The Way It Was: Part 1

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength.

While loving someone deeply gives you courage. 

Lao Tzu

                  My son Peter, the history buff, has requested I write something about my childhood with emphasis on my remembrances of World War II, and events preceding it.  He believes others may be interested in that subject in spite of the millions of chronicles already written of those times he suggested that I do my own version in a blog with emphasis on the experience of growing up in that era.  The most impressive oral histories of the thirties were carried out by the Federal Writer’s Project a division of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) under the auspices of one of Roosevelt’s New Deal creations.  Although designed to chronicle the travails of ordinary people living during the depression, it is best known for the verbal histories of former slaves.  Those manuscripts now repose in the library of congress.Federal Writers Project American-guide-week-fwp-1941

It is true that much of recorded history had its genesis in oral accounts passed on from one generation to the next.  It is also true that it has been shown that memories are frequently distorted, and further colored if they are passed on verbally through a series of listeners.  In an article on oral histories published by History matters, the impetus for verbal history taking is outlined as follows: “…..for generations history-conscious individuals have preserved others’ firsthand accounts of the past for the record,  often precisely at the moment when the historical actors themselves, and with their memories, were about to pass from the scene.”  I can only hope this was not Peter’s motivation in encouraging these reminiscences for I am not ready to “pass from the scene!”

In my own case, I often thought of events which occurred during my father’s lifetime and regret that I didn’t encourage him to talk more about his childhood.  My father was born in 1904 just 10 years prior to the onset of World War I.  It would have been interesting to compare notes for I was born 11 years before the onset of the next “great war to end all wars” and arrived only a few months following the Stock market Crash of 1929 which ushered in what came to be called The Great Depression.

My Mom & Dad

My parents had little to lose when The Depression hit, but what they did have was gone.  Dad had grown up in poverty, with an alcoholic father and a long-suffering mother whom he adored.  He had quit school in the 8th grade, and went to work as a common laborer in order to help the family.  He had three sisters and an older brother, who was rather passive by nature. My dad became the adult in charge, a role which he would occupy the rest of his life.  One of the more poignant stories of his childhood I remember was his explanation of why he was fixated with having eggs in the refrigerator.  He told me that when he was a kid, his mother sent him up the alley to the neighbor who kept chickens with a penny to buy one egg.  He was embarrassed and vowed to always have plenty of eggs when he grew up.

My mother, by the standards of the day, was well educated having spent a year at a local “business collage” learning secretarial skills which she would never utilize.  Although her father (one of my favorite people) was relatively uneducated, he was a strong believer that women should be able to “stand on their own.”  I suspect that for her time she would have been considered liberated.  Model T FordI recall seeing a photo of her standing beside a Model T Ford that she had been driving that she had rolled over on its top.  In those days, for a woman to be driving a car would have be en unusual if not scandalous.  That experience must have left her shaken for she would never drive again and her back seat driving performances were legendary.  In similar fashion, she would cede much authority to my father while firmly retaining control of her department, i.e. keeping house and raising kids, a very common arrangement at the time.

Their marriage began well and a year later my brother was born, an event which was followed three years later by the greatest financial crisis in the country’s history.  As a wedding present mom’s father, a carpenter, had provided them with the labor to build a house.  Shortly after that fateful day in 1929, dad lost his job and subsequently the house was repossessed.  To make matters worse, a year later I entered this already complex picture.  I am told that I was welcomed although I am sure another mouth to feed was one of the last things needed.  Just as my kids have endured the repetitive nature of my stories of their early life, so have I endured the following story of my birth hundreds of times.

Hello World

I was born in what was called Dr. Wells’ hospital located in the village of Nashport, the name originating from the fact that Mr. Nash had settled the area as a port on the Ohio canal in the early 19th century.  To call the facility a hospital was a bit of an exaggeration even in those days for it consisted of an extra room attached to his office.  Nevertheless, Dr. Wells must have been a progressive practitioner who had abandoned the practice of home delivery in favor of modern facilities.  In my mother’s case, he even offered her the choice of anesthesia, and my father confidently volunteered to “drop ether” (a term used by anesthesiologists for inhaling ether as an anesthetic).

Fortunately, mother and I both survived the procedure which was reported to have been difficult as I weighed in at 13 pounds and have been told I was “long and skinny,” a term that would be used to describe me throughout my childhood.  Dr. Wells is said to have remarked “look at those ears, he is a little Spinney.”  Spinney was the nickname of my Grandfather who was famed for the large ears which protruded from his skull at right angles and were probably made more noticeable by the irony that he was significantly hearing impaired.  I know little of what happened in my earliest years, but it is certain that there will never be a plaque on the door of Dr. Wells hospital commemorating it as my birthplace for the building was later razed and the village was moved to higher ground in order to make way for a flood control project.

My First Memories

My family’s history for the first few years of my life is hazy, but I did learn that they had moved frequently during my toddler years.  Whether this was due to evictions or looking for a better deal I can’t say.   Alfred Adler a Freudian psychoanalyst placed great importance on our first memory stating: “The first memory will show the individual’s fundamental view of life, his first satisfactory crystallization of his attitude.”   In my own case, this pronouncement may ring true for my first memory was of my introduction to Crackerjacks while watching a baseball game in a bleacher with my parents most likely around 3 years of age.  Indeed, I see it as a prophecy of my life to come, which has largely consisted of a search for the toy hidden among the tasty morsels of everyday life even though the occasional unpleasant experience of biting down on a kernel which hasn’t popped, is inevitable.

There is another pleasant memory of that time-period which competes with the Crackerjack story for first billing.  The standard tool for mowing lawns in those days was the person powered push mower with its rotating blades which could be disengaged by turning the mower upside down.  The incident must have occurred when I was less than 4 years of age based on the timeline of where it occurred, but the memory remains clear.  My Father had placed his folded coat on the mower and I was sitting on it as he pushed it down the sidewalk.  Of course, at the time this was simply a fun time for me, but later I would learn that he was cruising the neighborhood soliciting lawns which he could mow.  I now suspect that my presence may have been designed to add to the pathos directed at potential customers.

Dinner Time

The remainder of my preschool years as you might expect are clouded and I have no way to place these in any logical sequence.  In retrospect it is clear that some of these experiences related to the extreme stresses under which my parents labored.   It is clear that we were very poor and at times they were desperate for food, a fact of which I was blissfully unaware.   In recent years my brother reminded me of times when our parents did not join us at the dinner table and chose to eat later.   Since no one had money, food was cheap, and farmers had little incentive to produce more than they could consume.  City dwellers with backyards planted vegetable gardens, and Mothers learned to preserve the produce by drying or canning them.  An apple tree in one’s yard became a valuable asset.  Even some city dwellers kept chickens in their yard which were carefully guarded lest they become someone else’s dinner.

