Shining Moments

Nothing big or major here. Just a few observations on life.

I’m at the beach for a few days and have relished every moment of my time here thus far. Despite being overly fatigued, my daughters and grandchildren have added much joy to my life. Here are some thoughts, not too deep but worth considering.

On the way to the coast, I stopped in Conway to visit with an old and dear friend. One of the many things I’ve always loved about her is her ability to hear about a situation and assess it “spot on” without all of the emotional fringe stuff.  Then too there’s the fact that she’s wise, spiritual, philosophical, and practical. If that sounds like an interesting combination, well yes, that’s what makes her so special.

Before we had our conversation, I turned the corner (more like a soft curve) and spotted two women walking down the middle of the tree-lined street, and I recognized them as my friend and her expectant daughter. Immediately I recalled a moment that happened 35 (?) years ago when I saw her cross Main Street from Ninth Avenue cradling this same daughter in her arms. Catherine was a baby, and her mom was taking her to daycare before work. Those were the days—the crazy days of childcare and working that somehow we managed to get through.

Decades later there were two blond, beautiful women ambling down a Conway street, one expecting a baby in less than two weeks. So in a sense, I was walking behind three generations although I couldn’t see the tiny one’s face or form – yet. Plus, they were in Conway. Conway. A city with a lot of history for these two and many, many others. You could almost sense the spirits of their ancestors hovering about.

Early the next morning my daughters and grandchildren were up and about making preparations for a couple of hours on the strand. I was in beach attire, and Colton, the little five-year-old kept playing (best word here) with my upper arms. “Why does your skin shake like this, Grandmama?” he asked as he flicked it back and forth.

“Leave Grandmama’s arms alone,” his mother instructed. “Do you think she’s enjoying that?”

Ah, the challenges of getting older. It’s neither fun nor attractive to have flabby arms, but what are my choices? Some people have surgery, but then there are scars to deal with. Plus, there may be more limited use of movement and strength. My intention right now is to keep them covered and focus on the wonderful things my arms have allowed (still allow). For starters, hugging people. I love that. Also driving my car, picking up things, and chalk painting furniture. I started to say “typing,” but I know there are people out there who might remind me of stronger souls than I who have learned to type holding a pencil in their mouths.

That same day I went for a walk on the beach, and four older ladies (75?) stopped me and asked me to take their picture. Happily, I complied. I snapped about four pictures, and hopefully one will be flattering of all four. When I handed the camera back, one of the foursome asked, “Can you even see her face?” She was referring to one of the group who did not want to have her picture made.

“Yes, she’s trying to hide, but she’s there.”

“Hey, it’s a memory,” I said. “Y’all are gonna love looking at it later and remembering this beautiful day when you were together and happy,”

“Yeah, listen to her. She understands,” one of the women said as I turned away to continue my walk.

That little five-year-old is now on the patio with me—no more writing for hours—maybe days. But life is good. I have great friends, arms to embrace this little fellow, and some good beach memories.

Doing my best to “seize the shining moments.” What about you?

Sam’s Line


“I love you but you don’t know what you’re talking about.” That’s a line from one of my favorite movies, and I’m using it to follow through with a WordPress writing prompt: Take a quote from your favorite movie — there’s the title of your post. Now, write!

Yesterday my daughter Carrie shared a blog on Facebook about pit bulls and how they are often unfairly maligned. In this post, a 4-year-old child had been attacked by a pit bull and will be permanently disfigured because of the assault. I couldn’t bear to look at the picture of him. Too heartbreaking. Animal lovers are raising money for the dog’s defense (I guess he has a lawyer) while meanwhile this child, Kevin, has to breathe and eat through a tube.

Don’t even bother telling me that the child’s mother should have been watching him more carefully or that pit bulls are normally adorable. I’m close-minded on this one and would say without hesitation, “I love you, but you don’t know what you’re talking about.” In Moonrise Kingdom, that’s what Sam says to Suzy after she tells him that sometimes she wishes she had been an orphan.

