Sweating the Small Stuff

How many times in my life have I heard someone say, “Don’t sweat the small stuff?” Usually it’s meant to comfort me when I feel anxious about something that appears to be trivial to another or offered as an excuse or permission to fail to meet some expectation not shared by the person offering the solace. And there are scores of books written about not sweating the small stuff. You can purchase wall plaques, pendants, caps, key fobs, T-shirts, etc., all emblazoned with the phrase.

There seems to be a universal assumption that little things don’t matter. That unless something has monetary or political or social significance, it is not worthy of our time. But I think that little things do matter. So I will continue to sweat the small stuff.Little things

After all, if the best things in life come in small packages then why not give them their proper attention and respect? The idiom, “The devil is in the details” implies that there is something hidden in the details; something that might seem simple at a first but will reveal itself to be more than expected.

I prefer the phrase “God is in the details”. The little things. Watching glimmering snowflakes cascading down from the sky. Taking a walk on a crisp fall day. The sweet smell of a summer rain. That first cup of coffee in the morning. A favorite book. Resting under a shady tree. Hearing a child’s laughter. Receiving a friendly smile. Or a soft touch. Or a kind word. Simple things perhaps but hidden inside each of these is comfort, joy and love. And I believe God is there, too.

So I’m sweating the small stuff. I will take the time to appreciate the details. I will hold the door for you. I will carry your load if you let me. I will set the table properly. I will use good penmanship. I will clean my house and mow my lawn. I will drive courteously. I will try to be a good citizen; a good neighbor; a good friend. I will say thank you and please and you’re welcome.

But more importantly I will say I love you. And I will say it again. And again. I want the gifts that I give to be wrapped literally and figuratively in all the beauty that I can muster. The gifts that I have to share may not be significant or of any financial value. In fact, in the grand scheme of things, my gifts are all just small stuff. But I will sweat them out. Anything less would have no meaning…

Peace,

Denis

 

Let Freedom Ring

I love my country. I’m proud to be an American. Other countries are wonderful and my life has been enriched by having visited many of them, but they are not home. Home for me is Midwestern, friendly, small town, hard-working, fun-loving, flag-waving, hand-holding, good-timing folks who care about their neighbors, love their families, and lend a hand to those in need. We pray for one another. We celebrate our joys and share our sorrows.

Yesterday in the United States we celebrated Independence Day. And so our great nation celebrated another birthday. That’s right! Our country is great. It has ALWAYS been great. It doesn’t need to be made “Great Again”. Once great; always great! Even with a Commander-in-Chief who seems to possess the intellectual maturity of a six year-old, we remain a great nation. I’m sorry. That statement is actually an insult to most of the six year-olds that I know. We need not define ourselves as a nation by the lowest common denominator. Trump and many of his key policies are very unpopular around the globe, and ratings for the U.S. have declined steeply in many nations, according to polling by the Pew Research Center. However, America still wins praise from other nations for its people, culture and civil liberties. Therein lies our greatness.

Independence Day paradeI am a patriot. But sadly I’m afraid that patriotism has come to represent a pretty narrow political view by some. I don’t believe that God should bless America anymore than God should and does bless all nations. And yet I remain a patriot. To me this is the beauty of being an American. We are a pluralistic nation. We are richly diverse. We can disagree with one another. We can openly oppose the political views of elected officials and vote them out of office. We can peacefully assemble. We can protest. We have the right to freedom of speech and freedom of information.

So I even though I am a progressive and an avid supporter of civil rights and equality for all Americans I remain a patriot. I’ll keep waving my flag and honoring our great nation’s founders whose vision of liberty and justice for all remains with us today. And I will respect and embrace your unalienable right to think that I am completely wrong.

Because this is what we do in The Land of Liberty.

Peace,

Denis

Summer Makes Me Happy!

Summer makes me happy! Sunshine. Blue skies. Lazy days. Swimming pools. Cool drinks. Baseball. Watermelon. Picnics. Patios. Snow cones. I love it all.