There were occasional distributions of food via the local “relief” organization, so named as part of FDR’s Federal Emergency Relief Organization.  Food was distributed at regular intervals at the local relief office.  At a time when independence and the ability to “paddle your own canoe” was valued it was embarrassing to be seen standing in the long lines when it was announced that food was about to be distributed, and many chose to suffer hunger rather than to be known to be “on relief”.  The type of food given must have depended on whatever was available to the states at any given time for I recall my Father, having braved the disgrace, coming home with a huge bag of rice.  Mother was talented at finding innovative ways to prepare food, but in spite of her best efforts the steady diet of rice dishes for what seemed like eternity to a kid, left me with an abhorrence of rice that took me 50 years to overcome.

Stay tuned for the next installment of “The Way It Was” where Eshrink gives us a glimpse of the camaraderie between his dad and his friends as they searched for work each day during the Great Depression of the 1930s; conversations overheard about survival, politics, world affairs, and morality; and the close call that almost ended his life.

LEST WE FORGET

In a previous blog I mentioned our local newspaper, and recounted “the good old days” when our small town had three competing daily papers. I subsequently made a number of disparaging remarks about our one remaining paper which was purchased some time ago by Gannett. Nevertheless, my day usually begins with a cup of coffee and a perusal of the Times Recorder. It doesn’t take long. The front page usually has some local human-interest story which I don’t find very interesting so I usually proceed to page 2 and the obituaries which is the real reason I continue to subscribe to the thing.

WHY THIS SUBJECT?
Barb insists that it is absolutely morbid that I choose obituaries as the subject of this blog, but I feel it is both important and timely. Long before he had reached my present age, my Father wrote his and my Mother’s obituaries. He was always one who liked to be in control and I am sure he did not have much faith in anyone getting it right. Regardless of his motivation, it turned out to be a blessing for we survivors.

As you may have surmised motivation for my daily obituary searches has much to do with the fact that at my age I now see more familiar names on page 2 than I have in the past. Indeed, my contemporaries are dying at an alarming rate. I have no plans to write my obituary as we have an experienced obituary writer in the family. Before leaving for less green but more lucrative pastures in the big city, Maggie was in charge of obituaries for the TR (don’t you hate acronyms?). She tells me it is standard practice to assign that job to cub reporters, which says much about journalistic priorities.

BORING!!!
Sadly, most obituaries are boring recitations which are little more than death notices which say little more than when and where he or she was born and died along with a brief chronicle of their life with a focus on their occupation. This is followed by a list of family members living and dead, and information about funeral arrangements. It does appear to me that those traditions are gradually being swept away as I see many instances in which there is only a graveside service restricted to family members, but that’s another story. For many families cost may be a factor in the length of obituaries as they usually charge per line of type. In larger cities it is much more expensive. For example, the New York Times charges $263 for the first 4 lines and $52 for each subsequent line. Each line contains only 28 characters and is printed in very small (7 point type).
WORTH REMEMBERING
In spite of the brevity of the average obituary in our paper there are some which give hints as to the nature of the subject’s life. Just this morning I read the obit of a 96 year old woman and found the loving portrait inspiring. She was said to have had a “long well-lived life.” She was described as a “feisty woman who lived life to the fullest and enjoyed the thrill of playing slot machines.” She also enjoyed her grandchildren, great grandchildren and great great grandchildren. She had worked in a factory all her adult life and attended church which was “just up the road from where she was born.” Most important was the statement “She was a loving woman who will be missed by family and friends throughout Morgan and Perry counties.” In my opinion, to be missed allows one’s life to continue in others’ thoughts; consequently no one wants to be forgotten.

FORGETTABLE
Throughout history it has been important to immortalize our heroes with statues and other icons so they will continue to inspire us, and not be forgotten. It is also not unusual for the living to build their own monuments. Likewise, it is common for people to prescribe in detail the hymns to be sung, the burial method and even the entire process of the funeral with the possible exception of the eulogy. This is done in spite of the realization that they will not be a witness to the festivities. In the old days one could easily identify the most affluent buried in the graveyard by the size of their gravestone. Now modern cemeteries are devoid of monuments expressly to be more egalitarian, but coincidently eliminating impediments to mowing the grass.

In spite of our best efforts, we will in all probability soon be forgotten. The odds of our being remembered for longer than a couple of generations is probably much less than winning the power-ball jackpot. Millions have gone before you and failing extinction of the species millions will follow. You will need to be very, very famous to stick out in such a crowd. Even a famous blogger is not likely to make the cut. Although your name will be recorded in various places you will have been long forgotten until someone encounters your name as they work on their genealogy, and they will wonder what it would have been like to-know you.

FAVORITE OBITS
It is true that obituaries have a certain utilitarian value in that they not only announce the death but list those to whom you might want to send a sympathy card, provide the time and place of the funeral, etc., but I find little information which would help me to know the person. There have been some examples in which anecdotal information has provided me with an idea as to a person’s identity, and a feeling that I would like to have known them. One such case was a single statement in an otherwise generic obit of an elderly woman as follows: “Edna’s family gathered at her home for Sunday dinner at 1 o’clock every week for over 60 years and welcomed all guests with open arms. Edna will be remembered for her peach-pecan and pumpkin pies, noodles, and birthday cakes, her patience, kindness, and unwavering and unconditional love for others, and most of all, her heart of gold.” In the annals of motherhood, it is difficult to imagine anyone topping that record of nurturing. I felt as if I would like to have known Edna. Maybe I could even have wrangled an invitation to Sunday dinner.
My all-time favorite obituary was one which kept me laughing. It was written by a daughter who began with a quest for anyone interested in dinner plates. It turned out that her mother had been a collector of all kinds of different items, including dinner plates, and the daughter was overwhelmed. She went on to describe all her mother’s quirks in a most loving and tender but funny way. It was my all time favorite and I consider it a masterpiece. I tried to save it, but since we have a rule in this house to never lose anything unless it is important it has disappeared.
WHY THE IMPORTANCE
For those of us who will not have a bronze likeness in the courthouse square, our obituary will be the most lasting chronicle of our lives. It will probably be written or directed by someone who loved us and thus emphasize our better natures providing a template for living a full life. Obituaries remind us of our mortality which is not always a bad thing as such awareness can be a powerful motivator.
Obituaries have been with us since Roman times but as print media is replaced by the internet, obituaries are likely to follow suite. One such example is “The Blog of Death” written by Jade Walker who was formerly a chronicler of the deaths of the rich and famous in the New York Times. She was also hailed for producing a publication of the obits for all the victims of the nine eleven attacks. She describes her blog as: “…featuring the famous, infamous and interesting unknowns.” Undoubtedly, major newspapers will continue to publish obituaries deemed newsworthy. One often cited example is the Los Angeles Times preparation of Elizabeth Taylor’s obituary two years before her death presumably in order to be ready for the great event. Ironically, the person who wrote it died before it was published.
With the demise of local newspapers throughout the country, I assume that their archives containing millions of obituaries will be lost. There are organizations which profess to have access to nearly a century of published obituaries; however I am not sure how that is done, e.g., do they simply access newspaper archives? For most of us our obituary is all that remains of us to be remembered for longer than a few years.

