“Blog.” I’d heard the term, but I honestly didn’t know what it referred to. So I was quite interested when one of my colleagues gave a presentation at a faculty meeting in the Spring of 2005 on the topic “Blogs as Educational Tools.” The first thing I learned is that “blog” is short for “web log” — a sort of online journal. I listened attentively to the presentation, and immediately knew it was something I wanted to try. Before I left the campus that afternoon, I’d set up my first blog, which I used for the classes I taught until the day I retired.
In November 2006, I attended a weekend retreat at the Jesuit Retreat Center in Los Altos. The theme of the retreat was “A Moment’s Pause for Gratitude.” I listened to a few talks about the importance of gratefulness in one’s life. I did some reading on the topic, as well. By the end of the weekend, I was filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the many ways in which my life had been blessed. As I drove down the hill from the retreat center that Sunday afternoon, I pondered how I might be able to maintain the sense of gratitude I was experiencing at that moment. It wasn’t until a month later, after I’d finished grading all the semester final exams for my classes, that I came up with the idea of creating a second blog.
On Saturday evening, December 23, 2006, I posted my first article on my new Attitude of Gratitude blog. I knew I wanted to live my life with a focus on gratitude, and I’d always enjoyed writing, so the idea of creating a blog which focused on gratitude seemed logical to me. Little did I know that, ten years later, I would still be writing!
In the first full year of this blog (2007), I committed myself to writing and posting an article every day. I enjoyed it immensely, and I fulfilled that commitment, but by the end of the year, I realized that writing every day was a bit burdensome. In subsequent years, therefore, I’ve written only when I’ve felt inspired to do so. As of today, including this post, I’ve published almost 1,500 articles on this site.
While the primary purpose of this blog has been, and will continue to be, my focus on gratitude, on several occasions I’ve gotten side-tracked. In the weeks and months after my Dad’s unexpected death in 2008, I used this platform as a means of processing the intense grief I was experiencing. I’ve also devoted a few (okay, more than just a few) articles to issues on which I felt the need to vent. I apologize for those posts. While it may have been therapeutic for me to express my opinions and feelings at those times, many of those articles were inconsistent with my focus on gratitude.
Ten years. What a journey it’s been! So what am I grateful for today? Well, I consider my writing ability to be a God-given gift, so I’m incredibly grateful for that. More importantly, however, I am grateful for all those who have taken the time to read Attitude of Gratitude, and for those who have left comments on my Facebook page. Whether you agreed or disagreed with what I wrote, I appreciate your readership — and your insightful, and sometimes challenging comments.
It’s amazing what can happen to us when we commit ourselves to living with, and expressing, an Attitude of Gratitude!
“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it
is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”
~ William Arthur Ward
Friday, December 23, 2016 | Permalink
With Christmas just three days away
there’s something I must do.
I’ve got to find the perfect gift!
It must be something new.
I cannot wrap a Starbucks card
and think that will suffice.
I’m wondering who I could call
to get some good advice.
A comfy robe might be okay —
I bought her one before.
A Christmas sweater would be nice
for heading out the door.
A gift card for a restaurant
might do the job this year,
though, clearly, she would realize
that gift was insincere.
A pair of shoes, a Giants’ cap,
Sudoku books galore —
there’s so much stuff that I could buy
yet, still, there’s so much more!
I know she’d like a spa day, or
perhaps, a brand new purse.
I want to get her something nice,
but shopping is a curse.
I see the Christmas TV ads
that tell me what to buy,
but I want something different —
not like every other guy.
I want to get a gift this year
that really makes her smile;
a gift that she will cherish
for more than just awhile.
The cost is not important,
though it can’t be something cheap.
Perhaps CDs of soothing songs
to help her get to sleep.
Or possibly a book or two,
I know she likes to read.
I just don’t want to buy a gift
she doesn’t really need.
The perfect gift is out there,
I just need to give some thought,
and hope that what I want to get
was not already bought.
Come Christmas day, I want that gift
beneath the Christmas tree —
and for my wife to know that gift
for her has come… from me.
I think I have an idea!!!
Thursday, December 22, 2016 | Permalink
In case you haven’t noticed, Winter has arrived. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems as though this has been the coldest December we’ve had in the Santa Clara Valley in a very long time. I’ll know for sure when I get the PG&E bill in January. Winter officially arrived at 2:44 this morning, making last night the darkest night of the year. I’m grateful that things are going to change in the weeks and months to come.
I enjoy seeing the progressive arrival of Winter each year. Day by day, the sun sets further and further to the south — quite a contrast to the position of the sun at the time of the Summer Solstice in June. I’ll admit, though, that I prefer the longer days of summer. I don’t like it when the sun sets before 5:00 p.m. as it did last evening. I find myself wanting to go to bed at 7:30 or 8:00 p.m. After-dinner walks are less appealing to me in December. Between the darkness and the cold night air, I’d prefer to stay inside and read, or write, or eat, or sleep, or….. Maybe it’s just that I’m getting older.
I do appreciate, however, the sense of hope which the Winter Solstice offers. I know that, little by little, the days will get longer. We’ll enjoy those few extra minutes of sunlight each evening. Over time, the air will eventually warm up a bit, and I’ll be more inclined to venture out after dinner once again. It’s actually a nice cycle, when I stop to think about it.
Yes, I’m grateful that, from here on out, the amount of sunlight we enjoy each day will increase. From this point forward, I might feel less inclined to climb into bed prior to the start of the KRON-4 News at Ten. More importantly, I’m grateful that the increasing length of our days will help wash away some of the Winter blues I’ve been experiencing of late. Perhaps, despite the cold, a late-night visit to our jacuzzi might be the ideal remedy. As Henry David Thoreau once said, “One must maintain a little bit of Summer even in the middle of Winter.”
Just a thought.
“What good is the warmth of Summer without
the cold of Winter to give it sweetness?”
~ John Steinbeck
Wednesday, December 21, 2016 | Permalink
Oh, yes,… things have most certainly changed since December 1976. It’s true, a Christmas card required only a 13¢ stamp for delivery within the United States. Apple Computer had been founded by the Steves (Jobs and Wozniak) in Cupertino just eight months earlier. The must-see movie in the theaters that year was “Rocky,” and those of us who were really cool were listing to the music of Barry Manilow, Boz Scaggs, and Aerosmith. In November, a peanut farmer with integrity from Georgia was elected to serve as President of the United States. Yes, from the perspective of 2016, 1976 was a very long time ago.
1976 was a year of transition for me. In February, I had made the decision to leave the Jesuit Novitiate in Santa Barbara and return to The City for a few months to get my feet back on the ground. I took a short-term a job at Hibernia Bank at Sutter & Grant, where I felt like a fish out of water. During the summer months, I volunteered at the Summer of Love program at Saint Paul’s Parish in Noe Valley. Then, in late August, I returned to the South Bay to attend Santa Clara University and to live and work at Bellarmine College Preparatory in San José. In exchange for teaching two classes of Religious Studies each day, I received full room and board in the Bellarmine dormitory, where I had worked as a prefect from 1972-1974.
In October of that year, I began one of the most unique part-time jobs I’ve ever had — as night security guard at the Santa Clara Mission Cemetery, which is owned and operated by the Jesuit Community at Santa Clara University. It was actually an ideal job for a college student. After locking the gates at 6 p.m. and cleaning up the offices, a task which took less than an hour, I had the remainder of the 5:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. shift to do my homework for my classes at SCU and to work on my lesson plans for the classes I was teaching at Bellarmine. In the cemetery office, I had use of an IBM Selectric typewriter (state of the art technology at the time), a photocopy machine, and a clean, well-lighted place to do my work — a very different environment than that offered in the Bellarmine dormitory, which housed approximately 150 high school boys. Once every hour or so, I would take a walk around the cemetery grounds to make sure everyone stayed where they belonged!
In some ways, 1976 was uneventful. I would describe it, instead, as a foundational year. It began with the clarification of a vocation question with which I had struggled for seven years. This was followed by the unexpected invitation to attend Santa Clara University to complete my undergraduate degree. This was followed by the unexpected offer to teach part-time at Bellarmine while working on my undergraduate degree — an opportunity which reinforced my belief that I was being called to a career in teaching.
I’m grateful for the experiences and opportunities I experienced in 1976. It was, without a doubt, a life-changing year.