All the rules change in summer:

  • No school for the kiddos.
  • “Dressy casual” becomes more casual and less dressy at the office.
  • The sun stays up longer, so dinner can be something on the grill (or sometimes just hors d’oeuvres and cocktails).
  • Nature is in abundance – our gardens are in full bloom and the hummingbirds return.
  • Everything just feels a little lighter – a little more carefree.
  • Vacations (even a little road trip) can be a time to recharge our batteries and refresh our souls.

PoolWhen I was a boy times were simpler (or maybe our parents were naïve). But it seemed that we had lots of freedom and at least we felt safe. Certainly parents then didn’t have the fears that parents do today. We swam in creeks. We road our bikes EVERYWHERE. We drank from the garden hose and peed in the backyard. We played in open fields. We collected soda bottles and returned them to the A&P for the 2¢ deposit. My friends and I would save enough of the deposit money to buy a watermelon (the kind with seeds – the seedless ones hadn’t been invented yet) and we would cut it open on a summer day and gorge ourselves and spit the seeds on the ground. Perhaps that’s why summer makes me so happy. I can relive some of my youth with my grandkids. We can play ball in the backyard and eat watermelon and splash around in a wading pool.

I believe in our world today, more than ever, we could use some happiness. I certainly know that I could. I’m not “sticking my head in the sand” pretending that global warming isn’t real or ignoring the fact that millions go to bed hungry each night or forgetting that racial and social injustice are still rampant in our society. Searching for a little happiness won’t eliminate the political turmoil that currently has a stranglehold on our nation. But I need some summertime to help me put it all into perspective. I need a break from all the unhappiness. I need to play outside and run through the sprinkler and eat too many hotdogs and ice cream cones and LAUGH OUT LOUD.

Maybe then I can get back to the serious business of worrying and praying about all the things that make us so unhappy as a nation; as a community; as a neighborhood; as a family.

In the meantime, let’s be happy! At least for a little while…

Peace,

Denis

Fledglings

This spring a cardinal made her nest in the hydrangea tree in our front yard. We’ve been on “bird watch” since I first discovered the nest with four tiny eggs. Momma bird would sit quietly on the nest until I got too close and then she would fly away chirping (actually squawking) until I moved away from her brood.

birdsA week or so ago the first egg hatched, followed by two more the following day. The fourth egg never hatched. I guess, such is nature. At first the three baby birds were just all eyes and beaks and fluff. Always with their necks outstretched, waiting for momma bird to deliver some sustenance. Momma bird would fly from rooftop to tree to ground and back and then do it all over again and again. She would pull worms from the ground and return to the nest only to fly away again in constant pursuit of food for her young.

birdYesterday as I was looking into the nest, two of the babies jumped out! Then on to a branch and then onto the ground. Momma cardinal became hysterical. The squawking and flapping and flying around was startling to say the least. It was as if she was sounding an alarm. And indeed she had. Soon daddy cardinal was on the scene. Both appeared to be searching for their timid youngsters who had taken shelter in the rose and holly bushes in our front garden. They were like tiny sentries on guard. Desperately struggling to protect their young from what might lie ahead. This morning the nest was empty save for the un-hatched egg. The fledglings have officially “flown the coop”.

All this nature-watching has made me keenly aware of how time marches on. We all were once fledglings who had to brave the unknown. Some of us might have jumped from the nest and others of us might have been nudged. Regardless we somehow found ourselves in unfamiliar terrain dealing with the unimaginable.

As a parent I remember feeling woefully unprepared when my son left for Air Force Basic Training. There was so much more that I needed to teach him! How could the little boy who wore Velcro® tennis shoes to kindergarten (because he hadn’t yet learned to tie his shoes) be prepared to defend our nation? When I walked my beautiful daughter down the aisle on her wedding day I couldn’t help but think of the little girl who I had seemingly held in my arms just days before. And when our youngest son left for University my heart ached with a sense of dread that I had become obsolete. Fledglings three!

And there I was, a daddy cardinal squawking and flapping my wings. Frantic and slightly hysterical. Perhaps more afraid of what was coming my way than what might lie ahead for my baby birds.

But time and experience have taught me that those bittersweet “fledgling moments” are just part of the journey. Life goes on. And usually gets better. My kids still need me. And while I don’t need to provide protection from the unknown, I am still called upon for sage advice from time to time.