SAVED BY THE CLOUD
As Jade Walker points out, the internet provides opportunity to include pictures, personal anecdotes, and experiences which could allow us to relate to lives that are gone. In an era when there is data available to unravel the human genome, keep track of who and where we are, who we talk to, and what we buy, it does not seem unreasonable to catalog obituaries. Perhaps the information could be managed by the Library of Congress, and the millions of wondrous stories which are now literally buried could be available for all to see. It could even contain the recipe for Edna’s peach-pecan pie

THAT MOTHER THING

These days, it is difficult to forget Mother’s Day as there are plenty of reminders on TV, radio, newspapers, billboards, and now even the internet.  Although the holiday (it even seems disrespectful to call it that) has been a boon to florists, candy companies, and greeting card businesses, it also generates a type of sentiment not found in other celebrations.  According to Mr. Google, there have been times set aside to venerate mothers and motherhood since ancient times, but our modern version is said to have its origins in Grafton, West Virginia in 1908, when Anna Jarvis promoted the idea of a day to honor mothers. She was soon to be disappointed when the day which was sacred to her became commercialized.  Anna spent the rest of her life attempting to correct the image which she felt dishonored her Mother, and died penniless in an institution.

DON’T MESS WITH MOM

We are all aware that motherhood is necessary for the propagation of the species, but the relationship between a mother and her offspring is like no other.  Mothers will fight to the death and endure any amount of hardship to protect and nurture their offspring.  This is true for most of the animal kingdom, but especially for humans.  Most animals who have live births nurture their young until the kids are able to make it on their own, but human moms never stop mothering.  You might think since they are around for a couple of decades it might be that they simply become like an old pair of shoes which you don’t like to get rid of, but there seems to be much more to it than that.

Back in the old days, when country doctors did pretty much everything except major surgery, I delivered a lot of babies.  Many times I would hear my patients in labor crying out that they would never go through this pain again, but when that baby was delivered into her arms the room would brighten with her smile.  The ordeal of birthing would soon be forgotten and often at the six weeks checkup there would be talks of having another child.  The mother of my children describes her feelings of holding our babies as a feeling of joy which she could not find words to describe.

Screen Shot 2017-05-13 at 8.30.46 PM.png

Kids do grow up and leave the nest, but they carry a piece of Mom with them for the rest of their lives.  No one or no other relationship will have such a profound effect on their lives.  Without nurture, it has been shown that children will grow up with significant deficits similar to those seen in Harlow’s monkeys when they were deprived of maternal contact.  With that in mind, it seems clear that mothers’ roles involve much more than merely giving birth and providing sustenance.

When children are born, they have no sense of who or what they are.  One can see an infant at times appearing to discover his toes and other body parts.  Likewise, in their early years, they will need help to develop an identity, and to do so, they will depend upon those with whom they spend the most time. However, perhaps the most important issue they learn concerns their lovability.  In my practice, those who felt as if they were unlovable were among the most unhappy.  They found it virtually impossible to establish meaningful relationships.  They lacked self-esteem, often to the point of self-loathing; consequently, they were vulnerable to exploitation of all kinds.  They were often used and abused, which they felt they deserved.  This opinion of self, which appears to have its origins in childhood, resists change and seems to persist throughout life even when told their picture of themselves is inaccurate.

ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE

Obviously, the only way one can know they are lovable is to be loved, which brings us back to the subject of mothers.  Traditionally, they are the ones in charge of loving.  Their love is constant, unremitting and lifelong.  They continue to love even when their children are total jerks or perpetrate the most dastardly of deeds.  It has been said that a father’s love is conditional.  I have always resented that characterization, for I felt I loved the kids as much as did Barb, yet I must admit that her capacity for forgiveness and tolerance exceeds mine.  After all, I was only an observer and not a participant in their entry to this world.

If you think mothers are lovers, take a look at grandmothers.  With the responsibilities of teaching kids manners, discipline and societal survival skills gone, there comes an avalanche of unimpeded love.  For me, grandparenthood has been an opportunity to enjoy the kids without feeling any responsibility.  I have concluded that grandparenthood is God’s reward for enduring the vicissitudes of parenthood.

It is true that in the past mothers have received a bad rap from we psychiatrists.  Mothers have been accused by us of causing everything from autism to homosexuality.  This fad began with Freud, who attempted to unravel some of the mysteries of early childhood.  Although his work provided an impetus to learn more about the effects of childhood experiences on later life, many of his conclusions have been discredited.

IT DOESN’T GET EASIER   

In the past, motherhood was a full time job.  Although mothers would engage in activities outside the home (my grandmother helped with the milking), their primary function was to care for their families.  Today’s mothers amaze me in that a majority of them also have full time jobs outside the home.  That puts an exclamation point after the time honored phrase “woman’s work is never done.”  Granted, fathers are now more involved in domestic activities than in the past, but I seem to remember reading something about a study that indicated the duties of the woman of house have changed little over the years.  Without our so-called modern household conveniences, it would probably be impossible for the hardiest of souls to accomplish what these warrior mothers do.

However, the most amazing mothers, to me, are the single moms who take on the total responsibility for feeding, clothing, teaching, disciplining and loving their children.  The fact that many single mothers accomplish this without any outside help is inspiring, especially when one considers the number of kids who grow up to be good people.  Unfortunately, these mothers are often derided rather than praised.

THEY AREN’T ALL MUSHY

You should not be surprised to learn that I too had a mother.  She loved me for no good reason that I could fathom, and I loved her too (although I would never admit it when I was growing up).  Mom was not a hugger.  She was a patter—i.e. when she was glad to see me, or pleased with something I had done, she would wrinkle her nose and pat me on the arm or shoulder a couple of times.  I suspect this was a result of her childhood, for her family was not demonstrably affectionate and never wanted to be “showy.”  She was a great cook and enjoyed feeding us.  In later years, a visit would see her “throw together some leftovers” with little obvious effort, and they would always be delicious.  I was a child of the Depression and barely recall my parents on occasion telling my brother and I they wanted us to eat first.  It would be years later before l realized why they did that.

SUPER MOM

It has been my good fortune to meet and marry someone who was born to nurture, and I have watched her in action for quite a few years.  When we were married, she announced that she wanted to have four children.  I thought two would be plenty, so we reached a Barb-type compromise and had four.  Since they were all exceptional from the very get go, I agreed to keep them all.  It was a good decision.

