Two Shots of Happy; One Shot of Sad

“Two Shots of Happy; One Shot of Sad”

“See the oncoming day as a child sees a parade coming down the street”

Kirk Byron Jones

Sorry Mr. Kirk Byron Jones, would you mind if I pass. Hey, I’m a pretty upbeat guy but there is no way I can greet each new day like I’m a kid watching a parade coming down the street. Geezo ! Beezo! At least let me have my coffee first.

Anyway, the quote reminded me of something out of Dr.Seuss. So I took out my trusty copy of “Oh, the Places You’ll Go !” to see if the good doctor’s optimism matched Kirk Jones. Here is part of what I read:

“Today is your day. You’re off to great places.

You’re off and away. You’ll be on your way up!

You’ll be seeing great sights!

You’ll join the high flyers who soar to high heights.

You won’t lag behind, because you’ll have the speed

You’ll pass the whole gang and you’ll soon take the lead

Wherever you fly, you’ll be the best of the best

Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.

Except when you don’t. Because sometimes, you won’t.

I’m sorry to say so, but sadly it’s true that bang-ups and hang-ups

can happen to you.”

That last stanza restored my faith in Dr.Seuss. As whimsical and bright as his stuff is, he still lets his young readers know that life has its “hang-ups and bang-ups.” Life for little kids is beautifull and enchanting, even miraculous at times but there’s also the days they scrape their shins or get yelled at by a parent or see their pet hamsters die.

As parents, we instinctively try to shield our little ones from life’s disappointments, but deep down we know we can’t do it. I still recall the time my then eight-year-old daughter came down with a bad case of the flu on Halloween night. Good grief ! Her ballerina costume had been laid out for a week before; the basket for trick and treat goodies all prepared. When her mom and I had to say no she couldn’t go out, Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, the British evacuation at Dunkirk, nothing could possibly have been a worse tragedy for our little kid.

The mix of smiles and tears is part of our lives as adults. Show me a person who claims to be happy all of the time and I’ll show you someone out of touch with reality. We can’t look at each new day with the eagerness of a child looking for a parade because life experience has taught us that parades don’t come every day. Whether we are teens or muddling through on the twilight side of 50, we KNOW the red-letter days in life happen only occasionally.

That’s okay, because you know what? Most of us have figured out that, despite those bad days, we would much rather be alive than dead. One of my favorite U-2 songs is a poignant little number called “Two Shots of Happy; One Shot of Sad.” To me, it sort of sums up the way life is. Sure, life has its downers but I like to think that the good moments outnumber the bad. What do you think?

Dr. Seuss concludes his book “Oh the Places You’ll Go” with these lines….

“You’ll get mixed up with many strange birds as you go

So be sure when you step, step with care and great tact

And remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act.” (I love that line)

And will you succeed?

Yes! You will indeed!

98 and ¾ percent guaranteed

Kid, you’ll move mountains!

Learning to see

“Instead of trying to look better; Start trying to see better”

Bumper sticker spotted on HWY 12

Whoa! Those are powerful words, don’t you think? Most of us are all about looking good aren’t we? If we were not, the cosmetics market would not be the multi billion market it is today. Everything about us, from the clothes we wear to the model car we drive, from hair styling to pedicures, we take our appearance pretty seriously.

The marketing teams for our political figures have all this down to a science. Want our candidate to look presidential? Put him in a well-tailored suit and tie. Whoops! Is he coming across as too formal? Let’s pose him at the ballpark in short sleeves, maybe with a hot dog in his hand. Muss his hair a little bit. Yea, that’s about right.

We can laugh at the politicos but we, too, spend a good part of our lives at fitness centers or beauty salons or catching the latest sale at Mervyn’s, all in the interest of looking good. Nothing wrong with that, right? Of course, we want to look good, to project an image of success, of having it together.

The problem with concentrating all our energies into looking good is that we can lose track of who we are on the inside. Intent on how we will appear to others, we no longer have the capacity to go outside ourselves and really see the beauty around us.

By changing our focus to “seeing,” we become outer directed. The center of our attention is no longer how we look to others but the people and the things that we see around us. Did you ever have the experience of passing by a store or a sign or a tree a thousand times over the years and one day, for the first time, you SEE it. You ask yourself, “How come I never noticed it before?” This can happen in our personal relationships, too. You have been married for twenty-five years to your spouse and one day it dawns on you that she has strikingly beautiful brown eyes. Could it be that we pay so much attention to how we look that our eyes are closed to even the person we love?

Sometimes, it seems we almost go out of our way NOT to see. Ask a homeless person how many people who pass by him every day really see him? How many senior citizens really see the teenagers hanging out in the mall, not as a threat, but just kids having a good time? Seeing is not just a biological phenomenon. We see with our minds and our understanding, too. We see goodness where we want to see it.

In William Stafford’s poem “When I Met My Muse,” his muse says to him “I am your own way of looking at things. When you allow me to live with you, every glance at the world around you will be a sort of salvation.” Ay, there’s the rub isn’t it? Allowing the God within you to see the beauty that is everywhere. God has put the stamp of the divine on our world, in people, in the flowers of spring, the stars in the heavens and even in little puppy dogs. It’s all there for us to see and appreciate.