Tuesday, December 20, 2016 | Permalink
You’re out for a relaxing drive on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. Spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean vie for your attention as you confidently navigate the gentle twists and turns of scenic Highway 1 between Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz. A comfortable breeze permeates the open sunroof, lightly massaging your head as you enjoy your favorite music on Pandora Radio. Traffic on this popular thoroughfare is unusually light for a weekend afternoon. You are overwhelmed with a sense gratitude and tranquility. Then, without warning,… THUMP! With no opportunity to react or avoid it, a gaping pothole does a job on your front-end alignment — and on your nerves.
Life can be very much like this scenario. We’re doing well. We’re happy with our career, our relationships, and ourselves. Everything seems to have fallen into place and we begin to live our life journey on cruise-control. Then, without warning, something happens which startles us, causes us to slow down, or, in some cases, to slam on the brakes. We get rocked out of our sense of complacency by the THUMP! of the unexpected.
Life is full of surprises. Some of these surprises bring us absolute joy. At other times, however, the unexpected experience can be more like that of Saul in Chapter 9 of Acts of the Apostles — we get knocked to the ground and wonder what hit us. It is times like these that challenge us to respond with a strength which, perhaps, we didn’t know we possess.
Resilience is the ability to recover effectively from adversity. It is a gift available to all of us. Like most abilities, however, resilience is something which must be developed through practice. Our ability to bounce back from adversity is intimately connected to our outlook on life. Henry Ford made this clear when he said, “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.” If we allow ourselves to be overcome with feelings of helplessness or despair, there’s a good chance that we will have a difficult time bouncing back from whatever setback may have knocked us off-track. If, on the other hand, we are confident that, no matter what, things will get better, and that we have the ability to overcome whatever obstacles we encounter in life, we will allow that gift of resilience to bring us back to life.
Nelson Mandela spoke of the gift of resilience when he wrote, “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”
And we will fall.
“I am not what happened to me,
I am what I choose to become.”
~ Carl Jung
Monday, December 19, 2016 | Permalink
In some ways, my life has been pretty easy — perhaps, too easy. I have a wonderful family. I received a quality education. I’ve always had a comfortable place to call home. And while I may not have gotten everything I wanted, I’ve never been deprived of anything I truly needed. I’m grateful for these things. I’m also grateful, however, for some of the struggles I’ve had in my lifetime.
I had a little difficulty learning to manage my money when I was in fifth grade. As a result, my parents used the experience as a teachable moment and helped me to learn a valuable life lesson about financial responsibility. I can honestly say that I’ve never had money-management issues since. Learning to handle my finances appropriately and responsibly has been a gift which has served me well throughout my lifetime.
During my middle school years, I had some social skills issues. I had excellent social skills in terms of my relationships with adults, but for some reason, I struggled getting along with some of my peers. My seventh and eighth grade years were, ... well.... let’s just say that I’ve often said that I know I’m going straight to Heaven, because I’ve already done two years in Hell! But even though those years were extremely painful, I learned some valuable lessons about life, social interaction, and social cruelty. The lessons I learned made me a better person and a better teacher. Throughout my teaching career, I was far more aware of, and compassionate towards, the marginalized students than I might have been had I never experienced being one of them.
I struggled academically, too. From about sixth grade through my first two years of college, school was a challenge for me. I’m sure that much of the difficulty I experienced was due to a lack of academic maturity. I didn’t learn the importance of effective study skills until I was a student at Santa Clara University. I’m not suggesting that those skills were never taught, I’m just saying I didn’t learn them! The fact that school was not easy for me enabled me to be a much better teacher. I knew firsthand how it felt to struggle with concepts my peers seemed to understand without effort. I knew the stress of not getting the grades others expected of me. I knew the frustration of sitting through tests knowing that I was insufficiently prepared to do well on them. Having had these experiences motivated me to work patiently and compassionately with students who were experiencing these same frustrations.
No one wants to go through difficult times, but I’ve learned that such trying times can be valuable learning experiences, so I am grateful for those struggles, difficult though they may have been. I would not be the person I am today had I not experienced those difficult challenges. I’m confident that the painful times I endured in those early years enabled me to make life a little easier for some of my most vulnerable students.
“The difficulties you face in life do not come to destroy you,
but to show you what you’re made of
and just how strong you are.”
Saturday, December 17, 2016 | Permalink
I just finished reading a brief article in the “Philosopher’s Notebook” section of America Magazine (December 19-26, 2016). John Conley, S.J., a professor at Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore, wrote about two memorable teachers in his one-page post “Teachers Who Teach.” One of those esteemed educators was Sister Thaddeus, Conley’s fourth grade teacher at Our Lady of Fatima School in Secane, Pennsylvania in the early 1960’s. His description of this influential woman reminded me of my own third grade teacher at Saint Gabriel School in San Francisco, also in the early 1960’s — Sister Mary Roberta.
It seems that, like my own teacher, Sister Thaddeus was committed to teaching her students how to write legibly. I’m guessing that she also may have used the same Palmer Handwriting Method used by Sister Mary Roberta at Saint Gabriel School. Having learned the basic essentials of printing by the end of second grade, students were challenged in third and fourth grade to master the art of handwriting, employing the Palmer Method. How important was this back in the 1960’s? Conley nailed it in his article when he wrote, “In the preconciliar Catholic grammar school, penmanship enjoyed quasi-sacramental status.”
Things have certainly changed in our schools in the past fifty years. While handwriting may still be taught at some point in our educational system, it has most definitely declined in importance. By the time my own boys were in Catholic elementary school in the 1990’s, their teachers seemed indifferent to the neatness of a student’s work. On several occasions, upon checking my boys’ homework after they’d completed it, I warned them that their teacher would never accept such sloppy handwriting, only to be assured by my sons that the teachers didn’t care. Sadly, the teachers didn’t care.
Today, no small number of Catholic elementary school graduates can neither read nor write cursive handwriting. In fact, it’s been said that the time will come when adults will be able to communicate with each other using this “secret code” which the younger generation cannot understand. Perhaps, that time has come already!
At the conclusion of my third grade year, I received a formal certificate of successful completion of the Palmer Handwriting Method course. This was big stuff! How big? I still have that certificate of completion, thanks to my mother’s practice of saving important artifacts from my childhood so that I would have them when I reached adulthood. Even today, while I have strayed from the strict guidelines of the Palmer Method, people often comment on the neatness and legibility of my handwriting.
I’ll be honest. I don’t do much handwriting any more. The convenience of the keyboard has reduced the need for writing in cursive. Of course, this is precisely the argument of teachers who no longer see a value in teaching, nor requiring, good penmanship. While there may be some validity to this claim, I will be forever grateful to Sister Mary Roberta. As a result of her insistence that I write legibly in cursive, I am still able to write a handwritten letter or thank you note. In this digital age, that, in itself, is truly a gift.
Friday, December 16, 2016 | Permalink
I’m spoiled, and I know it. When I logged-in to Facebook this morning, I saw two photos to which I simply cannot relate. My friend, Serena, who lives in Skokie, Illinois, posted a photo showing the dashboard of her car, which displayed the outside temperature of 2ºF. By noontime, the temperature in Chicago had risen to only 7º. Another image on Facebook this morning was posted by Kathy’s cousin, Susan, who lives in Rochester Hills, Michigan. At 8:35 A.M. this morning, her dashboard display revealed an outside temperature of 3º. By 1:00 P.M., the Detroit area had warmed-up to a balmy 15º.
My mother’s cousin, Eileen, who lives in Dubuque, Iowa, is coping with a current temperature of only 6º, while in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where Kathy’s sister, Clare, lives with her family, the temperature today at 1:00 P.M. was a frigid 8º. Brrrrrrrr!
Several years ago, singer James Taylor partnered with the gifted vocalist, Natalie Cole, to produce a wonderful rendition of the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside!” Not surprisingly, Taylor is an east coast guy, having been born and raised in Boston, where today’s temperature, though it topped out at 25º, felt more like 9º when the wind chill factor was considered. He understands what it is to be cold.
Yes, those of us living in California are spoiled. Sure, it’s raining today, but that’s a good thing. After more than five years of drought, we are grateful for the much-needed precipitation. But with the insulation provided by the rain clouds, the temperature outside this morning is a comfortable 62º. In fact, rarely, if ever, do temperatures in the Santa Clara Valley drop below the freezing mark.