As with most mothers, Barb continues to exude love from a reservoir that never runs dry.  Every now and then, she will reminisce about those days when she had them all fed, bathed and tucked in, and how she felt “so rich.”  When we see a baby in the grocery, she tells me how she would like to hold it.  If there is a young one in a restaurant, she will approach the mother ask its age and tell her how beautiful is her baby (she seems to have never seen an ugly one).  Those tear jerking ads on TV featuring small kids do a number on her.  She insists were she a little younger she would adopt some of those starving African kids.

As for the grandchildren, don’t ask unless you have some time to spare.  It takes a while to tell you how wonderful they all are, but you will be able to see those tired brown eyes come to life.  Like it or not, you will probably also hear the complete package which includes their parents who are also “above average.”

SHE WILL JUST SAY YOU SHOULD SAVE YOUR MONEY 

Meanwhile, it is nice to send your mother flowers and stuff, but all she really wants from you is love.  She deserves all you have to give.

FAMILIES

FAMILIES

In previous blogs I have discussed the importance of relationships in our lives; however none are more important than our relationships with our family of origin. They will be a powerful influence as to how we view the world and other people.  More importantly, these experiences will be major determinants in the development of our personalities.  Those fortunate enough to grow up in nurturing environments will find it easier to nurture their offspring.   To feel loved is likely to protect one’s self-esteem, and allow one to experience the joy of loving others.  Our values are in many ways shaped by family for even if one is rebellious and rejects what he has been taught, his new found truths often originate from the nature of his family relationships.

Apprenticeship to Adulthood

We humans are unique among mammals in the length of time required for us to reach maturity. Not only is our rate of growth slow, but there is much to learn if we are to survive and thrive in a complex society.  Although much is determined by our genetic make-up, we learn behaviors and perceptions primarily by unconsciously mimicking others.  In that sense, growing up is much like an apprenticeship.

The 21st Century Family

An accurate definition of family is now difficult to pin down. There are no longer traditional roles for family members, such as were the norm in my generation.  Since most parents work, there are fewer stay-at-home moms.   We now see an occasional stay-at-home dad, something unheard of in my time.  Other than widows, single mothers were not nearly as prevalent during my youth as they now are.  Modern mobility has limited the number of nuclear families who can experience the support of extended family members.  Many of our children grow up barely even knowing the names of their cousins.  Blended families composed of his, hers and their children can face special challenges.

The Power of the Family Bond

In spite of these changes, the bonds between family members are among the strongest of all our relationships. This is evidenced by the fact that one of the first phases of recruitment by cultists is to alienate the prospect from family members, usually leaving siblings and parents confused and devastated.  The same tactics are used by those who would attempt to relieve the elderly and infirm of their possessions.  In both cases, they discredit the families of origin and attempt to break the bonds between the victim and the victim’s biological family.  Those in positions of leadership of all stripes realize the strength of familial relationships, and seek to provide an atmosphere in which a surrogate family can develop.  Street gangs likewise are said to provide family like bonds, which have been lacking in the lives of those they recruit.  The search for the type of relationships found in families seems to be a common human need.

“I found it difficult to remain therapeutic while feeling homicidal.”

Although families offer the best environment for rearing children, they can also be the scene of horribly abusive behaviors. I have had little experience dealing with such problems, especially when they involve children.  I generally avoided treating such cases as I found it difficult to remain therapeutic while feeling homicidal.  In like manner I find that the understanding of other cultural practices such as honor killings, genital mutilation and such to be way above my pay grade, and in spite of being paid quite well.  Consequently, I will confine my remarks to treatment of more mundane problems.

Who is the “real” patient?

Most families seeking help are usually concerned about the behavior or mental status of one of their members. They are often coerced into treatment by the identified patient’s therapist.  That term (identified patient) is useful in that one may find that the person in treatment may be the healthiest member of the family, and labeled as sick because he is out of step with the rest of the family (i.e., the identified patient is actually the most emotionally healthy of the group who is reacting to an unhealthy family dynamic).

The importance of family therapy

There are multiple reasons that I believe involvement of family is critical in the treatment process:

  1. Family members may be able to provide valuable information about the patient’s behaviors.
  2. It allows the therapist to view family relationships first hand and thus provide insights as to the stresses in the patient’s environment.
  3. Family members may provide a more complete family history
  4. It allows the therapist to assess the level of support available, and to encourage such support
  5. Perhaps most importantly, it is a mechanism in which the dilemma of providing family with needed information about their loved one’s illness without violating the confidentiality inherent in the doctor-patient relationship. This becomes even more important in those cases where there are paranoid tendencies, or there has been a great deal of conflict.

The Complexity of Family Relationships

Although the average family size has shrunk considerably over the last century, relationships between members can still be complex. It must come as no surprise that there are often conflicts within families.  Since it is difficult to walk away from one’s family, those conflicts are not easily resolved, and over time may escalate.  To be chronically angry can be debilitating and painful, and as such, blaming another for those feelings comes easily.

The Blame Game

As mentioned in previous blogs it is important that the therapist avoid joining in the search to establish who is at fault, for to do so merely perpetuates the problem. He must be able to analyze the problem from the outside looking in, that is, learn how to be a meta-communicator. Hopefully, the members will find it difficult to continue blaming each other if the therapist redefines the problem as blaming rather than defining the problem as identification of who is at fault.

The Power of Brevity

In order for the therapist’s comments to be effective, they must be brief if they are to be remembered. The importance of brevity as with most things in my practice was learned from a former patient during a chance encounter, during which he thanked me for having helped him several years previously.  He credited his recovery to one statement of mine.  He said: “The thing that helped me most was when you said ‘you think too much’ and now whenever I start to worry about all the things which could go wrong those four words come into my head and I am able to move on.”  I cannot take credit for any brilliant insights for I didn’t even remember the incident, but it is an example of how an offhand comment may be more effective than hours of therapy.  The same principle applies to our everyday lives, as the most memorable comments are those expressed in a few words.  The lengthy ones are often forgotten before they are completed.

Obviously there are many reasons for families to seek counseling other than to deal with hostility, but no matter the problem it is helpful to look at it as a communication system gone awry. Imbedded in many different behaviors is a message, and thus can be seen as a form of communication.  For example, what is the message being sent by a teenager who is acting out?  It could be that they are angry about limits set, unrealistic expectations from parents, lack of trust by parents, sibling rivalry, or resentful that not enough limits have been set, or for reasons which have nothing to do with the family.  Of course, the teenager is almost certain to be the last person likely to divulge such information.  Disclosure can many times offer a pathway to an understanding, which may be therapeutic.

