short excerpts...other writings...upon occasion or as prompted...
The tiger in the water? A representation of my life -- spirit and environment!


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Becoming Involved

Becoming involved with others' problems usually means sharing not only time but also knowledge (and sometimes tracking down information). Giving your knowledge is usually even more rewarding and far more valuable than giving your money. Money cannot buy the knowledge that comes from expertise and experience.

I very much enjoy sharing my knowledge. In many cases, I have been able to help parents struggling with their children's rights to an appropriate education or medical care, especially those who do not fit into norms. I am often able to help people find the right schools or doctors, understand their rights, and connect with local advisors who can help them.

Sometimes I can help parents from afar, as well as those who live near me. Some such parents have come from my home area and attended school with me as children. In other cases, I have been able to provide emotional support to those experiencing medical or educational difficulties. This seems to me to be simply a matter of normal friendship. However, perhaps not everyone knows that he or she has knowledge worth sharing.

At my last high school reunion, our class president hugged me and said, "You have helped people in this class, and as president, I want to thank you on behalf of the class."

Such formality from a classmate! Just seeing these friends after many years of absence (30, I have to admit) was warm fuzzy enough, as was knowing that perhaps I was, indeed, able to bring a ray of sunlight into a dark corner for a few folks.

Having someone thank me in that manner, however, brought to mind a bouquet of blessings worthy of being framed and hung forever on the wall of the heart. Am I ready to help even more folks as a result of his words? Of course! These are the kind of words that get people to do almost anything and to feel really, really good about it.

I have watched my children follow the same path. They have learned to become involved. My oldest daughter, Lizzie, knows much about brain functions, and I have sent colleagues and friends to her in search of more information about various brain anomalies in their relatives. Although she does not know these people, she takes the time to provide them with the information they might be able to get from other sources and sends them to reference materials that will help them. At Logan Airport in Boston, I recently met the president of a national organization with which I am associated, and he related to me how Lizzie had helped him with his brother's problems.

I have also expected staffs that have worked for me to become involved with their colleagues and help them with their needs. Not everyone will do it, but most will if an example is set.

Unfortunately, I have seen other staffs refuse to become involved for reasons of fear, embarrassment, or unease -- to their detriment. One of the former U. S. consuls general, whom I will call Pete (for obvious reasons I am reluctant to give his real name), developed a debilitating illness. Although his physical body was failing him, his mind was sharp and his accumulated knowledge worth listening to. However, it became increasingly difficult for me to convince my staff that the information that Pete shared warranted the discomfort of dealing with Pete's illness. So, I no longer asked Pete to come into my office. Instead, I began to spend an afternoon a week at Pete's house, collecting the information that was so essential to our program. Collecting information was not always easy; sometimes it meant waiting for medicine to kick in so that Pete could respond. Patience -- I learned that at Pete's house. When our project was completed, Pete mentioned to me how much it had meant to him to be able to continue to contribute via me to the diplomatic mission of his country. Pete had handwritten notes of thank you from national leaders, such as Ronald Reagan, on his wall, yet the small human touch that I had given him meant as much. Even though Pete's health terribly interfered, he did not let it stop him from being involved with life, with his country, and with his continuing work. When there was no longer any Pete, I felt that not only had the State Department had lost a treasure but also that I had lost a pleasure.

Becoming involved is the way in which we share the fragrances of our lives with those we care about. Interestingly, the more we become involved the more people we begin to care about, the more people who begin to care about us, and the more fragrant becomes the air around us.


Excerpted and adapted from a collection of vignettes, copyright 2003.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Friends Are One of God's Ways of Taking Care of Us

I just had to share another story from the Internet. A friend sent it to me a while back. It is too good not to share even though neither of us knows the source other than that it is reputed to have been written by a Denver hospice physician. (The quote in the title is by Eeichido Oda, author of One Piece, in which Monkey D. Luffi, the protoganist, makes this comment about friends.)

