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.

    What Family Photos Tell Us

    I’d known since childhood. Mom told me her dad had been hospitalized with the Spanish Flu during World War I. Millions perished worldwide, 675,00 in the USA, not just the old but young adults in their prime.

    Like Leo Fabian.

    Grandpa.

    I didn’t think much about the averted calamity. The event hid behind my eyes while I focused on the world in front of them. Too bad I buried the idea of his medical confinement. I could have asked granddad before his much later, real burial rites.

    Eventually, a new thought pushed up for my consideration. If he’d died, my birth vanished with him. Jeanette Stein emerged in late 1918. Without Leo Fabian, no mom, no marriage between her and Milton Stein, no baby psychologist Gerry, no superman Eddie and champion bodybuilder Jack, my brothers.

    No Sam Fabian, either — my uncle and his three kids. No grandchildren at all.

    Long before my folks passed on, they gave me three large photo portraits. One of them showed Leo and Esther Fabian (my grandmother) with their first child, Aunt Nettie. Like all such images of the time, the posed picture was undated and formal — a no-smiles-permitted, dress-up occasion. These staged likenesses displayed dignity, pride, and status, along with severity.

    My imagination didn’t go far with the story of a family cut short. The brain inside me allowed minimal consideration of the image or its implications.

    Decades ago, I hung the thick wooden frame in my home office and became accustomed to the threesome watching me over my left shoulder. They look at me from 103 years of distance now.

    They were patient from the start, you might say. Waiting for me to discover their undivulged secret.

    At some point, I observed the front of my grandmother’s black skirt rising over her white blouse into a baby bump just below her diaphragm. Seen but not interpreted, not realized as carrying a contradiction in addition to a new life.

    Then it struck home.

    Leo Fabian, the surviving target of the pandemic, fathered a second child before his illness. Esther was pregnant. My mother’s appearance in the family play didn’t depend on her father’s survival.

    The perception of my history swiveled at the knowledge. What would have happened to Esther if she became a widowed mother in 1918 with two preschool children? A woman with limited English and no trade or training to make a living for herself and those young ones?

    Would she have found a way to cross the ocean back to Lithuania? How would the overseas clan have accommodated newcomers amidst the turmoil of the just-ended WWI? If they survived, would all of them then die in the Holocaust some 20 years ahead?

    Might one of her sisters, who also came to America with her, permitted the three to move in? Wait. One of them died young and left her own three children. The widower husband, Harry Kraft, married the remaining unmarried sibling. No guarantees of a safe harbor there.

    Might an orphanage have been the little girls’ fated destiny?

    Or maybe Esther, Nettie, and little Jeanette would have lucked out in an unimagined way.

    None of this is knowable. You might ask, though, why it took me so long to recognize the photographic evidence for what it was.

    In any case, from my perspective, Leo Fabian’s recovery from his illness was essential for mom’s romance with dad, probably even her meeting with him.

    Of course, some of you may believe fortuitous relationships are “meant to be.” It is comforting if life works out as you wish it; more disturbing if a guiding hand sends you in an unwanted direction.

    Many others, the author among them, believe chance plays a big factor in every past, present, and future.

    Or perhaps, along with some quantum physicists, you’ve decided that infinite versions of our lives are being lived at this moment, all simultaneously, all different. No less than Stephen Hawking thought so.

    In the end, no matter what you do with such thoughts, you are immersed in the one world we inhabit (even if it is a dream).

    Best to concentrate on staying afloat.

    A full-time job, for sure.

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

    The first image is my mother, probably not long after her marriage to my dad in 1940.  Then, in succession, my Aunt Nettie when she was still the only child of Leo and Esther, Esther’s baby bump, Esther, and Leo. Other than the top photo, they all come from the early family portrait of the Fabians mentioned in this essay.

    Love and Where We Find It, Including the Therapist’s Office

    Our feelings are attached to places and dates, dates in both senses of the term. People with a good memory can even tell you the room or moment when particular words were spoken — when the mood or lighting altered because a relationship changed.