Sam and Suzy are running away together, and at some point they even manage to get married before her parents, Social Services, the town police force (Bruce Willis), and the Boy Scout leaders find them. Sam’s parents are deceased, and he had been living in a foster home and knew firsthand how difficult being an orphan could be.

I love the quote because it applies to so many circumstances in life. Below are several examples of things I hear and read on a frequent basis:

Mormons aren’t Christians. “I love you, but you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Homosexuals are going to hell. “I love you, but you don’t know what you’re….” As an aside, I just have to share something I realized yesterday. Jesus said this about homosexuality: NOTHING. Interesting, huh?

Southerners are illiterate bumpkins. “I love you, but you don’t know….”

God loves the believers (American Christians) more than he does the Hindus, Jews, or Muslims. “I love you, but….”

Mormonism is a cult. “I love you.”

Here’s what Mormons believe. Whether black, white, red, yellow, polka dotted, rich, poor, Buddhist, dull, clever, beach bum, Bedouin, gay, strong, or weak, we’re all brothers and sisters of the same Heavenly Father who loves us all.

And about those pit bulls, they’re dangerous.

So if you and I are having a conversation, and I’m smiling sweetly at something you’re saying but am not speaking, it’s because I’m thinking, “I love you, but you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Quest for Happiness

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At last week’s book club meeting, we discussed our monthly selection, Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder. Everyone there was amazed by Deo, the young man who escaped genocide in Burundi and Rwanda and came to America.

Surviving homelessness and hunger, Deo is befriended by a number of people who have faith in him, and he becomes a doctor. Yes, a doctor, a medical one. He doesn’t do it for fame or fortune, however, and Deo uses his education, experience, and expertise to return to Burundi to set up clinics.

As we discussed this outstanding person and his many attributes, we began talking about one of my favorite topics of late, happiness. I jumped on Gretchen Rubin’s bandwagon a couple of weeks ago when I first began reading The Happiness Project. While I agree with Rubin and all of the psychologists and philosophers she quotes about the importance of happiness, my book club and I wondered if people who are in survival mode also ponder its importance.

While Deo and his countrymen were literally running for their lives, did they wish for happiness, or did they simply want to survive the day, the week, or the month? When Mormon pioneers were crossing the Rocky Mountains in freezing weather, often having to bury their dead children along the way, were they thinking of how to be happy or how to make it to Salt Lake (a destination they weren’t really sure of yet)? Did the prisoners of concentration camps in Germany and Poland dream about “oh happy day,” or were they wishing for an extra crust of bread?

I don’t know the answers to the above questions. It does, however, make sense to me that when a person’s physical and material needs are supplied, then she begins to think more about wants, personal fulfillment, and yes, happiness.  What do you think? Is happiness something everyone thinks about and desires, or is it something that people are more likely to consider after their survival needs are satisfied?

Let’s Get Happy!

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It’s been a sad season in our household for the past couple of months, but I’m coming around. Part of the reason for my resurrection is my innate temperament, and another part is a book I’ve been reading, Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. About temperament, Rubin’s book reminded me that genetics accounts for about 50 percent of one’s emotional set point.

Since I’ve been teaching psychology since, well, let’s just say a long, long time, I already knew most of the things in Ms. Rubin’s book, but I haven’t thought of the host of interesting and doable applications that she suggests in The Project. While many people think that lots of money, parenthood, or age are major factors in happiness, they really aren’t.

I’ve already put some of Rubin’s suggestions to use and can tell a difference, not just in my elevated mood but also in that of others that I’m around. That’s not surprising. After all, one of the concepts of psychology is emotional contagion, a phenomenon in which people “catch” emotions from other people. I’d rather infect my friends and family with good cheer instead of gloominess, hadn’t you?

While we were discussing my quest for more sustained happiness, my brother asked, “Why not joy?” I replied that I’m not sure that joy is as attainable and sustainable as happiness. Rubin quotes one of her blog readers who said, “But happiness is more accessible. We can be miserable and then find ourselves laughing, even if it’s just for a few seconds. It reaffirms the will to live and from there we can branch out.”

