#Hope and Spring

Hope is an essential characteristic of the human psyche. It’s a common feeling or emotion, but sometimes we need a reminder, or permission, to believe that hope can help affect outcomes.

While one dictionary states that hope is “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen,” and “grounds for believing that something good may happen,” Wikipedia tells us that “hope is an optimistic attitude of mind based on an expectation of positive outcomes related to events and circumstances in one’s life or the world at large.”

I was riddled by hopeful sentiments as I tried to fall asleep last night:

–       Hope that my 18-year-old son would return from a party safe and sound;

–       Hope that my large Golden-doodles would let me sleep in;

–       Hope that my son in California would heal quickly (he had ACL reconstruction surgery last Saturday) and find direction for his next steps;

–       Hope that the weather reports would prove wrong (which is often the case here), and that the sun would shine on Memorial Day. The garden needs attention!

–       Hope that our country would renew its focus on gun control, so tragedies like the one in Santa Barbara won’t reoccur;

–       Hope that friends who suffer from cancer will find serenity, and perhaps miracles.

I am certain that the cup of coffee I ordered in the afternoon wasn’t really decaffeinated.

photo-5This morning, however, I still feel hopeful, and have found some wise, encouraging words on the internet.

I am reminded of the innocent hope that young children feel. Hope that they will feel special on their birthdays, that Santa will deliver on Christmas, that when a new school year begins, they will find good friends in their classes, and hope that they will perform well in sports.

I recall the song my friends and I used to repeat at the corner playground, while climbing the jungle-gym:

Just what makes that little old ant
Think he’ll move that rubber tree plant
Anyone knows an ant, can’t
Move a rubber tree plant

But he’s got high hopes
He’s got high hopes
He’s got high apple pie
In the sky hopes…

(To hear Frank Sinatra’s rendition, click here.)

Often, I hear the encouragement my mother offered when I struggled to learn how to read and ride a two-wheeler, repeating the words from The Little Engine That Could: “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…”

And, of course, I recall the oft-quoted stanza from Alexander Pope’s An Essay on Man (ca. 1733):

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never is, but always to be blessed:
The soul, uneasy and confined from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come. 

I am reminded that the swallow is a symbol of hope, as it’s one of the first birds to appear each spring, and I think about the promise that crocuses and chirping birds and budding trees bring each March.

And let’s not forget Obi-Wan Kenobi, who in Star Wars serves as Princess Leia’s “only hope.” We all know how that story turned out.

This morning, I am devouring information on hope in a Wikipedia essay. I learned that Dr. Barbara L. Fredrickson argues that hope comes into its own when crisis looms, opening us to new creative possibilities. Positive thinking like the “Little Engine’s,” she says, “bears fruit when based on a realistic sense of optimism, not on a naive ‘false hope.’ ”

The essay tells me that psychologist C.R. Snyder links hope to the existence of a goal, combined with a determined plan for reaching that goal.

I read that followers of Hinduism make a strong connection between karma and hope: “In Hindu belief, actions have consequences, and while one’s effort and work may or may not bear near term fruits, it will serve the good, that the journey of one’s diligent efforts (karma) and how one pursues the journey,[41] sooner or later leads to bliss and moksha.”

As I pull weeds today, I resolve to contemplate how hope can comfort and motivate so many of us to move forward, yet in so many different ways. I am mindful that hope is embodied in:

  • The man using the last $10 from his paycheck to purchase a lottery ticket;
  • The feeble widow carrying cups of quarters from one slot machine to another in Reno;
  • The child trying to fall asleep on Christmas eve, anxious about what he will find under the tree;
  • A woman who has discovered she is pregnant, hoping that the little being will grow and thrive and emerge as a healthy baby;
  • The new father imagining his newborn’s future – perhaps better than his own, perhaps following in his footsteps;
  • The proud parents, aunts and grandparents at commencement ceremonies over the coming weeks, hoping that the graduate will find happiness and success in life;
  • The recent graduate, preparing her resume, making connections on LinkedIn and perusing ads on Craig’sList.com;
  • The rainbow that appears at a low moment, convincing a sad, lonely, sick or depressed person that all will turn out well;
  • The crowd at a baseball game, when it’s the bottom of the ninth inning, the home team is losing by several runs, the bases are loaded and the beloved slugger is up to bat;a
  • The brain-trauma survivor, continuing painful therapy;
  • The destitute family in Mexico, watching a team of church-group youth build them a small home. (Thanks to Dylan Sullivan for this amazing video.)
  • The political prisoner or prisoner of war, continuing to believe he or she will be released. I think of Louis Zamperini – the 1930s track star-turned Navy pilot-turned lifeboat- and Japanese POW camp survivor, whose life was documented in Laura Hillenbrand’s amazing novel, Unbroken, and his own memoir, Devil at My Heels: A Heroic Olympian’s Astonishing Story of Survival as a Japanese POW in World War II: “Yet a part of you still believes you can fight and survive no matter what your mind knows. It’s not so strange. Where there’s still life, there’s still hope. What happens is up to God.”
  • David Sheff and his son Nic, whose years of drug addiction, sobriety and relapse were chronicled in David’s best-seller Beautiful Boy and his latest novel Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy, and who said in a recent interview: “I…realized how lucky we were. After multi-treatment programs when we were hopeful, and then multiple relapses, when we were once again terrorized and terrified, Nic was doing great – now he’s been sober for five years.” 
  • The local friend with Stage 4 lung cancer, who writes witty, heart-wrenching, grateful, honest and hopeful updates on her Caring Bridge website: “I want to meet other survivors in the 5% Club – those people who were diagnosed with STAGE 4 LUNG CANCER, and given very poor odds, yet beat the odds.  I want to speak to these people and get their advice on what to do as I wage this major battle.”

Today, I give myself permission to focus on wisdom from the esteemed writer Anne Lamott: “Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: You don’t give up.”

–       Linda Williams Rorem, PermissionSlips, 26 May, 2014
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Summertime, Bummer-time

Facebook is flooded with photos of prom couples, college graduates and end-of-school-year celebrations. And that can mean only one thing: kids shall soon chant, “School’s out for summer!” For many of us older types, while summer vacation means increased family time, more sunshine and, hopefully, less stress, it does put pressure on the household “help.” Here’s how those employees are affected:

The Short-Order Cook: It seems that during summer, one meal bleeds into the next. Kids wake up at different times, so breakfast can stretch from 6:30-11:30 am. Lunch may follow an hour later, afternoon-snack requests fill much of the day and dinner comes all too soon, especially for kids rushing off to sports practices, swim meets and social events.
The Solution: Create a sign indicating the chef’s hours. Kids who wake up too late can pour themselves cereal. Those who miss dinner can enjoy cereal again. Those who want the chef’s daily specials will soon adjust.

The Scullery Maid: An obvious end-product of extra mouths and additional meals is dirty dishes. Countertops brim with dirty plates, glasses and silverware – and that’s if you’re lucky enough to have kids who “bus” their own tables.
The Solutions: For starters, buy a bunch of colored plastic cups or water bottles, and assign one color to each family member. Ask them to reuse those vessels throughout the day. As for the dishwashing situation, take a page from my wise friend Jennifer McClellan’s book. She recently noted on Facebook: I ran a little experiment yesterday. I left the dishwasher open and the racks pulled out. Obvious, right? Dishes were still put in the sink. Dear children, please note that the magic sink fairy has never, not once, found our home. Jen, keep trying; you rock!

The Housemaid (home-based men–no sexism intended here): With bodies underfoot all day, the house soon becomes cluttered with shirts, shoes, boxers, bikinis, towels, flip flops, magazines and dishes, which are strewn about haphazardly. The task of keeping the place picked up is nothing short of back-breaking.
The Solution: Confiscate items left in “public” places, and let the kids buy them back at thrift-store prices. As for bedrooms, close doors. You may also tie room-cleanliness to specific privileges, such as cell phones, TV time or car usage, depending on how much you care about what’s behind those doors. In our home, the threat that a pile of clothes makes a great home for spiders works well enough.