    First meetings, last meetings, and relational drama become almost like a portion of the architecture and appearance of the place where they happened. The spot takes on an emotional resonance out of proportion to what a stranger would notice.

    No wonder the counselor’s office becomes part of your alliance with him. Even your time slot in his schedule organizes your life and attaches to the experience of therapy. His consulting room is not just a place where memories are uncovered but where they are made.

    If you’ve ever owned a home or lived anywhere for a long while, you may have returned soon after you left. Maybe your route from work put you on the old path without thinking.

    Others go back consciously, though not sure what draws them. Some want to revisit an unforgotten ineffable quality associated with this material segment of their history. Or perhaps they still search for the events that happened there or the one or ones with whom they occurred.

    The evoked sentiments loom larger than the manufactured creation. They make the edifice small by comparison.

    —–

    An older woman I know, someone I am close to, visited Chicago decades after leaving for the suburbs, then California, and finally Nebraska. When arriving her first time back, she wanted to see the old neighborhood we both inhabited and the “other house” where her teenage years transpired.

    This charming lady’s youth and home life were troubled, but not so for the earliest years near my family. Her parents wished to rise in the world, motivating their departure from the north side of the “Windy City.”

    The dad, in particular, had been marked by poverty. Adult ambition took them all to a posh Chicago suburb, where parental conflict, poor parenting, debt, and the father’s illness and early death damaged everyone. The best part of her life remained back in the old dwelling on Talman Avenue, the street where I knew her.

    The status-driven designer house was supposed to make all their lives better, but when our tour stopped in front of it, the recollections embedded in the place bubbled up. A flood of tears followed. Once she caught her breath, she said, “For this.”

    For this?

    They’d moved from a location where she had friends and felt accepted and acceptable, where her parents got along with each other: a place where the idea of home meant safety.

    The exit from West Rogers Park leading to the family’s new chapter became a loss, not the betterment expected. The ensuing unhappiness tied itself to the new site.

    The finer set of walls, rooms, and a circular driveway brought no satisfaction, no lofty place in the world. This was the graveyard of hope, not its fulfillment.

    The therapist sometimes enables people to feel they are worthy of love after a lifetime of believing they are broken, ugly, or stupid — “too sensitive,” disturbed, or weak. The fact of being valued can cause outsized affection, transference, perhaps love of the one who assisted in the process.

    When the treatment ends, it isn’t uncommon for the client to wish to take something physical — a small piece of its contents, a “thing,” but one containing personal meaning.

    This desire is similar to small children holding on to their blanket or a stuffed animal to calm them when the parent isn’t available. But saying goodbye to the counselor is different.

    The article given by the clinician is a transitional object and also something more, intended to preserve indescribable emotions indefinitely. Mom and dad return, but from the healer, there is a parting.

    Momentos needn’t be beautiful to carry the significance of the people and moments we retrieve from those inanimate creations, the sentiment they offer. We also remember places, sometimes unremarkable, because of those beside us when we were there — the beloved parents, partners, and pals of our lives.

    —–

    When the Madison and Wabash elevated train platform underwent deconstruction and remodeling, I could not look at it without recalling my dad. He and I stood on the now-discarded wooden planks many times and at many different ages.

    I doubt I will ever see that station without thoughts of him, though the boards on which we trod have disappeared.

    I imagine there are such locations in your life. They become part of us.

    Are the things intended to catch lightning in a bottle — the electric charge of human contact?

    The best possible “bottle” evokes emotion in touch with the heart. Perhaps, too, “sessions of sweet silent thought,” as Shakespeare would say.

    When you are old and ridding yourself of worn-out objects and stuff of no value, I suspect you will keep those beyond price because they carry this special kind of magic.

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

    The photo of the old Madison and Wabash “L” (Elevated Train) Station is the work of David Wilson. The image was sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

    For those who don’t know the Chicago “Loop,” the term first referred to the area within the “L” train’s loop-like route around the city’s downtown center.

