Perched on the Tree

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Scorcher of a day! Despite the miserable heat and the children’s occasional whining, we had a memorable afternoon.

We were in the bookstore across the road from the temple, Nephi’s Books, when Colton spied a small ceramic tree with a couple of bluebirds resting beneath it. As I stood beside him, he sounded out all the words and then looked at me with a smile. I’m paraphrasing, but the gist of the message was, “I’m so happy to be perched on this family tree.”

We stood in the aisle talking about what perched meant, and then I pointed out a limb where he was possibly located. That led to a discussion about families and their many members, some past and some present, some here and others “there,” in California, Virginia, South Carolina, and Utah.

“Just because you can’t see them, it doesn’t mean they’re not on the tree,” I said as he stared at the bluebirds and pondered my statement.

“In fact,” I continued, “In a few minutes we’re going to ride over to a different part of Columbia so we can visit Sarah Beth, one of your cousins.”

“Have I ever met her?” he asked.

“Sure, plenty of times.”

“Have we played with her?” he asked, glancing at his siblings.

“I don’t think so. She’s older. And really, she’s your second cousin.”

Realizing that was more information that he needed, I said, “Come on, let’s go find Mama and go see Sarah Beth’s new house.”

Twenty-five minutes later we seven, Carrie’s crew and I, tumbled out of the van and rang the doorbell. Sarah Beth took us on the grand tour, including a visit to the backyard. There in the far right corner stood a structure, a garage without doors, much like the one that had stood in my parents’ backyard. I knew Carrie would notice and remark on it. She didn’t disappoint. Sarah Beth said it was the first thing she’d noticed too

We walked back inside and checked out the layout of SB’s house, her huge laundry room, the itty-bitty closet in the guest bedroom, and the screened-in front porch. While we were standing in her dining room filled with unpacked boxes and a vibrant orange chair, one of the grandchildren said he wanted to have Thanksgiving there. Sarah Beth laughed that cool laugh of hers and said she had to find a table first.

We sauntered outside, and one of SB’s friends who happened to be visiting agreed to take our picture. Hot and bedraggled but happy to have shared some special moments together, we all smiled. Except for Seth, that is. We said our goodbyes, and moments later we were in the van headed towards Trotter Road.

Once there, the girls and I lazily walked over to some rocks and sat down to enjoy the scenery, including some beautiful trees flowing in the gentle breeze. Two loud helicopters buzzed over, momentarily disturbing the peace.

Beep, beep, beep I looked at my iPhone to see a message from my sister. “It’s official. We will have a new son-in-law soon.” I shared the message with Carrie and told her how auspicious it seemed to get the news while together in the temple parking lot.

A scorcher, yes, but what a day! One niece showed her cousins and aunt a new house, and another niece became engaged. Braden gave me a book, Brooke experimented with some light pink lipstick, Emma climbed a tree, Colton became better acquainted with his family tree, and Seth in his five-year-old wisdom instructed me on how to fasten his shoes.

We ate sweet vanilla ice cream, took turns sitting in Sarah Beth’s blue velvet chair, and said Cheese for the camera. But the activity on, between, and within the branches on the family tree is what sustained us.

 

Time is Life

It happened in church. Something the speaker said triggered a distant memory, and although I had a sketchy image or two in my mind of the event and the principal players, I couldn’t for the life of me recall the day of the week—or even the year. It was probably not a Saturday or Sunday. Of that I was certain. Could it have been a Friday? Memory is a hot topic in psychology, and yet there I sat, someone who’d been teaching about behavior and mental processes for a couple of decades, feeling lost.

I had probably lived (at that time) 16, 425 Fridays but could recall fewer than one hundred of them—or maybe fifty. Truthfully, I had a hard time coming up with twenty. Where had all the Friday nights gone? How had they been spent? And what about the Tuesday mornings? The only one I remembered with any detail was the Tuesday at 3:10 a.m. when my daughter Elizabeth was born.

Church ended, and I forgot about the time thing. Sort of forgot, that is. It was always in the back of my mind, and I made more of a conscious effort to commit some moments to memory by jotting them down in gratitude journals. Years passed, and a couple of years ago I began taking and posting a Pic of the Day on Facebook. My iPhone made this an easy task. In fact, it was a pleasure and forced me to take notice of things going on around me.

