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?