Memorial Day Ramblings


It’s Memorial Day, a holiday with some paradoxical associations for me.  As a school kid it meant the real beginning of summer, and with its extra day off the end of the school year, usually brought a picnic and family time.  Reared in a family with pacifist religious beliefs, the military association was lost on me until years later.

As I studied American and world history the pictures I got about war were horrifying and the ramifications deeply disturbing.  And although I certainly don’t claim to know what all the realistic alternatives to war are, I wish that we as members of the human race would dedicate our efforts and resources to figuring it out.

The physical, emotional and social ramifications of surviving war have been brought home to me in working with the family members of enlisted military personnel and returning soldiers. As well as the professionals in the trenches of treating the wounded warriors who are weary and traumatized as well. Those facing a long recovery of PTSD and the ones who love them and are trying to hold the marriage and family together need all the help and support they can get.  And too often that help and support is in ridiculously short supply. Too little too late.

I have to confess to feeling angry, sad and helpless about this.  And when I hear the platitudes of Memorial Day repeated, I also confess to a sort of disconnect.  They really don’t make any sense to me.

I don’t think those who are killed and maimed and traumatized are helped by our ceremonies and flag waving.  I think those ceremonies and platitudes help us feel better about our passive acceptance of a system of thinking gone seriously awry.

Can you imagine what might transpire if we could change this paradigm?  What might happen if the governments of the world would direct a portion of their military spending to understanding and treating the problems that underlie conflicts that lead to war?

Can you imagine what might happen if we as ordinary people were to begin to question and search for answers to these problems and to expect those who represent us to do the same?  What if we were to look beneath the fear that leads to aggressive knee-jerk reactions?  What if we didn’t need to repeat the platitudes to mask our fear and sadness over what has happened?

I like to imagine that we had several generations of young people who didn’t have a war to attend.  And that Memorial Day was a distant memory of the old people.  And that there was a more light and lovely way to usher in the summer.

Book Group

Last night was my turn to host the book group that meets more or less on a monthly basis.  As host I got to pick the book, and my choice this time was Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace.  Based on a true story of a woman who was accused of participating in a gruesome murder in 19th century Canada, her guilt or innocence was uncertain at the time.  She was spared execution, but spent most of her life in prison and then an asylum before eventually being released.  The mystery remains as Atwood drew a lot of options, but refused to tie it up in a neat package.  Was Grace guilty or innocent?

As is often the case, the discussion was lively and extensive.  I love reading, but I think my favorite part is the discussion.  Maybe what makes it so interesting to me are the different perspectives that we hear.  Certainly we have some things in common, but we have different occupations and educational and life experiences.  Various points of view and interpretations.  Some very philosophical, some practical, some political, some spiritual or religious.

We tried to decide Grace’s guilt or innocence, and if we had been a jury we would have been hung, no doubt.  I said she was innocent because I chose to believe that she was.  Jeff refused to vote (despite some intense pressure) because he was sure that Atwood’s intention was to be ambiguous.  Others thought she had no motive.  Cheryl thought that she suffered from MPD (Multiple Personality Disorder) and that one of her alters could have committed the murder.

The Thumbs Up vote was almost unanimous which brought up more discussion, comparing this to other books we’ve read.

Later, thinking about the evening, I was feeling appreciative of the group.  We have been meeting now for 10 years and there is a sense of continuity and personal involvement in each others lives. We have read a lot of books. But maybe more importantly, we have shared our life experiences, our beliefs and world views. The book group encourages my continuing education and growth. They are part of the fabric of my life and a part of what enriches it.

Monday Meanderings

“Man needs difficulties; they are necessary for health.”
~Carl Jung~

It is a damp and rainy Monday morning in these parts and I am having a slow start to the week.  My house guests from last week went home yesterday, and the household is very quiet and returning to normal.  My daughter and granddaughter were here, and seeing them leave always gives me a pang.

