Sunday, July 31, 2016

Our Place in Time

I’m in a quandary.  At almost 62 years old, that is not the most comfortable place to be.  I’ve recently finished a biography of Paul Newman.  I was really interested in, however, the story of his son, Scott, who died of a drug overdose after years of trying to live up unsuccessfully to his role as the only son of Paul Newman.  Who could, really?  Everyone expected him to have the same looks, the same acting ability, the same charm.  But Scott was a different person, of course.  Even Paul’s daughters felt the burden of their dad’s fame.  They said it was hard finding a boyfriend who was not intimidated by their father, and even their female friends found themselves flirting with the handsome Mr. Newman, even as he got older and older.  It’s hard to be born into fame and fortune.

My sister Joy and I were not born into fame or fortune.  We were born into a middle-class family in Tennessee.  Our parents were not politicians or actors or people whose names you would read in the gossip column of the newspaper.  However, our father made his mark on the world by writing letters during the Civil Rights movement to encourage those on the front lines championing justice who were the recipients of so much hate and animosity, and sometimes penning letters to businesses to every so kindly encourage them to change policies (as in, it’s time to let go of the separate white/Negro drinking fountains).   Letter by letter, he wrote his words of love and tolerance, and letter by letter those recipients were warmed, inspired, and sometimes challenged by his witness as a white Christian Southern man who had ideals and wanted to make the world a better place.  Dad saved most of these letters, and Joy recently wrote a play called “Letter Man” which brought everything together; the play was staged in Memphis this summer.  

As she was working on compiling these letters into a play, Joy and I held many conversations over the phone on the impact these letters were having on us.  Both of us are way past the age where our dad started his ministry of public service as a lone agent speaking in the wilderness for love and tolerance and social change.  Re-reading the letters inevitably made us question ourselves as to what we have done with our own lives.  When you grow up with a parent whose life embodied Jesus in so many ways, how do you deal with that?  How can you live up to that legacy?  Everything we have done seems so inadequate in the shadow of his accomplishments and sacrifices.  

I recently read an excerpt from a book by David Brooks titled “The Road to Character.”  Here is what he says:  “In this method, you don’t ask, What do I want from life? You ask a different set of questions: What does life want from me? What are my circumstances calling me to do? In this scheme of things we don’t create our lives; we are summoned by life. The important answers are not found inside, they are found outside. This perspective begins not within the autonomous self, but with the concrete circumstances in which you happen to be embedded. This perspective begins with an awareness that the world existed long before you and will last long after you, and that in the brief span of your life you have been thrown by fate, by history, by chance, by evolution, or by God into a specific place with specific problems and needs. Your job is to figure certain things out: What does this environment need in order to be made whole? What is it that needs repair? What tasks are lying around waiting to be performed? As the novelist Frederick Buechner put it, ‘At what points do my talents and deep gladness meet the world’s deep need?’” 

This is the quandary.  Dad served his life’s purpose during a great upheaval in this country.  He felt in his soul he knew exactly what he was called to do.  Indeed, he considered it his calling.  No question about that.  

But each generation has to respond to its own times.  I was reminded of the Gettysburg Address, where Lincoln started out with the famous “Fourscore and seven years ago,” recalling the birth of the nation, then goes on to say “Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure.”  In just a couple of sentences, he takes the listeners all the way up the road from the founding of the nation, from which by this time they were so removed, to their current situation.  He was saying, yes, we can remember the past, we MUST remember the past, but we are called to act in the present.

So, using a phrase which used to be popular, “What would Jesus do?” - Joy and I ask, “What would our dad Ensley do?”  Indeed - he lived in a different era.  He typed his letters out on a typewriter, key by key, folded them up, inserted them into envelopes, addressed them, stamped them, and sent them on their way.  He wrote on a one-to-one, from sender to recipient.  The world has changed now.  How would he have handled Facebook, where his passionate pleas may have been met with volatile response from friends and even strangers?  What would have been his responses to the endless social media posts which would have saddened his heart?  Would he have been overwhelmed with the job at hand?  We know he would have responded with love, as that is the only way he could, but exactly how?  As he was called to answer to his time in history, so are we called to answer to our time.  We feel the urgency to bring attention and energy to injustice in the many ways our dad did.  Racial tensions have escalated and his vision of a world of racial equality still has not materialized.  And for our generation, there are additional battles to fight on other lines of social change as well.  But how?  When news goes around the world faster than lightning, and opinions are more numerous than stars in the heavens, when just watching the news makes your heart break, when the senseless killings just don’t seem to stop and violence and hate and fear seems to crown the days - what are we called to do?  What are we called to say?  How are we called to act?  What is our “calling”?  

It’s a world of questions waiting for answers.  When you examine life in your 60s, the hourglass has lots more sand on the bottom than on the top.  The urgency is clear.  Time seems short.  I am just one person.  It all seems so overwhelming.  Sometimes I call my friends because, instead of being an encourager, I seem to need the encouragement myself.  Joy and I have said many times recently how we wished Dad were here to guide us, to show us the way that we can spread love and be active fighters for justice and tolerance in the here and now.  

No, we didn’t have a famous father who was listed in Forbes or People magazine.  But he was certainly a man hard to live up to.  May we all find our “calling” in this life - and be faithful to it.  So help us God.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016


When my husband, Ed, was in seminary, he came home one day with something funny to relate.  In his counseling class, the professor stressed the importance of listening.  He instructed them in the art of listening to the clients, paying careful attention, then repeating back to the clients in their own words what had been discussed.  It’s an empathy lesson, a session in careful listening as the counselor tries to discern what the client is really feeling, then in turn the counselor makes the client aware that everything they said had been accurately heard.  The professor said one of his students came back to class one day and told him how it went.  Here was the student’s story:  My elderly patient was saying, “I can’t stand it anymore, I am in daily pain.”  I responded, “What I hear you saying is you can’t stand it anymore, you are in daily pain.”  The patient looked at me for a moment, then said, “I am in such a depression, can’t focus, don’t feel life has meaning.”  I responded, “What I hear you saying is you are in such a depression, can’t focus, don’t feel life has meaning.”  At this point the patient said, “Is there a damn echo in here?!”  

As humorous as that story is, the point about listening and being heard is valid and so applicable to what is going on in our society.  I just took a break from Facebook because the negativity and hate was wearing me down.  We can’t stand still enough to listen to our brothers and sisters when they tell us how they feel.  The Black Lives Matter folks are trying to tell us how scared they are around police officers, from their person experiences or seeing what it is happening to others.  They say so often they are treated in a demeaning manner from society at large. The police officers are trying to tell us what it’s like to have their lives on the line every day, and how scary it is to stop a total stranger, who one day might be an old man who accidentally ran a red light to a wanted murderer who has nothing to lose when confronted and the officer may only have a few seconds to react to a threat.  The white folks are telling us they are scared at the way society has changed, it’s too fast for them, and besides, they think since slavery has been fixed, and everything is integrated, and we have blacks in places of power, so what’s the big deal?  They hear “Black Lives Matter” and add the words “more than other lives” and are offended, and the blacks hear the exact same phrase and add the words “just as much as other lives.”  Everyone assumes if your pro-cop, you’re anti-black; if you’re pro-black, you’re anti-cop.  The conversation deteriorates from there.  Everyone talks, few really listen.