Can’t see the forest for the trees

It was not my intent for this paper to be a treatise on family therapy; however I thought it might be useful to see how some of the concepts could be useful in understanding not only our own families, but relationships in general. As I mentioned in a past blog as with marital relationships, it is almost inevitable that one will be so caught up in seeing the trees that he will become oblivious to the forest.  That is, he will not realize what is going on even though he can hear the words.  This was brought home to me several years ago when following a party a colleague said “Smith I can’t believe how you treat your wife.”   I was shocked, could he be talking to me, the couples therapy and family expert?  After all, I had no doubt that I was among the world’s best husbands, but Barb later confirmed that my friend was correct in his assessment.  As has been said, “None are so blind a those who will not see.”

Reframing

For example though all have separate personalities, they also have different roles to play as family members. For example it is common for families to have a star and a black sheep.  Parents may lament that they don’t understand why the black sheep can’t be more like the star, and continue listing all of black sheep’s misdeeds and faults.  In such a case the therapist might address the black sheep kid by saying, “That is such a loving thing, doing all that stuff to make your sibling look good.” No matter the response the system is changed, and this is apt to open up some different dialogue. This is a process therapists call “reframing.”

Scripting

There are many roles that kids and parents may unconsciously adopt. There are the placaters or people pleasers, the mascot or clown, the lost child or withdrawn person, and as mentioned in the previous vignette the hero or achiever, and the black sheep or scapegoat, to mention a few.  Family roles may develop in order to fill a need or may come about by the process of scripting.  I mentioned previously the role families play in the development of our identity, and when they convince us we are a certain type of person, we are apt to follow that script.  Some have gone so far as to say if you can convince someone he is a homicidal rapist, he is apt to become a homicidal rapist.  Obviously, there are many influences other than our families which affect our identity; however, the opinions of our parents and siblings are undoubtedly the most powerful.

Disagreements

In this time of rapidly changing mores, it is not surprising that there will be frequent disagreements between we old folks and the kids. Of course disagreements between siblings seem to be written into their DNA, and disagreements between parents is certainly not unusual.  When family members cannot agree to disagree, an argument is likely to occur, and such arguments often lead to verbal or even physical attacks.  I don’t mean to suggest that disagreements are all bad for as Walter Lippmann famously said, “Where all think alike, no one thinks very much”.  When we tell our kids what to think while telling them we want them to learn to think for themselves it is little wonder they become frustrated for that is a classic double bind, or in today’s vernacular a no win situation.

Systems of Conflict Resolution

If a disagreement reaches the point that one feels threatened or under attack, either verbally or physically, he may respond in a variety of ways.

Attack/Attack system

He may retaliate in kind which is an attack-attack system. This is almost guaranteed to increase the level of anger, as each participant attempts to outdo the other.  These are the types of interaction which can lead to violence.

Attack/Placate system

The attack-placate system is often seen in cases of spouse abuse, when the abused attempts to talk hubby out of his anger by reassuring him and in other ways spreading oil over the troubled waters. This too usually fails as the abuser may feel patronized.

Attack/Divert System

Another type is the attack-divert system which as you might imagine can become rather bizarre. This might be effective in minor skirmishes, but simply changing the subject in the face of overt hostility is weird, and leaves the problem unresolved.

Acknowledge the Affect

For the best method to deal with such emotionally laden situations, I hearken back to my mantra of “acknowledge the affect.” In such cases, the message the attacker is trying to send is that he is feeling some kind of negative affect such as: anger, hurt, envy, jealousy, or fear.  Statements such as “I can see you really feel strongly about that” or “are you angry with me?” will often defuse the situation.  It is not necessary to change your opinion or point of view, but simply to communicate that you understand how he feels.  If your attacker’s affect is not available then one can use his own such as: “I feel …………” The concept has wider application, for in any emotionally charged situation it only makes sense to deal with the emotions rather than to ignore them.

What’s Next?

In my next blog, I plan to focus on child rearing. I am well aware there are probably hundreds of books written by people who are convinced they know better than you how you should raise your kids.  I don’t plan to do that since I have made plenty of mistakes in that department; although my kids all turned out well in spite of my screw-ups.   Rather than directions as to how one can raise perfect little people, I plan to provide helpful hints on how to screw up your kids lives: I call it “How to screw up your kids without even trying.”

Thanks for reading!

DO YOU HEAR ME NOW

Editor’s Note: Image not approved by e-shrink, but I needed some eye candy 🙂

In a previous blog, I promised an encore presentation on the subject of interpersonal communication. Your patience is about to be rewarded for I will now set about to fill these pages with the words of wisdom promised.

Actually if one excludes extrasensory communication and similar spiritual phenomena, there is little mystery about how we communicate with each other, but it is amazing how we can screw it up. It appears that all creatures have some means to communicate. Some plants are said to communicate with each other, and I just read an article in Scientific American presenting evidence that some bacteria send signals to others of like kind.

The Dawn of Communication

It is impossible to know exactly how earliest man communicated, but it can be assumed that job one as they came together as groups and then tribes, was to be able to communicate with each other. They would soon find that gestures and other nonverbal means were not sufficient for them to be successful carrying out joint efforts, like gathering food, providing shelter, and protection. Sound would prove to be the most effective means. Messages could be carried over distances without interrupting the sender’s activities. For example a certain sound may have been agreed upon to sound a warning. Meanwhile, man would be evolving physically with very versatile machinery to produce a variety of complex sounds which we now call words and language was born.

Necessity is the mother of invention

Since our Great, Great, Great, Great………..and so on grandparents, like us, were never satisfied with the latest technology, they would undoubtedly start looking for ways to communicate distances beyond their range of hearing. It would also be nice to save and share messages. Smoke signals and other such signaling procedures would have little useful utility. They solved that problem by devising symbols for each word thus enabling them to not only hear, but also see all those words. Fast forward a few thousand years, and here I sit recording words in this mysterious black box. As you are all aware this is not the end of that story, but more about that later.

Most of us talk better than we listen

Of course humans have developed the most complex system of communication centered on our verbal language skills. As a matter fact, many anthropologists rate our ability to use language as the major factor which allowed man to become the dominant creature on the planet. It is language that allows me to write this paper, and to communicate ideas, opinions, directions, knowledge, feelings, or indeed any thoughts which come into my head to anyone who is inclined to listen, and therein lies the most common flaw in any communications system, i.e., most of us talk better than we listen.
Psychiatrists listen, it is what we do, as a matter of fact sometimes that is all we do. It has always amazed me how therapeutic listening can be. There are many times when patients have left my office saying they felt much better after venting their particular problem, in spite of sparse verbal responsiveness on my part. It makes me sad to think that some people find it necessary to spend money to have someone listen to them. Come to think of it, if we all would be better listeners it might save a lot on shrink bills.