Here is the physician's story:

"I was driving home from a meeting this evening about 5, stuck in traffic on Colorado Blvd., and the car started to choke and splutter and die - I barely managed to coast, cursing, into a gas station, glad only that I would not be blocking traffic and would have a somewhat warm spot to wait for the tow truck. It wouldn't even turn over. Before I could make the call, I saw a woman walking out of the quickie mart building, and it looked like she slipped on some ice and fell into a gas pump, so I got out to see if she was okay.

When I got there, it looked more like she had been overcome by sobs than that she had fallen; she was a young woman who looked really haggard with dark circles under her eyes. She dropped something as I helped her up, and I picked it up to give it to her. It was a nickel.

At that moment, everything came into focus for me: the crying woman, the ancient Suburban crammed full of stuff with 3 kids in the back (1 in a car seat), and the gas pump reading $4.95.

I asked her if she was okay and if she needed help, and she just kept saying 'I don't want my kids to see me crying! ,' so we stood on the other side of the pump from her car. She said she was driving to California and that things were very hard for her right now. So I asked, 'And you were praying?' That made her back away from me a little, but I assured her I was not a crazy person and said, 'He heard you, and He sent me.'

I took out my card and swiped it through the card reader on the pump so she could fill up her car completely, and while it was fueling, walked to the next door McDonald's and bought 2 big bags of food, some gift certificates for more, and a big cup of coffee. She gave the food to the kids in the car, who attacked it like wolves, and we stood by the pump eating fries and talking a little.

She told me her name, and that she lived in Kansas City . Her boyfriend left 2 months ago and she had not been able to make ends meet. She knew she wouldn't have money to pay rent Jan. 1, and finally, in desperation, had called her parents, with whom she had not spoken in about 5 years. They lived in California and said she could come live with them and try to get on her feet there.

So she packed up everything she owned in the car. She told the kids they were going to California for Christmas, but not that they were going to live there.

I gave her my gloves, a little hug and said a quick prayer with her for safety on the road. As I was walking over to my car, she said, 'So, are you like an angel or something?'

This definitely made me cry. I said, 'Sweetie, at this time of year angels are really busy, so sometimes God uses regular people.'

It was so incredible to be a part of someone else's miracle. And of course, you guessed it, when I got in my car it started right away and got me home with no problem. I'll put it in the shop tomorrow to check, but I suspect the mechanic won't find anything wrong.

Sometimes the angels fly close enough to you that you can hear the flutter of their wings."

Friday, April 23, 2010

Perspective on Poverty

Yesterday my brother sent me a story that had been sent to him. Obviously, it originated somewhere on the Internet, but I cannot find it in order to give proper credit. Nonetheless, I posted it on my Blest Atheist website because I was so taken with it. Although I usually do not duplicate posts, I will repeat it here since I think you may be taken with it, too.
One day, the father of a very wealthy family took his son on a trip to the country with the express purpose of showing him how poor people live. They spent a couple of days and nights on the farm of what would be considered a very poor family. On their return from their trip, the father asked his son, "How was the trip?"

"It was great, Dad."

"Did you see how poor people live?" the father asked.

"Oh, yeah," said the son.

"So, tell me, what did you learn from the trip?" asked the father.

The son answered:

"I saw that:

- We have one dog, and they had four.

- We have a pool that reaches to the middle of our garden, and they have a creek that has no end.

- We have imported lanterns in our garden, and they have the stars at night.

- Our patio reaches to the front yard, and they have the whole horizon.

- We have a small piece of land to live on, and they have fields that go beyond our sight.

- We have servants who serve us, but they serve others.

- We buy our food, but they grow theirs.

- We have walls around our property to protect us; they have friends to protect them."

The boy's father was speechless.

Then his son added, "Thanks, Dad, for showing me how poor we are."

Isn't perspective a wonderful thing? Makes you wonder what would happen if we all gave thanks for everything we have, instead of worrying about what we don't have.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Empty Chair

One of the details that Mommy used to miss a lot was supper. We hated it when Mommy tried to put us to bed and had forgotten to feed us supper. We always reminded her, and she always made it for us. We wanted her to remember, though, without us telling her.