I am truly grateful for the opportunity to live in California, and to be spared the brutally cold temperatures which are so commonplace in many parts of the country at this time of year.
Thursday, December 15, 2016 | Permalink
It’s a wonderful season — Christmas trees covered with sparking lights and ornaments, homes decked out with Christmas lights and decorations, Santa Claus posing for photos with excited, and sometimes not-so-excited, little munchkins at the malls, and local radio stations playing all the traditional songs of the season. And here in San José, of course, we are blessed with a very special annual event — Christmas in the Park — at Plaza de Cesar Chavez on Market Street. The Christmas season truly is magical.
There are those, however, who may remind us that what we’re observing in these weeks between Black Friday and December 25th is the cultural Christmas season. As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, we are currently in the season of Advent. The liturgical Christmas season begins on December 25th and ends with the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord in January. These two “seasons” have very little in common in terms of the calendar. They can, however, coexist.
Kathy loves to decorate our home for the holidays. She begins with all the Halloween knickknacks in October. Then, in November, those items are replaced with a variety of Autumn and Thanksgiving decorations. As we move into December, all those adornments are replaced with countless items celebrating Christmas. Of course, we have our tree, with lights and ornaments. A beautiful Nativity scene is prominently displayed in the corner of the living room. Hanging from the doorway into the kitchen is a bit of mistletoe — a holiday “must” in every home. And throughout the living room and dining room, Kathy has strategically placed a variety of Christmas-themed decorations. There is one particular item, however, which has always been my absolute favorite. It sits in a place of honor in our home — beneath the Christmas tree.
The statue shown in the image above is known as the Kneeling Santa. There’s a long story behind it, which, if you’re interested, you may Google. For me, the image speaks for itself. Yes, we have a bit of a disconnect between the cultural and liturgical Christmas seasons. No small number of Facebook users remind their online friends each year that “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Well, for believers in Jesus Christ, this may certainly be true, but Christmas offers something special for non-believers, as well. This powerful image of Santa Claus kneeling, with cap removed, at the cradle of the infant Jesus respectfully bridges the gap between these seemingly otherwise incompatible seasons.
Santa Claus is nowhere to be found in our Nativity scene. This should come as no surprise. Santa symbolizes the cultural Christmas, while the Nativity scene depicts the Church’s story of Christmas. This is precisely why the image offers us such an important message. The Kneeling Santa statue portrays the superstar of the cultural Christmas season respecting the child Jesus of the liturgical Christmas season in three ways. First, Santa is shown not sitting nor standing, but kneeling — a sign of respect. Secondly, Santa has removed his cap — another common sign of respect in our culture. Finally, Santa is offering the newborn Jesus the gifts of his time and attention — perhaps the ultimate sign of true respect.
A clash of cultures? It doesn’t have to be.
Wednesday, December 14, 2016 | Permalink
Expressing one’s gratitude is important in any language. In my lifetime, I’ve been introduced to this basic social skill in several languages:
English — Thank you!
Spanish — Gracias!
French — Merci!
Italian — Grazie!
Japanese — Arigatou!
German — Danke!
Hawaiian — Mahalo!
Gaelic — Go raibh maith agaibh!
Just recently, I learned how gratitude is expressed in Tanzania, East Africa. The term for “thank you” there is a beautiful, soothing word — a word which sounds as comforting as its meaning: Asante! (pronounced ah-son’-tey).
A week ago, I received a Christmas letter from my friend, Susan Carpenter, who is teaching in a kindergarten in Tanzania. To say that her students are economically disadvantaged is an understatement. Most of the everyday comforts American kindergarten students take for granted, both at home and in the classroom, are not available to these children. So, at the end of her Christmas greeting to family and friends, Susan included an invitation to support her ministry with these precious children.
Kathy and I were committed to supporting this worthy cause, but we felt that the extent to which we were able to donate this year was far less than we would like to have pledged. I had the idea to invite family and friends, via Facebook, to join us in supporting the kindergarten program. So often, when there is a need in the community, whether it be the local or global community, all we need to do is ask. I have always been convinced that people are basically good, and that belief was validated, yet again, this week.
In just a couple of days, family and friends pitched-in and donated a total of $500 for Shalom Kindergarten. I was tremendously grateful for their generosity and excited to have reached that modest financial goal. Since reaching that goal, however, a few friends suggested that I seek a “matching donor” — someone who would donate another $500 for a total gift of $1,000. I’m not a professional fundraiser, but I do know that, as the hockey great Wayne Gretzky once said, “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” So I took the shot and put it out there on Facebook.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told us, “Ask and it will be given to you.” (Matthew 7:7) A mere twelve hours after posting the matching gift request, two donors came forward offering $250 each to double the initial gift. Mission accomplished — a $1,000 gift to the children of Shalom Kindergarten!
There’s so much more I could write about this experience, but one word pretty much sums it all up: Asante!
“Little by little, a little becomes a lot.”
~ Tanzanian Proverb
Tuesday, December 13, 2016 | Permalink
Kathy and I attended a delightful Christmas gathering in San Francisco yesterday. It took place in one of the most iconic homes in The City — one of the famous “painted ladies” on Steiner Street, across from Alamo Square. That, in itself, was a treat, but what made the event even more special was spending quality time with so many genuinely good people. One person with whom I had an engaging conversation was Steve Aveson, my high school classmate, who recently returned to The City from the East Coast to take a position as the anchor at KRON-4 News. Steve made an interesting comment which inspired today’s blog post. He mentioned that he would like to see the word “retired” removed from our vocabulary. It’s a thought-provoking concept.
“Retired” is one of those words we take for granted. For most people, life is fairly predictable: we get an education, we work for thirty or forty years, and we retire. But what, exactly, does it mean to retire? An analogy might be helpful here.
Working in a particular career, or a combination of jobs, for three or four decades can be compared with taking a long road trip on the interstate. To keep up with those around us, we drive at the speed limit, or, more likely, a bit faster. As we continue along our journey, we are challenged to adapt to changing traffic and weather conditions, often keeping a watchful eye on those around us. Eventually, we determine that we’ve driven as far as we can drive, or need to drive, and we take the exit ramp — not to a parking lot or an auto junkyard, but to less congested, perhaps, more scenic roads where the traffic and speed limit, as well as the level of stress, are significantly reduced. In other words, retirement is not the end of the road. It is the beginning of a new journey.
Now,... about that word "retired." It comes from the French language and is understood to mean a variety of things:
• “To withdraw to a place of safety or seclusion.”
• “To leave company and go to bed.”
• “To withdraw from one’s business or occupation.”
• “To remove from active service.”
• “To withdraw permanently from its usual service, usually for scrapping.” (Ouch!)
It might be helpful to take a more literal approach.
Let’s go back to the analogy of the road trip. At the end of a long journey, it might be prudent to put four new tires on the car, unless, of course, the plan is simply to park the car in a garage. If, however, we consider the possibility of continuing our journey on less-congested roads, a new set of tires would be essential. New tires enable a driver to continue the journey in safety, and with greater confidence in the integrity of the vehicle. The website cars.com states that, generally speaking, we should expect to get 50,000 miles out of the tires that come on a new car. This estimate, not surprisingly, depends upon the conditions of the roadways on which one travels. The important thing is to realize that a time will come for all of us when it is absolutely imperative that we replace the tires, or “re-tire.”
Much has been said and written about retirement. I saw a retirement card in a Hallmark store which read: “Goodbye tension, hello pension!” A recent cartoon posted on Facebook read: “Retired: I was tired yesterday and I’m tired again today.” Very clever. Screenwriter Gene Perret stated, “I enjoy waking up and not having to go to work, so I do it three or four times a day.” Seriously, though, our retirement can be a wonderful time of life if we have two factors in place: (1) something to live on and (2) something to live for. Both are critical to a successful retirement — and to our survival. The absence of that second factor might well explain Malcom Forbes’ statement, “Retirement kills more people than hard work ever did.”
Perhaps, rather than the word “retired,” we should speak of being “re-energized” at the end of our chosen career — re-energized to identify the many gifts and skills we’ve acquired throughout our lifetime and re-energized to commit ourselves to sharing those gifts and skills with the greater community. A sense of purpose is essential to a happy, healthy, fulling life.
