The Only Way Out

The only way out is through. I’ve been familiar with that truism for so long that it almost always springs to mind when I learn of someone who’s going through a difficult time. Whether physical, emotional, social, or spiritual, people just want to be “done.” They want the pain, uneasiness, anxiety, heartache, trauma, or ____________ to end. But it’s not that easy. Like Frost says, “I can see no way out but through.” 

And you have to get through. That’s where the good stuff is—the light, the victory, the prize, the A, the blue ribbon, the accomplishment, the baby, the increased confidence.

Last week we went on a triple date to see Midway. Afterwards we went to Top Dawg at Sandhills to discuss the movie over a late lunch. I kept thinking about a scene that had impressed me and tentatively mentioned it to the five at the table, tentatively because I thought they might think it was sappy or sentimental.  

Dick Best, a dive bomber, is leaving for Midway and having a conversation with his gunner who is scared stiff of what might lie ahead. Best seems annoyed with the young man and heads toward the exit. But then he stops, turns around, and speaks his truth. He tells the gunner that he can stay right there on the ship if he wants to, but that later he’ll remember the moment when he decided to let his fear prevent him from fulfilling part of his destiny. He’ll remember that while others were fighting for their country, he was sitting below deck nursing his dread and succumbing to panic. 

Those weren’t exactly Best’s words, but that’s the gist of his remarks. His gunner suits up. The following scenes are traumatic and terrifying. And yet, what could the men do? The only way out was through. 

Everyone in the booth at Top Dawg agreed that the scene taught a powerful lesson. One of the men went so far as to say that was one of the most important things for all people to consider when they think of quitting, turning away, giving up, or taking the path of least resistance. Although the scene portraying the conversation between Best and his gunner took less a minute, it made me realize that a person’s life could be turned around by hearing the right words from the right person at the right time.

I’ll never fly a bombing mission…too old—and a fraidy cat to boot. But like everyone reading this, I’ve realized the truth of The only way out is through many times.

One incident took place early one August morning when I was in labor with my first child. The pains became increasingly unpleasant (understatement) and closer together, and I turned toward my husband and said, “I don’t think I can do this any longer.” It’s been decades, but as well as I can recall, he didn’t say anything, just gave me a helpless look. I mean really, what could he or anyone else in the room say? I was in it for the duration. There was no backing out. The only way out was through.

My first beautiful daughter was born about four hours later–a miracle, a treasure, a delight well worth any discomfort.

When younger, my brothers and I participated in a few marathons and half-marathons. In fact, the baby mentioned in the above paragraph signed up for a Team in Training Marathon for the Leukemia Society. It was to take place in Alaska on June 21, and it sounded like a fun thing to do. I registered. So did about four dozen other people from the Myrtle Beach area. We went to motivational lectures, walked/jogged/ran with our would-be marathoners, and had yard sales and other fundraisers to collect the $3,200 (each) to participate. The fee paid for airfare to and from Anchorage and two-night accommodations, and the rest went toward leukemia research.

There were times, especially when jogging along what seemed to be endless miles of Army tank trails, when I felt like quitting. But where would I go? The Red Cross was always nearby to whisk weary or wounded people to the end for medical help. But sheesh, how could I embarrass myself like that? The only way out was through.

Even now, nearly twenty-five years later, I can still recall a small clearing near a bridge where water and fresh bread were being distributed. I’ve never tasted water so fresh nor bread so satisfying. Nor have I forgotten the sounds of cheering as we crossed the finish line in a high school parking lot six hours after my first step. 

This blog has gone on far too long. It’s your turn to share an instance of the only way out is through. I like success stories, but stories in which people give up are welcome, too.

Shadow Sides

I’m woke. I finally get it. And my awakening came during church yesterday morning.

The speakers gave talks on topics such as love, forgiveness, and following Christ. While sitting there, a character in a short story I’d just read came to mind—Mr. Stovall, a deacon in the Baptist church. In the story, Faulkner’s “That Evening Sun,” a black woman asks him when he’s going to pay her: “When you going to pay me, white man? When you going to pay me, white man? It’s been three times now since you paid me a cent—” Mr. Stovall knocked her down and kicked out her teeth.

