Thursday, August 27, 2015

Poor, Pitiful Me by Carolyn

Most of the time I am fairly content and reasonably positive about my life. There are times, however, that I find myself feeling sorry for myself for a multitude of reasons big and small. Here is how it goes (read with whiny voice) :

Why do I have to get up so early to go to work? I hate getting up early. I would like to never, ever set my alarm and get to sleep as long as I want to every day.

Why can't I just buy whatever I want to? I work hard - I should have enough money left after I pay my bills to spend it on things I want without having to pinch pennies. Other people are able to buy things they want. I have been working for more than thirty years, for goodness sake!

Everybody I know went on vacation to some wonderful, exotic place this summer. I went to Fort Worth. I would like to be able to travel to _______ like ________ did (insert specifics). I am 56 years old! When will I get to travel the world?

There is nothing to eat in this house. I am too tired to go grocery shopping. I have worked a full day and I am pooped. I wish there was something appealing in the pantry or the refrigerator for me to eat. There are never any groceries in this house.

And speaking of houses, why can't I have a fancy big house like other people? I have a dinky little cookie-cutter house. I can practically reach out and touch my neighbors' walls. I want a beautiful house with nice furniture and lots of space so I can have people over. I deserve a nice house like ____________ (insert name of friends whose houses I envy). I need new furniture, but can't afford it. My furniture is ragged. Everything in my house is old and worn out. And a pool with a Jacuzzi wouldn't be bad either. Then a maid and gardener would be great too . . . 

I don't get to see my children and grandson enough. I miss them. They live too far away. Other people get to see their children and grandchildren as much as they want. 

Get the picture?

Here is what I should be thinking instead (and occasionally, actually do think) with a heart of gratitude:

Whoohoo! I get to get up and get started on my day! I have the physical and mental capabilities to get and keep a job and be self-supporting. I have the privilege of working in a job I love and find rewarding, in a beautiful building (with air conditioning!), with people who are friendly and supportive and passionate about what they do. Even better, I get to make a difference in the lives of children and therefore, the future of humanity. 

Lucky me! I make a good salary doing what I love to do (see entry above). I make enough money to own a home, pay my utility bills, buy the necessities, and treat myself a little (shoes and books, usually). No one controls my spending except me. I make the decisions about how to spend the money I work for (except for taxes, of course). If I run out of money before the end of the month, I have no one to blame but myself.

I didn't take a vacation this summer, but I have taken some in the past. I haven't been everywhere I want to go, not by a long shot, but I have had the privilege of visiting Ireland (twice), Hawaii (twice), the Pacific Northwest, the Caribbean, Mexico, New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Santa Fe, and several less glamorous places. Even better, I have taken those vacations with family and dear friends, which makes every trip a cause for joy.

Hmmmm. I don't see anything exciting in the pantry or in the refrigerator. I have several choices. I can eat what is here (because even when there doesn't seem to be any food in my house, there is still actually A LOT of food in my house), or I can get into the reasonably nice, dependable, paid-for car that is just outside my house to drive about half a mile and buy almost any kind of food I want, or I can order something yummy to be delivered to my door with just a few taps on my phone or computer. I do not actually have any fear of starving to death.

My neighborhood is safe and pleasant; no sirens or screaming fights in the street or gunshots or drug dealers on the corner.  What a pleasure it is to come home to a sturdy, comfortable home with air conditioning (or heat).  After I turn on the lights and the ceiling fan, I want to get a cold drink out of the refrigerator and pour it over some ice which magically pops out of the freezer door.  I think I will stretch out on this comfy old couch and watch a little cable TV on the big screen. Or perhaps I will go out on my deck and lounge on the glider (or possibly on the hammock or the chair swing) and relax and enjoy the shade from my 39 trees. Wait, I might prefer a nice, relaxing bath in my garden tub where I can perfectly adjust the temperature of the hot and cold running water. Maybe a little bubble bath and a glass of wine . . .

I am so blessed to have two wonderful, healthy sons, a sweet daughter-in-law, and a beautiful, snuggly grandson. It is great that I get to be with them every now and then. We are so fortunate that we live within driving distance of each other, so we can visit sometimes. And, how wonderful that we can talk on the phone, or text, or email. We never need to be out of touch with each other, and I am so glad that they are still willing to give me their time when they can.  Even more fabulous, we usually actually like spending time together!

Bottom line: Life doesn't owe me anything. I am blessed in so many ways. I just need to remember that, especially when my alarm starts beeping early in the morning . . .

Thursday, August 13, 2015

We All Look Alike

By Susan

My aunt and uncle were among the first Westerners to settle in China in the mid eighties when economic doors to foreign investment opened.  They lived in Dalian in northern China, almost on the border with North Korea.  In 1988, Ben and I got to spend a few days visiting them.  One day my aunt took us to visit an old Buddhist temple.  The care-taker remembered her from a previous visit so after greeting my aunt, he pointed to me and asked in Chinese where my baby was.  My aunt responded that we were not the same couple who had come out with her before.  Obviously, I had reminded the man of the last set of guests.  When we returned to the house, my aunt showed us some pictures of her friends who had visited them recently and among them was one of the woman who supposedly looked like me.  To my surprise, she looked nothing like me.  She had blond hair and much lighter skin.  At the time, I had dark hair and have what you would call olive skin.  During our time in China, I realized that we "foreigners" all looked the same to the Chinese.  People even thought my husband, who is of Anglo-Saxon decent, looked like me!

When I tell this story, most people are surprised.  How can anyone think that Ben and I look alike?  But aren't we all guilty of doing the same thing?  Haven't we heard remarks like that spoken about Asians or African Americans or Middle Easterners? That "they" all look alike?  It happens because we don't take the time to really see each other as individuals, as people just like ourselves.  We look at those whom we consider different from us as a lump; all bunched together, sometimes defined only by our prejudices and stereotypes.

The truth is prejudice is a disease.  And it is a contagious disease.  Whether we like it or nor, living in our fragmented world has affected all of us in how we see each other.  But just as in the flu season, when we take precautions to wash our hands and be aware of what we touch, we have to protect ourselves against this disease as well.  So when we catch ourselves thinking of "those people", we can stop and re-examine our thinking.  Ask ourselves: How much do I know about this person individually and how much do I think I know about his or her cultural background that may have influenced the behavior and beliefs that are different from mine? How would I like it if I was lumped together with every other person that belonged to my subset of humanity?  How would people who only know one thing about that subset judge me?

If prejudice is an infections disease, is it possible to inoculate ourselves against it?  I think education is the only effective vaccine for this disease.  And by that I mean an education that recognizes the need for diversity on one hand and the importance of identifying common human principals that we can all strive for, on the other; an education that teaches the minds and the hearts.  It is not easy, and it will take at least a couple of generations to see the results.  But it has taken many more generations to create this problem.  So there is no quick fix.  There are no short cuts.  We must step out of our comfort zones, take our blinders off and extend a genuine and sincere hand of friendship to ALL who cross our path and take the time to look at each other as human beings first.

We think of our tendency to stick to our own kind as human "nature".  It is really our human "weakness".  You can't fight nature but you can overcome a weakness.  We must help each other do this.  Otherwise, the consequences are grave for all of us.