Robbed at Gunpoint

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True story, a frightening one. The event happened last summer and continues to haunt me. This afternoon, I came across what I wrote about it at the time. I had no answers then, and I don’t have any now—just a conviction that I (we?) need to consider social injustice of all kinds.

“Last week I dined with two old and dear friends, one of whom had been robbed at gunpoint the night before. She and her family were watching television when she heard the unmistakable click of the back door. Was it the wind? Curious but not alarmed, she turned to look, and four masked men bounded into the room.

“All had guns, and each intruder leveled a gun at the head of one of the four family members. Four people who’d been enjoying their time together at day’s end moments before were now held captive by the invaders. Pleasure turned to terror.

“As my friend said, ‘It was surreal. I felt like I was in a dream.’

“The young men wanted money, not silver or jewelry or electronic devices. Sadly for them, the family had less than $50 in cash between them. After dumping the contents of the two women’s purses, the armed robbers (is there a better term?) retrieved at least one debit card and asked for the PIN. No fool, my friend readily gave it to him, and two of men left for an ATM machine with this promise/threat: ‘If this doesn’t work, we’re coming back to shoot all of you in the head.’

“Held hostage in what had been presumed to be a safe haven, the family felt powerless. Cell phones had been confiscated and doused with water by this time, making contact with the outside world impossible. Although they were confident that the PIN would work, the family still felt frightened, especially as they thought of the innocent two-year-old sleeping in a nearby bedroom.

“Quick thinking on the part of the young adults, the couple’s daughter and her husband, prevailed as the two began distracting the men with questions. My friend’s husband gave an award-worthy performance of faking a heart attack that must have unsettled the two remaining intruders because they fled before their partners returned, taking house keys and the home owner’s car.

“At least one phone still worked, and someone called 911. Police officers arrived in a matter of minutes. Three of the four men, all under twenty-one, had been apprehended by the time of our luncheon the next day. By that afternoon, the fourth was also in custody.

“How could something like this happen in such a seemingly safe neighborhood with pretty lawns and tree-lined streets?

“Another friend, Maria, and I absorbed this story as we dined on salmon atop spinach lunches and a special sauce. Maria began talking about a recent anniversary trip and delighted us with stories about her adventures, including a ride in hot air balloon. We chatted briefly about two other friends, one in Alaska and one who just returned from a trip to England and Scotland.

“Life was good for them—and for us too. Didn’t we deserve things? Trips and opportunities and salmon atop spinach? Doesn’t everyone? The conversation reminded me of stories I’ve read about people in the most adverse of situations who somehow do more than merely soldier on. They laugh, joke, eat, make love, and sing even as bombs explode around them.

“My friends and I discussed local politics, the juicy sweetness of peaches, and travel adventures including hikes, sailboat rides, and plantation tours. Admitting she had been a tad nervous about riding in a hot air balloon, Maria said, “There was that one that bumped into a barn, you know. It can be dangerous.”

“No matter what exciting, trivial, or funny story came up in conversation, the previous night’s incident was there, hovering over and around and above us. Our dialogue always came back to it.

“When asked if the thieves were black, my friend hesitated a moment before nodding yes. There was sadness in that nod, and knowing. Knowing developed from decades of working with college students and from reading and observing life with a clear eye. A woman of deep faith, she was likely thinking, ‘All are precious in His sight’ even as she relived the terror of the night before.

“Horrific things have always gone on, just not this close to home. I saw The Independent State of Jones last week and was sickened by the work of the Klan. I can still feel my involuntarily uptake in breath when Mr. Moses realized that three white men were following him with taunts and name-calling. His murder was cruel and merciless.

“I recently reread Elie Wiesel’s Night and wondered how the world could stand by and watch. Roosevelt knew about the Holocaust, and I’ve often wondered about his silence. Not a political scientist by any stretch of the imagination, there are many things I don’t understand. We were less of a global community then. Now we send troops to places in the world I’d never heard of until now, but then, six and a half million Jews and other “undesirables” were killed while the world turned a blind eye.”

Nearly a year has passed since the summer night intrusion and the next day’s luncheon. I still have no answers, just a conviction that all lives matter.

