Six Cool Gifts Our Kids Give Us

THE GIFT OF PLAY

All of us adults knew how to play at one time in our lives but somewhere along the line, we contracted an Alzheimer's of the spirit. The world became a deadly serious place and we forgot how to laugh at ourselves. The solution ? Learn from the kids how to lighten up. Blow some bubbles,slap around a balloon, kick a beach ball. The kids will show you how.

THE GIFT OF HONESTY

We didn't start out this way but most of us have all learned to be phonies. We dissumulate and tell lies and pretend to know stuff we really don't, all to protect our fragile egos or status or whatever. Life is easier for kids. If grandpa has a big nose, the kid will say “Grandpa,you have a big nose.” Children have a built-in honesty that is refreshing. What a gift !

THE GIFT OF TEARS

This gift is especially valuable for guys. When kids are hurt, they don't feel like they have to stuff their feelings. They cry. It's the most natural thing in the world. We kid ourselves when we think it is weak to shed tears when we are in pain. The ability to cry comes naturally to kids. That's one reason they recover so quickly. Watch the children and we can re-learn what was once so easy for us.

THE GIFT OF WONDER

When did you last marvel at a butterfly in flight or let a lady bug crawl up your arm or splash in a puddle, or stand in silent awe before the miracle of a rainbow ? Hey, we used to do that kind of stuff. Remember ? When did we decide that we no longer had time for wonder ? Kids do take the time and in doing so, show themselves wiser than adults. Just watch them and maybe you will wonder again,too.

THE GIFT OF HUMILITY

One of the reasons kids learn at lightening speed is that they are not afraid of making mistakes. No one has told them yet that it is shameful to screw up. I took skiing lessons with my daughter when she was about seven years old. She fell down twenty times to every fall I made. Guess what ? She learned to be a pretty fair skier. I made less mistakes but never learned to ski. We adults need to remind ourselves of something we all knew as kids…mistakes are part of life.

THE GIFT OF LIVING IN THE PRESENT

I don't know who first came up with the expression, “Carpe Diem,” but I expect it was first said by a ten year old Roman kid. Children live in the present. It's their gift to us adult worry birds who are forever wringing our hands about what might happen five years from now. Sure some planning is necessary but too many of us parents live in the future and never get around to enjoy the moment. Kids know better.

Forgiveness

By Hank Mattimore

Forgiveness comes hard to many of us. It must have come exceptionally hard to a one of the boy soldiers in Sudan. Let me tell you his story. When this kid was seven years old he, along with several hundred other boys, were kidnapped by a rebel army to help them fight their war. The boys were given semi-automatic rifles and taught to shoot. The rebel camp was run with an iron discipline. If any of the boy soldiers hesitated to shoot and kill their enemies, they in turn were killed. There was no choice. You killed or you were killed.

After spending a year with the rebel army, the boy managed to escape and return to his mother in the refugee camp. For several months he was safe there but, one day, the rebel soldiers returned to the camp looking for him. He ran and hid in the garden while the soldiers questioned his mother. The boy could see and hear the soldiers as they talked to her. His mother, trying to protect her son, told them that her son had never returned home since they kidnapped him. The Captain said “I don't believe you,” and ordered one of the boy soldiers to kill her on the spot. As the boy in hiding watched in horror, he saw one of the boys beat the defenseless woman to death.

Almost a year later, government troops managed to free hundreds of the boy soldiers and took them to a re-training facility on the edge of the refugee camp. They were given new clothes to wear and watched while their old clothes were burned. The idea was to de-program these boys and help them forget the atrocities they had been trained to commit. At this camp, the boy who lost his mother met face to face with the boy who had killed her. At first his pent up rage erupted and he rushed at the other boy shouting “You killed her. You killed my mother.” But then, the hatred he held in his heart seemed to drain from him. The offending boy asked his friends forgiveness and, incredible as it seems, the two boys hugged one another. That kind of forgiveness seems more divine than human. But it happens.

The older I get, the more I am amazed at the extremes of our behavior. We can be petty and mean spirited one minute and reach the heights of self sacrifice the next. The Good Book says that God has made us only a little less than the angels. Yet, we know from sad experience how hateful and unforgiving we can be to one another.