What a waste it would be if we were to go through our whole lives so intent on trying to look better that we missed seeing life.

Hey, Shut Up and Listen Already !

Hey, Shut Your Mouth and Listen already

Eaves-dropping on a conversation between two couples at the mall the other day, I was fascinated by the way all four people were talking past one another. It reminded me of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence” song in the 60’s. “People talking without speaking; people hearing without listening.”

I guess many of us have had conversations like that. We listen to someone’s story just long enough to be polite. Then we launch into our own story, which we imagine to be infinitely more interesting than the other persons. We sort of mentally hover while the other person is speaking, thinking of what we are going to say next

Those of us of a certain age are prone to these conversations. Partly because we have had so many life experiences, so many stories, it seems that whatever is being talked about sets off a bell in our brains reminding us of a similar experience in our lives. We are impatient for the person to finish his story so we can get on with ours. Ours is better anyway.

I’ve been working on my listening skills since I’ll be volunteering for Hospice starting next month. The person conducting our training for Hospice is emphatic that we learn to listen, really listen, to patients and family members. “Listening,” she says “is probably the single most important thing we can do for people in grief.” It stands to reason doesn’t it? A woman whose husband is dying of cancer knows that we will not be able to “fix it.” We are neither doctors nor miracle workers. But if we can listen attentively to her story, at least she knows that someone is there for her. Listening can be powerful medicine.

Being a good listener is not as easy as it might seem. In order to concentrate on what another person is saying, you have to put your own ego on hold. This takes some doing. Yes, I know, our conversational skills have been finely honed through the years. Damn, we’re good. But we need to put ourselves in the background for a moment, shut up already! Just listen for a change.

Learning the gentle art of listening is especially important if you are trying to comfort someone who is grieving over the death of a loved one. When you insist on interjecting your story, you have effectively tuned her out. You are not the important one; she is.

Just listen. You don’t have to jump in with a “Yes, that reminds me of how I felt when my little puppy died.” Even worse is dropping a sweet platitude on her. (“Don’t worry. Time is a great healer.” “He’s in a better place” etc.) Just a simple “I’m sorry,” lets her know she has been heard.

Being a good listener is not simply for Hospice volunteers. Since getting involved with Hospice, I’ve noticed the way many of us only half listen to people in ordinary conversation. To my chagrin, I also have become aware of my own habit of jumping in with my story even before the other person has finished telling his. I’m embarrassed to recall the number of times I said “uh,huh” to my wife’s stories while I sat behind the morning newspaper, or the times I interrupted her to solve her problem when all she was looking for was for me to listen.

Well, I’ve made up my mind to be a better listener in the future. If I'd use my ears as much as my mouth, I'd probably learn more, too.

Having Kids Sure Make a Difference

Jason Kendall, the catcher for the Oakland A's baseball team, gave me a chuckle the other day.

He was talking to a reporter about how, when he was a young player and had gone hitless at the plate or made an error in the field, he used to beat himself up over his performance.

But all that has changed for Jason. “Now I go home and have a 2-year-old that doesn't give a damn what I did. Whether I was 5 for 5 or 0 for 5, he looks at me and thinks I'm cool.” Hey, Jason, give me a high five. You're growing up.

I've thought often about the way having kids radically alters your perspective on life. How can you be depressed about your work when you have a little toots at home running to meet you and asking for a horsey back ride?

Or when he shows you his crayon-art on an old yellow pad. “Daddy, look what I made for you,” he says, showing you a drawing with something that passes for a face and two long legs. “Honey, that's the best drawing you ever did,” you say. Your little guy or girl beams and there is nothing much else that matters.

Those of you who are parents know what I'm talking about. I don't think there is any experience in life that changes us quite as radically. A young couple I know used to brag that having a kid was not going to change their lifestyle one bit. “Hey, we'll still go out and party. We'll just take our kid along.”

Yea right! They found out, as we all do, that it just doesn't work that way. Kids have a way of changing everything. It's their role in life and they play it well.

A friend of my daughter had all sorts of reservations about becoming pregnant. She planned to go back to work as soon as possible after she had her little boy. She finally did have the baby and now vows not to go back to work until her child enters kindergarten. Her baby's smile has changed her career ambitions overnight.

I have in a drawer somewhere my daughter's fourth-grade composition on “My Hero is My Dad.” When I read it, it still reduces me to putty. Kids have a way of touching secret places in your heart you didn't know existed.

Are there negatives to this parent thing? Good grief! Sometimes it feels like that's all there is.

The sweet little girl who hugged you and called you the best Mommy in the whole world in third grade is now in high school and shouting, “I hate you,” At the top of her voice. The boy, who seemed so trustworthy all his life, is now cutting classes and smoking dope.

Somehow, if we are lucky, our kids emerge on the other side of their teens, body and soul intact, ready to take on the world. They discover that we still love them and we don't seem quite as clueless as we seemed a few years back.

We parents do our own emerging. No longer responsible for allowances or setting limits or filling the pantry with enough food to feed the 49ers, we relax a bit and enjoy the kids who have become our best friends.

Then again, if we are lucky, along come the grandkids. God's greatest gift to the older generation. Is there anything in the world quite like paling around with your grandchild? Not in this old guy's book.

So Jason Kendall, your education has just begun.