Nancy spent the night in jail, attempting suicide toward morning. When the jailer found her, “Nancy was hanging from the window, stark naked, her belly already swelling out a little like a little balloon.” After he revived her, the jailer “beat her, whipped her.”

Barely into the story, I knew

  • that Nancy is black, 
  • that people (including Mr. Stovall, the Baptist deacon) use and abuse her, 
  • that she’s expecting a baby, 
  • and that there’s something sketchy about this pregnancy. 

Who’s the father? We soon learn that it’s not her husband, a man who says white men are allowed to come freely into his house but that he can’t go into theirs. Jesus, the husband, is angry and wants to kill Nancy—or so she believes. Is it because of her behavior or because of his own powerlessness over the abominable situation that exists?

Does Jesus know the father is white? Yes, and so does the reader. The fact that Faulkner makes a point of the interaction between Nancy and Mr. Stovall implies that Stovall is the father—or that it’s someone like him, some respectable white Christian.

But wait. Aren’t Christians supposed to love one another regardless of race or creed? Yes. everyone knows that. And yet. And yet here’s the poor, scared, powerless, penniless black woman carrying a white man’s baby (against her will) who gets her teeth knocked out by a white man who’s quite possibly the baby’s father. And he’s parading around as a Christian. And her husband plans to kill her because of her situation.

Some people see Christians as hypocritical and scary. Honestly, I can understand the hypocritical aspect a little. A bit hypocritical myself, I struggle with always being fair, loving, kind, generous, and forgiving. At the same time, I have to hold back when I hear a Christian dissing someone of another race or religion when they themselves are often cruel, bigoted, and judgmental. I have friends who dislike Mexicans, Muslims, Indians, Hindus, Syrians, Jews, transgender, gay, and any and everybody else whom they either (1) don’t understand or (2) feel superior to. 

My husband has a friend who used to say, “That ain’t right, Bo. That ain’t right.” Although his comments weren’t related to Mr. Stovall types of behavior, they align with the current hate mongering. Being okay with white supremacy and condoning racism, sexism, and all other isms that demonstrate hate, not love, just “ain’t right.”

So here’s my epiphany from yesterday. Neither Mr. Stovall nor thousands like him have personal insight into their shadow sides. They can’t see themselves with a clear eye. And nor can I. Fortunately, I have people in my life who can and do try to help me see the light. I say “try” because I, like you, am a work in progress.

I Can Do Hard Things

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Sometimes I read Facebook posts and think, “Been there, done that.” Come on, admit it. So have you. Often this thought occurs when reading about the trials of being a mother/parent/employee. But today I’m thinking of three young women who’ve done things I’ve never done and likely never will.

One of 30-somethings was walking around Habitat with me last week, looking at treasures and talking about life, families, love, and work. We commiserated just a little about no one “here” knowing much about our families and the vast network we are part of elsewhere. It works both ways, of course. No one “back there” knows much about our lives here.

I realize the above is true for every person who’s left his or her place of birth to go out into the wide world. It’s also true for people like me who’ve had the opportunity to live, love, work, and play in other areas and then return home sweet home. In Myrtle Beach, friends at work and church saw me as Jayne the friend, wife, mother, and teacher but rarely as Jayne the daughter and sister. When family members came to visit, they were perceived as “visitors.” In Camden, many acquaintances see me as I am now, without the people and roles that I formerly held.

Back to my young friend’s visit to Habitat. I learned from our chat that her first child was born by C-section, a fairly common practice within the past twenty years or so. But here’s something that’s not so common. Within two weeks after her baby’s birth, she was driving a tractor, stopping now and then to nurse the baby. I was amazed to hear this. This feat, so casually mentioned and evidently easily performed, stopped me in my tracks.

Have not been there, have not done that. I’ve had babies but never driven a tractor, much less a newborn who needed nursing.

Another young woman of whom I’m thinking drove from South Carolina to California with her five children for an Easter visit with family and friends. She’d said goodbye to them a few months ago when she and her husband and children moved to the Palmetto State and was hankering to see their faces.