“You are never too old to set another goal
or to dream a new dream.”
~ C. S. Lewis.
Sunday, December 11, 2016 | Permalink
I absolutely understand the challenge. Schools, hospitals, churches, and other non-profit organizations spend the month of December each year competing for donations from those who might be seeking an end-of-year tax write off. Almost daily, my postal mailbox contains a number of donation requests from a variety of worthwhile institutions. Emotionally-charged television commercials tug at our hearts as they solicit our financial support, while a variety of Facebook posts also offer opportunities for us to contribute to worthy causes. The avalanche of requests can be a bit overwhelming at this time of year.
It is for this reason that I am tremendously grateful for those who have committed to supporting the work of my friend, Susan Carpenter, in her ministry with the Maryknoll Lay Missioners in Africa. Susan is a teacher at Shalom Care Center in Tanzania, where they are preparing to welcome eighteen children into the newest kindergarten class in January. All money donated to Susan’s ministry account finds its way directly to Shalom Care Center to provide basic necessities for the children. Yes, there are many other worthwhile causes to which one could contribute, so I appreciate the generosity of those who chose to support Susan’s work.
Generosity, especially during the holidays, truly does begin with God’s gifts to us. Regardless of what our financial status might be, most of us can acknowledge that there are people throughout the world who are more in need than ourselves. It is my hope that each one of us is able to recognize the many ways in which we have been blessed, as that awareness provides the foundation upon which we share what we have with others.
With that said…. if you are looking to make a donation this holiday season, and have not yet chosen a recipient of your generosity, a donation to Shalom Care Center in Tanzania would be greatly appreciated. Susan’s basic living expenses are provided by Maryknoll Lay Missioners. Operational expenses for the kindergarten, along with related projects, are funded by donors like us. If you choose to do so, you may make a tax-deductible donation by sending a check to:
Maryknoll Lay Missioners
P. O. Box 307
Maryknoll NY. 10545-0307
In order to restrict your donation to support the children of Shalom Kindergarten, it is essential to state that your gift is for “the ministry account of Susan Carpenter” on the memo line of your check, and/or in a note enclosed with your donation. Doing this will ensure that your gift will be designated for Susan’s students.
I am sincerely grateful for all who have already donated to Susan’s ministry, as well as for those who may generously do so in the future.
Saturday, December 10, 2016 | Permalink
It should come as no surprise that most people have a strong desire to do well in life. We want to be successful. We want to make a positive difference in the world. We want to be financially comfortable. And we want to leave a legacy — some notable accomplishment for which we will be remembered. The desire to do well in life is one of those often-overlooked “Bucket List” items. It’s a “given.”
Perhaps this is why it’s so easy to become preoccupied with our résumé. We want to list all our accomplishments — academic, athletic, financial, social, and personal. It used to be that the purpose of a résumé was to find a good job after we’d earned a college degree. Today, résumés are a vital component of the college admissions process, as well. Any high school student will tell you that earning a 4.0+ grade point average is no longer sufficient to gain admission into some of the most prestigious universities in the United States. What often brings attention to a particular student’s application for admission is the information found on her or his résumé. College admissions teams want to see what a young person has done outside the classroom. These extra-curricular activities are often the deciding factor in the admission process.
It’s unfortunate that so many people associate “doing well” with an accumulation of wealth and possessions. We often think of a person as “doing well” if they live in an elegant home in an upscale neighborhood, drive an expensive car, dine at extravagant five-star restaurants, wear just the right clothing and accessories, and vacation at will in the most exotic destinations. Common as it may be to consider such factors, “doing well” has little to do with any of these things. Some people, to whom these descriptives apply, are, indeed, doing quite well in life,… but not all. The disquieting poem Richard Cory, by Edwin Arlington Robinson, should remind us all of this mistaken assumption.
It would be nice if everyone could “do well.” It would be ideal if every person had all his or her needs met, and enjoyed some of the finer things in life. More than simply surviving, it would be good if more people could actually thrive in life. Setting such a goal can be quite challenging for some — which is why it’s important to acknowledge the difference between “doing well” and “doing good.”
Anyone can “do good.” Every human person has the potential to “do good” every day. We don’t need an impressive résumé. We don’t need a multi-million dollar home or a Tesla. To “do good” in life, all we need is a kind heart, empathy, compassion for others, and a desire to make our world a better place.
“No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.”
Friday, December 09, 2016 | Permalink
My Mom and I stopped by the Harry & David’s store in the Hillsdale Shopping Mall yesterday afternoon. Mom wanted to pick up a few gifts for some of her friends who reside at her retirement community. I was totally impressed with the customer service offered by the sales people we encountered. As we entered the store, we were immediately approached by a woman asking if we needed any assistance. She was hospitable, without being pushy. When I mentioned that we just wanted to look around for a bit, she stepped back and politely let us know that, if we needed any assistance, she would be happy to help us.
A few moments later, in a different part of the store, a man came up to see if we needed any help. I asked him if they had baskets in which customers might place the items they wanted to purchase. Rather than just saying “Yes” and pointing to the stack of baskets inside the front door, which I had failed to notice when we entered, he walked over to the front entrance and picked one up for me. Like the woman who had approached us previously, he, too, let us know that he would be happy to assist us if we needed any help.
Finally, after filling up the basket with a variety of goodies, we moved to the check-out counter. The cashier, a young man in his 20’s, was helping another customer, but immediately acknowledged our presence and assured us that he would assist us momentarily. The kindness, professionalism, and courtesy with which he served the woman ahead of us was impressive. Then, when it was our turn for check-out, we were treated with a similar level of professionalism. Before we left the store, I let the young man know that I was very impressed with his social skills.
Effective “people skills” are essential in life. In fact, I honestly believe that one’s ability to relate to others in a kind, courteous, and professional manner is of greater value than most college degrees. I’ve certainly met no small number of people in my life who, despite their advanced academic achievements, were inept in their ability to relate effectively to those around them.
I’m grateful for those with whom I interact each day who have developed healthy, life-giving social skills. In many cases, these skills were learned from our parents. In other situations, despite the parents’ lack of effective social skills, a person is still able to develop these skills on their own — perhaps inspired by others around them. The bottom line is that mastering one’s people skills is a developmental task which is well-worth the time and effort devoted to it. One’s ability to relate effectively with others is one of the most important life skills one can possess.
Thursday, December 08, 2016 | Permalink
I’m so grateful for the Cleveland Browns. Were it not for them, the San Francisco 49ers would have the worst record in professional football this season. Only a fortuitous Niners’ victory over the hapless Los Angeles Rams in the season opener separates these two underachieving organizations. It’s interesting that, at different times in National Football League history, both teams were quite successful — and highly respected.
Cleveland’s first season of professional football was 1946. The Browns posted winning records in each of their first ten seasons, compiling an impressive overall record of 105 wins, 17 losses, and 5 ties during those ten seasons. In their first twenty-five seasons in the league (1946-1970), the Browns had only one losing season. In the past twenty-five years (1991-2016), Cleveland has had only three winning seasons. While they had their fair share of championships prior to 1966, the Browns have never played in a Super Bowl. (The first Super Bowl was played at the conclusion of the 1966 season.) This might explain the brown bags over the heads of some Browns fans at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Like Cleveland, San Francisco’s first season of professional football was 1946. In their first ten season, the Niners posted eight winning seasons, compiling a respectable overall record of 75 wins, 47 losses, and 4 ties during those ten seasons. In their first twenty-five years in the league (1946-1970), the 49ers had only seven losing seasons. In the past twenty-five years (1991-2016), San Francisco has had only thirteen winning seasons. The most significant difference between San Francisco and Cleveland is that the 49ers have played in six Super Bowls, winning five of them.
I did not watch Sunday’s 49ers game with the Chicago Bears. In fact, I have not watched a Niners’ game all season. The once-proud franchise has hit an all-time low with ten consecutive losses. Some blame the quarterback. Some blame the defense. Others blame the new coach. Most, however, point a finger of blame at the inept 49ers ownership team. The current state of affairs leaves 49er fans both disappointed and frustrated.