I knew personally a young man dying of AIDS who had been disowned by his parents because he was gay. When word came to him that his mother was dying and was asking him to come home, the young man refused to go. Steeped in bitterness and hurt, he could not forgive her for rejecting him as her son. The young man's mom died without her son being there. I felt badly for the mother but even worse for her son. Had he been able to reach down deep in his heart to forgive her, what a liberation he would have felt. As it turned out, he, too, died from the disease within six months. Did he die a happier death knowing that he had paid his mother back for her rejection of him ? I doubt it.

I would like to think that all of us are capable of reaching down deep within us for that bigness of heart that allows us to forgive. But, I know too, that there are people who have felt so betrayed, so hurt by life that they are seemingly incapable of forgiving. Some of them will even admit that carrying that burden on their backs hurts them more than it does the person or experience that caused the hurt but it doesn't make any difference. They are trapped by the pain. My heart goes out to them. I wish for them and for all of us that even a small part of the generosity of the boy soldier will rub off on our struggling humanity.

The Compelling Power of Love

The Power of Love

Can intimacy heal ? Absolutely, says Dr.Dean Ornish, a California physician who gained a world wide reputation by devising a low fat vegetarian diet that seems to work wonders for heart patients. Now Ornish is saying By all means keep to the veggie diet and do your meditation and exercise but there is a factor even more important than these. In his best selling book, “Love and Survival,” Ornish says “I am not aware of any other factor in medicine, not diet, not smoking, not exercise that has a greater impact on your health and well being than love and intimacy.”

Ornish has amassed an impressive array of medical data to demonstrate his convictions. In one study of heart attack survivors, those who lived alone were found to be twice as likely to die within a year as those who had significant others at home with them. Another study asked women whether they felt isolated. Those who said yes were almost four times as likely to die of cancer in the coming years than those who did not feel isolated. Another survey of heart patients found that those who answered yes to the question,Do you feel loved ? had 50% less arterial damage than those who answered no.

Do studies like this PROVE that love and intimacy heals ? Nah, probably not, yet the data supports what many of us have experienced in our lives. As I read Ornish's book, I was recalling a conversation I had with an 80 something guy at the senior center I used to manage. He told me, as you grow older you'll learn that there is nothing more important in life than loving someone and being loved in return.

It's interesting to see the medical establishment is finally taking seriously what that gentleman knew instinctively. We are social animals. How we relate to others, the friendships we nurture, the people we feel close to all have a powerful affect on our immune system. Who hasn't discovered that we are more likely to come down with a cold or the flu when we are feeling lonely or depressed ? Who hasn't experienced the therapeutic value of a hug or a kiss from a loved one ?

Victor Frankl, a Jewish doctor imprisoned in Dachau during the holocaust, remarked that the ones who managed to stay alive through the horrors of this camp were the ones who felt they had something or, more accurately, someone to live for. They had loved ones at home, children, husbands or wives, friends who cared whether they lived or died.

What has all this to do with you and me ? Look at it as a gentle reminder that it's time we counted the quality of our friendships as important to our health as the meds we take. Maybe it's just as healthy for us to guard against isolating ourselves from human companionship as it is to avoid those high cholesterol foods. Just maybe, reaching out to someone In need is as crucial to our well being as working out at the fitness center. This is hardly new stuff. The power of love to heal is as old as human kind, as old as the power of a mom's kiss on her child's “boo boo.” to make it better. But, for those of us who sometimes forget, thank you, Dr.Ornish for helping us to remember.

Eisenhower Reflections on War

“Every gun that is made,every warship launched,every rocket fired signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed,those who are cold and are not clothed.” President Dwight Eisenhower, April 16, 1953

I am not a pacifist. If I am under attack, I will fight back. If my country is under attack, I believe that we, as a nation, must defend our homeland. That being said, I also believe that war is a last resort, almost always a mistake and ultimately a wasteful and ineffective way to solve the issues that divide us.

