Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What's your one?

I started a tradition in our family 6 years ago when the next Nolan generation came along. Instead of a toast, we each take a turn saying, in one sentence or phrase, what we are thankful for. It's usually simple things like "I'm thankful I am able to help others." Or, "I'm thankful for my family." But, boy does it resonate with us. Everyone thinks about what they want to say in that one sentence weeks ahead of time -- so the process of going through a LIST of positive things is uplifting. I always get a tear in my eye as we go around the table and hear the sentimental, sweet comments. It's a moment I would never trade for all the money in the world.
 I'm hoping that my little nephew will take not just his great-great grandmother's stuffing recipe to his adult Thanskgiving celebrations, but also this "one thankful thing" tradition as well.

This year is no different for me. I start with the little things that I'm thankful for and then work up to the big. I told my wise friend Ann about this tradition and she said "I'm thankful for Thanksgiving." As always, her words struck a cord with me. If it weren't for Thanksgiving, we may never take the time to make our lists of thanks.

So, before we all rush wallet-first into the insanity that has become Christmas, what's the one thing you're thankful for this year?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Rediscovering old loves

I'm guessing that when you read this title it made you think that I'd be blogging about bumping into an old flame. Well, no. But then again, yes. Music has always been huge in my life. Maybe it's the poet in me that hears lyrics that speak to me and never forgets them once they become lodged in my heart and brain.

I often remember a song because it was something I needed to hear at that time of my life. Sometimes I simply liked the musical hook and wasn't as interested in the lyrics. But, for whatever the reason, the song stuck with me.

Last week I heard "The Heart of the Matter" on the radio. It's from Don Henley's last solo album he recorded 20 years ago. I always loved the line "I think it's about forgiveness" since it was so simple and profound. At the time the record was released, that line applied to someone in my life who I needed to interact with and was looking for a way to do so without pain. And it helped me then.

Now that our relationship is a healthy one, I've been recently struggling with another. A long-time friend who, for reasons of his own, has decided to disappear. So when I heard that song last week, it reminded me of how that song healed me then and might now.

I've been listening to the entire CD thanks to a good friend who loaned it to me after hearing my love for the song on Facebook.

It's amazing to me that one song can change your head and your heart. I wonder if the song's writer can even understand the power they have to help heal.

That song and others are like old loves to me. And I hope that others who struggle can find healing in music as I do.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Bully for you!

I've been keeping a keen eye on the MA legislation to prevent bullying in schools. There are several bills being discussed but one shows some promise of actually making it.

I spent the majority of my young life being bullied at school. It started around 5th grade and went through high school. Though, high school was probably more about being ignored than being bullied. Not sure which was worse.

There were some physical factors and psychological factors to the bullying I received. I was the nerd. The non-conformist during the late 60s and early 70s. When I was in grade school, I wasn't cool enough because I took piano lessons and refused to hitch up my Catholic school uniform over my knees to piss off the nuns.

When I was in junior high and high school, I was the non-conformist again who did not wear the appropriate Izod-labeled clothing. I also never got into pot and so that made me an outcast again.

Being a non-conformist on principle is different than being a non-conformist who has no clue. There were lots of non-conformists around me in school who knew what they were doing and did NOT want to fit in. I was not in that category. I just didn't get it.

Most of the time I was made fun of. But there were times when I had tacks left on my seat, or my glasses were thrown out the classroom window. There was nothing my parents could do except ask the teachers to keep an eye on me. The people who bullied me seemed to feel a great sense of comraderie when bullying me.

Looking back, I understand that most of these bullies were either bullied at home by their parents or siblings; or were incredibly insecure about their own conformity. That knowledge didn't help when I was in it but it made me a more sensitive person when I got older.

The world was lucky that I wasn't the homicidal type. That I never thought of doing anything to get back at these kids or the school itself. But it had a profound effect on my sense of self that still lingers today.

What if my parents could have done something more? What if the school had a law at its disposal to stop what was happening to me? Might I have escaped with my self-worth unscathed? Maybe. Maybe not. It's hard to legislate human interaction in the school yard or the locker room. Things happen that can't be proven - or that no other kid will attest to for fear that they will be next.

But, I think we have to start somewhere. Leaving kids like me (basically, good kids) to fend for themselves does not help us become positive additions to society.

I was lucky. I had enough positive reinforcement from non-school sources to make it through. But what about the ones who are not so lucky?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Merry Everything

I received one of those Christmas-with-a-capital-C emails today. First one of the season. I had actually forgotten all about the issue till the email arrived. And then I said, "Oh, yeah. This again."

You know what emails I am referring to. The ones that get in your face and tell you that you are not honoring Christmas if you wish someone Happy Holidays. That this season is the Christmas season and anyone who can't buy into that (regardless of your religious heritage, or lack thereof) should just pack up and move to Iran. Because that's where all of you Christmas-haters belong.

The local newspaper will start publishing letters to the editor from the Christmas-with-a-capital-C folks real soon, too. There will be no escaping it. Some of these folks have written in the past to say that they refuse to shop at stores whose employees say "Happy Holidays" and not "Merry Christmas" as they ring up your purchase. That'll show 'em. 