 

I can identify with those people who feel no one listens for I have always envied those guys with deep commanding voices who are able to dominate a discussion. In those situations I am rather soft spoken and sometimes feel excluded. My attempts to change the timbre of my voice have been unsuccessful; consequently; I am usually content to let my wife take the lead in those social situations as she is very good at social repartee.

The Nuts and Bolts of Communication

Everyone knows that in order to have a communication, one must have a transmitter and a receiver. For the sake of brevity (my readers seem to appreciate that quality in these blogs), I will limit my comments to communications between people; although, I realize there are now many machines that communicate, and that animals communicate with each other and with us. It is important to remember that in the presence of other people it is impossible not to communicate, for paradoxically not to communicate sends a message: therefore a communication has taken place. When one ignores another person, it may send a powerful message, but one which can be interpreted in many ways. The message may be clear depending on the situation or context, but can also be confusing.

An outstretched middle finger pointing skyward will rarely be misinterpreted

Verbal conversations are the most versatile and intimate of our means of messaging while written messages are less likely to be misunderstood. Non-verbal messages can also be very precise, for example in our society the presentation of an outstretched middle finger pointing skyward from an otherwise closed fist will rarely be misinterpreted. In spite of such exceptions, words are generally the more precise tool. The superior quality of verbal versus non-verbal communication is evidenced by the difficulty those born without hearing experience as compared to those who are blind. It is well known that a person’s lack of one special sense will result in a compensatory increase in acuity of its opposite. The result for deaf people is that they can become markedly adept at sign language, but to converse with hearing people becomes very difficult. They must either use crude gestures, or depend on written messaging, the first being ineffective and the second inefficient. Lip reading is apt to be fraught with errors and may not even be possible for those born deaf. Blind people however converse with little difficulty and their enhanced hearing may allow them to hear inflections which might go unnoticed by those with normal vision which could help make them superior communicators. The result is that deaf folks often prefer to relate to others who are deaf, while blind people find it easier to assimilate into ordinary society.

The Art and Science of Listening

As I mentioned previously, I believe that failure to hear is usually due to a failure to listen. Listening requires effort. In order to be an effective listener one needs to use all of his faculties, including not only his ears, but also eyes, touch, and sometimes even his sense of smell. It goes without saying that it is essential to be attentive, and to maintain eye contact unless the one talking seems uncomfortable. Observing a person’s posture and movements are all part of the listening process. For example, folding one’s arms across their chest indicates they are not likely to be receptive to your comments. Of course there are many less obvious non-verbal cues which are delivered unconsciously, to which we may respond to without awareness they have occurred.
People who study non-verbal communications can gather amazing amounts of information by simply watching a person. While teaching both individual, couples, and family therapies, we often would show a video tape of a session without sound, and speculate as to what the body language revealed. If the therapist who conducted the session was present he/she would usually be surprised at his/her lack of awareness of some their own non-verbal behaviors. Although a thorough review of the subject is way beyond the scope of this paper, we can learn some things which can be helpful to enhance our abilities to really listen just by watching.

Listen with your eyes

Most cues will be obvious, the breaking of eye contact, leaning forward or backward in a chair etc. One very telling clue as to our engagement is the shifting toward or away from symmetrical positioning e.g. the mirroring of postures. If the person with whom we are conversing mimics our sitting position, it is likely that they are engaged in the conversation, and to change positions will indicate disengagement. We are likely to sense those changes in others more easily than in ourselves. Leaning forward toward the conversant will indicate interest and encourage more talk on the subject while leaning back can be interpreted as: “enough of that subject.” At the same time it may be helpful to remember that if you are bored you probably will look bored, and you will give off the same signals as your bored companion. As mentioned previously, words are still your best shot to receive a clear message, and the non-verbal stuff should be viewed as ancillary.

The Transmission

Now that you know everything there is to know about being a receiver, we can move onto how you may become a talented transmitter. If you are to become a scintillating conversationalist, or a raconteur par excellence you must learn how to deliver a clear and succinct message. This must not be as easy as it sounds for even when listening as hard as I can, I sometimes have no idea what is being said. The KISS acronym (keep it simple, stupid) is still a good rule when it comes to personal conversation. Complexity tends to obscure rather than illuminate. Most contemporary poetry violates this rule in my opinion. My attempts to understand it leaves me with the same feeling I get after spending a half hour working on a rubric’s cube. I confess that I carry a few big words around to use when I want to impress; however long multisyllabic words should be avoided if a little one will do. (You may notice that I have used some of my favorite fancy words in this paragraph, and I trust you are duly impressed).

Direct vs Indirect

Conventional wisdom is that one should always be direct with one’s communications, and “not beat around the bush” as my grandmother would say. In general that is a good rule to follow; however there are times when one might need to deviate from that practice. It brings to mind the solution that my wife Barb found to a vexing problem. It involved a young man who did some office work for her from time to time. The problem was that he had a persistent very strong body odor. She was concerned for him, and suspected the B.O. might well have something to do with his limited social life. Of course, she was reluctant to confront him directly. Although her maternal instincts had kicked in, she did not feel close enough to him to be comfortable discussing his problem directly. After considerable deliberation she resolved her dilemma by giving him a box of deodorant soap for Christmas. Unfortunately, she had no follow up with which to judge the success of her coded message.
There are times however when a direct communication is the best choice in embarrassing situations. One personal example happened while I was giving a lecture to a group of nurses. I noted some snickering among them which was puzzling since grief was the subject of the talk. I later learned that my fly was unzipped. It would have been an act of kindness to have been informed of my zipper problem. To make matters worse, I was forced to endure taunts by colleagues that this was an obvious Freudian slip.

Sending manure and roses in the same box

Although words are of the utmost importance in communicating, we must not forget the music that goes with them. By that I mean the tone, volume, cadence, pitch, and other elements produced by the noise maker in our windpipes. The mechanisms we use to produce sound is remarkable in its versatility and is capable of expressing innumerable emotions which can accompany our words. What we say can be modified, enhanced, diminished or even totally changed in their meaning by our voices. When the words fit the music it can add clarity, but when they don’t it can be confusing. This also applies to visual clues as previously discussed. In those situations in which sound contradicts the words, we have two conflicting messages in one. The purpose of double messages is usually to express hostility, but make it difficult for the recipient to respond as we used to say at the lab: “to send manure and roses in the same box”. In such cases it may be difficult for one to decide which is the more pungent odor.

Sarcasm and the double message

Sarcasm is probably the most recognized form of the double message; however there are some who are masters of the technique. Some women are said to be “catty” in their conversations with other women For example at a dressy social function Miss Catty might say, “What a nice dress, I saw one just like it on the dollar rack at K-mart the other day.”The recipient of this message is apt to remain speechless unless she is quick enough to come up with an equally sarcastic response. In any event the two are unlikely to become friends. There are words and phrases which can be interpreted differently. Some idioms can be confusing and even suggest opposite viewpoints. Since language is never static some may change in their meanings as for example the phrase, “cute as a bug” usually referring to a younger person now seems to be accepted as complimentary; however I don’t believe many people would consider bugs cute.