Again, I was amazed. If the weather looks threatening or messy (like Monday), there’s no way I’m going to drive to Columbia, much less across the country. The young mother mentioned above drove 6,000 miles across nine states—with five children, one of them a toddler. Just thinking about bathroom breaks with kids makes me kinda crazy.

Have not been there, have not done that. I’ve driven alone with young children but no further than 150 miles.

Without going into specifics, today I spent about three minutes with a beautiful young woman who’s been stuck in Camden for four days. And yes, stuck is the appropriate word for her plight. Between destinations, she’s waiting on money to be wired for a bus ticket out of Dodge, She had a black eye, black and blue and painful to look at. No wonder she was so antsy and apprehensive. I’d be looking over my shoulder, too.

I leaned forward and told her things would work out. She murmured something likeIt’s got to.” I could have piled on some platitudes, but I refrained. Later, I saw her pacing back and forth, back and forth. She’s in the middle, her old life behind and the new one ahead and vague.

Have not been there, have not done that. In the middle, yes. Abused and afraid, no.

I’m not saying I’m a wimp or a softie–although I could be both and more. I’m just saying that my admiration for the young generation shot up during the past several days. All three of these people impressed me with their courage, confidence, and choices. And they reminded me of my grandchildren who’ve already been taught, “I can do hard things.” Now if I could follow their example….

What about you? Have you witnessed examples of people doing hard things? Have you done some hard things?

Can a Leopard Change Its Spots?

I knew the gentleman in our writing group meant to write immaculate instead of emasculate in one of the pieces we were critiquing Monday night, and when I asked, “Freudian slip?”, he grinned. So did a few others.

Freud has fallen into disfavor among many people, and yet I can’t help but notice his presence in every intro psych text. Looks like we can’t cut him loose. After Monday night’s meeting, a few of his teachings came to mind. In addition to the emasculate example above, another writer in our group wrote an entertaining story about her mother taking her out of church and giving her a “whupping” because of her misbehavior.

Although the experience wasn’t funny to my friend at that time in her life, now she can laugh about it. The punishment reined in her id and strengthened both the ego and superego. The first time I heard of the id, ego, and superego, I thought Man, there is really something to this. I’m too lazy to go in search of a textbook, so I’m going from memory here, memory based on reading and decades of going over a programmed spiel in PSY 201.

The id is the part of the personality that a person is born with, and it operates according to the pleasure principle. Having no morals, sense of right and wrong, or understanding that there are other people with needs to consider, the id wants what it wants and wants it NOW. Babies cry, have hissy fits, throw food, and kick and scream.

According to Sigmund Freud, the id is powerful and must be reined in, and that’s where the ego comes in.  The ego operates according to the reality principle and develops as a result of interactions between the child and his  environment. A baby can cry all he wants to, but if Mama is driving, she’s not going to take the baby out of the car seat. That’s reality. Sooner or later the child learns to act in socially acceptable ways.

The superego develops last and is based on the morality principle. When a child is taught the difference between right and wrong through disciple, example, and consequences, the youngster develops a conscience that tells him “tsk, tsk” when he does wrong—or even thinks about getting off the straight and narrow. The “ego ideal” is similar to the conscience except that it encourages a child or person to do the right thing because it’s the right thing, not because he wants to avoid punishment, guilt, or shame.

The above three personality components work together in creating behavior. The id creates the demands, the ego adds the reality, and the superego adds the moral aspect. As humans, we have all three, and in a healthy personality all work together. For example, sometimes I might want to overspend, but usually my ego and superego work together to curb over-the-top purchases.

All three components have their value. Even the id can be good as long as we’re not overly hedonistic, selfish, greedy, slothful, or irresponsible. The ego keeps us straight and in touch with reality. The superego is, of course, desirable, but people with too much of it can be so suppressed, straight-laced, and prudish that no one wants to be around them or invite them to parties.

Sorry for this psychobabble. It’s the only way I could get to my point.