I wonder about where the writers heads are at. It all reminds me of the same-sex marriage naysayers. That if someone else shares in something you have, that it somehow lessens it for you. Does Christmas mean less to people who celebrate it when it is also celebrated with other religious holidays? I don't think so. My Christmas has never been ruined because my friends and neighbors celebrate Hannukah. Anymore than my marriage has been ruined when my gay friends married.

I don't consider myself to be a Christian, even though I was raised in a Christian faith. By that I mean, I'm not a true Christian. One that believes that Jesus is the savior and God is watching us. My definition of God is not the same as devout Christians. I believe Jesus was a great man and a great prophet - probably the greatest. Being Christian to me (in the true sense of the word) is to be like Christ.

My understanding of Jesus is that he was inclusive. That all that matters is how you live your life and treat your fellow humans. He didn't segregate or discriminate. He said everyone is welcome in God's kingdom. When he said "everyone", I took him literally.

My guess is that Jesus would not be happy with these emails and letters to the editor. Where is the harm in wishing someone of a different faith a happy holiday? How is being kind to and accepting of good people a bad thing? How does this take something away from the true meaning of Christmas?

Seems to me that it reinforces the meaning of Christmas, as opposed to detracting from it.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Q: When is a mutt not a mutt?

A: When it's given a fancy name by backyard breeders trying to make some quick cash.

I read this story today: and thought of W.C. Fields' old "There's a sucker born every minute" line. The consumer in this story is complaining that her mixed breed isn't a mixed breed, but is, instead ...wait for it.... a MUTT! I am aghast. No, hang on a sec. Isn't a mutt a mixed breed?

Yeah, it is. You can call them puggles or goldendoodles or cockapoos, I don't care. They are all mutts. The only difference between these "designer breeds" is a) the ridiculous price, and b) the fact that they don't come from shelters.

If you want a mixed breed dog, go to a freakin' shelter. Not only will you be saving a life, but you'll be spending hundreds of dollars less for one.

My husband's favorite expression is "It's aaaaallll Marketing." How true. Maybe if shelters and animal rescue groups renamed their dogs' breeds when advertising, there would be fewer dogs in need of homes (fewer GREAT dogs, I may add).

A spaniel/beagle/lab mix? Now it's a "spaglab". A shephard/rottie/chihuahau mix? We'll call them "sherot-huahua". See where I'm going with this? We could shut down puppy mills for good and get thousands of dollars to place dogs whose only mistake in life was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But then, who would we market to? You can't possibly get a good dog in a shelter or rescue org, can you? Yeah, you're right. Silly me.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

An old-timer's holiday

I really miss Thanksgiving. Not the Thanksgiving we have now which is really just an excuse to have a day-after sale for Christmas. But the old Thanksgiving. Y'know, the one where you looked forward to the greatest meal of the year. And being with your family. And going to the high school football game. I don't see that type of holiday anymore.

My family does a great job keeping it as traditional as possible. Those of us who aren't home tending the bird, are off freezing at a local football field. We recently got the next generation into that tradition and I love to see that continue.

There's nothin' like coming home from a 40-degree, windy, rainy game and stepping into a home filled with wonderful smells. Do you know that there was a study done once and that of all your senses, the sense of smell has the longest memory? I wasn't surprised to read that. All I have to do is start the Thanksgiving prep the night before to feel like my entire family tree is standing with me while I cook and bake.

I started a Thanksgiving tradition when my nephew was born. The next generation of Nolans. Instead of the traditional toast, we go around the table and each person says one thing they are thankful for. It could be as simple as the shoes on their feet. But we take that time.

It makes me wonder if the reason that Thanksgiving is now glossed over, is because we aren't as thankful anymore. I mean, thankful for the simple and important things like family, friends, good health, and food on the table. We rush through what is to me the greatest holiday of the year so that we can get lost in materialism.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Hierarchy of homelessness

My brother is a social worker and homeless advocate. He came to my church on Sunday to speak with the high school kids about the realities of the chronically homeless. He first had to explain the other type of homelessness which happens when there is a natural disaster (fire, flood, earthquake, etc). For those people, there is more help from the government and private agencies like the Red Cross.

The disaster-related homeless usually receive the most attention. People organize fundraisers and will often volunteer their time to help rebuild or rehome.

The chronically homeless receive very little. They are mostly invisible to the public, and funds to help them are often the first to be cut from a state or federal budget. Besides serving meals or organizing clothing drives, there is little the public can do to help. Why? Because 99.99% of the chronically homeless are severe addicts. The average citizen is not trained or qualified to help. And, because of confidentiality and liability issues, the average citizen cannot do any serious outreach.

It struck me that even within a class considered by most to be the lowest rung on the ladder, there is still more division. Does creating a class system within the lowest class help government officials justify their actions? They can say they help the homeless and still not be called on it. Does classifying-out the most needy help them avoid a very uncomfortable reality? Or is it that they regard addicts as having no inherint worth or dignity?

I think it's time for the public to get themselves educated on the true plight of the homeless and hold their representatives feet to the fire. You?