    Why I (Still) Write Blog Posts

    I began this blog in 2009. The driving reason was to leave my thoughts to my children for whatever they might find worthwhile, especially after taking off for the great beyond if such a place exists. This was not my sole motive to scribble, however.

    As they all recognize, writers write out of inner necessity, an activity so essential to their being they cannot do otherwise for long. Some hope for fame, but few outlast the memory of their name if that. I never embraced their goal.

    Offering your written words to the reading world takes a small bit of courage since not everyone will agree with what you say. With few, if any, ideas not thought or said by the best minds of our past, one needs ego to believe your new material will stand out with anything new.

    Part of what justifies the idea of presenting personal observations despite all the brilliant writers of yesterday is the time in which we live. Every human life exists within a unique moment and place, no matter the similarities to all the history preceding us.

    A few decades ago, a Ford Foundation study concluded the daily New York Times contained more information to process than the average sixteenth-century man had to consume in his lifetime. Wow!

    The thought is astonishing until one recognizes who the gentleman was: a creature who couldn’t read or write, never got far from home, lived and died in the blink of an eye, and performed the same repetitive tasks without end.

    No TV, computer, Internet, either, not even choices of toothpaste. Just flowers at weddings to make sure the new pair didn’t overpower each other with an unpleasant odor.

    We live in a moment when the speed of change leaves us dazzled, dazed, delighted, or distressed, depending. Thus, I can rationalize my words as fitting for the time you and I share.

    I also write for other reasons. The first of these would be the help or enjoyment the posts give to some readers. The second is praise, though I’m pretty self-sustaining without it.

    Another, and this is significant, the act of composing keeps my brain active and focused away from occasional dystopian reflections I can’t escape about the world’s current state. Furthermore, the task of assembling sentences gets my mind off the usual worries and personal concerns none of us can avoid without something else to do.

    Many use drugs as a distraction to help with this. Lots of folks get comfort from prayer. In addition to writing, I employ meditation and study, conversation, human companionship, love, comedies, and helping those I can when I can.

    An unexpected bonus has been the correspondence I’ve had with a handful of individuals. I took joy from meetings with four of them I didn’t already know. Homo sapiens fall in love online; why shouldn’t they fall into friendship, too?

    Another reward was a surprise gift from a person I did know, who made a book for me out of my writings up to the moment she presented it. She is a dear heart, as I’m certain are many of those whose comments in response to my work reveal their humanity.

    I now have two young grandchildren, boys. Like most of you who reproduced, the children’s health, not gender, was all I cared about. Yet, I’m glad I have the chance to watch these spirited souls grow up and to aid a bit in the process. Thus, I set down words for them, as well.

    I am aware I repeat myself — duplicating points I made among the over 600 published titles you can find here in the Archives. Inevitable, I suppose.

    I also change my mind or discover research findings not available when I started the compelling hobby. I’d argue the fellow who began 12 years ago has been altered by moving into a new version of body and brain as we all do as we age, aware or not.

    Those changes of heart, soul, additional experience, and reflection will take you places you never imagined going. Therefore, my posts have also changed.

    For those who continue to read me, I’m forever amazed and grateful to the people who’ve consumed about everything in these electrified white and black pseudo-pages. I’m pleased, too, new arrivals find their way here, despite my lack of presence on conventional social media.

    So, my thanks to each of you for hanging out with me. I hope to be doing this for a while yet.

    ——

    Another person I met online: Laura Hedien, Storm Cloud Photography. With her permission, the two works used above are Supercell in Nebraska, 2021, and Sunflare, sunset in N.D, 2021. As always, I’m grateful to have made the connection with her and appreciate her generosity.

    The Indirect Messages We Find Hard to Understand

    There are many ways we are informed of our place in the world, where we fit in the lives of others. I’m speaking of relationships and work.

    I imagine you’ve read about open body language, making eye contact, pleasing facial expression, and whether we ask another person about himself and his ideas. Such behaviors or their absence provide information about our standing.