I haven’t thought too much about these elements of the personality since retirement, but since Monday night’s meeting, I’ve been pondering the strength of the id in adults, especially those in powerful positions, and wondering if it can be held in check, pushed to the side, or lassoed in. Although Dr. Freud is not here to weigh in on the topic, my guess is that he’d say no.

What do you think? Can a person’s basic personality be modified once adulthood is reached? Can a leopard change its spots?

Let’s Get Happy!

 

I wish I hadn’t run out of time Sunday while giving a lesson on finding joy. There are so many other things I wanted to share, things that could make a definite difference in the happiness or misery a person feels. And all are practical and easy to incorporate into one’s life.

I’ve often said that the combination of religion and psychology has saved my life many times. Plus, there is often an overlap between what psychologists have learned about being happy and what the scriptures say. The former state that there’s a correlation between mental and physical health, and Proverbs 17:22 says pretty much the same thing: “A merry heart does good like a medicine: but a broken spirit dries the bones.”

Today there’s a movement in positive psychology that studies health, happiness, well-being, self-esteem, and a host of other issues. Its emphasis on growth and optimism rather than gloom, stagnation, and pessimism offers hope to millions, including you—and me too. Positive psychologists don’t profess to have a panacea for suffering, but they do think it’s possible to experience moments of joy and happiness regardless of the situation.

Sunday we talked about the importance of prayer, faith, hope, scripture study, and “pressing on.” We didn’t, however, talk very much about being grateful. Having an attitude of gratitude is so helpful! I recall a song whose lyrics went something like, “Standing knee-deep in a river and dying of thirst.” On my walk this morning, one of the songs I listened to was “Desperado,” and this line spoke to me: “It seems to me a lot of fine things have been placed upon your table, but you only want the ones that you can’t have.”

Speaking of my morning walk, my husband often kids me about my lack of athletic ability. When I remind him of my marathons and half-marathons (all a combination of jogging and walking), he usually says, “Anybody can walk.” My answer is, “No Dear, they can’t.” But I can, and I’m grateful that my legs, lungs, and heart work together to allow it to happen.

One of the topics of the lesson was that happiness must be earned from day to day. Just like we need to eat and rest to keep our physical selves up and running, we need to do and think certain things to keep our mental selves in good order. There are dozens of suggestions I could offer, but I’m narrowing them down to something all women can identify with: Jewelry.

Yep. That might sound strange, but I purposely wear jewelry that boosts my mood by reminding me of something or someone.

  • I wore pearls Sunday, and you can guess why—the whole sand and oyster and friction process. Just like pearls, we can use the “refiner’s fire” to make us more beautiful and whole.
  • I also wore a Lokai bracelet given to me by one of my daughters-in-law. From the website: “Each lokai is infused with elements from the highest and lowest points on Earth. The bracelet’s white bead carries water from Mt. Everest, and its black bead contains mud from the Dead Sea. These extreme elements are a reminder to the wearer to live a balanced life – staying humble during life’s peaks and hopeful during its lows.”
  • I also wear a CTR ring (Choose the Right) to remind me to make good choices. That includes not being easily offended, being kinder than necessary, refraining from gossiping, and so forth. I mention those behaviors because they’re the ones that give me the biggest challenge.

Oops, I’ve already gone over my 500-word limit. It’s not a WordPress limit, just one I’ve attempted to practice since most people don’t want to read more than that.

Must ask: What are some things you do to stay happy?

Stealing Second

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This morning as I read some end-of-semester journals, I noticed that many students had opted to post entries on the psychology blog and then copy and paste their posts into their journals. That’s fine by me, especially since their responses piqued my curiosity enough to go back and revisit the blog. One that particularly caught my attention is about taking chances and going for it, a theme we often discuss in positive psychology.  With only one additional sentence, here’s the copied and pasted post.  Can you see any applications in your own life? I can.

Truth surfaces in the most unlikely places. One minute you’re scurrying into Wal-Mart to pick up some bread and shampoo, and the next minute you’re pondering the words on a person’s tee-shirt.  The message is one that’s been explored on this site fairly often, and yet it’s worth mentioning again. Why??? Because it’s a fact  that some people need reminding of it again and again.