What a great time to look back — with gratitude — to better times:
January 24, 1982 — Pontiac, Michigan: After a dominating first half, resulting in a 20-0 lead at halftime, it took a heroic goal-line stand by the 49ers defense to seal a 26-21 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XVI.
January 20, 1985 — Stanford, California: The 49ers’ offense put on a clinic on how to dominate an opponent, while their defense suffocated the powerful Dan Marino-led attack of the Miami Dolphins. In a game many expected the Dolphins to win, the 49ers emerged with a convincing 38-16 victory at Stanford Stadium.
January 22, 1989 — Miami, Florida: In a rematch with the Cincinnati Bengals, the 49ers found themselves pinned back on their own 8-yard-line with only a minute and a half remaining in the game. The Bengals owned a 16-13 lead and were confident of victory. Joe Montana had other ideas. He orchestrated a successful 92-yard, 11-play drive, culminating in a 10-yard touchdown pass to John Taylor to secure a 20-16 49ers’ victory.
January 28, 1990 — New Orleans, Louisiana: The national media was certain about the probable outcome of this one. While recognizing the past accomplishments of Joe Montana and his San Francisco 49ers, most football “experts” seemed to agree that they were no match for the “Orange Crush” defense of the Denver Broncos. Again, it was time for Montana and his teammates to facilitate a clinic on how to score points in a Super Bowl. There’s really not much to say about this game. The final score says it all: 49ers - 55, Broncos 10.
January 29, 1995 — Miami, Florida: Joe Montana was gone, but the outcome was no different than the four previous 49ers’ Super Bowl appearances. Montana’s replacement, Steve Young, threw a record six touchdown passes in the 49-26 drubbing of the San Diego Chargers. San Francisco became the first team to win five Super Bowls.
Yes, like their counterparts in Cleveland, the current situation for the 49ers is bleak, but there is always something for which to be grateful. Remembering the good times can provide a tremendous source of pride and satisfaction for 49er fans. Those memories can never be taken away.
Tuesday, December 06, 2016 | Permalink
It was Christmas break of my Junior year of high school. For the previous year and a half, I had spent several afternoons each week, along with a number of other high school students, volunteering in the Fulton Street workshop of Helper’s Home for the Mentally Retarded in San Francisco. Throughout the year, residents of the Helper’s Home, adult men and women commonly referred to as “the kids,” made a variety of Christmas-themed craft items, which would then be sold at the annual Helper’s Bazaar at Ghirardelli Square. Each year, during the holiday season, the owners of Ghirardelli Square would provide complimentary retail space for this worthwhile fundraising event. This particular Christmas break (1970), I was asked to distribute informational flyers about the bazaar to those visiting the historic chocolate factory turned retail center. That wasn’t a problem, until I was told that I needed to do so dressed in a mouse costume provided by KQED, the local PBS affiliate.
At first, I was a bit reluctant to don the outfit. I wasn’t in the habit of (intentionally) making a fool of myself. Once I took the plunge, however, I quickly realized that life inside a costume is an experience like no other. First of all, no one could see the real me. All they could see was a large gray mouse distributing flyers. It didn’t take long for me to understand that, for the most part, people were fairly accepting of a large gray mouse distributing flyers for a charitable organization. Now and then, it was clear that a person was uncomfortable in my presence. Most often, however, I was received warmly with a friendly smile.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of my costumed adventure came when I realized that I could confidently approach the unapproachable — the most attractive young women walking through the Ghirardelli Square plaza. Almost without exception, I was greeted with gracious smiles and hugs by these goddesses who, had I not been in costume, would have totally intimidated me. At that time in my life, my social self-image was still very much under construction.
On a recent visit to The City, I stopped by Ghirardelli Square. A large Christmas tree was already up and decorated at the west end of the plaza. Memories of my stint as a large gray mouse filled my mind — and made me smile. What an amazing opportunity it was for a 16-year-old boy to enjoy the anonymity provided by a legitimate, professional-looking costume. I honestly wish everyone could, at some point in their life, experience the unconditional acceptance I experienced while dressed as an oversized rodent.
I am tremendously grateful for this unique experience. To this day, I am convinced that, artificial though it may have been, I walked away from Ghirardelli Square that Christmas with a newfound level of self-confidence which has served me well throughout my lifetime.
Monday, December 05, 2016 | Permalink
Take a moment to think back on your experiences of Christmas in your childhood. What was the best Christmas gift you ever received?
Now and then, around this time of year, I’m challenged to answer this question. Santa Claus was always good to me. While I usually received an assortment of practical gifts each year, such as pajamas, underwear, shirts, socks, and, of course, a new toothbrush, I always got a few special items, too — things I might actually ask Santa to bring. Through the years, I received a refurbished bicycle, a red lantern, a wrist watch, a set of BillDing blocks, a basketball, roller skates, a record album, various board games, and other assorted toys. Though I’m not exactly sure why, whenever I’m asked about the best Christmas gift I received in my childhood, the one item that always comes to mind is the red Texaco truck I found under the tree when I was about five or six years old. I honestly don’t know why this particular gift stands out in my memory, but it always does.
There’s a very good possibility that this truck was a promotional give-away item at our local Texaco station. To me, that didn’t matter. What I do know is that I thoroughly enjoyed the countless hours I spent playing with it. I remember that, in the days following Christmas, I would “drive” the truck around the carpeted living room floor near the Christmas tree. As the weather warmed up a bit in the Spring, I ventured outside to our backyard, where the vehicle successfully traversed grass, dirt, and concrete roadways. It was incredibly durable!
My Mom will likely be surprised and, perhaps, a little disappointed to read that, of all the Christmas gifts she and my Dad, oops, I mean “Santa” gave me during my formative years, I would recall this particular item. Surely, I received gifts of greater monetary and educational value through the years. As I said, I really can’t explain why this particular toy always comes to mind when I ponder the best Christmas gift I ever received. It just does.
Our childhood memories cannot always be easily explained, nor understood. They are what they are. With that said, I am truly grateful for this inexplicable memory — for the truck itself, for the joy it brought me in my youth, and for Santa Claus' constant love and generosity. I just wish I had kept the truck and taken better care of it. The current eBay price for a now “vintage” 1950’s red Texaco truck is $159.00!!!
Sunday, December 04, 2016 | Permalink
In my younger years, growing up in the Sunset District in San Francisco, I was given the unofficial title “Ambassador of 38th Avenue.” I don’t recall exactly who pinned me with that honor, but I know why. If a new family moved onto our block, I never hesitated to knock on their door and welcome them to the neighborhood — even at the age of seven or eight! It’s just something I did. I had an insatiable desire to meet people, to socialize, and to welcome the newcomers. Those traits have served me well throughout my life.
Little did I know, when we first inherited Jack, our beloved Shih Tzu, that he, too, was a very social being. He wasn’t one for fetching a ball or doing fancy tricks, but he had an uncanny ability to make friends with people throughout our neighborhood. He would approach anyone, calmly allowing them to pet him. With small children, he enjoyed climbing up on them and giving them doggie kisses all over their faces. Most of the kids in the neighborhood seemed to enjoy this immensely. Only one, to my knowledge, was traumatized by the experience. And because Jack was such a friendly little critter, I had the opportunity to get to know people throughout the neighborhood who I might otherwise never had the opportunity to meet.
Dominic and Rocca Guido live on Daffodil Way, right around the corner from our home. It was my walks with Jack which enabled me to meet Dominic, and then, later, Rocca. Both are in their 80’s. They are east coast Italians who relocated to the South Bay more than forty years ago. They attend Mass at Queen of Apostles Church on Saturday evenings, play Monday night Bingo at Saint Joseph of Cupertino Parish, and offer the type of hospitality in their home which reminds me of my Uncle P. D. and my Auntie Mary, who were the personification of hospitality.
On my regular visits with Dominic and Rocca, we sit at the kitchen table. Rocca instructs Dominic to get me a drink and offer me something to eat. If he forgets to give me a napkin, Rocca reminds him about that, too. They are an amazing couple — the epitome of marital love. Last January, Rocca took a spill in the kitchen, damaging her hip. After surgery, her rehabilitation was slow and painstaking. Through it all, Dominic was by her side, ministering to her day and night. Recently, Dominic had surgery to remove a cataract from his eye. Rocca, still not 100% after her fall, took care of Dominic to the best of her ability. They seem to have a good understanding of the definition of love: “Seeking the highest good for the other person.”