One time she did remember to make supper. She made a very nice supper for us. We were so happy.

We were all seated around the table, but there was an empty chair. It belonged to Daddy. He was not home from work yet.

Mommy looked at her watch. She thought it was very strange that he was not home yet since it was already 9:00 at night. He usually got off work at 5:00 and was home shortly after that.

“Well, let’s go ahead and eat,” Mommy said. “Your father will show up some time. He must be working late or maybe he ran into some bad traffic. He is working in a new place, and it is at least half an hour from here.”

Mommy could not call Daddy, and Daddy could not call Mommy. We had just moved into a new house, and we would not have a phone for a couple more days while we were waiting for the phone company to install it. So, all Mommy could do was wait for Daddy to show up. She sat down to eat with us.

We were all in the middle of eating our dinner quietly when Mommy jumped up. She seemed very agitated.

“Oh, my goodness; oh, my goodness,” she repeated several times. “I know why he isn’t here! I was supposed to pick him up!”

Mommy ran out the door. We all wondered how mad Daddy would be when Mommy arrived. He wasn’t mad, though. He was very sad. He thought he was going to have to spend the night on the bench outside his office. Boy, was he happy to see Mommy! (Well, and maybe a little bit mad, too.)

Conclusion: Don't ignore empty chairs at your table.

This story is excerpted from a collection of vignettes that I helped Doah, my severely mentally challenged youngest son, to write and publish several years ago (copyright 2003). It was my attempt to help him understand literacy and the purpose of writing and reading.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Sheep That Never Lost Hope

There once was a sheep who dreamed of walking in the very front row of her flock. But each time she tried to move towards the front, she was pushed back by her strong and mighty sisters and brothers.

"Know your place, sheep," they would whisper. "even the very last row is too much for you".

Day after day the sheep would try to move towards the front row and day after day she was pushed back with sarcasm.

A dawn arrived when the shepherd, after having directed his flock towards the usual northern pasture field, suddenly stopped and decided he would try out a pasture field to the south which he had heard about from one of his friends. With his rod, he gestured to his flock to turn towards the opposite direction and suddenly the sheep, who had never lost hope, found herself at the very front row.

The above story is excerpted from a book, Metaphors of Islamic Humanism, by my friend, Dr. Omar Imady, copyright 2005.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

For a Few Silver Coins

Once a man heard about a place where people worshipped a tree.

"These people are under a delusion. They have replaced the glory of the transcendent God, the secret of all that is alive, with a mere tree? I must save them from this path. I must cut down this tree."

And so the man climbed on his horse and headed towards the tree. When he got there, he picked up his ax and began to strike at it. People ran to him, yelling:

"Stop. This is our most sacred tree."

But everyone who tried to push him away from the tree failed. He was simply too strong and too determined. When everyone was about to give up, an old man approached him and said:

"Listen my friend. The truth is that you have severely surprised these people. They are all very devoted to this tree and they will be very hurt if they see it cut down today. However, if you were to wait just till tomorrow, they will be far more prepared mentally to see their special tree cut down. Meanwhile, here is a bag of silver coins. It's not a bribe of course. Give it away in charity or use it for some good purpose. Then come back tomorrow and you can cut down the tree. I promise it will still be here waiting for you."

The old man's words seemed very convincing. After all, what would a day possibly change? And as for the silver coins, it's true, he could think of many good ways to spend them.

And so he returned to his town. First, he used a few silver coins to help an old widow he knew. But later, he began to use the coins to buy meat, milk and honey.

"Its ok," he would comfort himself, "I'm simply trying to stay strong and fit so I can perform good deeds."

When the last silver coin was spent, ten days after he had taken them from the old man, he decided he would now return and cut down the tree. When he arrived, he found the old man along with others prostrating to the tree.

"Move away," he screamed. "The time has come for your tree to be cut down."