 

Tell Me About Yourself

When I was in my late 30’s, I finally got around to reading Dale Carnegie’s classic How to Win Friends and Influence People. I’m not saying it’s rocket science and that everyone should order a copy from Amazon ASAP. Well, maybe I am saying that…at least the last part of the sentence. Rocket science is rocket science, but Mr. Carnegie’s book is the go-to book for getting along with others, maximizing success, and developing relationships.

Its theme is based on fundamental principles of fairness, kindness, courtesy, civility, and good old-fashioned common sense. I’m glad I read it. Like Voltaire said, “Common sense is not so common,” and I needed a few reminders.

I didn’t intend to write a book review. It’s just that I was thinking of the influence that book had on me at an earlier time of my life. I need to go back and reread parts of it, and I think everyone alive could benefit from doing the same thing. By the way, an up-to-date version, How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age, is now available, but the reviews aren’t that positive. Most of the ones I skimmed advised the reader to stick to the original edition.

But here’s my story. This weekend, I’ll be attending my 50th high school reunion (gulp), and I’ve been reflecting on other reunions. While they’ve all been fun, I recall the 20th with most affection, and I think it’s because my former classmates all seemed to be practicing the concepts of Mr. Carnegie’s book.

Example:

“Hi Jayne, you look great! What have you been doing with yourself? Where do you live? Do you have any children? Really? What are their names?”

While speaking to me, the person was smiling (one of Carnegie’s instructions), spoke my name (another one), and seemed genuinely interested in me as a person. That last behavior is of utmost important in Carnegie’s literature. He believed people should show an unfeigned, genuine interest in the other person. It’s not always about you. In his words, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

I first read the book because I was teaching Human Relations, PSY 103, and was always on the prowl for a little something extra to spice up my classes. As years passed, I was happy to see that some (much?) of Carnegie’s work fits in nicely with cognitive psychology and the importance of one’s thoughts. I’m going out on a limb and professing that his tried and proven methods of friendly, sane, and measured behaviors are in line with Goleman’s ideas about emotional intelligence. There are definitely some similarities although Goleman’s work is research-based.

Question: Is there anything new under the sun?

I hope everyone who attends this weekend’s activities feels acceptance, interest, and inclusion from his and her classmates. If you’re a sister or brother graduate, you can be sure I’m going to greet you with a smile, mention your name, ask about your life, and listen attentively while you tell me…not because I’m a manipulator but because it’s the human thing to do.

So tell me. What have you been up to since we last met?

No Regrets

Earlier this week, I read The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, a book I’d heard about on a podcast and that fit perfectly into a course I often teach, Human Growth and Development. By an interesting and circuitous path, Bronnie Ware, the author, left her successful banking career and became a “carer” of the dying. A genuinely compassionate person, Ms. Ware grew to care for all of her patients, and as they felt her affection and concern, they opened up to her and shared their life stories, complete with regrets.

As she listened to her patients, the author began to perceive the repeated recurrence of the same five regrets. This realization affected Ms. Ware so much that she decided to write a book of her findings. Not only does she tell of the patients themselves, their personalities and former lives, but she also applies their teachings to her own life. Being with them gave her courage to be true to herself.

The dying helped her live more fully.

While the five regrets might sound like psychobabble to some people, there’s actually quite a bit of overlap between Ware’s findings and those of developmental psychologists. In the order they’re listed in the book, the regrets are:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish I had let myself be happier.

Interestingly, earlier this week when I mentioned the first regret on Facebook, a friend commented that he wished he hadn’t worked so hard and that he’d stayed in touch with his friends. Reading his comment prompted me to contact a dear friend, and she and I enjoyed a leisurely lunch and long overdue lunch. It was awesome. No regrets.

From teaching Human Growth and Development, I learned that the #1 regret of older people facing the end of life was not doing the things they really wanted to do. Even if they  failed in achieving the goal, they felt that was better than cowering on the sidelines waiting and watching for the right time or circumstance.