During a Celebration of Life following the funeral of a loved one last week, I saw and heard several people laughing—people who deeply loved the dearly departed. Although their hearts were broken, they could still find something funny or uplifting enough to laugh about. A quick example is of a cousin who whispered the name of her unborn child to her grandmother who was in a comatose state. No one else knows the name of this soon-to-be-born baby boy except for Nana, and as my cousin was relating the story, she smiled and laughingly told of how she had to make sure that her own mother wasn’t eavesdropping.

“Oh, your mom would never do that. If she told you that she wouldn’t listen, then she wouldn’t,” I said.

“I don’t know,” she said with a lilt in her voice. “Mom’s the one who always shakes the Christmas presents in our house.”

The conversation was mood elevating to me. The room was filled with people who lived and breathed because of Nana, and although she had “passed through the veil,” she took the secret of her new great grandson’s name with her. I love it. And so did the people who were listening, people who loved Nana’s daughter and granddaughter.

Happiness is my word for 2014. Like Rubin, I’m a happy person. BUT as she said, “I wasn’t as happy as I could be, and my life wasn’t going to change unless I made it change. In that single moment, with that realization, I decided to dedicate a year to trying to be happier.”

Me too. I’m going to continue reading and rereading The Happiness Project and apply many (most?) of the recommendations to my life. I’ll be writing about my successes and failures here and hoping that you’ll be inspired to jump on the happiness bandwagon. What have you got to lose except a sour attitude?

Cafeteria Religion

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If you’d spied my sister and me in Chick filA one afternoon last week, you’d probably think we were just a couple of “older ladies” enjoying a meal together, perhaps sharing anecdotes about our children or reminiscing about the past. We did a little of that, but we also had a serious discussion about cafeteria religion, the kind in which people take what works for them and conveniently ignore the rest. Examples abound. I’m familiar with them because I practice that type of religion myself. Just about everyone does, even those who think they’re nearly perfect.

Here are just a few examples of cafeteria religion that we discussed.

*There are those who say keep the Sabbath holy, but then they justify dining out, shopping, or going to the movies. I know because I’ve done this before. “I deserve to go out to eat because I work so hard during the week, and Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest (for me, that is…not necessarily for those working in restaurants).”

*Then there are those who give lip service to “love one another” but they look down their noses at people of a different social class, skin color, or ethnicity. They might even put their homes on the market if one of those people move in down the street..or horrors, next door!

*And let’s don’t forget those who give enormous sums of money to their churches, even exceeding the ten percent tithe, but they’re hateful, rude, and snarky to the people who work for or with them.

*There are those who “tsk tsk” those who are have fallen away from the straight and narrow and completely ignore the “judge not” instruction.

I hope this isn’t coming across as an accusatory blog. It’s just that I heard an excellent talk in church in Myrtle Beach a couple of weeks ago that fit perfectly into the cafeteria religion conversation that my sister and I had, and I can’t get the talk out of my mind. The speaker read the account (John 20:17) of Christ’s words to Mary Magdalene after He was resurrected. “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.”

To me, the connotation is that God is His  father and her  father and even our  father. Our father is not just the father of Southern Baptists but also Jews and Buddhists and Hindus. He even loves the atheists and agnostics. In fact, perhaps he has a special love and concern for them. Who knows? None of us can really presume to know the mind of God. We are His creations and not His equals.

That’s it,  my musing for the day. I, like you, have issues and am sometimes guilty of picking and choosing which commandments and/or guidelines I want to follow. What about you?

When I Find Prince Charming

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“If I knew then what I know now, I would have certainly done things a lot differently!” How often have you heard that? Or let’s be honest, how often have you said it?

I’ve been rereading parts of Stumbling on Happiness  by psychologist Daniel Gilbert. He’s reminded me that we often make choices about the future based on what we feel today. Can the present really predict future happiness? Not really, says Gilbert. The future is fuzzy and contains a lot of unknown variables. How can we possibly predict our future happiness based on today’s feelings and experiences?

