My mother said, “What did I ever do to deserve this?”
My wife looked at my adult son and said, “Everything happens for a reason.”
The minister looked into the eyes of the congregation and said, “There is no such thing as a coincidence.”
I forget the exact contexts and situations.
To my mom I would say, “You did nothing to deserve cancer; no one does.” While there may be reasons someone gets cancer, it is not punishment for being not good enough or for being bad. However, it is no joke that a lot of people think like this because of religion.
To my wife I say that most things have a cause and effect. Many things happen due to natural causes, environments, and special situations. Some things are random and have disastrous outcomes. Shit happens.
When someone is fired from (or not selected for) a job, and they later get a much better job, that is good fortune probably assisted by the fact that the person is well qualified for both jobs and it is fortunate that they snagged the better one. The opposite also happens. While such a comforting phrase may bring minor, temporary solace; it is not true that everything happens for a (supernatural) reason. A spiritual being causing a temporary problem to bring about a happier or sadder outcome fails any common-sense test.
To the minister I say that coincidence may not mean exactly what you think it means. According to one (MW) dictionary it relates to coinciding of events that happen at the same time by accident but seem to have a connection. Better words might be random, arbitrary, pointless, haphazard, or desultory.
Whether one believes in a god or not, and regardless of the influence of any god, those words exist because things and happenings can be random, pointless, and desultory.
I recall reading a poem in Stumbling Blocks or Stepping Stones: Spiritual Answers to Psychological Questions by the late Father Benedict Groeschel. The poem of unknown authorship is titled “The Weaving.” The last of three, eight-line stanzas goes,
At last, when life is ended,
With Him I shall abide,
Then I may view the pattern
Upon the upper side;
Then I shall know the reason
Why pain with joy entwined,
Was woven in the fabric
Of life that God designed.
While the poem is beautiful and weaving as a metaphor for a life designed by a god is useful, it also points to the unknown reason for the suffering in life. It implies that we will find no reason until after death, and then only if we are in heaven with the deity who will, presumably, make it all clear. In other words, it makes no sense.
I prefer this outlook from the song “The Sad Café” by the Eagles.
*** Now I look at the years gone by, And wonder at the powers that be. I don’t know why fortune smiles on some And lets the rest go free ***
Shit happens. It’s not our fault. Blame it on whatever imaginary entity you choose. That may be the only reason you ever find.
I gave up making New Year resolutions years ago — never kept them. But, I hope (pledge) to write one poem each day this year. I write 30 poems during April for National Poetry Writing Month, so only 333 more to deal with (two done).
It may not be 365 good enough poems in one year, or ever. But, I’ll try. It’s my challenge.
I’ll share a few and deal with ideas or prompts where I discover them. I plan to keep writing essays and stories, and there is that A to Z blog thingy in April.
Remember, other than exercise and normal functions of life, I write stuff.
I’ve neglected reading and writing poetry most of my life. I want to catch up.
If I fail, I’ll own it and keep you advised.
You have a great year.
(The following poem is from my 2018 unpublished corpus.)
The Most Perfect Day
as I stepped onto the trail
I heard the noisy silence of the wild
rustling trees with brushing leaves and needles,
the grasses were dancing with the air
of a breathing Zepher-set movement,
spreading pollen and peace to all.
My footsteps, almost an invasion of the natural
of life and life and life.
soon, We were blessed by the flowing gift
of a quiet soft rain kissing Us,
My lips, My nose, face, and licking My shoulders.
trees began a dance joyfully in thanksgiving
for the sweet life-giving beverage of the gods.
I became dumbly transfixed
to My internal awareness
of My place
in the plan of the universe
and the circle of life and life and life.
I am alive,
and the trees and the rain.
all are pleased to see Me,
to touch Us,
to be as much a part of Me as
I have become a part
an almost most-perfect day – never alone
fully alive with life. and life
I regret the last kiss, never the first
I regret more of the past than what’s in my future,
I regret imperfections in me and
I regret any less thans others might see,
I regret not going when I could have gone
I regret leaving, when I should have stayed
I regret every time I felt envy, all desire to possess
I regret wanting to be something I’m not
I regret being one of the great pretenders,
I regret sitting, when I should have stood,
I regret my silence when I should have spoken,
I regret thinking too much, and writing too little
I regret what I did late, that I could have done early
I regret too few helloes and too many goodbyes
I regret all my losses that were not good lessons
I regret any pain that I have ever given others
I regret what I knew, when I didn’t know at all
And I regret all my ignorance, when I should’ve known better
I regret my hate, instead of love’s compassion,
I regret when I failed, because I didn’t try harder,
I regret knowing now, what I didn’t know then
I regret learning later, what I should’ve known sooner,
I regret ever killing anything for sport or for pleasure
This is the second poem like this. To see the first, ‘Blatant Babble,’ click here.