The Laundress: The volume of dirty clothes seems to triple for every family member (quadruple for those who usually wear school uniforms) during summer months. Count on several outfit changes per day, as well as loads of soggy beach towels. For many, throwing clothes into the laundry hamper is a valid response to “please fold and put away clothes you have barely worn” (see “The Housemaid”).
The Solution: Summer is the perfect time to teach kids how to wash, dry and fold their own clothes.

The Referee: With more bodies under foot for more hours of the day, conflict is inevitable. Fights over toys, X-box time, TV selections, teenage hours (complaining about noise in the early am; creating too much noise late at night) and car privileges keep the family referee blowing his or her whistle nonstop.
The Solution: One very wise friend wuold break up every tussle and argument by sending all who were involved into time out together, to work through the problems on their own. Wish I had thought of that.

The Lifeguard: Okay, sitting pool- or lake-side while kids cavort in the water and sand seems like a dream job, doesn’t it? No sympathy needed…unless you live in Seattle (as I do), where “summer” doesn’t officially start until July 5. In other words, the first few weeks of summer vacation are typically cloudy, rainy and cold. The kids don’t seem to care, and require the lifeguard’s attention anyway.
The Solution: Here in Seattle, it’s called Polar Fleece.

The Social Chairman: Those with young chlldren know that summer days require an endless stream of phone calls and emails to set up playdates and carpools, and the task of supervising young people’s activities is exhausting.
The Solution: Remember the good old days when you went outside as soon as the sun warmed the sidewalk, walked or rode your bike to the neighborhood park or pool, and played with whomever showed up? When you stayed outside until your mom called you in for dinner? Okay, I recognize that’s nostalgia, not a solution.

The Chauffeur: Of course, the Social Chairman’s job requires chauffeur services, as well. Kids need rides to wim lessons, sports-team practices, playdates and camps.
The Solution: If you live in a safe community, let capable kids walk, ride bikes and take city busses whenever possible. If not, make friends that can help with carpools. And don’t forget to enjoy the ride. Car time is conducive to great conversations and life lessons, and before you know it, they’ll be driving on their own.

The Sports Team Manager: Kids who play team sports can have wicked summer schedules, with practices, games and out-of-town tournaments. For the four years our oldest played select baseball, our summers revolved around his schedule. All four kids competed on a summer swim and dive team, and that kept us all busy for most of the summer, too.
The Solution: Use carpools, give yourself permission to miss practices and even a game or two. But most of all, enjoy the time together. Some of our family’s best summer memories came from our baseball weekends.

The Watchdog: For parents of teens, and especially those who are home “visiting” from college, this is the most stressful summer job. Kids typically stay out later more days of the week when they have endless amounts of unstructured time. Often, but not always, bad choices ensue. And no matter how kids spend their time, most parents don’t rest easily until the kids are home safe.
The Solution: Set reasonable curfews, perfect the art of napping and pray.

The Born-Again Parent: This may be the toughest summer job of all. On the one hand, you’re thrilled that your child survived a year away from the nest. You missed him or her enormously. You spent hundreds of dollars on care packages and Starbucks or Subway gift cards.  You worried incessantly and breathed more easily after every text or phone call.  And then suddenly, they’re back. You can no longer keep the fridge, and especially the milk, sufficiently stocked. You struggle with all of the forementioned jobs. Your family’s gas consumption increases and your sleep quality decreases. And you really can’t blame college kids. They have grown accustomed to all-you-can-eat, take-what-you-want cafeterias that include  dishwashing services, dorm-cleanliness standards (or lack thereof), loud music, unchaperoned parties and curfew-free weekends. They have grown unaccustomed to parental voices and wisdom.

The Solution: Set reasonable rules, restrictions and curfews before major problems ensue.  Most of all, enjoy having your babies in your midst again. The clock is winding down. – Linda WIlliams Rorem, 19 May 2014 20140519-104533.jpg Photo courtesy of Lisa Nordale, whose college-age son just returned home

Guilt and the Modern Mother’s Day

I can’t help thinking Anna Jarvis would be proud.

Yesterday, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were flooded with meaningful posts and photographs commemorating mothers of all ages.