As it turned out, however, many did just that (cower on the sidelines, procrastinate, or make excuses) rather than face possible rejection, disappointment, loss, heartache, or humiliation. I’m not saying those who said YES and then lost money or suffered ridicule were happy about that. I am saying, however, that they died with no regrets. Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all—and all that.

Just about everyone I’ve talked with today has said 2015 was an okay year or that it was a terrible year or that they wanted to make some changes. Some people on Facebook said it was the best year ever. What about you? Are there things you want to change? Are there things you want to do that you’ve been procrastinating? If not now, then when?

What will you do during the next twelve months that will better assure that 2016 is a year of no regrets? As for yours truly, I’m working on a plan.

Change and Loss

One of my pieces in Serving Up Memory is entitled “Hats and Cornbread,” and it begins by telling of the Thanksgiving after my mother’s passing. My father had predeceased her by two years, and so we were, her children and grandchildren, trying our darnedest to make this holiday festive. By golly, we were not going to let the grim reaper steal our joy.

A number of us, including two of my siblings and I, gathered on Chesnut Street with a  “take-in” meal. I don’t recall the victuals, but I do remember that we ate in the kitchen and not the dining room and that we felt strange and happy at the same time—strange because our parents weren’t there in their own home and happy that we were together. At some point, we rummaged through our parents’ (and grandparents’) hats, and we each selected the one we wanted to wear. My nieces picked up pocketbooks of my mother’s, remembering that she always made sure her purse matched her shoes.

When I submitted that story to the group for critiquing, I wasn’t expecting the feedback that I received. I expected every person to make recommendations for improvement, and I even wondered if a couple of writers might think the story too sappy. Boy was I surprised!

Sure, there were some recommendations, but the consensus was that the events of that Thanksgiving afternoon had universal meaning. Although it was a personal story, “Hats and Cornbread” has implications for every family who has suffered loss or change, whether by death, divorce, remarriage, relocation, or any other reason. People leave us, and we are left to rebuild the structure of not just holidays, but of everyday life.

Back to that Thanksgiving afternoon, here’s the passage about it from Serving Up Memory:

We wore our hats hoping to keep that holiday spirit alive. Did it work? Not really. The picture snapped by my son-in-law late that afternoon looks like everyone is having a good old time, but looks can be deceiving. Despite our fake smiles, we were all still heartbroken, our psyches raw with fresh grief.

It probably hit me for the first time that evening: My family holidays with kith and kin in the manner I had known all of my life were over. Sure, I’d share turkey and dressing, red velvet cake, and other seasonal fare with various relatives each year, but my mother’s passing on October 20, 2000, marked the end of gatherings in the family home. Marjorie Ann was the heart of it all. It was never the same after her passing.

As the season creeps nearer each day, thoughts of earlier gatherings and traditions fill my mind. John and Margie’s children have all moved on, yet we hold those memories of love and good cheer in our hearts. I have other families on my mind today, and I hope that they’ll all find their way into and through the holidays without stumbling or experiencing crippling heartache.

The death of a loved one, regardless of age or status, changes everything. You can’t ignore the loss, the empty place at the dining room table. And yet you must not succumb to grief. As I write this, I’m thinking of dozens of people whose holiday season has been unalterably changed, some just within the last few days. I’m hoping they’ll all find a way to feel peace.

So Many Books, So Little Time

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Before I moved back to Camden, I fretted about a number of things, the primary one being whether I’d adjust, whether there would be people I could relate to and become friends with. I need not have worried. Work, work, work, and more work kept me busy for the first ten years, and I was very fortunate to have worked with people who were (still are) smart, funny, and a pleasure to be around.

Believing that all work and no play would make Jayne a dull girl, I soon found additional endeavors and friends that have aided in my adjustment. Before I moved back to the midlands, I asked my husband if he thought there would be a book club I could join. “Sure,” he said, probably only half listening and hoping I’d stop talking so that he could get back to his ball game or tennis match.

The reading group/book club didn’t materialize right away, but one September evening several years ago a few of us started one at church. Although our initial “let’s do this” conversation took place at church, we agreed on two rules right away: no religious books and no nonfiction books. It’s not that we were opposed to reading books of those genres; it’s just that we read them already.