    I’ll mention a few more later, but the main attraction for today speaks to the question differently. Let me tell you a story.

    Two white men chatted in a waiting room a couple of weeks ago, another gentleman and me. He spotted my Cubs hat and struck up a conversation. The time passed in an entertaining, cordial way until his turn came to enter the office.

    The out-of-shape fellow employed a walker but had a most pleasant and engaging disposition. I’m guessing we belong to the same generation.

    For sure, we shared our love of baseball. But the sports stories he related aren’t what lingers within me. Rather, he told a tale of early employment, unlike anything I knew.

    This charming bloke labored in the building industry for most of his life, a muscle-taxing, manual way of making a living. Still a teen, his first job required him to dig a trench, a task of several days.

    On the morning of his first day, a truck came by and stopped beside the dig site. The driver’s elevated position in the covered vehicle reflected a higher status since all the other employees engaged in physical challenges exposed to the summer sun and the heat.

    The communication began:

    “Hey, buddy, would you like some coffee?”

    “Thanks, but can I have a Pepsi Cola instead?”

    The man behind the wheel turned away and drove on.

    In the afternoon, the same truck showed up again. My chum looked up as the rig stopped. The now-familiar voice spoke:

    “Hey, buddy, would you like some coffee?”

    The new guy on the job recognized his previous mistake.

    “Yes, thanks.”

    “What do you take in it?”

    “Cream and sugar.”

    “We don’t do that here.” So the big machine sped off.

    When the workday ended, the rookie took a bit of time to reflect during his trip back to his parents’ house. He wondered what happened. The youthful chap was not stupid, though he had little experience outside of home and school. The second day found him more prepared.

    The predictable arrival of the authority figure offered the unsurprising question.

    “Hey, buddy, would you like some coffee?”

    “Yes, with cream.”

    “Good,” came the reply, and, not long after, the creamed beverage appeared.

    What do you believe happened between the older man and the younger one? Think for a moment before I tell you what I imagine.

    In the world of beasts, birds, and the (so-called) civilized creatures on the planet, there is a form of ranking known as a “pecking order.” Here is an internet definition:

    A hierarchy of status seen among members of a group of people or animals, originally as observed among hens.

    To fit into the social world, one must learn where one stands, what behavior is acceptable, what is not, when to listen, when to speak, when it is your turn in the “pecking order.”

    Thus, assuming my waiting-room companion wanted a tolerable place in the arrangement of laborers, he needed to discover how to behave. In effect, the coffee potentate trained him about his rank and the consequences if he didn’t accept without question the lowly station he occupied as “the new guy.”

    If my temporary buddy wanted to continue working in this place, individualism was out. Unless he first blended in with the crowd and followed orders, no guarantees existed. To put it another way, the conditions demanded recognition of even unstated rules, to sink or swim without swimming lessons.

    He learned to swim.

    I could be wrong and, if you have a different interpretation, please tell me. But, to my mind, the youngster who is now an oldster received the unorthodox instruction — “know your place” — without the remark ever being made.

    Bigots of the time said such things when talking or writing about black people.

    The story I related took place over 50 years ago. These days, one might realize one’s standing with a “friend” if, for example, he makes you wait but not others or drops his attention to you when someone else enters the room.

    Or maybe he engages in monologues without asking you questions about yourself, wants to see you only when he needs a favor, doesn’t respond to calls, texts, emails, etc.

    Of course, we all fall short with friends on occasion, but some do it as a matter of routine. Were I to choose from these methods of communication, I’d prefer the method of the construction workers to that of the inconsiderate friend. But that’s just me.

    We all have to do some wiggling to find a satisfactory spot in the world. At least for a while until we develop the confidence, strength, and character to say no to the person who imposes unfavorable conditions on us.

    And then, if you also have economic security, you can set many of the guidelines and, I hope, be considerate to those around you.

    My favorite comment on the role money plays under similar circumstances is best captured in the words of a famous, long deceased harmonica player named Larry Adler.