Here goes: “You can’t steal second base with a foot on first.” Clever, very clever. And so true! On the baseball field and in life, you can’t move towards making your dreams become reality if you can’t let go of the safety of your current life situation(s).

Do any of these scenarios ring true?

*You want to travel but are too afraid to board a plane.
*You want to be a professional dancer, but you just can’t leave Podunk, USA to receive the training you need.
*You want to meet someone “special,” someone who makes your heart sing, someone you could spend your life with. You can’t find this special person if you’re sitting in front of your television night after night
*You want to pursue a degree in Golf Course Management, but the only school in the state that offers that degree is two hours away. How can you leave your family and friends?
*You want to attend school full-time, but you’re afraid to take the financial plunge that could make it happen. How can you live on less? It’s better to stay on first base. Or is it?

What’s holding you on first base?  Just do it!  Some of Abraham Maslow’s advice to anyone on the ascent to self-actualization is to say YES to life, to possibilities, to opportunities, to challenges.  As John Greenleaf Whittier said, “For all sad words of tongue and pen, The saddest are these, ‘It might have been.’”

What’s keeping you from stealing second base? Why is your foot still on first when you could be literally running towards a better life?

Love Letter on the Beach

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I took a quick beach walk before heading home Monday and an elderly man approached me with a smile, a folded piece of paper, and the words, “Here’s a love letter from your Heavenly Father.” A little surprised, I simply replied, “Thanks. I always like hearing from Him.” The exchange didn’t even take ten seconds. He went his way, and I went mine, and yet….

That’s what I put on Facebook early this morning as I was comparing my surroundings of today to those on Monday. Working on end-of-semester journals and portfolios in my little hideaway above the garage is just not quite as awe inspiring as “da beach.” Ah well, the sea and sand beckon, and I shall return soon.

In the meantime, let’s get back to the opening paragraph. A Facebook friend and writer whose work I admire said she wondered whether women passed out such letters to men who were walking alone on the beach. Truly, I got a good chuckle out of that one. The thought of it is preposterous (to me anyway). In no particular order, here are some reasons why I can’t see a woman, regardless of age, distributing religious literature to single men on the beach.

1. She wouldn’t be presumptuous enough. I might be overstating this, but generally speaking, women aren’t as anxious to solve all the problems of the world. Scholars who’ve written about gender differences in communication say that we womenfolk use language to forge relationships, to nurture, and to make things “all better.” Men, on the other hand, communicate to solve problems, offer solutions, and take care of business.
2. She’d be so happy to get a few moments of quiet solitude and reflection, a respite from cooking and cleaning that she wouldn’t want to spend it approaching strangers. Many (not all of course) men get up, get dressed, and head out the door. Women usually tidy up a bit, especially after preparing breakfast for the family or starting a load of laundry.
3. She’s probably at home ironing, washing the frying pan, or homeschooling the children. While this reason sounds a lot like the second one, it’s different. The second reason implies that the woman wants solitude so much that when she finally gets it, she doesn’t want to puncture it by approaching strangers. The third reason implies that a woman is too busy to stroll along distributing literature.
4. Women aren’t as well known for proselytizing. Yes, there are women ministers, missionaries, and spiritual leaders, but their roles are more restricted than those of their male counterparts.
5. She knows it wouldn’t be a good idea. Even on a public beach, there are sleazy folks.

Yes, my writer friend’s question gave me much pause for thought. I still don’t have the definitive answer of WHY. How about you? If you’re a woman reading this, would you approach a single man on the beach and give him a letter from his Heavenly Father? Why or why not? And to any and all, would you find it stranger to be given such a missive by a woman than by a man?

Explore and Focus

IMG_2010 This post is a repeat from last year about this time. Rather than go through a lot of rigmarole about coming up with a word-of-the-year, I decided to repost this one. 

About five years ago, my friend Connie and I began coming up with a “Word of the Year,” something that would direct our thinking and acting throughout the upcoming year. Weary of making resolutions that bit the dust after a few weeks, we thought that a word that could encapsulate several goals would work better. Turns out we were right. Not only did we make most of our decisions based on our individual words, but we also found ourselves permanently changing our behavior. Well, semi-permanently. There are still times when I have to remind myself to have COURAGE, to BELIEVE, and to say YES more often.