Anger vs Hostility

Many people find it difficult to deal with anger either of their own or others. This can be limiting in their ability to form lasting and honest relationships for there will always be reasons for anger towards others whether real or imagined. Unexpressed anger will result in either hostile behavior or depression.

In our so called civil society it is often deemed inappropriate to express anger directly, but rest assured it will be communicated by all those non-verbal means we have talked about in spite of our best efforts to conceal it. Contrary to public opinion anger and hostility are not synonymous. Anger is an emotion while hostility is a behavior. Hostility is unlikely to resolve the issues which perpetrated the anger, and furthermore the response to hostility is apt to increase one’s anger.

The efficient and healthy way to express anger

There is a very simple and efficient way to express anger and that is to say “I am angry with you.” This will allow the source of your anger the opportunity to ask about your anger and consider options other than fighting. As I mentioned before, you are the only expert on your emotions so they can’t be refuted by others. If he shows no interest in resolving your differences, you are best off to just dump the sucker.

When you’re on the receiving end of anger

The opposite side of the coin is when you are the recipient of the anger or hostility. If the person is sufficiently enlightened to open the conversation with their feelings of anger, you have a good chance of resolving the issue, but it is more likely that it will be hostility, e.g., name calling, accusations, jealousy, or even physical assault. In the latter case just run unless you have a ball bat handy.

Acknowledge the affect

In other circumstances you may be able to diffuse the hostility by acknowledging the affect. The affect for you non-shrinks is the word we use for feelings. As a matter of fact that phrase: “acknowledge the affect” became my mantra when teaching psychotherapy. Phrases such as, “you must be very angry, or you really look mad,” may lead to a more productive discussion. In some cases it may be more effective to use your own affect especially if there is no response to your acknowledgement of his anger. Whatever you say must be honest, like “I feel sad, this hurts my feelings, or you are scaring me.” Although these strategies do not guarantee success, they are less likely to result in escalation of the conflict. Of course sometimes we would rather fight and in such cases that remains a prerogative; although it is often difficult to determine the winner.

Being assertive without hostility

Many of us have grown up in homes where we were taught to be submissive. This is probably true for women more often than for men. Then we grow up and find that we must be assertive or be ignored. Our childhood experiences of assertiveness was usually linked with anger, but as we grow up we learn that to be accepted into society we must learn civility. The result is that in this competitive world we must assert ourselves or be left in the dust. The problem is that we don’t know how to be assertive without being hostile. This was a problem for many, many of my patients. As women strived for more independence, and learned to work alongside men who were accustomed to being considered the dominant gender their need for assertiveness training increased, and this need is not confined to women. Learning to recognize feelings will help one to compartmentalize them and learn how to communicate without unwanted hostility. In other words acknowledge the affect.

The Awesome Complexity of Communication

The subject of interpersonal communications is obviously much more complicated than what is presented here. It is estimated that our vocabulary includes between 10,000 and 17,000 words depending on age and education level. When the myriad non-verbal modifiers are added coupled with the thousands of ways words can be arranged we become aware of the awesome complexity of this function which we take for granted.

P.S. I am a bit anxious about submitting this for publication as I have a grandson who is about to graduate with a major in communications. I can only hope he will be merciful in his critique.
Next time, I hope to share some thoughts about families.

THE SMARTEST GUY “He’s so smart, I didn’t understand a word he said.”

Editor’s Note: Due to my ability to type really fast, one of my first jobs was to use the Dictaphone at my dad’s office to type information dictated by the psychiatrists. I would use my foot to press the peddle that played the tape and type along as they spoke. I typed letters to consulting physicians and articles they wrote for publications. I remember being surprised at my dad’s vast vocabulary. He certainly didn’t use those fancy words in the office or at home. When I discussed this perplexing issue with my dad, I learned two lessons that have stuck with me my entire life. 1) Don’t use a dollar word when a dime one will do. 2) Know your audience and communicate in the language they speak. One of our running family quotes is part of this blog post: “Doc, he was so smart I didn’t understand a word he said.”

THE SMARTEST GUY 
My Grandson gave me an interesting book for Christmas. This is not a book review so the title is not important. Suffice it to say, it has to do with some theological issues which he and I had discussed in the past, and in particular a “doubting Thomas” streak owned by me. There was much food for thought, some of which was not very digestible.
The author was obviously well read as there were 53 pages of references cited. It was well written; although I found some of the reasoning a bit convoluted. It was a tedious read for me, but I must confess that I also have trouble deciphering the Bible. All of the quotes the author offered throughout the book often added to my confusion. I am sure those guys are all very famous; however I had never heard of most of them. The author would make his point then throw in a “in the words of……….” which was not nearly as coherent as his original statement. Perhaps he was only paying homage to the experts in his field, but I was impressed that he must be a speed reader to have read all that stuff. I was also surprised to learn that Christianity could be so complicated. 
As I read the book, I was reminded of an experience from many years ago. I was seeing a patient for the first time. His was a chronic, although not disabling condition, which had been exacerbated by the unexpected death of his psychiatrist. He talked warmly of his feelings for the deceased, and shared that he missed his counsel. He also spoke of his respect for the man’s intelligence with: “Dr………. was the smartest man I ever knew. He was so smart that when he said something I couldn’t understand a word he said.”
Now all these years later, I can identify with this patient’s assessment of the good doctor’s intelligence for some of the guys quoted in the aforementioned book were much too smart for me to understand. You may be thinking that the alternate explanation might be that I am too stupid to understand, a conclusion that I am loath to accept. After all, I did manage to limp through 24 years of school even though my scholastic career was admittedly undistinguished. My mother proudly said that I knew my ABCs, and could count to 100 by the time I entered the first grade. I have a vivid memory of my father showing my third grade report card to everyone in Varner’s store who would look. Even though this was the first and last time he would be able to exhibit a report card with all A’s, I feel it should count for something. 
There is the possibility of another less flattering explanation, which could help explain the comprehension problem. I have a friend whom I have always admired for his scholarship. His writings demonstrate a vast knowledge of classical literature, history, philosophy and classical music. He is also a veritable expert in psychoanalytic theory. His writings make use of metaphor and relevant quotes. Imagine my surprise when in my confessions of envy for his use of all this knowledge in his writings, his wife responded, “I think it is just showing off.” Perhaps she was having a bad day or he had forgotten to take out the trash, for she has shown her love for him in many ways during the many years they have been together.
The comment by my friend’s spouse does raise the question as to whether our writings are often more about ourselves than the subject about which we are writing. Could it be that sometimes the message intended may be corrupted by our ego needs? How much of the motivation of this author’s writings were motivated by a need to “show off”? For that matter does that same dynamic have anything to do with my writing of this paper. I have often said in jest that I would like to be rich and famous. Since the former has escaped me, perhaps I am still holding out for the latter. But then I have also had fantasies of winning the $1.5 billion power ball thing; even though I have never bought a ticket. 