    It is as eloquent as it is vulgar, so turn away if you must:

    You should always have enough ‘fuck you’ money.

    Sorry for that. No other phrase quite captures the sentiment.

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

    The top two images were created by Laura Hedien in May and reproduced here with her permission: https://laurahedien.com/

    The first was taken Outside of Gail, Texas. The second displays a Sunset in Texas. The final image is the work of William Gottlieb, derived from Wikimedia Commons. It is a portrait of Larry Adler and his frequent collaborator, the dancer Paul Draper, in City Center, New York, around 1947.

    The First Young Love

    The three-year-old beauty flapped her arms to express her urgency. “Put those away; he’s coming, he’s coming!” The mother smiled and followed orders. The tiny sweetie knew a remarkable young man and his family were about to arrive. She didn’t want him to spot the box containing her diapers. Accidents still happened, knowledge to be hidden from her first love.

    Who was the object of her concern and admiration? My not quite six-year-old grandson, the heartthrob of her sister’s kindergarten class.

    W met his classmate, the older sister, soon after moving to the new family home. This was their first in-person school experience. Herself a cutie, Maddie sent W a note before her at-home competitor knew of his existence. “I Luv yu,” she scrawled, along with a heart and Cupid’s arrow. Writing, reading, and spelling are new to these kids.

    The youthful hero, one of two grandchild carriers of my DNA, is the real deal. He is tall, handsome, and charming. Moreover, my boy is an outgoing storyteller and knows his future profession: paleontologist.

    The number of those smitten is growing, sending similar love notes taxing to the postal service. Now you know why the mail is late.

    Unfortunately for his admirers, the young man’s mind is on dinosaurs, the extinct creatures of his intended full-time occupation. Live beings hold interest for this prospective scientist for playing, friendship, and nothing more. They are playmates, but not the Hugh Hefner kind.

    W has no idea he is the talk of his youthful cohorts and their parents, but he doesn’t appear fazed by the frequent tender offerings from the captured hearts. I’m sure the unawareness of his charm makes him more appealing. Asked by his mom about his matrimonial future, he said he doesn’t ever intend to marry.

    Yesterday I watched a video of Mr. Gorgeous making repeated climbs to the top of a pool slide, then giggling all the way down. The young man’s joy should be bottled. The only difficulty was that each of the slides caused his swim trunks to edge south. W’s dad reminded him to pull them up. Insubstantial hips didn’t block the downward drift. God help his fan club if they should discover him this way.

    During summer days in safe residential neighborhoods, you might see colored chalk drawings on the sidewalk. Some of these could be the handiwork of female children like those who dream of my oldest grandson. They display many hearts, rainbows, and good wishes.

    Lucky adults like me remember those days. The world is simple and benign for such fortunate kids. It is a vision more precious because it isn’t permanent. Still, some will keep the sense of wonder, goodness, and innocence embedded within them — and be better for it.

    We should all be so lucky. In the meantime, W and his lady friends — and I do mean friends — warm my heart, bring a smile, and even an occasional tear to my eyes. Such moments make life wonderful.

    Note to myself: cherish them.

    ———-

    The image is called Love Since Childhood by Katyatula. It was sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

    An Unusual Way to Think About Life When in Despair

    Here is something you probably haven’t encountered in the self-help realm. The therapeutic aid applies in a world where trust is challenged 24/7, as it now is.

    A story is required to explain it. No religious belief is needed, though the lesson can be found in sacred writing.

    The Genesis tale of Sodom and Gomorrah, places of exceptional immorality, tells of God’s decision to destroy those cities and every person within them.

    The Master of the Universe talks with Abraham before the destruction, a man honored by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. He respectfully pushes back on the Almighty’s sweeping judgment to punish everyone, the decent along with the evil.

    This worthy individual reminds God of his role as “the Judge of all the earth.” He asks the Lord whether the wicked and the righteous should share the same fate.

    Might the Creator be willing, the Jewish patriarch asks, to spare the planned eradication if 50 upright souls reside within the doomed cities?