That is why Presidnet Eisenhower, by no stretch of the imagination, a pacifist. found himself questioning the wisdom of our country or any country wasting precious resources on weapons of war when we could be spending those resources on growing crops, developing medicines, purchasing school books, feeding children and making the world a more peaceful place to raise our families.

War is a kind of madness. We equip our youth with sophisticated weaponry and send them abroad to kill and destroy young men and women from a distant country. In the process, civilians die, the innocent suffer, children are orphaned. Ultimately, someone declares a victory but there are no real winners, only different kinds of victims. Waging war diminishes victor and vanquished alike.

There is a story told about an old Cherokee grandfather who is teaching his grandson about life. He says “A fight is going on inside me and you and every other person. It is a terrible fight between two wolves. One wolf is evil. He is anger, envy, greed, arrogance, resentment and self pity. The other wolf is good. He is joy,peace, love, kindness, generosity and empathy.” The young boy thought for a minute then said to his grandpa, “Which wolf will win ?” The old Cherokee replied, “The one you feed.”

It seems to me that when we go to war, we are feeding the wrong wolf. And in doing so, we are destroying the goodness within each of us. We are not bringing peace to the world but fostering hatred. We are not feeding the hungry or clothing the naked. We are killing not only our own soldiers but also the lives of innocent civilians. More importantly , we are starving the good wolf within ourselves, the wolf that wants peace for ourselves and for our children.

The March 14 issue of Time Magazine has a cover story about the number of people(more than one billion) who are living in extreme poverty in our world today. According to a United Nations report entitled “Children Under Threat.” more than half of the world's children suffer extreme poverty. That means families that live on less than a dollar a day, families that don't have safe drinking water or enough food to ward off starvation. It means children die because of sickness that could be prevented.

This year we will be spending approximately $500 billion to support our military operations and $16 billion in aid to to those who live in extreme poverty throughout the world. Where have we gone wrong ? This is not a Democrat vs Republican thing or blue vs red. Letting children starve transcends all that. It's time we revisited Eisenhower's words and paid attention to the truth he spoke.

Everyday Miracles

Life's Miracles. Enjoy the Ride

By Hank Mattimore

There are two ways to view the world. One is that nothing is a miracle. The other is that everything is a miracle. I prefer the latter. Albert Einstein

Interesting isn't it that a statement like the one above should come from a scientist, not a run of the mill scientist but from one of the greatest scientific minds of our modern era. I think little children get this miracle stuff much better than we do. Did you ever watch a small child's eyes light up at the sight of a dragonfly ? How about a little kid's delight the first time he or she watches a bubble float in the air or finds a sea shell along an ocean beach ? Whatever we jaded adults might think, the kid knows that he is seeing miracles.

Everyday miracles surround us if we have the eyes to recognize them. One of my favorites is the capacity of our memory to store up and recall experiences that happened to us forty or fifty years ago. I find it remarkable that despite all the knowledge and experiences that have been crammed into my memory through over sixty years of living, I can still see that little red wagon I had when I was five years old. I can smell my mom's perfume and my dad's granger pipe tobacco and white owl cigars. I can hear Aunt Kate rattling those rosary beads and Dennis Day singing Danny Boy on the Jack Benny show.

Other miracles surround us. Who hasn't read accounts of auto accidents where 100 pound moms find the strength to life 2,000 pound vehicles off the bodies of their stricken children ? But never mind the unusual. Think for a moment of the magical beauty of fields of wild flowers that brighten up our world every spring. Miracles ? You betcha !

Just because our world is graced with flowers doesn't make their appearance any less miraculous. Just because a man and a woman can make a baby almost anytime does not make her birth and less wondrous.

I wish I were awake enough all the time to appreciate that miracles that bless my life. Alas, there are times I don't see them at all. I sleepwalk, acting as though I belong to that pitiable group of people who don't believe in miracles at all. What a loss for me.

But then there are other times ( I bet you've experienced them, too) when the world seems to come alive before my eyes. I don't drag my feet. I run through those days like a kid with his first kite, forgetting the pain in my hip or the loss of my youth or the money I owe MasterCard. Those are the days I live for, when, as the good Book says, the kingdom of God is within and everything is a miracle.