Last night, Kathy and I enjoyed a delicious dinner at their home. Rocca prepared homemade turkey noodle soup, cheese-covered meat loaf “bites” (cooked in cupcake pans), mashed potatoes, and corn. For dessert, we feasted on homemade date nut bread, topped with whipped cream. The meal was incredible, but the time spent with these special neighbors was the real highlight of the evening.
I am grateful for Dominic and Rocca’s hospitality and friendship. I’m also thankful for Jack. He was a true ambassador.
Saturday, December 03, 2016 | Permalink
It’s one of my favorite words: Grateful. It is a quality to which all should aspire. It has been said that “gratefulness is the poor man’s payment.” In other words, whatever our financial status in life, we are always capable of expressing our gratitude to others. It has also been said that “a grateful heart is a magnet for miracles.” I know this has been true in my life. It seems that the more grateful I am, the more blessings I receive. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. It’s unfortunate that many people spend much of their lives seeking more, rather than appreciating what they already have.
The Dalai Lama tells us that “When you practice gratefulness, there is a sense of respect towards others.” The connection between gratitude and respect is undeniable.
Why is gratefulness so important? For starters, it has the potential to minimize, if not altogether eliminate, negative feelings, such as envy, resentment, or regret. Gratefulness enables people to be more resilient. Focusing on the ways in which we’ve been blessed is a powerful healing strategy. Gratitude also strengthens both our relationships with others and our own self-image. When we feel grateful, we simply feel better, and that feeling is contagious.
The image of the Scrabble pieces at the top of this article caught my attention. As powerful as the word “grateful” might be — and it is — in the game of Scrabble the word has a value of only twelve points. At first, that might seem regrettable. Such an important quality should most certainly have a greater point value in the game, right? Well, perhaps we need to seek a Biblical perspective to better understand the true value of the word.
In the Sacred Scriptures, the number twelve can be found in 187 different places. Some consider it to be the perfect number, as it symbolizes completeness. For example, in the Hebrew Scriptures, we read that Jacob had twelve sons, each representing one of the twelve tribes of Israel. In the Christian Scriptures, Jesus chose twelve apostles to proclaim the Good News to the entire world. Twelve, it seems, can be understood to be the all-inclusive number, which helps us to understand the statement in the Book of Revelation that only 144,000 will be saved during the end time. 144,000? Seriously? According to estimates by demographic researchers at the Population Reference Bureau, a private, nonprofit organization which provides information about population, health, and environmental issues, as of 2015, there have been 108.2 billion people born into this world. What kind of God would offer salvation to only 144,000 of those?
It seems quite appropriate, then, that the word “grateful” have a point value of twelve.
In our daily lives, it’s critical that we understand that happiness does not make us grateful. Rather, gratefulness makes us happy. For this reason, it would serve us well to begin each day with a grateful heart — aware of, and grateful for, the many gifts with which we have been blessed. It’s a great way to start a day!
Friday, December 02, 2016 | Permalink
I grew up in a much different world than that in which I live today. Back in the 1960s, a young child traveling alone could safely take public transportation from the Sunset District in San Francisco to Fisherman’s Wharf to do some Christmas shopping. Today, a parent who would allow their child to do so would most likely be considered negligent. It’s a sad reality of our times.
As early as the mid-60s, when I was in elementary school, it was not uncommon for me to make the trek downtown on my own. I would board the “L” streetcar at the corner of Taraval and Sunset Boulevard, have my car ticket punched by the driver (a 5¢ value), and request a transfer. I’d disembark at the intersection of 5th & Market. My Dad’s firehouse at that time was in “the alley” — on Jesse Street, behind the Old Mint Building. If he was working that day, my first stop would be there. After saying hello to the guys, we’d walk downstairs to purchase a 10¢ bottled soft drink from the old-style vending machine in the basement. Then, after a brief visit, I’d continue my journey.
After crossing Market Street, if I had not visited the firehouse, I might stop by Woolworth’s, at Powell and Market, for a hot dog and milkshake at the fountain on the first floor. I would then board the cable car at the turntable right outside Woolworth’s. In those days, cable cars were actually means of transportation, rather than the tourist attractions they are today. I could present my transfer from the “L” car for my fare. I’d ride the cable car to the end of the line, either at Hyde and Beach Streets (for the Hyde Street cable car) or at Taylor and Bay Streets (for the Mason Street line). Either option put me in the general vicinity of Fisherman’s Wharf.
Two stores I recall visiting in those years were close to Taylor and Bay Streets — Cost Plus and Akron. These were stores that, to the best of my knowledge, did not exist anywhere else in The City. They sold some unique items which made for interesting and, usually, affordable Christmas gifts. When I’d completed my shopping, I would return home by the same route. The total cost of transportation for the day would be 10¢.
If an elementary school child were to replicate my trip to Fisherman’s Wharf today, the student fare for the “L” car would be $1.00. Transfers may no longer be used on cable cars, so even an elementary school child would have to pay the full $7.00 fare each way. The total cost of transportation for the day would be $16.00.
I’m grateful to have lived in San Francisco in the 1960s. Yes, it was a tumultuous time, but it was also an amazing era. My positive memories of living in The City far outnumber the negative experiences I encountered along the way. Those days are long gone, but the memories will remain with me forever.
Thursday, December 01, 2016 | Permalink
In just a matter of hours, it will be December here in California. It was a bit of a challenge for me to find an appropriate photo to accompany this evening’s blog post. December in San José, where I have lived for most of the past 44 years, is quite a different experience than one might have in places like Chicago, Boston, or, God forbid, Couderay, Wisconsin, where, in 1996, the December temperature plummeted to an unthinkable -55ºF. Most of the “December” photos I found on Google Images included snow. We don’t get snow in San José — at least, not since a light dusting in the Spring of 1976. Sure, once or twice each year, we are treated to a view of a few inches of the white stuff on the top of Mount Hamilton to the east of us, but, generally speaking, it requires a drive of three or four hours before one can find a significant amount of snow.
For those who hope for a “White Christmas,” San José is definitely not the place to live. Since I moved to the South Bay in August 1972, the coldest recorded temperature in the month of December is 19º — in 1990. By the grace of God, I have no recollection of that day! The average December temperature, however, is a balmy 51ºF, with an average high of 59.8º and an average low of a bearable 42.3º. Because of this temperate climate, most South Bay residents don’t have what one might refer to as “winter clothes.” On any given December day, it’s not at all unusual to see people walking around in shorts and t-shirts, as every year there are a few days in December when the highs reach the upper 60ºs to lower 70ºs.
Again this year, I won’t find myself preoccupied with creating and grading semester exams in December. There are definitely some benefits to being retired! Instead, Kathy and I are looking forward to getting together with friends and family in the coming weeks, beginning with a home-cooked Italian dinner at our neighbors’ home on Friday evening, dinner here with friends from San Francisco on Sunday, and a Christmas party with friends in The City the next weekend. And, of course, we are eagerly awaiting Christmas Eve dinner with Kathy’s family and Christmas Day dinner with my family. Other than that, at this point in time, we are anticipating a quiet, relaxing month of December — something for which I am incredibly grateful.
Tomorrow evening, Kathy and I will put up our Christmas tree and all the seasonal decorations. We’ll listen to Christmas music on Pandora, bake some chocolate chip cookies, and put on a pot of water for tea or hot chocolate. It will be December, and despite the chaos in our world, we will savor the peace and quiet of our home — and enjoy this special time together.
Wednesday, November 30, 2016 | Permalink
As an educator, I was often confronted, as most high school teachers are, with one of the unpleasant realities of academic life. Cheating. For some students, copying answers off the test paper of someone sitting nearby was much more convenient than diligently preparing for the exam. To combat this epidemic, I would regularly make multiple copies of my tests. On a multiple-choice exam, the questions would be in the same order, but the answers would be in a different order. On test questions requiring a written response, I would change the order of the test questions. Needless to say, it was fairly easy for me to identify those who had cheated.
When I opened my Facebook page this morning, I read the following quote posted by a friend:
“La vida es el examen más difícil.
La mayoría fracasa por intentar copiar a los demás,
sin darse cuenta que todos tenemos un examen diferente.”