After much thought and deliberation, Connie came up with her word last week. It’ s EXPLORATION. Curious, I asked her whether she meant exploration of other places, interests, and ideas or whether she meant inner exploration. Was she planning to take more trips, hike on the Appalachian Trail, take up painting, or discover inner talents? “All of it. Everything,” she answered. And guess what? She’s already started. If the fates are with us, we’re going on a road trip to Washington, DC with a couple of friends later this month.

Enough about Connie. What about Jayne? My word for 2012 is FOCUS. That doesn’t sound as exciting as EXPLORATION, but it’s something I definitely need to work on. Besides, I’m pretty good about the exploring part. I could stand some improvement in that area, but I need a huge amount of improvement in the focusing department. My husband often says, “You just need to concentrate on one thing at a time,” or “If you’d just pay attention and do one thing at a time, you’d get more accomplished…and maybe you wouldn’t misplace so many things.”

Then too, there are several projects I’m working on, and I know that I need to focus on one at a time. Should I correct the galleys for a book I’m self-publishing? Should I write a few paragraphs for a eBook that I’m writing about what every technical/community college student needs to know? Should I clean out the refrigerator? Should I mail the packages to Olivia and Carrie? Or maybe it’s time to clean out some closets. Or no, that can wait. What’s really important is playing Words with Friends with my brother. Then again, classes begin next week, and we’re using a new text for an intro class so I better get busy on that. But not until I start reading this new book I ordered for my Kindle.

See what I mean? I need to focus focus focus focus.

I knew my decision was a good one when I went to church today. During Relief Society, Michelle shared her enthusiasm for a blog she’d read about using a word to guide one’s thinking instead of making resolutions. She encouraged us to use verbs and then shared examples of some words that we might like. Several class members, including yours truly, participated by sharing their words.

Here’s what I found especially interesting. While talking to us about THE WORD, Michelle used some variation of focus at least a half a dozen times. Then Kitty spoke up and said that she needed a word that would help her focus. Another person said that she was trying to focus on gratitude, and yet another said that she was focusing more on being fully present.

So FOCUS is my word for 2012. I’ve already cleaned out the refrigerator tonight. I have my to-do list ready for tomorrow, and I’m going to focus on doing one thing at a time…and on being mindful of the tremendous opportunities and blessings that I enjoy.

As 2012 comes to a close, I’m wondering how Connie succeeded with “exploration.” As for me, I’m thinking of using “focus” again, but I can’t decide whether it’s because I really need to have that lesson reinforced or because I’m too lazy to choose another word. And by the way, the above picture was taken in early 2012 in the bell tower of the Old Post Office Museum in Washington, a sure sign that Connie began “exploring” early in the year.

What’s your word?

Beach Attire

Why do women let it all hang out while men wear looser, longer, less revealing clothing?

My young friend Kristi’s post on suggestions for using Facebook has prompted me to share a few quick observations that I’ve been thinking about lately.

Last week when in Myrtle Beach, my husband and I saw a few young men walking around with their undies showing. They had on either jeans or shorts, but these articles of clothing were so low that even the casual observer could see the boxers.  Incidentally, these were color coordinated to complement the outerwear. Although it drives my husband CRAZY to see such attire, I’m sort of indifferent to it. Maybe it’s because I see it so often.

One day after listening to yet another comment on seeing someone’s boxers, I said something like, “Well, at least he’s covered up.”

 “But it looks indecent! Underwear should be just that—underwear,” he replied.

“What’s so different about the hundreds of girls you’ve seen this morning? They looked like they were wearing their bras and panties, and you didn’t seem to mind that,” I said.

“That’s different,” he said.

“Why? Because they’re girls?” I asked.

“No, because they’re wearing bathing suits. These guys are wearing clothes,” he said (a bit dramatically, I might add).