What are we supposed to hear?  That the “other side” hurts, they have feelings, they are frustrated, they are scared.  It is human nature to want to have a voice.  We want somebody to hear us.  Even kids.  I’ve just read a book about the old TV show where Andy Griffith and Ron Howard played a sheriff and his son.  One day on the set, little Ron, who played Opie, took the director aside and said, “I don’t believe a little kid would say those words just that way.”  The director responded by saying, “Well, how would a kid say that, then?”  Ron gave the sentence as he thought it should be played, and the director gave him the green light to change the script.  Ron got a huge smile on his face and right before the scene was taped, Andy Griffith asked Ron what he was smiling about.  He told him the director had LISTENED TO HIM and was taking his advice!  Andy asked him why that was so great and Ron said that he had many times asked the director to change something and he never had…up until now.  Andy replied that it was probably because this was the first idea he had that was any good!  

I’ve read enough psychology to understand that if someone comes to you, whether friend or family member or whoever, and says, “I feel….,” you should never EVER respond by saying:  “You shouldn’t feel that way.”  “It’s your own fault.”  “You don’t really feel like that.”  “What do you expect me to do about it?” - or anything similar.  Feelings are valid!  If I feel hurt in a situation, it doesn’t matter if the hurt was intended or not, the very fact I feel hurt should be acknowledged.  

Society is hurting.  Society is scared.  It’s not time to fan the flames of insults and demeaning, demoralizing arguments.  It’s time to listen.  Hear the pain from everyone.  Hear the anguish, the frustration, and after we listen, REALLY listen, with an open mind, human to human, we can go from there.  

One of the lasts posts I shared on Facebook before my “sabbatical” said that the phrases that matter most in the English language that we don’t say enough are “I love you.”  I’m sorry.” “Please forgive me.” Thank you.”  I will add one more to that….”I hear you.”

Friday, March 18, 2016

Thoughts in the wee hours of the morning...

What time is it?  If I turn my head I can just see the clock.  5 a.m.!  Oh my goodness, I have got to get back to sleep so I can work tomorrow.  Tomorrow?  I guess it’s today now.  Sheesh, I’m tired.  After all, I didn't get to bed until 1 a.m.  Ed is fast asleep, and so is Sam, our recently adopted dog.  Sam loves to sleep in bed with us.  That’s fine, except he loves to be curled up right next to me.  I mean RIGHT next to me.  I can barely move his 45 pounds of snoring canine body.  We would have to get a dog who snores.  I wonder if they make CPAP machine for dogs?  Well, they make clothes and boots for them, don’t they?  I saw where the pet store had dog coats and boots for sale this week.  Ed won’t let me get Sam clothes.  He says that is silly.  Oh well.

I really have to switch positions.  Oh man, I don’t want to wake Sam up but once I realize I need to move, that’s all I can think about.  I give a little nudge.  Sam won’t budge.  He doesn’t get hints, especially when he is fast asleep.  I can feel my nightgown scrunched up beneath me.  I really need to turn over.  I need to fix my nightgown.  I need to go to the bathroom.   I need to get this song out of my head.  “Here comes Peter Cottontail, hopping down the bunny trail, hippity hoppity Easter’s on its way…”  I stifle a laugh.  We just got an animated toy for my mom who sings that song.  I mean, the bunny sings the song, not my mom.  Although she probably tries to sing with him.  He actually hops around while he sings.  And he wears bunny slippers.  Sam would look cute in bunny slippers.  But nooo, I can’t buy doggie clothes - stubborn Ed.  Man, now I can’t get the song out of my mind.  How am I supposed to sleep now?  I’ve got to think of another song.  The only way to clear one’s mind of one song is to get another one going….

Ah, yes.  “Here I go again, I hear those trumpets blow again, all aglow again, taking a chance on love.”  That’s what we’re doing - taking a chance on love.  It’s the reason we didn’t want a dog for many months after our border collie Lily died of epilepsy.  We bonded tight with her, and had to watch her seize day after day after day.  She was only 3.  Never again, I said.  I can’t do it again.  I can’t emotionally go through with loving fiercely and losing everything.  What good is loving if it has to end?  Is the pain and sadness really worth it?  We’ll get along without a dog, I told Ed.  He agreed.  Our emotions were just too raw. 

Sam starts jerking.  For a split second, I think it is Lily having a seizure.  Only this time it’s not a seizure.  Sam is dreaming and running in his sleep.  Thank God his back is to me.  The other night he was on his side facing me and I got a back massage all night, and not the good kind, until I gave up and went to the couch to finish the night.  

“Here I slide again, about to take that ride again, starry-eyed again, taking a chance on love…”  Now I can’t get THAT song out of my mind.  Yeah, we managed to live without a dog for over a year.  Then I started perusing PetFinder and the local shelters’ web pages.  It was all innocent.  Just a way to pass the time.  Yeah, right.  Then I saw Sam and fell in love.  We tried to talk ourselves out of it.  Remember in the summer when it’s too hot to leave the dog in the car?  Remember having the vet bills, having to buy heartworm pills and dog food?  Remember the dog hair everywhere?  Yeah, I remembered.  But I also remembered the cuddling and soft fur on my hands.  I remembered the joy in Lily’s eyes after we had been separated for a few minutes and were reunited.  The tail wagging.  The funny things she would do that made us laugh.  I kept staring at Sam’s picture.  He was in Arkansas, asking us to adopt him.  I could feel it.  But where was the guarantee that we would have him for many years and he would be healthy and would never get sick or injured?  I want a guarantee before I make a commitment! I want a guaranteeeeeee!!!  “Now I prove again, that I can make life move again, in the groove again, taking a chance on love…”

Oh my goodness, if I don’t change positions I’m going to scream.  I barely have enough room before he pushes me out of bed.  I slowly maneuver my fingers over to the edge to measure the distance.  Three fingerbreadths and I fall off.  I literally will fall out of bed.  Fingerbreadths.  What a stupid word.  I type it all the time as a transcriptionist.  Oh dear!  If I don’t get some sleep, I’ll NEVER be able to focus at work tomorrow.  I mean today.  

I give Sam a little push.  No response.  He is so heavy.  I could strain a muscle trying to move that hunk of animal flesh.  Why does he have to sleep in bed with us?  I will admit he is wonderfully warm, though.  