Capture.PNGNow we have five grandchildren aged 12 to 1. Our beautiful baby Gwen turns one year old today. She’ll have her own “fledgling moments” soon enough as will her sisters and her cousins. I just hope I’m around to squawk and flap my wings as needed when the time comes.

Peace,

Denis

 

 

Manners Without Kindness Is Unkind

While our kids were growing up we often asked, “What do you say?” Which was to elicit the correct ‘thank you’ or ‘please’ or ‘I’m sorry’ response. Most parents probably remind their youngsters to say “thank you” or say “please” and hopefully good manners will never go out of style.

CaptureBut manners without kindness seem artificial and insincere. Think: Eddie Haskell or Nellie Olson. Hideous creatures who spoke sweetly but never lovingly. Saying “may I please” and “thank you” are hollow gestures if there is no true appreciation or respect being offered.

I smile (and cringe a little) while remembering a time that our son was guilty of some offense inflicted on his sister. When I insisted he apologize, he declared with exasperation, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” No – he wasn’t sorry. And no – he didn’t feel any remorse. Well maybe he was sorry because he got scolded but no real apology was extended to his sister. So I failed as a parent. I failed to teach him that saying the words without meaning them was wrong. And I am sorry about that. I suppose I should apologize to my kids for focusing on the manners and not the behavior all those years ago but that episode enlightened me. I stopped trying to be so concerned that THE RIGHT WORDS were being used and instead tried to focus on the feelings. Again, in full disclosure, I failed at this more often than I care to remember. But I tried.

Sadly many adults were probably once children whose parents taught them how to use good manners but failed to teach them why to use good manners. Sometimes I encounter folks who are polite and mannerly but just under the surface you can feel the contempt or the disregard that they have for others. The formalities in business and social settings require that we remain civil and courteous at all times but the indifference, the malice, the antagonism, and the prejudice is often palpable.

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate good manners, courtesy and respect. At times I’m frightened that in our “me first” society manners have become passé. And the only way to ‘get ahead’ is to ‘jump ahead’. We live in a world where we put our own needs and desires first regardless of who we must step on to get what we want.

Still, politeness with no real consideration intended for the individual is just dishonest. As far as I’m concerned it’s even worse when the insincerity of manners is somehow an excuse for taking advantage of others. A formality that carries no thought of human kindness or attentiveness is just a meaningless action. I know that I am guilty of offering empty manners. I’m certain that I have held the door open or waited my turn grudgingly. There is no doubt that I have casually said “how are you?” countless times without really wanting to hear how anyone was. I say “thank you” and “you’re welcome” robotically, not even making eye contact with the person at the market or service counter. While learning my manners, I may have forgotten the most important thing – kindness.

Kindness doesn’t require undying affection or even mild appreciation. Kindness doesn’t mean that you and I have to agree on anything. Kindness isn’t a guarantee that we will ever be friends. But kindness requires selflessness and sincerity and connection.

Manners are nice but please save the pretty words and just show me that you care. And I’ll try to do the same.

Peace (and you’re welcome),

Denis

P.S. Here’s a song to lighten the mood.

Letting Go of Stuff

I have to admit that I get attached to things. My favorite old sweater. My ink pen with the Air Force logo. My car “Max” that carried me on my way for 160,000+ miles. My Denny’s® coffee cup that kept my coffee at just the right temperature on my desk. My, my, my, mine. And this might be the problem with my stuff. It’s mine. It’s all about me. What I want. What I need. What makes me happy.

So I’m trying to let go. Some by choice; some by need; some unplanned.

Max was dying a slow death as many 12 year-old cars will do – transmission trouble, oil and other assorted leaks, failing to sometimes start, etc., etc. I traded in Max for a newer model (which I like) but I still felt a sense of loss as Max sort of limped away to the auto auction lot.

cupMy favorite coffee cup was recently broken by the cleaning crew in my office. The appropriate apology and offer of replacement was extended but somehow it doesn’t seem enough. They’ll never be able to replace a 20 year-old Denny’s® cup that my sister gave me. I’m afraid my coffee will never quite taste the same. That cup gave me comfort and a sense of connection.