Many of us felt joy seeing photos showing generations of hard-working moms grouped together, younger versions of moms whose minds or bodies have suffered and tributes to those who have left us too soon.

blog - Justin mother's dayYesterday the nation’s 85 million mothers – as well as their children and spouses — celebrated the fruits of Anna Jarvis’ labors. Jarvis, a native of Webster, WV, is considered the driving force behind Mother’s Day’s founding 100 years ago.

The tenth of 13 children born to Granville and Ann Jarvis, Anna gained inspiration from her mother as she embarked on a meaningful career, and cared for her mom in her later years.

Her idea for giving mothers their day in the sun came to fruition when Jarvis was nearly 60 years old, as President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the first Mother’s Day.

Yes, the holiday has been over-commercialized, and many of us cringe at the sappy TV commercials, the endless racks of greeting cards and the bountiful, over-priced displays of chocolates and flowers.

Jarvis experienced the beginnings of this commercialization, and, according to the book Women Who Made a Difference, once stated that “a printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother—and then eat most of it yourself.”

I hope Permission Slips readers were able to convey and receive meaningful messages yesterday. Most important, I hope you treasured the teacher-led classroom projects, the hand-written cards, the texts, voicemails and electronic tributes. (Pictured here is a Mother’s Day painting from my second son, a dozen years ago. It still hangs in my office.)

And, finally, I give you mothers permission to continue to struggle with this lifelong, confusing, contradictory, overwhelming and incredibly rewarding job. In my opinion, this conundrum is best explained by the esteemed essayist Anna Quindlen, who gives mothers permission to accept their imperfections and mistakes. I, for one, take solace in these words.

–       Linda Williams Rorem, 12 May 2014
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How to Put a Bad Day in Perspective

What could have been a wonderful Sunday simply wasn’t to be. In fact, it was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

The morning schedule looked all clear, so I rose early to attack a photo project for a relative. Sitting at my desktop computer at 7 am, I started scrolling through photos to make my selections.

And then, I heard a tree fall – this time not on my home — saw a bright flash and watched the computer screen go dark.

photo (7)It’s not unusual, on this heavily wooded island, for tree branches to fall on power lines. So, three or four times a year, we lose our electricity source – usually for 12 to 18 hours, but sometimes for several days, and once for a full week.

I knew what the day held: no computer power, no internet, no hot water.

I knew it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

I checked the newspaper’s weather report, and noted that the torrential rainfall should continue for several days.

So, the plants I purchased at Home Depot would spend another day in their plastic containers. The weeds would have another week to flourish in the garden. The lawn’s edges would remain ragged.

Walking past the laundry room, I realized that I had forgotten to move the crammed dark load from the washer into the drier. It would remain soaked for another day.

Fortunately, my cell phone was working. So, I texted my oldest son, who is awaiting knee surgery that will derail his college football plans, at least for the near future. I feel terrible for him, as football has served as a wonderful focus for his energy and dreams.

Next, my daughter and I drove to the health club to shower and get ready for our National Charity League chapter’s senior celebration. (While it was a hassle to haul everything to the gym, we do recognize we are fortunate to have somewhere to find warm showers, blow driers and bright lights.)

The luncheon was lovely, I went to a chocolate tasting afterwards, and our family later enjoyed a dinner out together. The day was definitely on an upswing.

Back at home, we settled into the living room, turned on the gas fireplace and read books by candlelight. It actually felt wonderful to unplug for an evening.

And then the call came: news that a young man we know had died suddenly. My heart aches for my son, who was good friends with the guy, as well as for his parents and our community at large.

Images of this young man are vivid in my mind. I can see him at our kitchen table, where he sat for countless meals and discussions about life. Whenever he entered our home, he filled every room with his positive energy, charm and broad smile. He was, as one friend just said, “a big teddy bear.”

Suddenly, the power outage, the rain, the musty clothes and the delayed projects seemed incredibly trivial. This young man will never see another day, and his family will never feel whole again.

My day was just a tough one, and some days are like that. Even in Australia. At least I have the promise of tomorrow.

Linda Williams Rorem, Permission Slips, 5 May 2014
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