Saturday, April 30, 2016

Lessons From My Mother

I have been thinking about my mom a lot lately. Missing her.  I would often call on my way home from work.  She would often come down from western North Carolina if there was something cool happening.  Yesterday my kids sang at a neat little fair up near my school.  It was fun.  She came to Sparkleberry Fair several years ago.  We were selling CDs of our original songs for a good cause.  We were raising money to buy goats for a village in Rwanda.  She loved it.  I can see her now in her sun hat, walking through the crowd drumming up business for us.  

She would have liked how my class sang yesterday.  She would have liked knowing that Devin is nearing the end of his  coursework for his doctorate in physical therapy and that Colin is going to give music a shot after graduating this summer.  She would have loved his band.  She would have liked getting to know our rascal of a puppy.  She would like my new songs and Heidi's new book.   She was Heidi's and my best friend.

It's not an anniversary of her death, although her birthday is on May 9th.  I am just missing her and as I read this old post, I thought I'd give it another go.  She is still teaching me lessons.  

Lessons From My Mother

My mom died yesterday, December 20, 2011.  Ruthie and I were there holding her hands, telling her that we loved her.  Telling her that she was the best possible mom.

She died the way I wish I could go when my time comes.  Fearlessly.  Painlessly.  In love with the people around her.  She had straightened out as many of life’s complex affairs as she possibly could, giving away a great many of her possessions, making sure she had a living will, making sure her beloved house in the mountains was closed up and safe.

She said no to any additional tests, chemotherapy or transfusions, knowing that they would do nothing but prolong a very uncomfortable life.  She took nothing for pain besides Tylenol until the day before she died. 

The very last words I heard her say were, “I love you,” before she could talk no more.  She was more concerned for those around her than for her own personal comfort.  She was modest until the very end, declining my help in getting her into the bathroom when she could barely walk.

“Don’t cry,” she told me recently.  “You can’t be sad.”  But she herself did cry sometimes.  She worried about all that she would miss; graduations, family relationships, the happiness and accomplishments of others, seeing her grandkids grow up.  Several times in the last month, when it was clear that she didn’t have much time left, on the rare occasion when she allowed herself to be sad, she said, “I just want to know how it all turns out.” 

But it never really turns out, does it?  Life is just so complicated; families and friends just keep spinning out and out.  Life is a process, a journey.  It builds in complexity until the end.

You could never say good-bye to everyone you want to, make sure that all life’s accounts are closed, every possession is passed on.  But she came close.  She worked at it.

And until right before she left us, she laughed and reminisced, loved and received love.  I am a better man for having known this remarkable woman.  All of us who knew her are better off.  As I write this, hovering over my writer’s notebook, somewhere between Albuquerque, New Mexico and my South Carolina home, many of my mom’s lessons are coming to me. 

Here is a list of some simple truths and bits of wisdom that she passed on through her words and actions.  There is no order here.  I am too sad for order.  But my sadness is softened by the knowledge that she left this world a better place. 

My mom, ever the teacher, did more than teach me how to live a good life.  Through her grace and humility, her courage and her openness, she even taught me how to die. 

I could write for the rest of my life and never capture her essence, and if I have any good qualities, I learned them from her.  While this is the saddest time I have known, I am grateful to have had this strong, simply good woman in my life for 54 years. 

Lessons From My Mother

·      Be thrifty.  Our blessings can be more efficiently shared if we are careful with our resources

·      Be generous

·      Find your causes and follow through with them

·      Give a lot – not just money but time and energy

·      Find new friends wherever you are

·      Remember to stay in touch with old friends

·      Love nature. Spend time in the woods and near water

·      Leave a small carbon footprint

·      Recycle everything you can

·      Walk a lot

·      Write real letters with pen and paper

·      Don’t collect too much stuff

·      Find reasons to laugh

·      Love a lot of people

·      Keep up with current events

·      Have an informed opinion about social issues and politics

·      Be active politically

·      Be honest and sincere

·      Forgive easily

·      Work to make the changes you want to see in this world

·      Stand up for those whose voice has been silenced

·      Keep your hands busy doing things for others

·      Don’t waste time on sadness, but cry when you need to

·      Read constantly

·      Don’t give a book you haven’t read

·      Don’t hold on to a book if you have read it

·      Discuss books that move you

·      Appreciate music and all of the arts

·      Be creative

·      Never stop learning or teaching

·      Understand that a person’s worth is directly related to their willingness to serve others

·      Tidy up after yourself – don’t leave a mess for others to clean up

·      Say “I love you” often and mean it

·      When something bad happens move on to the next chapter

·      Listen carefully when someone is speaking to you

·      Appreciate life’s simple pleasures

·      Enjoy spending time with children

·      Be modest and self-deprecating

·      Have a strong work ethic

·      Wake up early – some of the best conversations happen before sunrise

Saturday, April 2, 2016


Remember mail?  That is a question for older folks.  We all have mailboxes.  And the mail carrier dutifully places items in them daily.  But I am referring to MAIL mail.  Remember receiving letters and postcards?  When I was in college I received little care packages from home and from my big sisters.  I still have a postcard somewhere from my little brother from the hospital when he and his hooligan friends were playing a ridiculous game of "CRASH" by smashing their bikes together riding around on the tennis courts near my parents house.  Dan fell off (go figure) and got a concussion and mailed me a silly postcard right from the hospital.  Those were the days.