Again, this unhealthy attachment to things is giving me pause. I need to let go. I must let go. I will let go.

How many times have I held on to stuff that I haven’t really needed? How often have I valued property over people? Stuff over relationships? “Loved” things???

My granddaughter Charlise’ middle name is Clare. And I’ve been reading about Saint Clare and how she followed Francis of Assisi’s example and gave away all her earthly possessions. Clare had been born to a wealthy Roman family but walked away from her life of luxury to join a religious order. Devoted to serving the poor and living a simple life the order of nuns would ultimately become known as the Poor Clares.

I’m not ready to give away all my stuff. But I’m trying desperately to place less value on things. I don’t need the newest gadgets or the latest fashions or the fanciest cars or the finest furniture. I’m going to try to live more simply. I’ve seen too many families torn apart fighting over stuff while trying to settle an estate. I’ve witnessed greed and selfishness and neither are easy to look at. I know that I have more than I need. So wanting more stuff seems foolish and sinful.

I’ll never be a saint like Clare or Francis. And you can’t have my Air Force pen! But maybe if I remove some of the clutter from my life I’ll be able to see more clearly what truly matters. It’s okay to have things but I’m going to try to give more and ask for less. Because I believe that less may be more.

Peace,

Denis

If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him? 1 John 3:17

 

 

 

 

 

Getting My Just Desserts

The expression “getting your just desserts”, that which is deserved or merited was originally “just deserts”. Because most modern English speakers are unfamiliar with that old sense of desert, the phrase is most often understandably written just desserts.

Capture.PNGGrowing up with a mother who is half French meant that we were treated to dessert with every meal – cakes, pies, cream puffs, cookies, brownies, puddings, whether it was deserved or not. What lucky kids we were! Sweet, rich, delicious, fattening desserts were just part of our life. Eating dinner (or lunch) was really just an exercise in getting to the reward of dessert. It wasn’t until I was nearly grown before I realized that our family was unique. Sadly not everyone had homemade desserts with each and every meal. Ever sadder, some folks didn’t even have store-bought dessert! Why not??? I still can’t understand nor explain that anomaly.

When my wife and I were first dating I was invited to her home for dinner. Her mother prepared a beautiful meal. After dinner I was asked if I would like a cup of coffee. Of course! What else would I drink with dessert? Coffee was prepared and poured and then nothing. Nothing. No mention of dessert. No inkling of dessert. No dessert. We talked. I was even offered a second cup of coffee, which I gladly excepted, hoping it would prompt the serving of THE DESSERT. But still nothing. And then the strangest thing happened. Dinner ended. Without dessert! I remember thinking that Deb’s mom was going to be really embarrassed later when she realized that she had forgotten to serve the dessert. I sheepishly mentioned this to Deb later in the evening and she said, very matter-of-factly, “We don’t usually have dessert.” I was astonished and then I really questioned whether we should continue dating. What kind on family was this? Were they Communists? Or some weird religious sect? Were they allergic to deliciousness? What in hell would make people “usually not have dessert”? Not even the store-bought stuff?

All these years later when I reflect back on this it makes me keenly aware that we all have expectations. I’m often anticipating something to happen the way I want it to happen – the way I think it should happen. I expect someone to behave the way I want them to behave – the way I think they should behave. I’m waiting for that dessert that may never be offered. And herein lies my disappointment and frustration. I’m so programmed to “the way it ought to be” that I sometimes miss the joy of new experiences. I’m so conditioned to “following the rules” that I miss the adventure of an unexpected journey. Opening myself up to new ideas and new places and new people doesn’t negate my life story. Instead it enriches me and gives depth and adds greater meaning to the traditions that I hold dear. So often I am certain that I don’t deserve something better (love, joy, happiness) that I stop trying to achieve a better life. I stagnate in my self-loathing and self-pity. But I know that there is more and I believe that the best is yet to come.

Perhaps “no dessert” all those years ago was my just desserts. After all, look what I gained in the process. By the way Deb and I have been married for over 42 years now and she converted. We are a dessert-with-every-meal family.  So I guess we both gained something on this journey together.

Peace,

Denis