But no sooner had he said these words, when a woman approached him and pushed him to the ground. Surprised, the man stood up again and waked towards the tree. This time, a child, no older than seven, approached him and pushed him to the ground. Suddenly, everyone appeared to be stronger than him, far stronger than him. The faces that only ten days ago were full of fear were now full of contempt.

"Cut down our tree? Who do you think you are to cut down our tree?"

"We'll cut your head off if you try this again!"

But the words of the old man echoed within him the most:

"There is nothing weaker than that which can be stopped with silver!"

The above story is excerpted from a book, Metaphors of Islamic Humanism, by my friend, Dr. Omar Imady, copyright 2005.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Create Empathy

People are most likely to help people with whom they feel empathy or rapport. When someone we like needs our help, we are usually motivated to do whatever we can. That motivation is lacking if someone we dislike needs our help. People who need help and understand this human attribute can get all the help they need not by demanding it but by creating the desire in another person to give it.

Ten years ago, or so, I was dramatically I was dramatically reminded of this "rule": create empathy. I was in Tashkent, Uzbekistan where the local language is Uzbek but one can rely on Russian as a common language. I spoke Russian. I did not speak Uzbek, and I understood it poorly.

I was meeting with Dr. Yoldashev, Minister of Education, at the time. A man who had made quite a difference in Uzbek education already and who did know how to get what he wanted, Dr. Yoldashev had asked the organization I was working with for some help in establishing school programs that would permit children, who had lost their native language, to acquire Uzbek rapidly. He considered this to be the most effective means to turn Uzbek, an official language of the country (along with Russian), into a common language of use. Without good Uzbek language programs in the schools and the subsequent development of comfort in using Uzbek in everyday life, the language, and along with it the historical traditions and the Uzbek culture itself, he feared, would ultimately die out and be supplanted by a foreign language and culture -- Russian.

I understood enough Uzbek to know that the person introducing us told Minister Yoldashev that I spoke only Russian. To my surprise, however, Dr. Yoldashev continued speaking Uzbek. I followed his conversation but with great difficulty. Finally, he posed to me a question, which I understood but for which I did not have the words to answer.

"Do you really not speak Russian?" I asked him in Russian.

He grinned broadly. Then, in accent-free Russian, he said, "I speak better Russian than Uzbek. I got my Ph.D. at Leningrad State University. However, I wanted you to understand here [pointing to his heart], not here [pointing to his head], the importance of a good Uzbek program.

He got my attention, empathy, and help!


Excerpted and adapted from a collection of vignettes, copyright 2003.

About Me

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I am the mother of 4 birth children (plus 3 others who lived with us) and grandmother of 2, all of them exceptional children. Married for 42 years, I grew up in Maine, live in California, and work in many places in education, linguistics, and program management. In my spare time, I rescue and tame feral cats and have the scars to prove it. A long-time ignorantly blissful atheist converted by a theophanic experience to Catholicism, I am now a joyful catechist. Oh, I also authored a dozen books, two under my pen name of Mahlou (Blest Atheist and A Believer-in-Waiting's First Encounters with God).

My Other Blogs

100th Lamb. This is my main blog, the one I keep most updated.

The Clan of Mahlou
. This is background information about various members of the extended Mahlou family. It is very much a work still in progress. Soon I will begin posting excerpts from a new book I am writing, Raising God's Rainbow Makers.

Modern Mysticism. This blog discusses the mystical in our pragmatic, practical, realistic, and rational 21st century world and is to those who spend some or much of their time in an irrational/mystical relationship with God. If such things do not strain your credulity, you are welcome to follow the blog and participate in it.

Recommended Reading List

Because I am blog inept, I don't quite know how to get a reading list to stay at the end of the page and not disappear from sight. Therefore, I entered it as my first post. I suppose that is not all that bad because readers started commenting about the books, even suggesting additional readings. So, you can participate with others in my reading list by clicking here.
I do post additional books as I read them and find them to be meaningful to me, and therefore, hopefully, meaningful to you. One advantage of all the plane traveling I do is that I acquire reading time that I might not otherwise take.