Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas: Tis the Season to be jolly?

Christmastime means a lot to most people. I think the majority simply enjoy the season with family and friends. There are some general hassles connected with cramming so much into so little time. (And there are expenses.)

There is also a minority who don't particularly like Christmastime. Family isn't always easy. Friends can be bothersome. And some of us have memories that we'd rather not visit. (Some folk simply aren't Christian! How awkward?)

My wife and I went away this year for Christmas. My kids are out of state, and we decided that Palm Springs was a better alternative than hanging out. I have two weeks off, so we'll have some "hanging out" time at home after the 25th.

While in Palm Springs we watched some TV. I saw an episode from Heat of the Night. The main character didn't really like Christmas. Too many bad memories. He got me thinking... of Christmas 1996... The date is recorded on my first wife's tombstone, marking the day of her death and "promotion." Those were sad times: Christmas memories that could easily still haunt me. And sadden me.

While in Palm Springs I also caught part of the movie, "You've Got Mail." It's the story of a man and woman who meet via AOL. This was back before sites like e-Harmony existed. It was a romantic comedy. Once upon a time, I met a widow on AOL. She lived in New York. I lived in California. We exchanged e-mails, support, advice, prayers, and eventually... wedding vows. Our eleventh anniversary was December 19th. We got married over Christmas Vacation my first year of teaching. Christmas memories of happier times.

The last two years children and grandchildren have visited us from out of state. We had some great times, and clogged drains. This year... on November 15th... my oldest daughter had twin boys. No visit this year! (But some nice phone calls.)

Past memories... which are certainly not viewed with 20/20 vision. What I see though is a mixed bag of sad and happy.

Current moments? Two weeks of Christmas vacation! The first three days, I was sick with a cold. This has happened before. I relax from the stress and strain of daily life and my body says, "Good, I've been meaning to tell you... you're sick."

With Kleenex in tow, Leslie and I then spent four days in the Palm Springs area. We got home yesterday. The weather was good. The view was lovely... snow covered mountains rising across the green of a fairway. We took two day-trips to Joshua Tree National Park. It was beautiful, but I had forgotten my camera. Oops. (I do have some great mental slides.)

Christmas is followed by New Year's. I'm glad for that. Not because we have any big plans, but because it stimulates me to look forward. What am I motivated for in the coming year? Enough of contemplating the past, what do I want to fill my current moments with? How will I orchestrate my present to bring me into a pleasant future?

Christmas past is beyond our control. The future is too.

What we have is now. And right now... things for me are pretty good. The dramas and traumas are low-key. My days have lots of bright moments and occasional triumphs!

The tapestry of life is varied. Sometimes the hues are dark, sometimes pastel. That's just the way it is.

Bottom line? For the majority of you... Merry Christmas! (It was ordinary. That's a good thing.)

For some of you... Christmas is over. Yay!

For some of you... who may be in the midst of troubling times... May the God of all consolations lift up your fallen spirits and give you renewed hope for the coming year! (For you... it's not the season to be jolly. But after a bit, the season you are in will change. That's what seasons do! Better times will come.)

Regardless of the type of Christmas you've had, time marches on. The old year is almost over. In fact, the second decade of the New Millennium is upon us!

My wishes for all of you is... Happy New Year! (Look for it.)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Communication : Pitfalls and Potentials

One of the joys of blogging is discovering (and creating) a far-flung community of like-minded thinkers. Writing is thinking, and only the few are willing to pay the price exacted by regular excursions into the realm of personal thought.

DawnTreader, from Sweden, has a weekly post where she shares a meaningful quote. This week she posted a quote from the book Slow Man by 2003 Nobel Prize winner: J.M. Coetzee --

"There are the words themselves, and then, behind or around or beneath the words, there is the intention. As he speaks he is aware of the boy watching his lips, brushing aside the word-strings as if they were cobwebs, tuning his ear to the intention."

I see in this quote, a potential recipe for madness. Let me explain...

I am a truth seeker and a traveler. I grew up on the tail-end of the hippie generation, graduating high school in 1971. Even back then, I had an analytical bent. I enjoyed math, literature, and sports. But perhaps even more, I longed for deep personal interaction.

One of my sisters once said to me, "Why can't you just be shallow, like the rest of us?"

My sister did and does perhaps represent the majority opinion and life-style. For many, and perhaps most, life is rarely deep and meaningful. Usually it's just there.

Against this back-drop of shallowness, an analytical, caring, seeking, listening person is out-of-place. Coetzee's character, who brushed "aside the word-strings as if they were cobwebs, tuning his ear to the intention..." reminds me of an earlier self, a self who nearly drove himself crazy.

Back in the day, often during parties, hanging out with friends, or even playing chess with a friend, I would listen for the meaning behind the words. "What do they really mean..."

This not only led to isolating speculation, it led to alienation... I was often at least one step removed from a conversation. I was listening to the words, but at the same time searching for the intention, the motivation, the true meaning of what was being said.

It was maddening. Like a computer caught in an infinite loop, my brain and psyche would thrash upon itself fruitlessly.

I think this went on for several months, and I grew in despair. Some of my friends became worried. But one of them set me free!

"Don, what if people were just saying what they mean, and meaning what they say?"


After processing that profundity for a while, I tested it, and he/she was right. (I say he/she because I can't remember who said it to me. Surely a Zen master in disguise. I think her name was Ann.)

Since then I have learned that most people, most of the time simply say what they mean and mean what they say. If I have any doubt, I just ask a simple follow-up question. How liberating!

I have also learned that some people, some of the time, cloak what they mean in what they say. These people are in touch with a depth inside of themselves.

These are the people where "brushing brushing aside the word-strings as if they were cobwebs, tuning his ear to the intention..." is an appropriate response. With these people, deep, meaningful conversation is possible.

One meaning of converse, is to share views by talking. It involves give and take, questions and answers, regarding and being regarded. Like a dance it has beauty and grace.

Conversation of this graceful sort reminds me of another quote from SeptemberMom's blog: "In life as in dance: Grace glides on blistered feet." Alice Abrams, the author of that quote, implies that artistry requires "blistered feet."

The Art of Conversation is no different. Done poorly, it can lead to misunderstanding and pain. Done well, it can lead to friendship, community, insight, and growth.

In conversation, one size does not fit all. Not all who walk, dance.