I have this big pack of letters from my mom over the years.  It is one of my most prized possessions.

Mail - real mail - was a time capsule of thoughts and emotions.  Committed to paper, letters were carefully written reflections meant to be recalled, maybe even kept as remembrances, a record, a reflection of times gone by.  

Not so much any more.  I'm not whining, not harkening to the good old days.  Just pointing out a way we have changed as a culture.  

Today's "mail" is most advertisements and bills.   As I was opening the stack of "mail" the other day, I noticed how the billers and advertisers try to get your attention.  OPEN ME!  READ ME!  OR ELSE! was all over them.  

Here are a few examples from just the last two weeks...

You know if these two boxes are checked on the outside of the envelope, that folks are going to open and investigate.  NO ANNUAL FEE!  Well, that almost means free money!  Right?

Just the word FREE is going to entice some mail openings.  Here are a couple examples...

You know someone, somewhere knows our age and disposition - as in over insured - when we get a guide to long-term care.  Sorry already have it.

Who doesn't love a SPECIAL GIFT?  You know you want to open it if there is a SPECIAL GIFT inside.  Especially one from kids.  Especially kids with cancer.  The cartoon sort of pulls at the heart strings too.  We have been getting these mailing labels for years.  

Can't ever use them though, in case someone wanted a correct name on the return address.  It's HEIDI.  I wish I could get off their mailing list.  It must cost money to send out this pack of incorrect mailing labels year after year.  I love me some St. Jude's, but it isn't one of our causes.

Then there are the ones that demand an immediate response.  It may feel as though someone, somewhere is actually waiting around for you to reply.  

What would happen if I didn't OPEN IMMEDIATELY?!  Would I get in trouble?  That's a lot of pressure to open.  NOW!  It's similar to the one below...

Of course it's TIME SENSITIVE.  We want a response (read: your cash) NOW!  DO NOT DELAY!

Anything with the word URGENT in bold letters should get your attention.  

But I have learned that if I let my subscription expire, they'll make me a far better offer than simply a renewal at the same price.  

But check out how wrong they got the name.  Do I really want a news magazine delivered to my house with such a dramatic name change?  It's Tim O'Keefe and Heidi Mills.  I am a liberated guy and I appreciate it that Heidi kept her maiden name and all, but morphing us into a single androgynous being?  I am not yet that enlightened.

I love me some Amnesty International.  They are one of our causes.  But I don't vote for people I know nothing about.

They use the stress of DATED MATERIAL and an OFFICIAL BALLOT.  If I don't hurry I'll miss the voting date.  I checked the ballot.  I knew nothing about anyone.  I appreciate that they think my input is essential.

But I had nothing to contribute.  It left me feeling a little hollow inside.  SOMEONE will be elected without my input.  

This one is easy.

Who wouldn't choose the 80,000 points over the 50,000 points?  Duh!

On the next one, I feel like I'll get away with something if I order a magazine through these guys.  I mean PROFESSIONAL USE ONLY?  Imagine the deal I can get if I go ahead and pretend that I am a doctor or a lawyer and have a waiting room with patients!  Did they mail it to me by mistake?  Could I just go along with it and read my TIME magazine at the discounted WAITING ROOM/PROFESSIONAL USE rate?  It's like they're daring me to commit fraud or something.

This next one is just so OFFICIAL looking.  I mean if there is a penalty for private use, they must be legit.  And important.  And relevant.  And serious.  

Even the so-called stamp seems imperative.

Stars.  An angry looking eagle.  It just screams freedom.  Justice. The American way!

Nope.  Just junk.  

We get so much junk mail that I thought it would be interesting to look up the stats.

Stop Junk Mail — a Personal Nuisance & Environmental Hazard

  • Keep trees in the forest. More than 100 million trees are destroyed each year to produce junk mail. 42% of timber harvested nationwide becomes pulpwood for paper.
  • Reduce global warming. The world’s temperate forests absorb 2 billion tons of carbon annually. Creating and shipping junk mail produces more greenhouse gas emissions than 9 million cars.
  • Save water. About 28 billion gallons of water are wasted to produce and recycle junk each year.
  • Save time. You waste about 70 hours a year dealing with junk mail.

Your Mailbox Today

  • The pulp and paper industry is the single largest consumer of water used in industrial activities in developed countries, and it’s the third-largest industrial greenhouse gas emitter (after the chemical and steel industries).
  • The average adult receives 41 pounds of junk mail each year. 44% goes to the landfill unopened.
  • On average, we receive 16 pieces of junk mail a week, compared to only 1.5 personal letters.
  • The majority of household waste consists of junk mail.
  • 40% of the solid mass that makes up our landfills is paper and paperboard waste.
  • Junk mail inks have high concentrations of heavy metals, making the paper difficult to recycle.
  • $320 million of local taxes are used to dispose of junk mail each year.
  • California’s state and local governments spend $500,000 a year collecting and disposing of AOL’s direct mail disks alone.
  • Transporting junk mail costs $550 million a year.
  • Lists of names and addresses used in bulk mailings reside in mass data-collection networks. Your name is typically worth 3 to 20 cents each time it is sold.

Definitely something to think about.