Sigh.  I’ve got to get up and rearrange my nightgown.  What time now?  Oh, 6 a.m.  I’m exhausted but surprisingly content.  I maneuver myself out of bed without disturbing Sam or Ed and come in here to the computer to collect my thoughts.  And to try to get the song out of my head.  “Things are mending now, I see a rainbow blending now, we’ll have a happy ending now, taking a chance on love.”

Saturday, November 14, 2015


The year was 1996, and we were just about to move from middle Tennessee to Maine.  Packing was done, goodbyes had been tearfully exchanged, all necessary arrangements had been made, and the time had finally come.  The plan was that I would drive son Matthew to Maine and about a week later, husband Ed and daughter Rachel would follow.  There was just one thing left to do.  A couple of days before Matt and I were to leave, I had to play for a wedding.
Ed had just finished 4 years of ministry assigned to a charge near Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and in the course of that appointment, he had become acquainted with another minister, whose name was Carol (easy for us to remember!) and whose last name was also similar to ours with one letter difference, Janes, so people were forever getting confused and sometimes we would even get each other’s mail.  Carol’s daughter was getting married, and Carol herself was going to officiate in the ceremony, but would I consent to play the organ?  Even though it was a hectic time for us and our to-do list was a mile long, I readily agreed.
I have played the organ for a lot of weddings in my time, and I frankly don’t remember much of the ceremony, although I’m sure it was lovely and poignant.  I do remember this, however:  Ed and I made a short visit to the reception, and when it was time to go I wanted to say goodbye to the happy couple.  I didn’t know them well, had just met them in my role as wedding organist, and I knew the probability was that we would never see each other again.  Every version of “goodbye” in my mind seemed inadequate, and I vividly remember what I blurted out as we exited the hall:  “Have a good life!”  That would cover the next few decades, I guess.  
I recall thinking how odd the situation was - here I was, an integral part of a major life-changing event in this couple’s lives - an organist at their wedding. I, a virtual stranger, had witnessed one of the most personal and private moments a human being can have.  I had not seen them before, and would no doubt never see them again.  Yet, there we were - our lives entwined for a brief hour or so, and then we would go our separate paths.  So far, almost 20 years later, my prediction has come true, at least for now.  Rev. Janes and Ed were not good friends - she was more of a colleague - and thus we have not kept in touch through the years.  I often think about that couple and my wish to have a good life.  I hope they have, and I hope they continue to live in happiness and peace.  But I will probably never know.
The reason I think about them so many years later is that our encounter made me consider the journey of our lives and the many people we come across.  Some of these people become lifelong friends.  Some are on paths that intersects with ours just for a brief moment, then move away forever.  Some weave in and out of our lives like a drunk trying to walk a straight line for a policeman.  Some are close friends with whom we lose touch because of various life circumstances and with whom we delightfully reconnect many years later.  Some are just strangers and will remain strangers, but we share individual moments in time - some momentous, others mundane.  A smile and greeting exchange at a cash register.  Someone in the audience complimenting me when I performed at a dinner theater.  A former classmate with whom I shared a few years of adolescence.  One of my kids’ teachers I met at open house (although - one of those teachers turned out to become my son-in-law - you never know about those chance encounters....).  The friendly policeman who stopped me at a routine roadblock when I was driving home from work at midnight.  The librarian who used to check out my books when I was a little girl.  The flight attendant who knew I was scared to fly and who tried to reassure me.  The hairdresser who made me look good for my daughter’s wedding.  The nurse who made sure I had a chance to see my brand-new grandbaby, as I was alone in the hospital room watching over everyone’s belongings. 
Then there are the churches we served.  Just like military families, United Methodist ministers move around, appointed to one place, moving to another place, constantly saying hello and goodbye.  Each congregation, each member, affected us in some way.  Some showed us how to be a Christian, and others showed us how not to be.  Every single one a teacher.  
Ed had a seminary professor once who told him that two human beings cannot cross, even for the briefest of moments, without having an effect on the other.  Each one of us is permanently changed by every encounter.  We may not realize it, but we are.
I have even been changed and continue to be changed by total strangers.  Facebook now puts things in my “newsfeed” when one of my friends “likes” a post.  These posts originate from strangers, but I see them as they are shared and many of them make me think, which is always a good thing.  Some of these posts remind me to appreciate life, or how it costs nothing to be kind.  I inadvertently see pictures of complete strangers who have just gotten engaged, married, or had a baby.  I see hopes and dreams and happiness in their eyes, and for a short moment, we connect, as one human being to another, and I join in their happiness.  Then I see a post from a stranger who is grieving - a suicide, and auto accident, a pet who died.  Again, I share a moment and grieve with them.  These are people I have never met and will probably never meet.  But we connect on a very human level, even for a few seconds.
That is what it boils down to - shared humanity.  Every time I encounter another human being, I want to try to remember that this encounter will change us.  And if I can remember that, maybe I can do all in my power to make the change a blessing for both of us.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

An Open Letter to My Facebook Friends

When I was diagnosed with depression last winter, I found a 7-step program to overcome it.  One of the steps was to get out and commune with nature every day.  So I’ve been parading around our yard, enjoying all the wildflowers and everything else popping up all around.  We have everything from irises to lupines to a giant hosta, plus woods with maples, pines, oaks, and all manner of trees.  Lots of stuff growing out there, varied and beautiful.
It occurred to me that my Facebook friends are another kind of garden, just as varied as the life brought forth from the earth on the property around our house.  Variety?  Heck, yes!  Just perusing over my list of friends, I see all kinds of religions - Episcopal, Unitarian, United Methodist, Congregational, Church of Christ, Baptist, Catholic, and assorted other nondenominational Christians.  Some of you are agnostics and atheists.  My friends run the gamut of Republican, Democrat, Independents, and those who couldn’t care less about politics.  Some of you hate Obama and some of you adore Obama.  You may be vegans, vegetarians, or carnivores.  I have fitness-oriented friends and couch potatoes.  I have optimists and pessimists.  I have friends in their 90s and friends that are still teenagers.  I have gay friends, married and single.  I have straight friends who are married and single, some widowed, some divorced. I have Southerners and Yankees and transplants. Some of you are teachers, medical field workers, musicians, animal activists, gay activists, a children’s chorus director, airplane pilots, landlords, a riverboat captain, a librarian, a hairdresser, farmers, some small business owners, and many more who represent assorted other careers.  How do I know all these people?  Some of you friends I met through quilting, through medical transcription, or through music.  Some of you are or have been my co-workers. Some of you were classmates from high school, or friends from churches, both ones we attended and ones we pastored. Two of you are my former teachers.  Some of you are neighbors from decades ago in Tennessee, others are neighbors from just a few years ago in Ellsworth, Maine, and some of you are neighbors living in our current neighborhood.  Some of you I got to know because our kids grew up together, and some of you are friends of our kids who grew up to become our own friends!  Some of you are people I have known all my life, and some of you I have actually never met in person.  Of course, some of you are just members of my crazy, beloved family.  
Now look again at that extensive list.  What are the chances we all agree on everything?  Nil.  What are the chances I care deeply about each and every Facebook friend? 100%.  I am so honored to share in your birthdays, anniversaries and weddings.  I am so honored to grieve with you in your losses of loved ones, pets as well as humans.  I am so honored to watch your kids and grandkids come into this world, grow up, and I cheer with you their successes in a variety of fields.  I travel vicariously on your vacations. I sympathize with (or envy) your weather.  I love your pet pictures and stories.  I am awash in memories of how you people have contributed to my life.  Some of you have taught me, some have challenged me.  Some have inspired me, some have made me - yes - laugh out loud!  Some have passions for ideas I do not share.  Some of you are rejoicing over things happening in our country, and others of you are fearful and despondent about what is happening.  Like my yard, my Facebook friend garden is full and varied.  It is a garden of HUMAN BEINGS in all of their humanness, failures, triumphs, love, and fear.  Certainly we don’t think alike.  Certainly our experiences have led some of us to different conclusions and beliefs from others.  Certainly we grew up in different environments and were taught different things.  I have, I’m sure, something (if I wish to concentrate on the negative) to separate me from each of you. I also, however, have something in common with each of you - and that is what I choose to concentrate on.  I care about you all.  I care about what is going on in your lives, your struggles, your challenges.  I want you to find the happiness you all deserve.  The major thing we have in common?  We want the best for each other, even if we disagree with how best to effect that.
I am not advocating we abandon our passions.  I am not suggesting it would be better if we each gave up our beliefs and integrity to just blend in.  I am suggesting we all treat each other with respect and dignity, not pass around unsubstantiated rumors, not demonize those “on the other side,” and to remember the complexity of that which we call life.  We are required to live our own lives in accordance with our own personal beliefs, yet simultaneously respect those with whom we disagree.
I will end with my dad’s favorite poem by Edwin Markham:
“He drew a circle that shut me out-
Heretic , rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:

We drew a circle and took him In!"

Saturday, May 09, 2015

An Open Letter to My Dad

Daddy, I can’t believe it’s been 35 years we have lived without you.  It seems just like yesterday I got the phone call from Mama on Mother’s Day, and I remember my shock when she said, “We’re taking your Daddy to the hospital.  I’ve called an ambulance,” and then in the background, the last words I ever heard from you, “I don’t need an ambulance!”  Ed stayed with little Rachel as I drove to Methodist Hospital’s emergency room. I remember standing there, still in shock, watching the crew wheel you in on a gurney as fast as they could run.  That glimpse was the last time I saw you alive.  I remember waiting the awful time in the private waiting room with Mom, then Zuleika came to sit with us.  I remember calling Joy, who was living in Washington, DC, to tell her and she said she would catch the next plane out.  I don’t know how much time passed before Dr. Murdock walked in and said they had done everything they could, but you were gone.  I remember calling Joy back and telling her it was too late to say goodbye.  Shock was just not a strong enough word for what we were feeling.  Our world had turned upside down in one afternoon and we have never been the same.  After Mama agreed to donate your corneas, saying quietly, “I think he would want that,” we left to go to Paw-Paw’s to deliver the sad news.  I remember how he cried uncontrollably, and as you were only 64 years old and he was, of course, your father-in-law, he kept saying over and over, “It should have been me, it should have been me.”  I don’t remember much about the days that followed.  I do remember walking around in your den, the room filled with your reel-to-reel tapes, your stamps, your movies, your choir music - everything that brought you pleasure.  I saw a lifetime unfinished, less than 4 months from the retirement you so ardently anticipated.
In the midst of our grief, you did make me chuckle when Joy and I looked in the files for any information or planning you might have done.  There was a folder marked “Ensley Death” which had what we needed.  Of course, you, the great organizer and recorder, would have done so!  Your funeral was standing room only.  We sang “Lead On, O King Eternal,” and “God Be With You ‘Til we Meet Again.”  I sang “Be Thou My Vision” and Zuleika sang “Eternal Life.”  I remember an abundance of food being brought to us, but I also remember Mama didn’t eat for days.
When you died, you had one grandchild, Rachel, who would turn 2 years old in a few weeks.  Thirty-five years later, you have 4 grandchildren, one who would take Ensley as a middle name, and 4 great-grandchildren! Since you died, Joy has gotten married and has two wonderful, talented daughters.  I’m so sorry you didn’t get to see Ed attain sobriety in 1984, but, as Ed always says to me, “He knows.”  Ed went into ministry and then in 1996 we moved to Maine, where our kids met the wonderful people they married.  Mama is turning 92 this year, and Joy is taking care of her needs enough to enable her to live in an apartment on her own.  I know Mama was always your “little girl” because you married her when she was 19 and you were 8 years older.  You always took care of her and I know it would make you happy to realize she is still being lovingly cared for, as we are doing what you cannot do anymore.  I know you would be so proud of Rachel, Matthew, Kate, and Amelia, as well as the great-grandchildren.  We keep your name alive.  I remember when Rachel was watching your family home movies in the last few years, it brought her to tears, and she said, “I realized how much love is in this family into which I was born!”
Since you left, the world has changed a lot too!  I remember when videos were just coming on the scene, I asked you if you were interested in updating from the old silent home movies, and you laughed and said, “I’ll leave that for y’all.”  Who would have imagined we’d all be carrying smart phones in our pockets - or ditched encyclopedias for Google?  You left this world before the personal computer, before e-mail, before the Internet.  I wish you could have hung around to be able to peruse, sample, and order choir music online, to research your stamp collection, and to share your interests with people all over the world.  You were made for the Internet, Daddy!  And guess what? We elected our first African-American President, and gay marriage is now allowed in many states!  Times are moving fast.
Unfortunately, the world itself is still in turmoil.  Wars are everywhere, even wars using the Internet.  Injustice and inequality are still rampant.  People are still using God’s name to kill everyone who doesn’t believe the same way they do.  People still are straining in vain to hear the ideas of your favorite Bible verse:  “What does the Lord require of thee?  But to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.”  
But guess what, Daddy?  Your home movies are alive and on the Internet!  You recordings are being painstakingly transferred by Joy to digital format where they can be shared with those who want to hear them.  And I sat down tonight with your oldest great-granddaughter, Caroline, and together we listened to a recording you made of Joy and me when we were 4 and 2 years old.  What a priceless gift - decades after their origination!
Yes, a lot of remarkable changes in 35 years, in your family and on Earth.  But the true values you instilled in us - integrity, truth, justice, equality, service, faith - and your love of music, your curiosity, your passion for learning, your sense of humor - these are the values that never change.  These are the things I give thanks for today, as I sit here, myself now 60 years old.  Joy and I and our families are here because of you.  Countless people have been affected by your love.  The actions and stands you took in your lifetime have furthered the cause of justice and inspired many.