Later I became aware of a website entitled 100 Happy Days and decided to participate in that. Several people I knew were doing it so I jumped on the bandwagon with them. Sharing the 100 days with like-minded people added to the fun and challenge.

What was especially enjoyable about the two above activities was the visual record of sights I had either seen that day or that someone had shared. I made a Shutterfly book of the Pic of the Day photographs, and the 100 Happy Days site printed 100 photos for me—for a price, of course. Since many of the photographs include scenes and people of interest, family members enjoy looking at them almost as much as I do. It helps them recall places and things too.

One day this past week I listened to an NPR podcast (TED Talk) about the shifting nature of time. It was right up my alley, and I found it educational and interesting. Psychologist Dan Gilbert’s comments were particularly thought-provoking…maybe more so than those of the physicist who talked about when time began. Since I don’t know as much about physics as psychology, I had to work harder to understand him.

But the speaker I’m latching on to this morning is Cesar Kuriyama who has developed an app entitled the One Second Video. Easily downloadable, the app helps a person “stitch together moments of your life into mini movies that you can share with anyone, or keep for yourself.” At the end of a year, you’ll have 365 one-second videos spliced into seven and a half minutes (or thereabouts).

In Mr. Kuriyama’s words, “I have seconds that look incredibly boring, but represent ridiculously meaningful events in my life, and I have seconds that look gorgeous, but many have been relatively insignificant days of my life. Each second is a secret code to myself that only I know the hidden meaning of.”

The app costs $4.99. I downloaded it Monday and am going to start using it today. And no, I’m not working for NPR or Mr. Kuriyama. I’m just a person who realizes that time is life and that once it’s gone, it’s gone. I also know that a photograph or video can serve as a fabulous retrieval cue. So can some scribblings in a journal, but that’s not what I’m pushing today.

Was that morning in church in winter or summer? Was it raining? Were the children behaving? What was I wearing? All I know is that it was Sunday. I also know that today I’ll be recording my first one second video.

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?

All Lives Matter

 

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. Could it have been the wind? Curious but not alarmed, she turned to look, and four masked men bounded into the room.

All had guns, and each leveled his gun at the head of one of the family members. Four people who’d been enjoying their time together at day’s end moments before were now held captive by 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, the family felt powerless. Cell phones had been confiscated and doused with water by this time, making contact with the outside world impossible. Even though 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.

Events took place that must have unsettled the two remaining intruders because they left 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, Marsha, and I absorbed this story as we dined on salmon atop spinach lunches. Marsha 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. We never take that for granted.

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. 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.

No one had mentioned race. I’d pictured four white men brandishing guns. When asked if the thieves were black, my friend hesitated a moment before nodding yes. There was sadness in that nod…and knowing. Knowing that had 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. Otis and I saw  The Independent State of Jones last week, and I was sickened by the work of the Klan. I can still feel my involuntarily uptake in breath when I witnessed Mr. Moses’ realization that three white men were following him with taunts and name-calling. They killed him in a cruel, merciless way.

I also reread Elie Wiesel’s Night last week and wondered how the world could stand by and watch. Just watch. Roosevelt knew and I’ve often wondered why he sat on it. 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.

I have no answers, just the conviction that all lives matter.

Water’s Edge

Yesterday at the beach I was flipping through Sasee, a publication I enjoy reading while in Myrtle Beach. After finishing Night, I wanted to peruse something light, something heart-warming and fun.

I became increasingly aware of this strident, shrill voice coming from my left. My feelings soon went from annoyance to downright anger. Did she really think she was going to persuade her companions of the correctness of her viewpoint by talking that way? Doesn’t she know that people can’t be bullied into agreeing with you?

I moved my chair down near the water’s edge. Ah, bliss. The sound of the surf drowned out just about everything, and I could read in peace.

A few minutes later, I heard it again—that irritating voice. Couldn’t be, I thought. But it was. The opinionated sunbather had followed one of her friends into the water and was haranguing her about a topic of obvious (to her) importance.