When I was a kid we sometimes perpetrated cruel party jokes designed to humiliate and embarrass. One such stunt involved telling a joke with a nonsense punch line. The group who was in on the joke would laugh loudly, and the butt of the joke would join in the laughter even though there was nothing remotely funny. We called such tactics “shaggy dog stories.” I must admit there are times when I feel I have nodded in agreement with someone when I had no idea what they were talking about, much as the patient who idolized his dead psychiatrist must have done. 
There are times when reading something that is clearly beyond my abilities to grasp, I wonder if I am the victim of a shaggy dog story, and that the author is having a good laugh at my expense. The most recent example is my attempt to wade through a book on quantum mechanics. I was humbled by my inability to make any sense of that stuff. Upon learning that the book was written for ordinary people like myself left my ego was left in shreds. This was not Greek to me. It was more like a mixture of Mandarin Chinese, Arabic and Apache indian. What I could decipher was so implausible that I found myself thinking “can this person be serious?” and again wondering if this was not a variation on the shaggy dog theme. 
It has been said the best defense against Alzheimer’s and similar dementias is to make liberal use one’s brain. All intellectual pursuits are encouraged, but I have noted that this can clearly be overdone. I submit that a brain can also become fatigued; consequently, I will now put down my book on particle physics, fire up my kindle, and escape to a mindless mystery novel. 

LIFE on a SUNDAY MORNING

Editor’s Note: This is a post from last year that I’ve transferred from dad’s previous blog. Enjoy!

June 8, 2014

It is Sunday morning and I have been sitting on the patio surveying my miniscule portion of the universe. It is a beautiful balmy summer morning. I am surrounded and engulfed in the sounds and sights of life. Birds seem to be especially vocal, Charley the chipmunk who has outsmarted me at every turn in my attempt to capture him brazenly runs past my feet chasing a new found friend, which probably means I will soon have an entire family with whom to contend. Lilly runs off to add her voice to the chorus of dogs probably in objection to someone’s use of the street without their permission. I notice that the Christmas tree which I planted a short time ago (it seems like a short time) is only a couple of feet shorter than the electric pole which stands beside it. The hibiscus plants which I had given up for dead due to my neglect have made a remarkable comeback and are about to shower us with more beauty.  A sprout has suddenly appeared at the side of the stump of a tree which had cut down nearly two years ago, but it has performed its Lazarus like miracle and refuses to stay dead.

As I focus more intently on my environment, I suddenly become aware that within my view is every shade of green imaginable.   There is a cloud moving toward me, and it will soon be dropping more of the blood of all this life. That huge ball of fire so powerful that we dare not gaze directly at it provides the energy to keep it all moving. What an awesomely miraculous thing, this phenomenon we call life. I have spent most of my life studying life as it exists in my own species, but rarely have I taken the time to appreciate the ways that it surrounds, engulfs and nurtures me. I do recall lying on the grass, and staring in wonder at cloud formations as a child, with a feeling of reverence almost spiritual in its intensity. Many of the questions from those days still remain without answers, but as I recently told Carter (one of my exceptional grandsons) I believe there is more wisdom in questions than in answers.

Surely as I see my own personal supply of it dwindle, life becomes more precious, and I suspect that is not unusual for we old buggers.   I hear much about “finding the meaning of life”, and such similar claptrap, and I suppose I have also engaged in such fool’s errands, when it would have served me well to spend more time simply enjoying and appreciating it, much as I did this morning.  I have in the past made the cynical remark that I would rather go to a funeral than to a wedding. But as with most cynical statements there was a grain of truth in that with funerals I was forced to confront my mortality, and come away vowing to make the most of my time. Those promises to myself however were short lived and I soon returned to my charge through the trees while losing sight of the forest.

Take it from a guy who has been there “the good old days” were not all good, but in my opinion one of the traditions worth saving was the Biblical admonition to use the Sabbath as a day of rest, and as a time to reflect on things beyond our control and understanding much as I did this morning.   In other words there was more to Sunday than just going to church.   There were the “blue laws” which actually made certain activities illegal when carried out on Sunday. Since all religions did not use Sunday as their Sabbath, these laws were obviously discriminatory; however they did serve to promote time for reflection, and family cohesiveness. But, it was not only the blue laws that limited activities. In those days my soliloquy would not have been interrupted as it was this morning by the sound of a neighbor mowing his lawn. It was considered very poor taste bordering on sacrilege for one to engage in any kind of work on Sunday. There were exceptions of course for positions vital to the community functions such as medicine, law enforcement, firemen etc.

There was an oft quoted saying that one should “make hay while the sun shines’; however if the sun was shining on Sunday the hay would have to wait until Monday. No farmer “worth his salt” would want to be seen working his fields on the Sabbath. Some women were so extreme in their views that they even refused to cook on Sunday; consequently would spend much of Saturday preparing food for the Sunday after church meal which was usually the grandest of the week.   Even though the industrial age was in full swing, factories were expected to shut down unless there were compelling reasons not to do so. Business transactions were to be avoided on Sunday and almost all businesses were closed. It was a day for family activities such as picnics and visiting, though often the afternoons consisted of sitting on the front porch watching what could be seen of one’s own part of the world.

If I sound nostalgic, it is because I am, but I suspect most octogenarians suffer from some degree of that malady. Sundays now seem to be a time to catch up on all the work not finished during the week. It has become the favorite time for shopping. The only thing restful about the “day of rest” is that some may get to sleep in a little longer, that is if they don’t have a job which requires them to work on Sunday. I miss front porches which seem to no longer to be necessary, and if present rarely used.   I miss seeing children playing out in their yards on Sunday. I would like to see them abandon their electronic toys occasionally to lie on the grass and look at the clouds, maybe even play hop scotch or hide and seek. I have no desire to go back to those days of my youth, for undoubtedly this is the best time to be alive in the history of man at least in this part of the earth, but I do believe we have much to learn from what has gone before. During my brief time on the planet, I have seen many so called innovations which were actually recycled from the past, and I believe there is still much to be learned from our ancestors. One such lesson could be regarding the value of a weekly day of rest and contemplation. If readopted, such a tradition might even result in some reconciliation of the tree huggers and money grubbers which would undoubtedly help us to become better stewards of our planet.

Those who know me will undoubtedly note a bit of hypocrisy in this essay for I have been a chronic violator of this biblical injunction since my teen years. I too felt that I could not “waste a day”, but now am convinced that a regularly scheduled goof off day would have served me well.

Love Good