Upon reading and thinking about Dr. Gilbert’s premise, I thought of numerous examples right way. Below are a few that I’ve heard from students:

  • “When I find Prince Charming, I’ll be so happy! And I’ll be even happier when we can get married and have a sweet little home with a white picket fence.” It happens, but soon you learn that the prince has become a couch potato and that the fence needs repainting regularly.
  • “When I become a parent, I will be so happy!” Then you do. And while you’re not unhappy, your entire life changes as you often go through your days on sleep deprivation  fretting about diaper rash, potty training, possible autism, braces for Johnny, or money for school supplies.
  • “If only I could go back to school and get a degree, I’d be happy.” There you are sitting in class reveling in your good fortune to be in college. But then you hear about the umpteen requirements and school policies and begin to wonder what you’ve gotten yourself into. By mid-semester, you’re ready to bail out.
  • “If only I were through with college and in the working world, I’d be so happy!” You graduate, land an awesome job, and learn that your boss doesn’t appreciate your abilities. Plus, he actually expects you to be at work on time regardless of a sick child, traffic jam, or oversleeping.
  • “I’d be so happy if only I could travel and see more of the world.” Then one day you find yourself in Spain after a six-hour flight across the Atlantic, and despite a tiny bit of jet lag, you’re ready to hit the streets of Madrid. But then you realize your luggage is missing, and no one seems to understand your description of pink flowered bags. Things workout in that department, but then after a few days you begin to tire of old cathedrals and castles and start missing your hometown.

The above represent only a few of the experiences that many people long for in the belief that they will make them happy. When people are wishing and hoping, they don’t always think about how they’ll have to share their money with a spouse or sacrifice free time to take care of children. Their friends get to go shopping and spend their money on lipstick and lunch while they spend theirs on Pampers and pacifiers.

So what should you do to make sure your future plans will make you happy? Gilbert suggests that you talk to the people who’ve been there, done that. That way you can get some good advice. Just a little caveat here. Make sure you talk to the right people, not just to the people who will verify what you want to hear. Plus, there are some people who are dream slayers of the first order. Don’t listen to them either. Grumpy, bitter, and/or complaining, they never offer an encouraging word. Woe is them.

What about you? Do you currently have some plans or dreams that you hope will make you happy? Have you talked with anyone who has achieved or acquired what you want? Or have you already had an experience with thinking that something would make you happy only to find that it indeed did not? In general, just please share some thoughts, observations, or personal experiences.

Load Down the Wagons

From employees to taxpayers and citizens to college officials, the view seems to be that reflected in Sheheen’s conclusion: LOAD DOWN THE WAGONS; TO HELL WITH THE MULES. While this quote is in reference to situations that occurred while Sheheen was Commissioner of Higher Education for South Carolina, that attitude is still prevalent.

For months, Camden has been embroiled in a conflict situation about city administrators using taxpayers’ money to construct a YMCA when the city already has recreational facilities that seem to be working just fine. I don’t pretend to understand the politics and practicalities of it. I just know that it was/is a major deal that has people writing and signing petitions and that the powers-that-be appear to be insulted/annoyed/shocked that the citizens dare to question them.

A week or so ago I read an article in the Chronicle Independent that summarized the situation and provided a solution. Written by Fred Sheheen, the article was so superbly crafted that even I could completely understand the recent goings-on. The title itself lured me in, “Can this really be happening?,” and when I read the first sentence, I knew I was in for a treat: “Seldom have I witnessed such a gross malfunctioning of local governments as that which has developed in Camden and Kershaw County over the future of recreation programs to serve the citizenry.”

As much as I enjoyed the article and appreciate Sheheen’s clear, crisp writing and the enlightenment it provided, I have to admit that his conclusion packed the most powerful punch of all. It was so perfect, in fact, that I found myself laughing aloud. Why? Because it speaks to much of how things are managed and how people are viewed.

From employees to taxpayers and citizens to college officials, the view seems to be that reflected in Sheheen’s conclusion: LOAD DOWN THE WAGONS; TO HELL WITH THE MULES. While this quote is in reference to situations that occurred while Sheheen was Commissioner of Higher Education for South Carolina, that attitude is still prevalent.

What do you think? Do you see examples of loading down the wagons with little regard for the mules? Can/will you share an example?