As a country, we just honored the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s death.  I am taking the time here to honor just as great a man on the 35th anniversary of his death.  Daddy, we miss you, we love you, and look forward to seeing you again.  Thanks for everything!

Monday, April 13, 2015


We recently had the chance to watch our granddaughter, Caroline, tie for sixth in the Maine State Spelling Bee.  It was an exciting experience in its own right, but I couldn't help think of our frustrating experience with a spelling bee years ago.  When Rachel was in 5th grade, my husband Ed was a pastor in an impoverished area of Tennessee.  We had chosen to send both kids to the public school, and it wasn’t long before we realized that the teachers unfortunately were rather uneducated themselves.  This fact was highlighted in the school spelling bee.  It may help to understand that we have a family tradition of spelling excellence - after all, I managed to place in the Shelby County (Memphis) bee in junior high, and my sister and our children have always been great spellers.  So it was with great anticipation Ed and I attended Rachel’s bee.  It wasn’t long before I realized that the teachers who were leading the bee did not know how to correctly pronounce the words.  It seemed impossible that a bee could be attempted when student were given mispronounced words, but that is what happened.  With every word, I was reaching the limits of my patience.  The breaking point for me nearly came when a teacher gave the word “cherub.”  She pronounced it chrub, like shrub.  Now what child could spell that word correctly, given that pronunciation?  The teacher put the accent on the wrong syllable!  Come to think of it, I should have been forewarned, as a week before, Rachel told us her teacher was teaching the class about a country called “Gu’em” (accent on the first syllable) which turned out to be Guam.

Fast forward decades, and now I am a medical transcriptionist who after years of transcribing for American providers is now trying to decipher dictators from India, Brazil, the Philippines, and eastern European countries.  For months I was totally confused.  They were speaking English, but not any English that was familiar to me.  I recently realized that one of the problems was that most of these dictators were putting the accent on the wrong syllables.  Esophagus became e-zo-FA-gus.  Ever since that realization, when I’m stumped about what I hear, I try to imagine if the word were said with the accent on a different syllable, and I will usually figure out the correct syllable, and understand clearly what the word is supposed to be.  But when the accent is on the wrong syllable, the whole situation can be confusing and frustrating, limiting communication, and putting up what seem like insurmountable barriers.

It occurred to me that life itself, in a broader sense, is made up of syllables.  Love, tolerance, hope, compassion, encouragement, gratitude, as well as hate, distrust, intolerance, anger, and especially, fear.  I believe the syllable of fear underlines so much of our daily interactions, and it is the syllable we accent by default.  Fear of not having enough money, fear of death, fear of losing our jobs, fear of failure, fear of not being accepted, fear of never finding a mate, fear of growing old, fear of losing independence, fear of crime, fear of flying - you name it - fear seems to be our accent of choice.  How much of a difference would it make if we chose to accent love and all that entails?  Where the accent goes makes a world of difference, and...I believe... can make a difference in the world.  

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Where is Carson?

Why haven’t I blogged in months?  Consider this: Since the last time I blogged - 
1.  I lost my 18-year job at our local hospital in August when they decided to close down transcription and outsource it all.
2.  I had to set up a home office from scratch on short notice, costing over $2000 with no severance pay to help with the expense and get used to a much smaller salary.
3.  I started a new job where half of my dictators are English-second-language folks and it is a huge learning curve trying to understand what they are saying.
4.  Our 3-year-old border collie died of epilepsy.
5.  My 91-year-old mom developed a stress fracture and we are considering moving her to assisted living.
6.  My sister lost her job to outsourcing as well.
7.  Our debit card was hacked again.

Now, I’ve heard of stress, but this seems like a bit much happening within a short amount of time.  What was the hardest thing about losing my job?  Believe it or not, it was the transition and all that entailed.  I had to choose new insurance plans, call Aflac and arrange direct payments instead of payroll deduction, notify providers of the insurance change, decide what to do with my retirement fund with the hospital, figure out which computer et al to buy for a home office, paint the room, choose virus software and make sure all required software for my new job was up and running, call the cable company to install a new connection, decide where to put my exercise equipment as the room was being turned over to an office, cancel and/or reschedule appointments in light of a different work schedule, make decisions about how to handle our medical reimbursement fund, make sure I keep receipts for the IRS for future home office deductions....whew!  The list makes me tired just looking at it.  

Do you know what I kept thinking the whole time (well, in between my crying jags and don’t-want-to-get-out-of-bed days)?  I need a Carson!  

I’m a big Downton Abbey fan, and Carson is their butler.  Carson is always saying things like, “This problem is too small to worry his Lordship about.  I will take care of it.”  Or...”This problem is too big to worry his Lordship about.  I will take care of it.”  Carson is the transition man, the go-to man when something happens - and he usually successfully intercedes before Lord Grantham has to deal with it.  It is Carson’s job to handle transitions.  Carson calls the insurance company, Carson deals with Aflac, Carson calls the pension fund people, Carson cancels and reschedules appointments, Carson makes sure the bills are paid on time.   God bless Carson!

We all need a Carson in our lives.  Life’s transitions are just too involved nowadays; why, even a simple phone call can result in an hour of wait time listening to horrible music and even after reaching a live person, can be put on hold and/or transferred to other live people who know just as little.  The whole process is exhausting.  

It reminds me of when years ago my sister Joy started a home business of gift baskets.  She was trying to do it in her spare time and work 40 hours a week at her other job.  At one point, she realized there were meal bugs in some of edible goodies she had ordered.  The bugs had spread.  Poor Joy had to make the decision to close up shop.  She told me, “If I had been working full time and had no bugs, I could have done it.  Or, conversely, if I had the bugs but no full-time job, I could have dealt with it.  But - the stress of working full-time PLUS the meal bugs was just too overwhelming to fight.”

It was hard enough to lose my job and start over.  But the overwhelming part came when the energy to train in my new job was vying with the energy it took for my to-do list.  And, as life always goes on, there were the usual things to keep up with - bills to be paid, Christmas gifts to be purchased, bank statements to be reconciled, house cleaning to be done.  

How wonderful it would have been to have a Carson!  Most of the problems would have been taken care of before the news of them even reached my ears, and the rest I could have said, “Thank you, Carson.  You handle it; I trust your judgment.”  

Alas, I am my own Carson.  Husband Ed, of course, was a big help (especially in the encouragement department) but most of the jobs nevertheless had to be accomplished by me.  

After mulling this over for a time, I have come to realize that Lord Grantham is missing out a lot on life - for the petty problems he doesn’t have to handle are the very ones that constitute the mundane reality of life, and the big transitions that he doesn’t have to maneuver are the life-changing ones that we learn from - how to combat cynicism, depression, anxiety.  Handling these situations gives us more self-confidence when we come out on the other end, scratched up a little but still alive and kicking, with more lessons learned.  For to feel the confidence of meeting challenges, you have to be given challenges.  To feel the joy of overcoming adversity, you have to be given adversity.  To be courageous, you have to have something to fear.  