I just couldn’t let it go, so I said, “Let me get this straight. It’s a-okay with you for a girl to walk around with two narrow strips around her body, but it’s not okay for a guy to walk around with his underwear showing above his shorts?”

“Correct,” he answered. “It’s just wrong!”

So that’s the question, Folks. Why is it that females (at least in my neck of the woods) can walk around in an extremely scantily clad fashion but men cannot? By the way, after our conversation, I began an earnest scientific (yeah, right) observation of beach attire, and during the two hours that I people watched, I saw two men wearing short and somewhat tight bathing trunks. The other men wore long, loose ones. Was I at the wrong beach on the wrong day?

Here’s what I think. In our society, women are still perceived as sex objects, and as such, they are much more likely than males to wear more revealing, form fitting clothes. We say, “Look at us!” Men say, “Here I am.” Why is that?

I’m not suggesting that you put your string bikini away. If you’ve got it flaunt it.  I’m just saying that men who show their underwear above their shorts are still more covered up and that their attire is much less suggestive. It looks kind of funny, but it doesn’t say, “Come hither.”

What’s your thinking on this? Why do women let it all hang out while men wear looser, longer, less revealing clothing?

Shake it Off

Some of my friends and I have been tossing around some ideas about things we want to try, things we want to accomplish. It’s more than checking items off of a bucket list like visiting Italy, riding an elephant, or bungee jumping. Not that those things aren’t worthy of our endeavors; they’re just not on our lists. The things we want to do involve WORK on our part(s), and they also expose us to teasing, ridicule, and snickering behind our backs.

Some of my friends and I have been tossing around some ideas about things we want to try, things we want to accomplish. It’s more than checking items off of a bucket list like visiting Italy, riding an elephant, or bungee jumping. Not that those things aren’t worthy of our endeavors; they’re just not on our lists. The things we want to do involve WORK on our part(s), and they also expose us to teasing, ridicule, and snickering behind our backs. Hmmm, now that I think of it, sometimes the criticism and skepticism are right up front.

So should a person go for it or continue playing it safe? I think you know my answer to that! It’s tied into positive psychology, a mindset that emphasizes optimism, personal choice, and happiness in human development and overall mental health. Generally, the so-called lay person thinks of psychology as a field in which people with mental and emotional disorders are helped by talk therapy, drugs, or ECT, and while those things happen, psychology is much, much more.

Here’s a neat story that fits nicely into this topic. A couple of Sundays ago, I attended church in Myrtle Beach and heard a story about an old donkey who fell in a deep, dried-up well. His owner tried to get him out, but his efforts were in vain. Finally, he realized that nothing he did was going to get the donkey out of the well, so he came up with an alternate plan. He called his neighbors and asked them to bring their shovels so that they could help him fill in the well. After all, it was dry and useless, and the donkey was old anyway.

At first, the donkey brayed and carried on something fierce. He was scared and angry. Still, the men persisted in their dirt shoveling. Suddenly, they realized that the donkey was quiet, and when they looked down into the well to see what was going on, they saw something remarkable. Every time someone hurled a shovel of dirt on him, the donkey shook it off and then stepped up on it. The men continued shoveling, and the donkey continued climbing until eventually he was above ground.

You don’t have to be a psychoanalyst to see the moral of the story. When life throws dirt on you, shake it off and keep stepping up. You don’t have to get buried by dirt. You don’t have to stay trapped at the bottom of a well. No matter how many people are actively involved in shoveling dirt on you, you have a choice to shake it off and step up…or not.

One of my friends got a rejection letter about a story she had submitted to a magazine. I wrote her on Facebook and said, “Yay! It means you’re actually doing something instead of just talking about it.” Another had a poem of hers criticized for having too many gerunds. Did it bother her? Probably. And yet I know she’ll shake off the dirt and try again. As I write this, I’m thinking of people who are making jewelry, drawing birds, writing stories, writing books, and training for a marathon. I feel certain that in all of their lives there are people with their shovels raised and ready to use.

I hope my friends stay the course. I hope they keep shaking off the dust regardless of who’s shoveling it or how much gets dumped on them. I hope they’ll read this donkey story and that it will help them the way it helped me.