We wanted to read fiction, both old and classic and newly hot off the press. We wanted to feel, to be transported to other times and places, to get lost in story. For the most part, we’ve stuck to our rules, but last year we veered away a bit when we read Solomon Northup’s Twelve Years a Slave. We’ve read quite a bit of historical fiction, and one novel that touched all of us is Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill.

In one of our early months, we read The Loop by Nicholas Evans, and a couple of members stopped coming after that. They declared that they weren’t going to “read trash.” What could we say? Do? While I wouldn’t classify The Loop as trash, I will admit there was a couple who became intimately involved without exchanging wedding rings. However, the book itself was about wolves and rangers and naturalists, and most of us (as I recall) found it captivating.

Did the angry departure of two members mean that we needed to carefully screen all future books in case there were a hint of, well, you know? None of us are into pornographic, violent, or crude writing, and none of us would knowingly choose anything inappropriate. While we were unhappy and perplexed about the two members’ exit, we learned a lesson: it’s hard, perhaps impossible, that everyone in a group is going to like the same kinds of books.

We also learned that the mix of people has to be just right. Their personalities have to jibe with one another. Who wants to be in a reading group with a know-it-all or someone who’s belligerent, stuffy, or arrogant (about reading tastes and literature)? After a while, our group slowly shrank to a unit of flexible, agreeable, courteous women who respect and genuinely care for one another.

Here’s how we operate. Each person selects a book and a month. That month, she’s in charge of the setting, discussion, and refreshments. The latter, by the way, usually aligns with the book. A few years ago, one of my choices was Elie Wiesel’s Night, and we had bread and water. True, the bread was chewy and fresh, and the water was bottled, but the “treat” complemented the book .One month we read The Chronicles of Narnia, and Connie provided Turkish delights to sample during our discussion.

The group met last night and decided on a list of must-reads for the year. Carol is up first, and she selected The Rent Collector by Cameron Wright. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I’d never heard of this writer until last night, and when I logged on to Amazon to order the book for my Kindle, I was delighted to see so many wonderful reviews…hundreds of them. If not for my membership in the reading group, I might never have known of this book.

Admittedly, being a part of a book club is partly a social thing. But it’s also educational, mind expanding, and mentally stimulating. If you have a desire to be a part of such a group, you might consider joining ours… or maybe I can suggest one to you.

In the meantime, it’s time to begin reading The Rent Collector. What’s on your must-read list?

Less Debate, More Love

I met Ahmed about 20 years ago. I’d never seen or known anyone like him in my entire life. Quiet and attentive, he was a student in one of my classes. One day I distributed a handout of a dozen commonly used clichés as a way of introducing the topic of the day, communication, and I was a little surprised when Ahmed didn’t get a single one right. Didn’t people from Egypt know what “as the crow flies” meant?

After graduation, Ahmed was hired by the college to work in the IT department, and one of his primary duties was to help instructors who were teaching what we called teleclasses. Since we had three campuses, this teaching format allowed us to transmit our classes from one campus to the other two, thus cutting down on travel time and allowing more student needs to be met.

That’s when I really got to know this outstanding young man. His huge brown eyes and serene demeanor were arresting, and his calm competence impressed everyone. One day as he was working with me, he seemed a little weak, and I asked if Ahmed if he wanted to break for lunch. He said no and remarked that it was Ramadan and that he had not yet become accustomed to the day long fast.

Being nosey, I had to ask what that was. I learned that Ramadan is a sacred month of the year, a period in which Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. Fasting encourages spiritual reflection and takes the focus off of worldly activities. It also helps one develop more compassion and empathy for the less fortunate, thus increasing charity towards others.

Intrigued, I purchased The World’s Religions by Huston Smith and my awakening began.Some more serious scholars may scoff at Smith’s work, but if not for his easy-to-understand and comprehensive overview of the world’s major religions, I might still be a narrow-minded Southern gal who understood God only in the way I had been taught.