Anna Grace at 14 months is a force of nature.  She has a pretty even temperament and accepts the changes in routine that are a part of travel and visiting.  It is really fun to see her curiosity and openness to what is new, and to a toddler nearly everything is new.  I love to see the changes in development, hear her increasing verbalization and motor skills compared to the last time I saw her.

Months ago her mother described her as “a girl with goals,” which is an apt description.  She has the nearly boundless energy of a healthy toddler and her usual goals involve climbing the next highest thing that she can find and imitating the adults in her life to figure out how to open things and manipulate objects such as the latch on the baby gate.

What struck me about her is her sheer will and determination, a curse and a blessing to be sure.  She will take a fall, skin her knees or chin, cry for a couple of seconds and then be back up and ready to finish what she started.  Undaunted by the fall, she will remember her error and quickly figure out how to do it right the next time.

Yesterday I was watching her and wondered what will happen to her quality of determined exploration.  Certainly it will be shaped by her understanding of dangers and the process of socialization.  Maybe the relevant question is how to encourage her and keep it in tact?

I had to ask myself how we learn to be afraid and how fear blocks and thwarts what was once a healthy curiosity and determination to explore and master our lives?  And if something happened to cause that, how can we move beyond it and boost our resilience and forge ahead anyway?

It is the speed of her recovery that I admire most.  And the intensity of her focus on what she is learning and attempting to master.  We could all do with a dose of that.


Lake Shore Chicago

There are certainly a lot of blessings of living in the Information Age. Seemingly endless bits of information stream without ceasing to us through all kinds of electronic gadgets.  It is possible to find your best friend in 8th grade as well as the definitions for terms that you didn’t have the time or presence of mind to ask your family doctor after your last checkup.

If you are wondering who starred in “Tin Cup” after losing a round of Trivial Pursuit, you can find it in seconds in your favorite search engine.  (It was Kevin Costner, by the way).  And if you lost the owner’s manual to your great aunt’s sewing machine, I’ll bet you can find it and buy another one online.

The other day when I went to the waiting room to bring a client back to my office, I noticed that of four people waiting for therapists, all four of them had their phones out and were busily texting.  I believe we could save money and trips to recycling by reducing the number of magazines we subscribe to.

It may seem great, but sometimes I wonder about the dark side of all this.  I don’t mean the prurient and criminal uses of it, although we could go on about that.  It seems that everything can be used for good or evil purposes and it pays to be wise about what you are putting out there about yourself, and what you are clicking on.

What I am talking about it the barrage of social media coming at us every day.

I can see some positive things coming out of this nearly instant contact with others for either social or business reasons.  It is great to hear from family members and far-flung friends.  And I can see positive business outcomes with it as well.

However here are some concerns about it that I have:

  • The virtual access can give the impression that texting, email, tweeting and writing on one’s wall is  intimate contact.  It is not a substitute for eye contact, physical closeness and the sound of someone’s voice.  Much is lost in the electronic translation of human conversation.
  • Paradoxically, the quick and easy contact sometimes prompts people to write stuff that really should be kept to oneself.  Couples have taken to smearing each other, turning their Facebook pages into a Jerry Springer show.  Also, I don’t want to read that you are going to be making memories with your Baby this weekend.  And I also don’t want the graphic details of your last bout of stomach flu.  I have had that myself and I remember it clearly enough.

  • I wonder if we are using phone texting as a way of avoiding real contact.  A young, upwardly mobile client was telling me about receiving text messages on her phone while she was at dinner with friends.  She got involved in a 15 minute exchange while her friends ate and conversed.  Besides being rude to those present, it is a way to not really be where you are.  She says that this is common behavior in her crowd.  Does this contribute to the relationship problems she is having?
  • Social media can be a big time suck.  Have you timed yourself lately?  Some of it may be worthwhile, but some of it is beyond me, I must confess.  I really don’t get “Farmville,” or the many other games, and why would I want to read someone else’s horoscope every day?  I have little interest in reading my own.
  • Notice that tending to all this information (reading and replying) can take up copious amounts of time that you might be better off working.  A writing coach suggested that before checking phone or email messages in the morning, that we would get much more accomplished if we did the writing work first.  Despite my initial resistance, I discovered that to be true.  It also puts it in perspective.  What may seem urgent at first loses its importance after waiting for several hours.

