Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Random Act of Kindness

 It’s Random Act of Kindness and Pay It Forward Day today!   I stopped at the DQ drive through, and the waitress sweetly told me my ice cream cone had been paid for by the guy ahead of me.  So, I handed my money over, to pay for the treats ordered by the folks behind me.  

   What a change in outlook for the day.  Much needed as I was coming back from the funeral of a good, charitable, and kindly friend, Mike Dooney.  His spirit lives on.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Lost and Found


                          By Neal Lemery

   I can be so lost and alone, in a crowd of people.

   I plug into my electronic devices, suddenly accessing the immediacy of "news", social commentary, so many thoughts of others.  Yet, I can be, at the same time, in a dark cave of despair, my isolation and sense of unworthiness becoming the ghosts in the dark.  

   Friends are searching for their own meaning in life, their purpose, their place in this hectic, yes frantic world of immediate deadlines and obligations.  

   We heed the call of the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland, "hurry, hurry."  

   But, we can be lost, easily pushed to the side of the freeway, as the world goes rushing on by.

  What we have sensed that we have lost is being connected with each other.  We used to tell stories around the fire at night, and during the day, work together, laughing and singing, always connected.    We shared the good and the bad. 

   We were close to the land, and the stars, the birds, and, through our hands, we were connected to the earth.  Our work was something we could see, touch, hold onto.  

   How we lived our day impacted our village. If we didn't hunt, or plant, or work together, we did not eat.  We truly connected with each other, and with the universe.  Spirituality was not abstract, it was real.  And, we had accountability around the fire at night, and around the shared meal.  

   Social media is popular, as we are back around the fire, telling stories, catching up, sharing our lives.  It has its drawbacks, and we can easily be alone in a crowd, ignoring the person next to us.  But, social media life is a form of village life, of community.

  Today, friends write about the  power of Alcoholics Anonymous, the Friends of Bill W. Why does that message, that simple act of gathering together and sharing, why does that work for so many people? Why does that change lives?  

  AA works because it is communal, it brings spirituality to the forefront of our lives, it has a belief that our  spirituality and our uniqueness as a person is truly valuable, and we benefit from the spiritual energy of others.  All religions, all prophets have the core message: be connected, love one another, find peace and meaning in being in communion with each other and with the universe.  Avoid separateness, don't be alone.  We are all one brotherhood and sisterhood.  The person next to us matters to us, simply because they are our brother, our sister.

  Yesterday, I reconnected.  The sun was out, it was a perfect day, almost hot, and still, with the colors of Autumn around me.  I had plants to plant in my yard, and it felt good to my soul to push a shovel into the rich, dark soil, and make a new home for shrubs, trees, and daffodils.  

  In sixty or seventy years, the trees I planted will reach their prime, and will send their seeds throughout the valley, and stand tall and proud, objects of beauty for those who come after me.  I will be long gone, but what my feet, back and hands did for those trees yesterday will be remembered by the trees, on the day they moved here and took up residence. 

   It felt good to feel the dirt under my feet, and between my fingers.  I held the plants, and their roots, tenderly settling them into the ground, settling the dirt next to their roots, and watering them in.  One tree needed staking, to hold it up in the coming winter storms.  Yet, all too soon, it will be growing tall and sturdy, its roots firmly reaching downward, connecting with and becoming part of this land.

  Being the tree planter connected me with the earth, and with the universe.  I am part of this place, as is the tree, and the hawk that circled above me, and the wind that blew in off the ocean, bringing the smell of last night's rain.  

  Today, I am far away, meeting one of my buddies, making more connections with him, as he is planting his own trees, and setting down his own roots.  He, too, will grow straight and tall, his soul firmly planted in good soil, taking in the water and sunlight of knowledge and stability, making his life rich and productive.

   I've been teaching him about tree planting, and farming his soul.  He's a good student, and what I've been saying about what we do in the village, how we are part of our tribe, is stuff he's taken into his heart.  

   "What are you doing today?" people ask. 

   Making connections, planting trees, tending my soul, taking care of the brothers and sisters in this world.  That's what I'm doing.


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Giving Back

"Why are you still volunteering and helping out those kids?  You're retired now, and, they aren't your kids.  They shouldn't be your worry."

Someone asked me that the other day, their words strong, edgy with bitterness.  They were wondering why I was helping others out in the community, giving of my time, helping other make something of their life.  It wasn't my job, right?

I was taken aback.  After all, being involved in my community is something I've always done.

  As a kid, I'd help with chores, or run an errand or mow the neighbor's lawn when they were gone, or feed their pets.  I'd help out on my grandparents' farm, and get involved in some project.  At dinner, there'd sometimes be an extra kid, and a little more love flying around the kitchen table. When there was a need, you just did what was needed.  No questions asked.

That idea of helping in the community has always just been part of my life. It never occurred to me to me to wonder why, or think that being helpful wasn't just part of living in a small town, or even the world.

Other people helped me, without me asking, too.  It is just what we do.  When I was a kid, a lot of people gave me the support I needed to apply myself, set goals, and work hard.  And, when it is my turn to be the cheerleader, that voice of encouragement, I  speak up, and I take action.

This summer, I've spent some time helping a young man focus on getting ready to start his junior year at a university.  He's worked hard the last few years, taking on line classes, and doing well, making time to study and write his papers in between all the other demands of his busy life.

Now, he's able to actually be on campus, sit in a class and be involved in college life.  He's making that transition from the technology and isolation of a computer, to the excitement and interaction of a busy university campus.  And, I've made the time to be supportive, to sit down with him and his advisors, watch him plan his schedule, and attend to the countless details that are needed to be a successful college student.  It's tough doing that on your own, and when you're the first one in your family going to college, it's also lonely and scary.

He's not my kid, but then, again, he is, an important part of my family.  He's lived in my village, he's part of my community, and his brains and ambition are part of the real treasure we have in our young people.  He's everyone's kid. When he gets smarter, the village gets smarter, and we all benefit.
He's already a leader and a problem solver.  He's got the ambition and moxie to move ahead in his life, and to realize his dreams.  I want that energy building our village, and our country.  I want that kind of problem solving and leadership out in the world, taking on the tough problems, and thinking outside of the box.

The little I do, some words of encouragement, a trip to the campus, a visit to the bookstore, and a steady hand on his shoulder when the path gets a little rocky, is about the best investment I can make in the future.  And, not just his future.  His future successes and smart ideas, and focused leadership is also going to improve my life, and make my village a better place to live.

I've received, and I've given back.  I've come full circle in the helping one's neighbor view of the world.  I've seen the planting, and the harvest, season after season.  That kind of farm work, the raising up of others to achieve their dreams, and to reach for the stars, is what we are here for.

And, in the end of all that care and compassion for our fellow humankind, we might even end up with a better world for everyone.

Neal Lemery, 10/1/2013