I don’t speak, nor am I able to read, the Spanish language, but there was something about this quote, and the accompanying image, which captured my attention. I used Google Translate to ascertain its meaning:
“Life is the most difficult test.
Most fail to try to copy others, without realizing
that we all have a different examination.”
Yes, life is a test — and yes, it can be difficult! Sooner or later, we all learn this lesson. It is critical, however, for us to recognize that we’re not all taking the same test. The challenges we face in life are unique — and the order in which we address these challenges is different, too. Trying to live our lives by attempting to simply imitate others is futile. This is what makes the Facebook experience such a difficult one for some people.
Facebook users, generally speaking, present a fairly positive impression of their lives. We post photos of ourselves with family and friends in desirable locations and situations. It’s sort of like the practice of sending postcards from exotic vacation destinations: “Having a good time. Wish you were here,” — which often translates to “I’m here… and you’re not!” This may cause some individuals to experience feelings of deprivation, deficiency, and envy.
One of the greatest mistakes we make in life is that we so often compare our day-to-day reality, mundane as it may be, with the highlight reels of those we see posted on Facebook — or those we see around our neighborhood. We honestly believe that everyone else is experiencing a better life than we are. This is where it is essential that we recognize that we all have different examinations in life. What works for one person may not work for us at all. So rather than comparing ourselves with those who seem to be living a much happier, more fulfilling life than we are, it is imperative that we recognize the blessings in our own lives, and live our lives with that ever-important attitude of gratitude.
Of course, there is tremendous value in emulating the positive qualities of others. Hopefully, we all have role models in our lives — people we admire who can serve as models of excellence for us to follow. This is a good thing. We must, however, live our own lives, and not needlessly compare ourselves with those around us. As I would so often tell my students, “Do your own work.” To do so is to live a life of integrity.
Friday, November 25, 2016 | Permalink
I'm going to take a day off from writing tomorrow, so here is my 2016 Thanksgiving blog post. To my friends celebrating Thanksgiving/Labor Day in Japan today, and to my friends and family who will celebrate our traditional Thanksgiving Day here in the U.S. tomorrow, please know that I am grateful for you -- and for the gift you are to me.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day and all the shopping’s done.
Kathy’s planning quite a feast to share with everyone.
We’ll have a turkey dinner, with some mashed potatoes, too.
And, for dessert, a slice or two of pumpkin pie should do.
As we approach this special day, I pause to give some thought
to all the things I’m grateful for which simply can’t be bought.
I’m relatively healthy, though I need to lose some weight.
I live in California. Could there be a better state?
My kids are doing well these days -- they’re active as can be.
I’m grateful for the happiness and love they share with me.
Kathy savors time she spends with Liam every day.
That little guy is such a joy, much more than I can say.
Most every day, I start and end with thoughts of gratitude.
It truly is a magical, transforming attitude.
I rarely take for granted all the ways I have been blessed,
I’m therefore quite content with life, and rarely ever stressed.
Thanksgiving is my favorite day, and now it’s almost here.
I’d like to share my gratitude with loved ones, far and near.
It truly is a special day, a time to stop and pause
with thankfulness, before we have to deal with Santa Claus!
Wednesday, November 23, 2016 | Permalink
Christmas is more than a month away, yet stores and restaurants throughout the South Bay are already decked-out with all the trimmings of the holiday season. Two local radio stations are already playing Christmas music 24/7. Holiday shopping catalogues are stuffed into our mailbox each day. Ready or not, the holidays have arrived!
For many, this is an exciting time of year -- a time to enjoy the sights, sounds, flavors, and smells of Christmas. For others, however, the holidays have the potential to overwhelm them with unbearable grief. I know. I’ve been there.
Thanksgiving is, by far, my favorite holiday of the year. I also enjoy Christmas. Throughout my lifetime, both have been celebrated with family. It is a sacred time. In fact, these family gatherings are very much like Sunday Mass. We gather, we share stories, we prepare the meal and set the table, we say a prayer of thanksgiving, and we eat. At the end of the meal, we wish each other well and return to our own homes. Yes, holiday meals are sacred times.
In 2008, after my Dad died, I had a difficult time enduring the holidays. I couldn’t listen to Christmas music. I didn’t send out Christmas cards. I passed on holiday parties with friends and colleagues. I had no desire whatsoever to participate in the annual traditions associated with this time of year. The grief I was experiencing was overwhelming. If I recall accurately, the same was true for me in 2009 and 2010. Eventually, however, I was able to enjoy the holidays again. I had the strength to embrace those traditions which had made Thanksgiving and Christmas such special times for me. It wasn’t easy, but time did help in healing the wounds.
One of my former students, who I consider to be a good friend, is going through that grief process this year. She’s not alone. As the holidays approach, she is bracing herself for the tidal wave of emotion she expects to wash over her. And it will. Grief is not a bad thing. It is the price we pay for love. It’s a process, and it takes time. The road to healing a broken heart can be a long and sometimes lonely one, yet it’s a road we all travel at some point in our lives. It can get especially rough during the holiday season.
Author Paulo Cuelho wrote in The Alchemist, “You will never be able to escape from your heart. So it is better to listen to what it has to say.” This is particularly true when it comes to coping with grief. Author Madeline L’Engle shared the following quote about dealing with loss in our lives: “Maybe you have to know the darkness before you can appreciate the light.” While that may be true, it does not make the journey through grief any less difficult.
It’s okay to not feel like celebrating the holidays. It’s okay to abstain from Christmas music, holiday parties, or any other traditions associated with this time of year. Self-care is, and should be, one’s top priority at this time. Maybe next year, or the year after that, the desire to rejoin the celebration of the holidays will return. Until then, it’s important to stand our ground and not allow anyone to “should” us into participating in these things.
What can we do instead? I found the following list of six recommendations on the website for SharonMartinCounseling.com:
1. Find ways to remember.
2. Make time for yourself.
3. Give yourself permission to say “No.”
4. Change some traditions.
5. Do something for others.
6. Express your feelings.
In time, when we think of our departed loved one, we will come to realize and accept how fortunate we were to have known and shared their love -- with gratitude, rather than grief.
“Grief never ends, but it changes.
It’s a passage, not a place to stay.
Grief is not a sign of weakness,
nor a lack of faith.
It is the price of love.”
Tuesday, November 22, 2016 | Permalink
With only a couple of days remaining until Thanksgiving Day, I thought it was serendipitous that I happened upon a Facebook conversation regarding Pope Francis’ recent announcement that priests now have the authority to forgive women who have had an abortion. It was an interesting announcement. I’m guessing that those priests who have failed to assure women of God’s unconditional love and forgiveness in the past will, more than likely, continue to do just that, despite the pope’s permission to offer healing. And I’m confident that a fair number of priests didn’t wait for the pope’s permission to lovingly share with these women the gift of God’s unconditional forgiveness.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation is one of those nebulous experiences of the Church. I was taught that the sacraments are not “magic moments” of hocus-pocus spirituality. Rather, they are celebrations of realities which already exist. I would often ask my students, “Who forgives our sins?” The most common response was, “The priest - in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.”
Then I would ask, “When are a person’s sins forgiven?” Not surprisingly, the answers varied, including:
“When the person confesses their sins to the priest.”
“When the priest says the Prayer of Absolution.”
“When the person recites the Act of Contrition.”
“When the person walks out of the confessional.”
In reality, a person’s sins are forgiven at the moment the person is truly contrite -- when they are sincerely sorry for what they did and commit themselves to changing their ways. It is God who forgives our sins, not the priest in the confessional.
Of course, this begs the question, “Then why go to the priest to confess our sins?” The answer to this question is related to our participation in a community of believers. For those who choose to do so, and the number of catholics choosing to confess their sins to a priest has dwindled significantly over the past fifty years, they do not walk into the confessional or reconciliation room as a sinner and walk out as a redeemed person. In fact, the person’s sins were forgiven at the moment they were truly sorry for what they did. The purpose of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, then, is to celebrate, in community, God’s gift of forgiveness -- a gift which God offered us through the crucifixion.
Teachings about sin and forgiveness have been incredibly distorted through the years -- intentionally and inadvertently. It’s important for us to acknowledge that nothing we do can separate us from the love of God. Nothing! We have the freedom to turn our back on God, but God loves us unconditionally, and God’s gift of forgiveness is always available to us, just waiting for us to accept it.