    God agrees: he will save the entirety of those evil places if 50 exist.

    The conversation with the Lord continues. Each time Abraham pleads for the Deity to lower the requirement. The discussion concludes with an agreement to spare Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of 10 honorable souls.

    In the end, only Abraham’s nephew Lot and his small family are deemed virtuous by angels who search for 10 upstanding citizens. Short of the number required for the towns to escape God’s wrath, they alone are permitted to flee.

    Many themes are present in this biblical tale. Its emphasis on the value of each individual prompted this essay. God is prepared to spare all the guilty for the sake of a few who are good. He allows a family below the promised number to depart.

    What advice might grow from this?

    When in despair over your life or the state of the world, perhaps consider something else. Yes, we live in a troubled time in which much harm occurs each day. We have all been hurt or afraid in this challenging moment.

    Yet, you might pause to evaluate whether anyone you know or are aware of is decent?

    I imagine someone will occur to you. Does the presence of even one such individual encourage you to continue to recognize your life, too, has value?

    Now think of someone who might also be facing challenges. They may be thinking of you as someone whose existence lightens their burden. You make their life better simply by being here.

    Maybe you do things for them for which they are grateful. Your benign presence or characteristic kindness allows them to take heart. Your laughter or cleverness brings joy, distraction, and their gladness they are alive to hear it.

    The world needs many things: wisdom, courage, and generosity come to mind, in addition to those qualities mentioned above. But just as Abraham argued that a handful would justify God’s leniency, I will argue one needn’t be a superhero to uphold the human race despite the messes we humans make.

    The kind heart found in a single neighbor, friend, and even within you adds to the conversation about the value of life and living. I hope you can find yourself on the list of those with at least one good quality. Earth is a place where other admirable souls you know or have heard of also reside.

    —–

    The Descent Towards Sodom by Marc Chagall, 1931. Abraham is surrounded by three angels. The image is sourced from Wikiart.org.

    Confused by Friends, Family, and Neighbors? Why is the World so Messy?

    When I think back to my Chicago Public School education, only two answers existed for the many questions presented to us. One was right, the other wrong.

    No, I suppose it wasn’t quite so simple. I had to find the one right answer. All the rest were wrong.

    It is evident today that even my five-year-old grandson has opinions, and an astonishing number of us choose to believe a select group of those who deliver opinions. Unlike my elementary school, our country doesn’t agree on the question of what’s right and what’s wrong.

    What shall we do with this condition of our equally human lives together? We are assailed by so many who offer a certainty not shared by other voices. They and we live in unshared tents of true belief.

    First, dear reader, I don’t want you to accept automatically what I’m about to offer you. I don’t want you to receive my ideas without asking yourself about them. If you don’t step back and consider whether I’m wrong, I shall become another of those supposed authorities who might mislead you by accident or the intention to deceive.

    Let’s get back to what I learned early in life.

    My sliver of religious education encountered authorities similar to the secular ones employed by the city, in this case having to do with alleged truth about our obligations to a creator and fellow mortals.

    Depending on one’s religion, one received God’s all-knowing words, some etched into long-unavailable stone tablets. So the believers believed.

    Friends told me about the Catholic churches of the time. Bible reading was discouraged. The priest would inform you of all you needed. Accepting his pronouncements was expected.

    The various authorities delivered top-down stature and insistence. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t dare ask who or what is in the boat or where the vessel is docked.

    You could ask questions in these centers of learning, but I didn’t ask many early on—most who did attempted to understand what the teacher or the text said, not challenge the instructor.

    Parents also authored a version of the law: the rules of the home and how to behave outside. Again, follow the drill. If you don’t, no thrill.

    If the city elders put a sign on the Chicago block containing Jamieson School — the gigantic mortar and brick edifice I attended through the eighth grade, it would have read:

    WANT TO FAIL? ASK QUESTIONS!

    Somehow I got a doctorate. I made a jump of several years here. Hope you are still with me.

    What was going on then? What is going on today?

