been spoken about love. We are held fast by our loves, the closest friends, our offspring, and our grandkids, too.

    Those attachments can do far worse to us than the bit of concern we had that day. Much, much worse. Many near misses and joys await. Best not to borrow trouble.

    But this two-year-old deserves credit. His bounce-back brought the sky’s warmest blue. Only the dearest hearts inside you do this. He sprinkles fairy dust and doesn’t even know it.

    ==============

    The first photo dates from 1934 and was published in Modern Screen magazine in 1950. The two-year-old girl is Elizabeth Taylor, with her mother Sara Sothern and brother Howard.

    The second image was taken by Rita Martin and shows an unnamed child in 1912. Both of the photographs were sourced from Wikimedia Commons.