A Carson of my own would have been so helpful.  But I am a different person today than I was in August, and it’s all because I don’t have a Carson to handle everything for me, and maybe that's a good thing.  Hmm... why am I suddenly in the mood for a cup of nice hot tea?  

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Gift for Generations

Our dad, Ensley Tiffin, was a recorder.  He was a documenter.  His two most important priorities were his church and his family, and in the 1950s, Ensley Tiffin decided to buy a movie camera and document both for posterity.  My goodness, he had no idea exactly what kind of posterity he was dealing with.
We didn’t have much money growing up, and Dad hardly ever spent money on himself, as he had a family to support.  He did have a stamp collection he lovingly organized, but he allowed himself two major expenses (and they, of course, were for the family):  A yearly family vacation trip, and home movies.   He took movies at home and at church, and carefully separated them, splicing each scene in its respective category, because as he put it, “I don’t want to bore the family with church movies or the church folks with family movies.”  So by the time he died in 1980, he had amassed several decades’ worth of church movies, mostly of the church where we grew up, Harris Memorial Methodist Church in Memphis.  The fact that they were "silent" movies did not detract from the vibrant personalities of those who were filmed.
Most people who knew him remember Ensley with a camera up in front of his face.  His favorite place to stand was out on the sidewalk in front of the church, taking movies of everyone walking out the front door and down the steps.  It’s fascinating to watch them now - the ladies with their flowery hats and gloves, kids in suits and dresses with petticoats and patent leather shoes, elderly ladies with their elbows held by one of the men who helped them maneuver the steps, a group of men gathering to smoke out on the curb.  I always love to watch the people who were initially unaware of the camera, then a smile (usually a startled look, then a embarrassed or delighted grin) broke across their faces when they realized they were being filmed.  Some of the older folks weren’t used to a movie camera, so they would stand very still until Dad told them, “You can move, you know.”  The children would run around like crazy, enjoying the freedom after being cooped up for Sunday school and the worship service, many of them carrying little crafts they made or pamphlets from their Sunday school handouts.
And the parties!  Back in the ‘50s, the “young adults” who were starting their families (our parents) in the church weren’t financially well off, but they loved to have a good time, so they did it on the cheap.  Let’s have a costume party!  A talent show!  Hey, let’s dress up like hobos and each bring a can of stew and we’ll pour all the cans into one big pot and ladle it out!  Let’s have a “womanless wedding,” where all the men dress up as a wedding party!  Let’s put on a show that parodies all these crazy TV ads!  The costumes were clever and always homemade.  The laughter was contagious.  The parties were memorable.  The church fellowship hall, Moffett Hall, was the place to be!  
Of course, there were the pictures of the Easter altars, some pans of the choirs from different years, the Christmas programs, a few weddings, some picnics, and some softball games.  These movies run the gamut.  
Harris Memorial closed after over 100 years of service, then later the church building tragically burned down.  Like little capsules of time, though, the people in these home movies have shared something precious.  Some of us were there the whole time, others were there for just a few years.  Some of us have kept in touch for decades.  Some have lost touch but reconnected.  Some we can't find at all. We all share this though:  We know what it was like to be running around on that sidewalk after church.  We know where the hall was that Lib Wilson scared us as a witch at the Halloween party.  We know what was in that closet under the stairs leading to the sanctuary.  We can visualize that pulpit at which so many ministers preached.  We can see in our minds the door where Billy Grogan stood and counted heads so he could record the attendance.  We know what the choir loft looked like, we know where every restroom was, where every Sunday school room was, how the pews were laid out. We especially remember the light (and sometimes the wasps!) coming in those gorgeous old stained glass windows.  We are the last generation to have experienced these things first-hand.  These movies Dad left us remind us of a time gone by, experiences that changed every single person who was involved, in one way or another.
Last week with the death of another church member, I felt a strong urge to get these movies up and out there where people can see them.  We have lost too many of our “church family” already, and before long, there won’t be anybody around to appreciate them.  So Facebook it was.
In the last few years, my sister Joy and I had been looking into the possibility of publishing a collection of Dad’s letters, and have run into the stumbling block of legal ownership - Do the letters Dad wrote belong to us or the recipients - and do the letters he received in return belong to us or the writers?  That’s all being worked on.
However, with his movies, we know to whom they belong.  They belong to Marti, whose grandfather died shortly before she was born.  She gets to watch him “photobomb” scene after scene in his animated and delightful way.  They belong to Sheila, who recognized her late parents in a scene - filmed on their wedding day.  Sheila wrote me, “I just can't tell you how blessed my heart was this morning when I unexpectedly saw this...This video helped me beyond what I can ever tell you. I've seen pictures of my parents but to see them moving in this video !!!!!!........ There are no words!”  They belong to Phyllis, who felt blessed to see her grandfather; to the Grogan and Underwood families, who can watch their matriarch, Zuleika, who died just this week, demonstrate how she “blacked out” her teeth for a comedy routine to look as if she had some missing. They belong to the Tanners and Fosters and Prescotts and Agees and Archards, the Glasheens and Wilsons and Fletchers, the Rogans and Basses and Yarwoods and countless others who can see their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and other relatives, so many who have passed on.  And they especially belong, I think, to the children. They belong to every child who was recorded singing in the Christmas program or playing an instrument, every kid who contorted his or her face at the camera, or who was maneuvered to line up out on the sidewalk for a group shot.  My sister Joy and I were two of those kids - kids who are now grown, many of us with children and grandchildren of our own.  We get to watch our little selves grow up in these films.
It’s kind of ironic that Dad once told us, “If anything happens to me, don’t just let my stamp collection go; take it to be appraised, as there may be some stamps worth something in there.”  Joy and I did exactly that a few years ago - and we were told his stamp collection was considered worthless except for sentimental value.
What he thought might be valuable was not...and his real priceless legacy, his gift to generations of people he had never even met, has turned out to be his precious home movies.  The gift for generations.  At the time he recorded them, he would have not dreamed of the Internet, and that one day his beloved movies would be available for anyone to enjoy.  That time has come, and I feel blessed to be a part of it. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

An Open Letter to Medical Dictators - Tips!