Am I dead when I cannot write? Did I stroke out? Are my feelings hurt? I can write. Shit! I can write drunk. I can always write! The haunting of the living, the thoughts, opinions, and feelings of others who may read my screed; so they bar me from my work, my art, my love. My inner say of séance. The ghosts of failure, the confusion of thought, the confessor imposter! The loss of muse; the stark naked strawness of boned-out creative nothingness. But, to fear bland boring blight? I can write. I’m physically mentally capable of stringing words with a good or bad mix into a pot or onto a page. I can write! I can always write; always, always, but not always write a win: my first Pulitzer. Needs work. Write words. I can write. Write?
Some say it’s the least felt of human emotions. That may be. It seems to be the feeling least written about from a mental health professional perspective. And yet, I’ve read that grateful people are happy people. Are they happy because they’re grateful, or vice versa? I should know because I consider myself one of them.
I am uneasy when people thank me for my military service. While there were days I would not want to repeat; some of those memories are among my best. It was my career – my profession. If people were silently grateful, I’d manage. I used to humbly balk at such comments, but I soon learned to say thank you and move on.
I was walking down a street in Crystal City, VA (just outside of Washington, D.C) with a US Marine Corps colonel. We were headed for a meeting. He was in his uniform, but I wore civilian clothes. As we were waiting to cross the street, an attractive young lady walked up and shook his hand as she thanked him for his service.
After she left, he said, “Since being married, I no longer know how to handle situations like that.”
I replied, “Next time, introduce your Air Force friend and I will take it from there.”
The value of gratitude to our overall mental health is well known. I know of no self-help book that suggests being thankless. Everything from gratitude lists to National Holidays inspire us to be reflective of those things and people we feel have improved our lives.
My favorite gratitude story involves the son of my wife’s sister. She had six boys, of which Scott was the youngest. Whenever we visited his family, I would find time to play with Scott. Be it baseball, football, basketball, or some other similar endeavor, Scott and I interacted and played – just the two of us. It never occurred to me, as the youngest boy, Scott’s five older brothers had better things to do. And his father, a borderline workaholic, had been worn down by the first five boys.
Eventually, Scott grew up, got married, and graduated from Texas University. He and Sarah had two lovely daughters. I enjoyed my time with him and never gave it another thought after we had both moved on with life.
Scott matured into a handsome, well-liked, and friendly man. Everyone liked him, despite his reputation as a clever prankster.
On a visit with Scott and his family, he asked to speak with me alone. After we retreated to a private area, he said, “I want to thank you for all those times you played ball with me when I was a kid. No one else did that and I have never forgotten. It meant a lot to me. Thank you.”
By being me and playing with some kid, I created memories for him. Now, my memory is of his expression of gratitude. Within a year, Scott had died of a congenital heart problem. When I learned of that, my first thought was of our chat.
I’ve had some experiences with work-type situations some people call “thankless jobs.” While I understand what they mean, I can never get my brain around what a ‘thankless’ job is.
As an additional part of my real job, I once volunteered to be a Facility Manager for a large building where several hundred people worked. I was paid nothing extra.
A few months into the building job (which my wife titled Permanent Latrine Orderly [PLO], from the movie No Time for Sergeants), I realized that all my voice mail messages were either new problems, or comments about on-going issues related to the building, not my real job. I liked the challenges and the idea that my efforts made a better place for people to work for nine hours or more each day.
I also enjoyed the times people expressed their gratitude to me for doing such a ‘thankless’ job. Even with that irony, I also liked when people sent emails to my boss telling him how much they appreciated what I did. He let me know. One day he introduced me to some visiting VIP as his Facility Manager rather than my real job title. Was that a slip-up, or was it because he most appreciated my building caretaker duties? Thankless? I think not!
Thankfully Happy Few
I admit, as Harvey McKay titled a chapter in How to Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive, gratitude is (or may be) ‘the least felt of all human emotions.’ But I also know when we think about it, we are usually grateful.
It’s not a perfect world. We have a fair share of ingrates and thankless souls wandering around. But thankless is the other side of what we ought to be, and most of us seem to know it.
I further admit knowing some who fear happiness. They are normal when complaining or worrying. In those cases, we either simply wait for it, or we speed things up by asking, “How are you doing?”
Their answer is, “Well, let me tell you about it….”
There’s nothing wrong with having an attitude of gratitude and it may even lead to a healthier and happier life. Yet, I’ve known some very happy, but cantankerous old farts who relish the chip on their shoulder. Good for them.
The only thankless jobs are the ones we don’t want. People have been treated for long term depression, only to find relief with a job change. It happens.
And the only thankless people are the poor souls who may be struggling with their own sorrows, problems, or demons.
And isn’t happiness what we ultimately want? I think so.
Note: Dear beloved English teachers, current and past, I realize every sentence is not a complete sentence. It is intentional. Sorry.