Here’s the thing. No one wants to be talked down to, and no one is going to be convinced of the truthfulness or awfulness of a person, place, thing against his or her will. There are ways to influence others, but hers is not one of them. Neither are the continuing posts, memes, and comments from hate mongers that I see on Facebook every single day.

If you hate Hillary or Trump or Obama, fine. Keep it to yourself. I prefer reading, listening to, and watching the news for myself. So do most people.

For now, I’m going to, figuratively speaking, move my chair to the water and away from the diatribe. I’ve already begun clicking “hide post” to posts that are unfounded and hateful.

Reunion Weekend

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While most people don’t know or care that Camden High School had its 50th reunion last weekend, 200+ graduates and their families and friends do. Even those who couldn’t attend because of sickness, distance, prior obligations, or fatigue are probably interested in how it played out.

Since last week, about a dozen people have asked, “How was it?” In a word, fabulous. Read on for a summary and some noteworthy tidbits.

On Friday evening, classmates met at one of Camden’s historic locations, Proctor Hall. A two-story house with lots of character, it was the perfect setting for a gathering such as ours. According to its Facebook page, “Louise C. Proctor Hall epitomizes the gracious hospitality and antebellum ambience that characterizes Camden.”

Classmates walked across a lovely lawn beneath trees lush with the greenness of summer to get the entrance hall where they received names tags, information about weekend events, and a booklet with short bios of classmates. With a beautifully decorated dining room on the right and a grand parlor on the left, the downstairs area offered three rooms in which to mingle, and classmates crossed from one area to another to greet old friends. From time to time, I spotted clusters of people chatting on the porch.

On Saturday, several opportunities to get reacquainted with one another and with Camden were available. I can’t speak for other classmates, but I enjoyed visiting the Archives where dozens of mementoes from school days were available for all to see. What made this activity especially enjoyable was sharing it with others and hearing their laughter as a photograph triggered a memory of a teacher, student, playground prank, or classroom experience.

I also joined several classmates (25?) for lunch at one of Camden’s favorite eateries, Candy’s at the Granary. Not really expecting that much of a turnout, I was surprised and pleased to see that so many folks gathered to break bread together and just “visit.” From Dr. Hoffer who sat next to me I learned that the arthritis in my knuckle is likely the result of a traumatic injury and not the kind that comes with, well, you know, the aging process. Good to know. From Wanda and Bryan, I learned about the Apple Festival in Hendersonville, NC on Labor Day Weekend. Count me in.

On Saturday evening, the BIG event took place at the Shrine Club. Meeting there has become somewhat of a tradition. There was music, entertainment by some excellent shaggers, delicious food, and nonstop conversation. Someone had been hired to take a class photograph, and what could have been an ordeal turned out to be a fun half hour. We got a little cuckoo before it was over, and when we began singing the Alma Mater, the photographer directed our musical efforts.

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Dozens of scenes from the evening continue to run through my mind, but this afternoon, the primary ones are:

  • A graduate who brought two of his grandchildren rather than miss the gathering.
  • The numbers of people who gathered to watch a 1960’s DVD that featured events, music, and news.
  • The photographs of forty-four deceased classmates. There was rarely a moment when their names and faces weren’t being studied…and remembered.
  • The handsome caterer who appeared from time to time, shaking his head in wonderment and saying he had never seen anything like it. “Y’all ought to put this in the paper!” he said.

 

Here’s the concluding paragraph from the preface of the bio booklet, Here’s to the All of You. “Despite our relative homogeneity as kids, we’ve evolved into quite a diverse group. We served our country, nursed the sick, raised children, traveled the world, taught school, weathered personal storms, experienced tragedy and loss, run businesses, managed banks, and lent a therapeutic ear. We’re artists, dancers, camel riders, marathoners, golfers, coaches, and musicians. And we’re survivors.”

So far I haven’t encountered anyone who didn’t enjoy the reunion. As for the committee, we’re already planning for one five years hence. Next time it will be in the fall or winter. We seniors (yes, we can admit it) can’t take the heat as well as we used to.

Will someone please share a memory? Someone, anyone, everyone, tell something you liked, enjoyed, and would like to see repeated.

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?