Dear Doctor/Mr./Ms./PA, FNP, CNM, etc:
If you spend what seems like an inordinate time dictating, I am sure you spend an equal amount of time wondering how you could improve the lives of the folks listening to you on the dictation poor medical transcriptionists.  I know your time is valuable, and so is ours, and I know you think for the most part we do a good job and you are aware that improving things on your end would make it easier for the MTs to do our jobs...but try as you might, you have until now not figured out how to do that.
It’s probably safe to say you’ve never had an MT sit down with you and tell you how to improve your dictation.  Well, here’s your opportunity - listen and learn!
The first thing is the “pause” key.  You know those times when you have to sit and think in the middle of the dictation, or maybe search for lab tests in the patient record?  Most dictators think the pause key is the way to go.  That way, the MT is not sitting, waiting, fuming, during minutes of silence until you come back on to continue the dictation.  Well, I’m here to tell you to NEVER use the pause key!  MTs would much prefer the silence - it gives us time to give ourselves a manicure, for instance.  And those of us who get paid by line - don’t give a thought to how you are stealing money out of our pockets with dead air space when we could be making lines.  I mean - really, we didn’t really need to pay the mortgage this month.  I’m sure the bank will understand.  Bonus points for this:  If your phone rings and you let the dictation run and pick up the phone and carry on a private...I mean PRIVATE...conversation that we can listen to - that really makes our day!
I know you sometimes like to dictate on the cell phone while doing other things.  That’s great!  There are a few times you must absolutely be sure to dictate on a cell phone - when driving (don’t worry about running over that kid on a bicycle - the emergency room needs the business) - and at sports games, because the guy next to you, who never heard of HIPAA, has really enjoyed hearing the private medical details of his neighbor’s hospitalization.  And yes, some MTs are sports fans and we love to hear the games too.  If you’re not at the game in person, just dictate while you watch the game on TV, and make sure the volume is turned way up.  The same effect applies to the news.  MTs are so busy, we miss a lot of news, so we can listen vicariously through you.  Just make sure the volume of the TV is higher than the volume of your voice so we can stay informed.  Thanks!
Speaking of volume, if you really want to make MTs swoon, eat while you dictate.  After all, we know you’re too busy to do just one thing at a time, and we love to take turns trying to identify the particular food you are consuming, since we hear every bite so clearly.  After all, we get bored listening to your voice over and over.  Throw a few potato or corn chips in the mix, and it gives us a break from your monotone delivery.  Now regarding chips, you do know some are louder than others, don’t you?  We prefer the really crunchy kind - they make the loudest decibels in our ears.  And you get extra credit if you rustle around in a plastic bag to retrieve them!  Makes me giddy just thinking about it.  If you don’t have chips handy, there are alternatives, such as popcorn, crackers, and celery.  Use your creative imagination and surprise us!  Or, if you don’t feel like crunching on a certain day, go with...
Hard candy.  Mmmm...that sucking sound is out of this world.  And it even gets better while you try to talk through the sucks! Who cares if there are blanks in the medical record?  It’s worth it because YOU SUCK!
You silly dictators - always trying to please us in the most charming ways.  Sharing your mealtime and snack time with us is so nice!  We love to try to distinguish what you are saying through all the dietary intake.  Bonus points if we can hear you actually swallow liquids- and double bonus points if we can hear you make other bodily noises down below!  (Going into the bathroom?  We feel honored to come along!)
We know there are some times when you have the sniffles.  Aw, Mr. or Ms. Practitioner - we feel for ya!  Sometimes if we’re really lucky, you will sneeze or blow your nose DIRECTLY INTO THE PHONE.  Oh, yeah!  Some people might find that disgusting, but it just gives MTs a  reason to visit the ENT doctor for burst eardrums - after all, we need regular medical care for our ears, as they are our most valuable asset, right?  Thanks for giving us the impetus we need to go for a checkup!
We know how hard it is for you with all these foreign-sounding names these days, too.  When you admit a patient with the last name of Klzyakchkzn, please don’t bother to spell it or even give us the first letter.  It makes it like a treasure hunt for us!  Gives us a much-needed break during our shift.  Be sure not to give us any clues like a birthdate - clues are for sissies.  We want to spend the next hour  trying to find the correct patient - but if we accidentally put it on the wrong patient, that won’t really matter, will it?   Hey, things happen.  It’s our fault anyway - everybody should know how to spell Klzyakchkzn!  Bonus points if you say your dictation is on “Baby Boy Smith” and the real name of the kid listed in the electronic medical record is Chester Anderson Grobenoff III.   Just because his mom’s name is Smith, just go ahead and assume it’s the same for the kid. Your time is too valuable to double check that; please, let us do that for you.  
There are some words that sound so alike if you talk fast and/or slur:  Regular, irregular.  Hypertension, hypotension.  Incomplete, complete.  But that’s OK.  What difference does it make whether the patient has hypertension or hypotension anyway?  I’m sure the nurses know what’s what - they certainly don’t need to see it in the medical record correctly.

I think I’ve about covered it all.  If you want more tips, we MTs are always happy to give them to you.  After all, that telephone line is a direct communication link between you and us - and the whole communication involves the entire health record of thousands of people.  I know we both want to do things right.  Right?  (Or left?  Oh well, it doesn’t really matter, doesn’t it?)

Sunday, May 18, 2014

A necklace and poems!

I got the most wonderful Mother's Day gifts - a handmade necklace from my creative daughter-in-law which featured a thumbprint from 3-year-old Joshua and his 1-year-old sister Emily, a sweet card from my son, and then today I got poems written by my other two grandkids and my daughter (the latter who does not grant me permission to publish here!).  So here is my necklace:

And here are my poetic tributes:

From Charlotte, age 8
Dear Grammy:
I love that you're such a great singer,
And you can be strict just by wagging your finger.
I know when we're with you, we keep you a-hoppin';
My favorite part is you take us a-shoppin'!

Happy Mother's Day!

From Caroline, age 11 (3 poems)

Poem #1
And smart.

You steal
My heart.

and Definite.

My love
For you
Is strongly infinite.

Poem #2
Your music is infectious
Your love is very strong.
Your face can light the darkest room
And everyone else follows right along.

Your music is infectious
Your heart beats pure love.
Your blood is filled with many a tear,
But I cannot tell you enough -
I love you more than words can say
That only music can explain.
And it's more than likely
That it'd be yours -
Your music is infectious.

Poem #3
My feelings vary not for you
My love is more than enough.
My heart exceeds the largest limit
On the inside I'm like melted chocolate
Though I may look very tough.
I act like nothing scares me
But that is very untrue.
My eyes fill with happiness
At the mention of your name
And may feelings vary not for you.


The things my daughter wrote in her poem and that my son wrote in his card will not be written here, but suffice it to say they both made me cry.

If my legacy consists only of these two children and these four grandchildren, my life will have been worth it.  I am so blessed!

Monday, April 21, 2014

I must be getting old

...when blacks sat at the back of the bus.  Mom would take my sister and me shopping in downtown Memphis, and each time we rode the bus, I would see all the blacks sitting towards the back.  I always thought they liked it that way - why else would they sit there?  

....when women wore gloves and hats to church every Sunday.