For those of you not of my generation, may you be so lucky as to become old someday, to grow wiser than ever, and to be an able matriarch or patriarch of your tribe. May you be honored for your past, cherished for wisdom today, and be a loss lamented when your time happens.
My wife Facebook shared/posted a (much too) long epistle that numerically listed 21 items of advice for old people (like we effing need it). I don’t agree with most of it. My oldest (adult) son made the sarcastic comment (it’s in his genes), “Dad’s always been on top of the latest fashions.”
I never wear socks with sandals (matured in 60-70-80s), checks or plads with stripes, or color combos that make my wife wince. I wore a uniform for years, then (after a period of high-casual) went as laid back as I could pull off.
I was once asked by a fellow manager how I ran a department where employees (include me) dressed casual Friday, Monday thru Thursday. He told me he asked upper management and got an emphatic ‘NO!” My response was, “I didn’t ask.”
But, Billy has a point.
My below the waist wardrobe: shorts, sweat pants, or jeans (clean underwear). Feet: usually short socks, slide-on shoes of some kind with rubber soles (no crocks), maybe laces, rarely sandals, very temperature dependent. I rotate sneakers but have some for rain and some for mud.
Upper bod gets things with no buttons like an old (maybe new) tee, or pullover long sleeve thingy, or sweatshirt. Formal shirts have collars like golf/polo type. Have some mock turtlenecks for when I feel all cool Pat Conroy, John Updike, or Patterson-ish like.
Dark color, pull-over sweaters for my shady moods and gloomy times of Peter Reading, Poe, Blake, e. e., T.S., A.E., Ezra, or G.G. Lord Byron-ish days. I have them.
I wear baseball (sometimes newsboy/Irish eight-piece/flat) caps.
I have clothes I no longer wear (since retired): Docker-like slacks, dress pants (not sure what still fits), sport coats covered to keep dust off, ‘nice’ long-sleeved button-down shirts (dusty), leather shoes (no wingtips or suede).
One pair of hiking boots I also use for motor scooter rides. I do have variations of workout garb that changes with the weather. A mix of sweat or beach hoodie thingies (how cold is it?) including a red rain jacket. Casual jackets, several of which I cannot recall ever having worn. I have my USAF leather flight jacket that screams ‘you put on a few’ when I wear it.
At home, it’s about how I feel. Out, it depends. I may be professor R.J. at the library, but more Chinasky at the pub. Writing at coffee shops is mood-determined. On my worst low-casual day, I look better than half the peeps in Wally World (maybe more than half), but who cares?
The last time I wore a tie either somebody died, got hitched, or I was being paid to dress like that. I have tossed a ton of ties, but a dusty dozen remain in my closet with all those belts. I wear one belt and only with jeans, but have beaucoup backups.
I try to keep my hair cut short (no old man pony tails for me, thanks), I brush and floss daily, walk about 2mi a day (when motivated), swim a bit more than that in week (shower daily after swim), sit way too much at this computer, go to one or two ‘social’ events a week, read not enough, watch some (too much) TV (The Voice, NCIS [needs me to write for them], Chicago PD, Fire, Med-maybe, an occasional Netflix movie or documentary, Bull a bit, some football [maybe]). If I go to the movie (or other) theater, I will dress medium casual, but at home…eff-it.
I really do care.
So, what’s up with (in) my closet? An old flight suit that no way would ever fit again, covered sports jacks and an old Class-A, USAF uniform (‘when I wore a younger man’s clothes’), too many shirts of which I wear less than half, pants that if not jeans I never wear, and two baskets for shorts, sweat pants, and miscellaneous whatever.
In drawers I have socks (mostly over-ankle types worn less than one day a week, if it is a socks day), underwear of which some %-age always needs tossed out, more tees, and too many pull over sweaters (all of which I like and do intend to wear, [see mood comments above] but I live in Texas). ‘tis the season, though – twenty-five degrees here this morning, which is why I sit writing this instead of out humpin’ for my 2 miles. Do not hang pullover sweaters on hangers. It gives them (you) shoulder bumps.
Okay. The truth is that I am an old man who basically does WTF he wants and has a dress and grooming code/standard bar set at ‘somewhat’ acceptable, if anyone cares. I do not wear stink (fragrances like cologne or after shave). Me? A fool? I think not; but passionate? Hell, YES! (Just not about my rags.) So, let’s end this with a poem by Yeats.
A prayer for old age by WB Yeats
God guard me from those thoughts men think
In the mind alone;
He that sings a lasting song
Thinks in a marrow-bone;
From all that makes a wise old man
That can be praised of all;
O what am I that I should not seem
For the song’s sake a fool?
I pray—for word is out
And prayer comes round again—
That I may seem, though I die old,
A foolish, passionate man.
Look both ways on the closet rack and ask, “why do I have?”
Mind the gaps in the closet, for a tie’s a poor gift to an old man who’d be tickled with a kiss.