    The average American has not been encouraged to ask queries of himself. Not well-considered, thoughtful ones, at least. For example, when the teacher told us about slavery, the telling including a few uncomplicated explanations of how and why.

    Almost no instructor asked students, what else? Might there have been other causes, more or fewer?

    We could have been asked, “What do you think was going on in the minds of the slaveholders? What motivated them? If you were a slave, how would you have felt?”

    Many of the slaveholders claimed adherence to high-minded religious principles. How did these “masters” combine the vision of a loving God with their treatment of men they considered property?

    What does this tell us about the ability of some folks to hold contradictions in their minds? Do you think the plantation owners resolved those contradictory beliefs and actions? How? Do such contradictions present themselves in today’s world? Do they live inside you?

    What would you have done if you were the son of a mom and dad who kept slaves? Can you be sure without having lived in that moment, in an identical place and time?

    Well, you can imagine. If I taught such a class to young people in certain places today, I’d be terminated along with this agenda.

    To my benefit, I was a curious kid, one who led a one-person in-home questioning of my family’s life on Talman Avenue.

    Whatever the cause, most of us should harbor lots of questions about the world we live in. An endless number. In particular, those without easy answers

    Even before we start, however, we must begin by observing more of the world. Socrates, Martin Heidegger, and other philosophers said a typical person sleepwalks his way through life. We see without awareness. We hear without listening.

    We peek at life through a tiny lens — as if through the small end of a funnel. We walk down the street peering into phones, examining texts, tweets, headlines, and emails fed to us by those opinionated others I mentioned before. Taking selfies along the way, as well. Everything gets blurry.

    Meanwhile, if you challenge yourself to absorb everything else, you might see without a funnel. Notice the road. Why is it closed off? Perhaps you would wonder who decided this? Who benefits? Who doesn’t? How are the asphalt and labor paid for?
     
    You’d see homeless people instead of walking past them as we tend to do with discarded furniture, recognizing the humanity in them described in Sabbath sermons. Do these creatures cause problems? How? What do they need? What is your responsibility? Where do they sleep?
     
    Recognize the weathered skin of those too long in the sun. Were they born to other homeless people? Did medical bills lead to the loss of proper shelter? Was prescribed medication a stepping stone to addiction?
     
    You’d see trees and insects. In some locals, few flies, bees, and butterflies live. Was it always this way? What explains their reduction in numbers? What happens when these beings are in short supply? Are there human consequences due to their diminished number?
     
    Do you know population growth is slowing in many countries? This started before the pandemic. Is it a good thing or not? Why are people having fewer babies? How significant a factor is a living wage to the decision to have a child?
     
    If you take another intellectual step, immigration policy enters your conversation with yourself. Pro or con? More newcomers would increase the number of inhabitants and produce more children. Helpful for business or not?

    I hope you recognize how many issues like this are interconnected with other observations you might make as you widen your eyes to consume what is in front and around you. Prepare yourself for one question leading to another. The experience can be both unsettling and exciting.


    We are interlinked to things, bugs, bridges, people, the folks harvesting our crops, the guy who collects our garbage, the environment, the people who build businesses, the men and women working three jobs of necessity, and the police.

    We are attached to entities like us who toil in never heard of villages or cities, absent from dusty maps. Some are decent, some indecent, some would give you the shoes they use to walk, and others would steal yours and laugh about it.
     
    Socrates, Parmenides, and Heraclitus all observed their neighbors’ failure to open themselves to the world, wonder about it, and raise internal inquiries instead of accepting the opinions of those thought to be more learned or wise. They believed this the natural state of humanity.
     
    Why? Why do we hear but don’t listen? Why do we step forward through the day, the places, and the living things without “seeing” them?
     
    Why don’t we reflect upon what we perceive of this magnificent, baffling, racing life and begin more questioning rather than reflexively buying into so-called authorities, assuming they are right?
     
    The philosophers I mentioned suggested explanations like this one:

    We want simple answers. Quick conclusions making us feel better are preferred, whether they help us feel secure, confident, and adequate or project blame for hard times on others instead of ourselves.