Like many things in life, accomplishing your goals requires that you develop an ability to question yourself and what is going on around you.  You get to decide whether the information coming at you is helpful or not.  And if participating in it is getting you where you want to go.

A Little Kvetch

“Music has charms to soothe the savage breast
To soften rocks, or bend the knotted oak.”
William Congreve (1670-1729)

The concert was heavenly.  The program included  Symphony No.2 by a modern composer, Kevin Puts;l Symphony No.2 in D major by Johannes Brahms (is there anything better than Brahms?); topped off by Cello Concerto No.1 by Saint-Saens, played beautifully by Fiona Thompson.  Great music for a Sunday afternoon.

Before it began the executive director came out to make a few announcements as usual.  He reminds everyone to turn off cell phones, asks the driver of a certain car to move it immediately because it is blocking the handicapped ramp and will be towed.  (Obviously that guy’s handicap is not physical).  And then says that he has gotten some complaints about hand-held electronic devices with lit up screens, and would we turn them off if we brought one.  Someone is playing video games during a concert?

That got me thinking on the way home and hence the subject of this post.  But first, my disclaimer:  I am a dinosaur.  Not a reptile of course, but a dinosaur of the human variety.

I was in elementary school when they still gave grades for something called “deportment.”  And if you were a cut-up in class or caused trouble on the playground or disrupted a student assembly, then you got a “U” for Unsatisfactory.  And if you lived in my house, you would be in Big Trouble at home.

My dad was a teacher, so he would have heard about it first in the faculty room.  The Big Trouble would be arriving before the report cards came out, so the bad behavior was nipped in the bud. (Thanks, Mr. Overland).

I know this is a more casual culture than it was, so I can deal with people coming to a concert wearing baseball caps where the performers are dressed in black tie.  It looks peculiar to me, but doesn’t interfere with the music.  Yes, I confess to a little attitude about it.

What does irk me are little behaviors (hence, a little kvetching) that interfere with the sound that I came to hear.  Maybe I should call this post A Concert Guide for Non-Dinosaurs.

I can have empathy for coughers, having been one myself.  Bring a cough drop and a hankie please.  And if you are having a real fit, then head for the nearest exit.

But the impeccably dressed man who sat in front of me eating candy wrapped in what seemed to be a foot of cellophane was another matter.  He must have been fond of the stuff since he ate three pieces before the intermission.

If you must eat candy, then follow the common wisdom about removing old band aids.  Just rip the sucker off all at once rather than doing it slowly.  We will all suffer less.  Or better yet, unwrap them at home and just deal with the furry things stuck on it from your pocket.  If you are a sugar addict then at least plan ahead.

I could hardly believe my ears (my left ear, actually) when during a quiet part of the Brahms the woman sitting behind me decided to use her Emory board on a troublesome nail.  The place has great acoustics, and that apparently applies to the audience whose laps are on the same level as the ears on the row below.

Good grief!  I know that a snagged nail is annoying.  But it doesn’t require the same urgency of attention that a gushing artery would.  Save the sawing and sanding until you are home.  What’s next?  Tooth flossing?  A nice pumice treatment for the feet?

The same goes for a whispered conversation that went on and on during another concert.  I heard all about some family drama as well as the woman’s theological persuasions that I really didn’t want to know.  Especially not then.

I love to see parents bringing children to concerts.  Exposure to good music is great for a number of reasons.  But if they are restless and won’t be quiet, then please take them out rather than allowing them to be disruptive.  You might want to invoke your own brand of Big Trouble…outside.