We don’t need a priest to forgive us for our sinfulness. If we are truly contrite, and if we intend to change our ways and make better choices in our life, God’s unconditional love and forgiveness await us. This is good news worth sharing -- news for which I am tremendously grateful!
Monday, November 21, 2016 | Permalink
Born in upper Michigan, with just one older brother,
Larry was a character, well-grounded like no other.
Laurium was quiet, with a slow and steady pace.
Despite its stunning beauty, ‘twas a God-forsaken place.
Chicago was the town to go for work to make a living,
so that’s where Larry got his start, and learned the art of giving.
Before too long, he met a girl, and wasted little time;
he married Norma Clark one day, and everything was fine.
They moved to Kansas City and began a whole new life.
Larry knew for certain that he had a loving wife.
Their oldest child, John, was born, and then they had some more.
It didn’t take long before the birth of baby number four.
But they were only halfway done, the final count was eight.
By then they’d moved to California -- yes, the Golden State.
The home they bought in Sunnyvale was large. It served them well
for raising lots of kids -- it was the perfect place to dwell.
Throughout his days, Larry’s faith gave purpose to his life;
he shared it with his children and embraced it with his wife.
He had a moral compass which he followed every day.
You always knew what Larry thought, and what he’d likely say.
He loved to cook and garden, and, yes, he liked his drink,
as he chopped up beans and carrots on the table or the sink.
One thing I learned about this man: no one would ever dare
to walk into the family room and sit upon HIS chair!
And then one day, in ’86, he felt a sense of awe;
he realized the time had come, and he was now “Grandpa!”
He loved is many grandkids, and they knew he always cared,
yet sitting in HIS chair was something most had never dared.
At six-foot-seven, Larry was a formidable sight.
He lived with such integrity, and mastered wrong from right.
He left a treasured legacy which we can all embrace --
to live our lives of faith in God with gratitude and grace.
Fifteen years ago today, he went to meet his God.
Although he wasn’t perfect, and he knew that he was flawed,
there is no doubt God welcomed him with open arms that day.
Today we’re filled with gratitude, for that was Larry’s way.
Sunday, November 20, 2016 | Permalink
As I approached the conclusion of the Master’s program at the University of San Francisco in the Spring of 1984, I sent out job applications to more than a dozen high schools across the country. Most were Jesuit high schools, located in cities where I thought I might like to live -- Tacoma, Denver, New Orleans, and Tampa, to name a few. I was single, unattached, and ready to take on the challenges of life wherever the opportunity presented itself. Little did I know that I would end up accepting a job much closer to home.
One Sunday afternoon, while shopping at the Lucky Store on North Bascom Avenue in San José, I ran into Mike Wallace, a guy I had met through coaching basketball in my years at Saint Christopher School in San José. He was the principal of Saint Lawrence Elementary School in Santa Clara. We had a brief conversation, updating each other on our status in life. Two weeks later, I received a phone call from him, asking if I would be interested in a job at Saint Lawrence. He explained that the job would entail teaching in the parish high school and working as a pastoral minister for the parish. I politely informed him that I was not interested. I had heard some pretty negative things about the Saint Lawrence pastor. Mike assured me that the aging priest was harmless, and convinced me to agree to participate in an interview.
As I entered the parish rectory on the night of the interview, I was totally committed to just being polite, but not accepting the job. Two hours later, I walked back outside having accepted the position at Saint Lawrence -- and wondering why.
I began my new job on Wednesday, August 1, 1984. On Thursday, August 9th, I attended one of several activities celebrating the parish’s 25th anniversary. It was there, standing outside the gym, that I met Kathy. While the timeline may be a bit unorthodox, we were engaged in October, married the following June, and became parents in May 1986. The rest is history. It all seemed so right at the time. Today, more than thirty years later, it still does.
Kathy has been, and continues to be, an absolute blessing to me. We have what I would describe as a perfectly imperfect marriage. Like any other couple, we struggle with things from time to time, but we always find a way to refocus, to forgive, if necessary, and to get back on track. No one accepts me, loves me, and challenges me the way Kathy does. We are different in so many ways, but in those areas which matter most, we are most always on the same page.
To say that I am grateful for Kathy’s presence in my life would be an understatement. When I think about our lives over the past thirty-plus years, when I look at our three boys, and now at our grandson, I am overwhelmed with appreciation for all Kathy does with me and for me. We make a good team. She is, quite simply, the best!
“A good marriage isn’t something you find,
it’s something you make.”
~ Gary Thomas
Sunday, November 20, 2016 | Permalink
The weather gurus on the evening news last night predicted rain today. It rained today. Now you might wonder why I would bother to mention something so apparently obvious. Well, we’ve been in a bit of a drought in recent years here in Santa Clara County. On more than just a few occasions, the weather personalities on the local news channels have boldly predicted precipitation for our region, only to have yet another dry day or week here in the South Bay. So, yes, it actually rained today, and, for this, I am very grateful.
Kathy and I were planning to take a drive to The City with our friend, Sandra, and her two girls to see the Christmas tree lighting at Pier 39. When we realized that it really was raining, both here and in San Francisco, we decided that we’d change our plans. Maybe we’ll head down to Christmas in the Park for the City of San José’s Christmas tree lighting festivities on Friday, November 25th. We’ll just have to wait to see what the weather is like that day.
So instead of venturing out today, I enjoyed a peaceful day at home. I did some reading, a bit of writing, and took an afternoon nap. I also updated our contact list of family and friends. I guess it had been awhile since I’d done that. I was somewhat surprised by how many people on the list are no longer with us, and how many others had moved since the list was last updated. I’m grateful to have the list up-to-date as the holidays approach.
Like so many other gifts in life, rain is something we don’t miss, until we do. After several years of below-average rainfall, I’m hopeful that we will be blessed with ample rain between now and June.
“And in this moment,
like a swift intake of breath,
the rain came.”
~ Truman Capote ~
Saturday, November 19, 2016 | Permalink
For more than fifty years, Search Institute in Minneapolis, Minnesota has been committed to listening attentively to America’s youth and to promoting positive change in the lives of young people. This organization has identified forty developmental assets which assist young people to grow up as healthy, caring, and responsible individuals. The belief is that a young person who has thirty or more of these assets is in a position to thrive during the adolescence years. A young person who has ten or fewer of these assets is considered to be at-risk.
Two of the assets relate to the presence of influential adults in one’s life. Asset #3 is Other Adult Relationships: Young person receives support from three or more non-parent adults. Asset #14 is Adult Role Models: Parent(s) and other adults model positive, responsible behavior. While they don’t use the word “mentor” in their descriptions, that’s what first came to mind when I read through the list of assets.
Mentors are special people in our lives. They often have the ability to recognize in us that which we don’t recognize in ourselves -- until we do. Utilizing a combination of knowledge and life experience, a mentor is able to share valuable bits of wisdom with us, enabling us to better understand how life works.
I’ve had several mentors in my life -- men, other than my father, who guided me, encouraged me, and gave me a gentle push in the right direction. The first was one of my high school teachers. It was because of his influence that I devoted my life to teaching. The second was my boss from 1985 to 1991. The confidence he placed in me, and the trust he had in my ability to do my job well, gave me the courage to take on additional responsibilities in the workplace. The third was a principal with whom I worked from 1988 to 2001. Both personally and professionally, he was a valuable sounding board who helped me to understand and deal with life more effectively. I am tremendously grateful for the presence of all three of these men in my life.
Dr. Lorraine Kirk wrote, “Good mentors offer priceless advice that comes from their own experience -- both successes and failures. They teach us, they guide us, they encourage us, and they increase our chances for success in life. Every kid and every adult should have mentors.”
As I got older, I found myself in the mentor role, most often with young, inexperienced teachers, and occasionally with some of my students. It was a pleasure and an honor for me to share my own experiences, both successes and failures, with my younger mentees. As Rabbi Harold Kushner once wrote, “Having an impact on another person, shaping his life in some small, but vital way, is one of the most enduring satisfactions we will know.”
I find it reassuring to know that the researchers at Search Institute recognize the importance of mentors in the lives of today’s youth. It’s our responsibility as adults to be aware of opportunities to actively accept mentoring roles in the lives of the young people with whom we come into contact.
Sunday, November 13, 2016 | Permalink