    If a person admits he doesn’t understand something by asking a question, he risks self-doubt. If this man is unsure around associates, he may appear foolish.

    Uncertainty experienced within our complicated lives provokes anxiety for many. Confused, shaky members of the group can be cast out or lose status. Rejecting the accepted ideas of the tribe breaches the unstated rules of membership.

    The world is a demanding, competitive place, where few own the luxury of time. It is one where fairness and prosperity are not guaranteed. Making a living, finding a mate, achieving a safe place to live, and raising decent and healthy children can’t be assumed.
     
    Better, many believe, not to overthink what others don’t ask about, thus avoiding worry. Last, we cannot escape the grim reaper: death. We will die, as will everyone we know or will know, those dearest to us included—another troublesome topic to be set aside instinctively.
     
    Few have the courage to look at the most pressing conditions of existence in the face, nor the person seen in their mirror. Thus, only the strongest can take on the surroundings in one swallow that includes everything — the beautiful and the awful together.
     
    Small bites of the least unsettling bits of it come naturally to the human condition. No, don’t ask too many troublesome questions without comforting, fortifying answers. When in doubt, trust your friends and maybe the people they trust. If you take a widemouthed gulp of the whole world, you might drown.
     
    Ah, but the same philosophers also believed there is an upside here. If you are brave enough to perceive everything as it is and engage in questions on a large scale, you will become a more excellent person. You may then alter your life’s path and the history of those around you.

    This kind of courage, curiosity, and wonder offers engagement with whatever exists ahead. The well-being you want for those you love and the world’s future requires people such as you shall thereby become.


    The possibility of discovering the best possible version of yourself remains down this road. I hope you seek it.

    ==========

    The first image is the Yukon River, Dalton Highway, Alaska by Laura Hedien, with her kind permission. Next comes Oswaldo Guayasamin’s Waiting. Finally, a Buddhist Lama, 1913, sourced from History Daily.

    A Basketful of Moms

    There are lots of moms out there. You might even have had one yourself. Or more than one.

    Here are some to cheer or miss or wish they’d been better:

    • The One Everyone Wants. Loving, supportive, defending us when needed, encouraging and challenging us, too. Always there.
    • The Overburdened Mom. Too many kids, too many jobs, too many issues of her own.
    • The Stepmom. She can be either of the first two, just not the one who gave birth to you. This mother might favor her own kids or accept you as if you arose from her body.
    • The Big Sister Mom. Usually, the oldest sister, especially if you have an overburdened mom.
    • The Nextdoor Neighbor. She might have made you wish she were your own mother.
    • The Favorite Teacher Mom. If you had a winning teacher such as this, I don’t need to tell you how much she influenced and helped you.
    • The Dad Mom. The double-duty father has to take both roles when the mother is absent or ill. He might be a stay-at-home dad when the mother is the breadwinner, too.
    • The Mentor Mom. A supportive guide you find in the workplace.
    • The Role Reversal Mom. She expects you to listen to her and, to some degree, be her moral support and caretaker (long before she gets old). You hear stories from her you shouldn’t hear.
    • The “I Know Better” Mom/Grandma: She won’t accept the second banana, supportive job you’d like her to take with your kids.
    • The Good Mom/Grandma: This lady allows you to grow up whether you have kids of your own or not, and limits her unrequested advice. You are allowed to be an adult, your own person with your own ideas.
    • The Mother Who Played Favorites. Yikes is all I can say.

    Well, I’ve probably missed a few, including some of the least admirable, but you get the point. I hope the stork deposited you in the lap of the kind of mother you needed. If not, that you found a substitute elsewhere. An impossible job, for sure, but the most essential one on the globe.

    A round of applause to all the best of them and perhaps some kindness even for the rest of them.

    And to all of you who are mothers, will be, or wish you could be.

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

    The drawing is called Mother and Baby. It comes from a 1923 advertisement for Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound. It was sourced from Wikimedia Commons.