....when the Blue Laws were in effect.  For those who have never heard of this, the Blue Laws were a set of laws which made illegal the selling of certain things on Sunday.  The Old Testament says the Sabbath (Saturday) should be a day of rest, which was basically a Jewish thing,  but the Christians said the Sabbath was now Sunday and that the "not working" condition applied to them, and they decided that if a product in a store couldn't be used without "working," then that product would be forbidden for sale on Sunday.  So I remember going into a store on Sunday after church and seeing white sheets covering half of the store merchandise, and learned why after asking Dad.  So you could buy a ready-to-eat item but not something that needed cooking, etc.  No bleach because that meant you were washing something.   Confused the heck out of me!

....when the phone receiver was attached to the phone and to get any privacy, you had to drag the phone as far as you could, then receiver cord a little more.  And there were no answering machines.  If you missed a call, you just missed a call.

....when bills were only paid through the mail, as there was no internet, no computers.

....when phones couldn't take pictures and cameras used real film that you had to take to the store to get developed and wait to see your pictures.

....when Daddy recorded church services and other interesting things on reel-to-reel tapes.  Later he graduated to a cassette player.  Yeah, I remember cassettes too.

....when we rode around in a car without seat belts or air bags or car seats.

....when the TV had 4 channels and you actually had to get up and walk over to it to change a channel or change the volume.  There were no recording devices to record a show to watch later.  As with the telephone, if you missed a show, you just missed it.

...when an interactive doll meant one whose eyes closed when you put her on her back.

....when you could buy records at many stores.

....when women wore corsages on Mother's Day and my sister and I wore rosebuds from our rose bushes.  We were told the flowers were white if your mom was dead, but were red if she was still alive.

....when there was no thing as a "digital" clock or watch.  Clocks and watches were round, had all the numbers in a circle, and you had to learn how to tell time with the two revolving hands.

....when kids used to get all new clothes for Easter - including socks and underwear and brand new shoes.

....when "home movies" didn't have sound - and to watch them, you had to get out a screen and projector.

....when girls at our high school weren't allowed to wear pants.  That changed in the era of the miniskirt when Memphis had a very cold winter.  The rule was restated to say girls couldn't wear pants except during the winter, but once the door was opened, it pretty much became okay.  Never jeans, though!

....when classes had chalkboards instead of dry-erase boards.

....when the smell of mimeograph paper accompanied all tests.

....when we had to hang clothes outside on the clothesline to dry.

....when you had to type school papers on a regular typewriter, trying to guess how much room you needed at the bottom for footnotes.

....when the garbage collectors had to walk to the back of the house by the garage to empty the garbage cans.

....when there were two water fountains in stores - one for "whites" and one for "colored."

....when everyone had to look up a phone number in the phone book instead of on Google.

....when you "dialed" the phone and "rolled down" the windows in the car.  We Boomers still use these terms, even though the phone no longer has a dial and the car windows are button-controlled.

...when every night on the evening news, they would list the death toll in the war in Vietnam.

....when you'd go to the doctor and see prescription pads with his name on them just lying around.

...when freezers needed periodic defrosting and you made ice by using ice trays.

...when the regular adult combo at McDonald's was the same size as the Happy Meal today.

...when sewing patterns cost 50 cents.

....when gas cost 35 cents a gallon.

....when our family of 4  could stay in a motel for one night for $12.

....when there was no airport security.

....when Cokes came out of the Coke machine in small glass bottles.

....when cigarettes were sold everywhere in coin-operated machines - no ID required.

....when doctors used to smoke cigarettes when rounding on patients.

....when you had to use a card catalog to look up books at the library.

...when Memphis had two daily newspapers.

...when you could buy candy cigarettes.

...when cigarette ads were all over TV.

...when Elvis was still alive.

...when parents had to wait until delivery to find out their baby's gender.

...when bank security was so lax, they let my sister and me play around back in the tellers' area and even step into the vault (Dad was a teller).

...when most homes boasted a set of encyclopedias that were outdated as soon as they were printed but which occasionally would save you a trip to the library.

...when personal hair dryers were humongous hoods you had to sit under.

...when families collected Quality Stamps, then traded them for merchandise.

...when one of our favorite restaurants still had the sign at the door that read, "We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone."  I remember asking Dad what that meant, and he sighed, shook his head and said, "They don't want to serve Negroes."

...when sewing machines only sewed a straight stitch.

...when it was safe to walk home alone from school.

...when we rode bikes and roller skated without helmets.

...when babysitters were paid 50 cents an hour.

...when grass was mowed with a rotary mower.

...when you had to wait until your favorite movie was broadcast on TV before you could see it again.

...when almost all toys and games needed no batteries.

...when Prince Charles was just a teenager.

...when a Dairy Queen cone cost a dime.  (I remember Dad every once in a while agreeing to take us to Dairy Queen, but it was a rare thing.  He said, "I hate to pay 40 cents for 4 cones when we could go to the grocery and get a half gallon of ice cream for 42 cents!)

....when the girls had to wear UGLY white one-piece shorts/top set for gym class.

...when the lions at the Memphis zoo were confined to small cages.

...when kids were lined up at a community center/hospital to receive polio vaccines in little sugar cubes.

...when we lived through hot summers without air conditioning.

...when a family of 4 could share a small house with only one bathroom and only one phone and only one car and somehow it all worked out.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

A Riddle

Every day I call my mom in Memphis and in the process of catching up, she always asks for a joke.  I have had to buy joke books and search the Internet for appropriate ones (after all, she is my mother!) and in the process have stumbled across a few great riddles too.

My latest riddle is this:  You have 2 coins that add up to 30 cents.  One is NOT a nickel.  What 2 coins do you have?

The answer is simple and obscure at the same time.    Just think about it.

The answer is....

A quarter and a nickel.   

"What?!" you say indignantly.  "I thought you said one was NOT a nickel!"  

That's right - a quarter is not a nickel.  Feel free to hit your head on something.

This riddle encompasses everything about how we think.  The riddle says "One is not a nickel," but we hear/read this:  "Neither one is a nickel."  Big difference.

Countless books have been written about "thinking outside the box."  (Believe me, I'm a e-book addict and I know.)  The box is what we are handed in life.  We assume the answers are inside, and we assume the person who handed us the box, indeed the person who describes to us what is in the box, has our best interests at heart.  Not always the case.  Sometimes our brain is required to interpret. And our brain, though remarkably intricate, is not infallible, as it is filled with false assumptions, prejudices, ideas that are less than truthful, and, yes, is skewed to hear what we want to hear.

Riddles like this can turn your thinking upside down and inside out.  It makes you question everything you think you know, because we interpret and assume so many ideas based on what we think we have heard/read.  Each new day brings a new opportunity to think again, twist an idea, try out an experiment, see things from a different point of view, and challenge our assumptions.  As they say, statistics can lie, depending on who is using them.

The next time you hear something that someone asserts is "fact," stop and think.  It may indeed be fact, but, on the other hand, you may be hearing "Neither one is a nickel" and your mind is led down the garden path of assumption.  And from personal experience, I know it's an easy, mindless walk, but in the end leads to nowhere very interesting.