Recently I read Annie Dillard’s For the Time Being and fell in love with (talk about clichés!) her writing and perspective. Towards the end of the book, Dillard brings up an incident that involved the disappearance of a child on a school field trip. On May 4, 1995, Suri Feldman and her classmates were in a state park in CT. Suri wandered away from the group, and her absence was noticed when it was time to load the buses and leave.

Concern was especially high because of the murder of a young girl a few months prior. The missing child was Jewish, and here’s what happened. “Among the thousand volunteers searching for Suri Feldman were six hundred Hasidim, bearded men in black three-piece suits, who drove from New York, from Montreal, Boston, and Washington, D.C.” When Suri was found a few days later, thirsty but fine, “the Hasids in the woods danced.”

When the vehicle bearing her drove into the Brooklyn parking lot, it could scarcely move. Hasids filled the lot, Hasids in black coats from the eighteenth century and black beards and black hats. A local volunteer said, “I’ve never seen so many people dance in a circle.”

The LDS community is pretty tight, and yet I marvel at the concern and support for Suri and her family. Two of the tenets of our faith are family and service to others, and we earnestly strive to walk the talk. Still, what support there was for this family! To me, it’s “pure religion, undefiled.”

Hmmm. Where was I? What was the point of these stories? Truth is everywhere. Why do some people want to argue points of doctrine and berate others’ way of worshipping? It’s pointless and ineffective.

 Why can’t we just love one another?

Duty-Bound Chick

I’ve been reading and enjoying Sue Monk Kidd’s When the Heart Waits. Her words have struck many responsive chords over the past week or so, and I’ve often found myself thinking, “That’s me!” or in some cases, “That was me.” This afternoon I’m thinking of the author’s take on the Little Red Hen, a.k.a. Jayne.

When I was a younger mother, we often had family meetings about various daily living issues. A recurring topic was the unequal division of labor within the household. I did the cooking, cleaning, laundry, and chauffeuring while the others (especially the children) contributed very little to the smooth running of the household. To make matters worse, they often whined when asked to clean their rooms or heaven forbid, clean off the table or fold clothes.

Evidently, despite a background in psychology, I had not yet learned the truth of “What you allow will continue,” a phrase I often see on Facebook these days. To make matters worse, I had undoubtedly been overheard saying, “You teach people how to treat you,” in my classes, and yet I had failed to see how paradoxical that was in my own home. I had taught everyone to treat me like one of my favorite and cutest children’s book characters, the industrious little hen.

In meeting after meeting, we talked about this sweet, giving little birdie. She repeatedly asked other barnyard animals for help, but they were always busy or disinclined. No one even wanted to go to the mill to turn the wheat into flour. I can still see her picture in one of my daughter’s books, scarf flying in the wind as she drove her little red convertible around the curves on her way to the mill. Elizabeth still occasionally says, “There’s a Little Red Hen car,” when she sees a red convertible.

But I digress. Do you remember the story? When the Little Red Hen returned from the mill, no one wanted to help her bake the bread. Accustomed to sacrificing for everyone else, she slaved away in her little kitchen making loaves of delicious, aromatic bread. When the bread was ready to eat, the sleepy cat, noisy duck, and lazy dog were eager to help her devour the tasty treat.

But the Little Red Hen said NO. She had had it! Enough was enough. Why should she continue to work so hard and do so much for individuals who never helped or appreciated her?

After reading Sue Monk Kidd’s discussion on this busy little creature, I had to laugh. I have been that hen! She represents Every Woman who has ever felt taken advantage of. (I know that she also represents other types of people too, but this is my story). Despite resentment, fatigue, stress, and latent anger, some hens (er, women) continue to ALWAYS put others’ needs first. According to Kidd, they’re letting themselves be martyrs. They need to come back from the mill and say NO once in a while.

Truthfully, I already knew all of the above. But I enjoyed Kidd’s  reminder that women need to think about themselves too. They need to treat themselves well and practice the commandment to love themselves as well as their neighbors.

I have more to say about this duty-bound chick, but I’ll save it for tomorrow. Right now the little red hen part of my psyche is nudging me towards some laundry and grocery shopping. But how about it, Ladies? Do you need to back off a little from others’ demands and focus on some of your own needs?