Don’t we need to care about behavior that is not loving?

 

Last week I shared my thoughts about the toxic oil spill off the coast of Southern California that is killing wildlife and wreaking havoc. I discussed how powerful you and I are to help end these environmental disasters for good by curbing our dependency on fossil fuels so we create a clean environment for our children and all life.

And there is something else you and I can do that I believe is just as important to the health and well-being of all children. We can stop ignoring the small toxic leaks of unloving behavior in our relationships.

Little by little the hurtful drops of injury drip. Judgment, sarcasm, anger, frustration, projecting unresolved childhood wounding onto one another, dishonesty with ourselves about ourselves, and more. The hurt we feel causes us to want to escape into the fantasy that it is only one lie or one small drop of disrespect, deceit, avoidance, or cruelty. But the tiny drips of hurt accumulate. And unless these are found and stopped, each unkind word, each episode of ego-boxing and wounding one another in the name of love, adds up, eventually burying our relationships beneath accumulated heartbreak and dysfunction. This is damaging to us and our children. It is not what love does.

When we use excuses that we are rushed, distracted, angry, justified, or did not really mean it, or when we feel powerless to speak our truth, we’re refusing to face the little drops of pain we cause one another. Isn’t that the opposite of how love behaves?

Don’t we need to care that love is not supposed to be judgmental, bullying, cruel, or afraid to address the lasting wounds we cause one another?

Don’t we need to care what behaviors, attitudes, and words in our life and relationships are not loving?

Don’t we need to take our power and act? Be the positive change we want to see?

You may have noticed by now that regardless of whether it is the environment or in our relationships, waiting for a savior is not working. We must step up and be our own saviors, because as the famous quote attributed to Albert Einstein goes, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Which means we need to step off the wheel of feeling powerless. We do so by getting busy doing things differently to bring about different results in all of our relationships.

We intentionally face the fear of rocking a boat that is already leaking. We appreciate the fact that ignoring the toxic leaks in our relationships will not make them go away. We admit they will not clean themselves. We acknowledge that the dire situations we are creating in our families and in the world are not the legacy our children deserve.

We are powerful to change our hurtful family dynamics. We are adults who can bravely face the discomfort of feeling powerless. We take action and initiate conversation about bullying. We turn off mistreatment when we see it on television, in video games, and in social media. We stop listening to opinionated news commentary and the judgment that too often becomes the basis for our religious attitudes. We pay attention to how negative social media, our emotional absence, or trying to fit children into a specific box of our own making is robbing them of their childhood joy, undermining their self-esteem, and weakening their ability to connect with themselves, each other, and the natural world.  We look at our expectations, distractions, addictions to technology, and how we feel about ourselves and other people with the goal of transforming all we find to be toxic in our relationships.

No matter how insurmountable our challenges seem to be, we are powerful to overcome them when we keep foremost within our heart the understanding that love thinks before it speaks and listens as it wants to be heard. Love is emotionally present. Love overrules a wounded ego’s pride and the desire to fight fire with fire. Love stops us from seeking escape in the comfortable fantasies we create to avoid the hard to face.

It is a struggle for a butterfly to emerge from its cocoon. But once freed, it adds great beauty to the world.

We are in individual and collective cocoons of sorts, struggling to free ourselves from several great challenges. Let’s make this positive effort to create kinder and more connected relationships with ourselves, our families, and our neighbors.  Let’s talk about the challenging subjects of hurt and disrespect with the knowledge that we can transform these for the better. Let’s take care of our earth and our homes by recommitting to all our relationships with thoughtfulness, honesty, responsibility, emotional presence, and empathy.

We can emerge triumphant from the cocoon of feeling powerless. We can add great beauty to our relationships and the world. We simply accept that “I love you,” comes with the huge responsibility to actually love.

 

We Are Powerful

As I write this, there is an oil spill off the coast of Southern California. Tens of thousands of gallons of toxic sludge are killing wildlife and wreaking havoc on the environment. Yet oil spills and leaky pipes are nothing new, as dependency on fossil fuel goes hand in hand with environmental disaster. This horrible, and predictable, collateral damage is the very ugly side of the relationship we have with our automobiles, planes, and other fossil fuel—powered machinery and the convenience and mobility they bring to daily life.

When these disasters happen, many of us get upset and may even want to do something helpful. Yet I have often wondered why, when the current catastrophe is over, the majority of us simply go back to ignoring, or forgetting, or not caring about the ever-present onshore and offshore danger of a dependency on fossil fuel. Our temporary attention and alarm are quickly replaced with business as usual. It seems all it takes to close our eyes to the endless warning signs about the direction we are headed is a leak fixed, some wildlife cleaned up and released, and the news moving on to the next disaster or political standoff.

Why do we just move on instead of doing something proactive to end these disasters for good?

I have come to the conclusion that we do not know what to do. At times like these, we feel powerless. What can I, as one person, do? Feeling powerless and all alone to effect real change, we do not do what we can. We fall back on the comfort of inaction, preferring to believe life is really fine no matter what is happening around us. That disasters like these, unless they are in our backyard, do not really impact us, or they are not really that bad, or someone else will do something. We have great sympathy for others experiencing disasters far from us, but we do not dig deep enough to empathetically sit beside one another in the truth that if a crisis impacts other people and forms of life, it impacts us, too.

I believe the motivation to move on so quickly stems from the avoidance we developed as children when facing hurt, abuse, or difficult challenges. Because we were powerless to stop what was happening, we did not know what to do. The only thing we could do was escape, most often emotionally. Many of us created a fantasy world with the perfect family where everything was fine. A world filled with the magic of unicorns and the warmth of rainbows. But nothing in the fantasy world helped change the real world in which we lived.

Now that we are adults, I believe it is healthy for us to admit we have never met a unicorn or found a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Which means it is time for us to face reality. It is time to accept that we are not without power over our choice to consume fossil fuel. Maybe we take positive action, like installing solar panels on our home, purchasing an electric automobile, taking public transportation, walking, or selling our oil company stock and investing in renewable energy. With a little effort and care, we will discover numerous small things that, when done by many people, will create a big difference in dealing with the fossil fuel challenge impacting us all.

I will do as much as I can.  And I will leave what you can do to you.

But please remember that together we are not powerless. We are powerful! The small changes you and I make to our dependency on fossil fuel will help move us to a clean, sustainable planet for our children and theirs. Together we can be part of the solution, rather than continue to fuel (pun intended) the destruction of our outer environment. We do not have to leave this issue to our children.

Who are we? What is our reason for Being?

 

Since the beginning of recorded time, humans have documented the search for the answer to who we are. How did the ancients comprehend themselves among the points of light in the night sky? Did they feel small surrounded by the majesty of the natural world?

The Greek sage Aristotle wanted to understand our reality and believed all people, by nature, desire to know. Over the centuries, countless scientists and philosophers continued the quest to discover our place in the universe and the meaning of life. Since the mid-twentieth century, physicists have worked on a Theory of Everything, a single formula to answer all of our big questions.

You and I are no different from the great pursuers of significant answers in our desire to truly be aware of ourselves. Each of us is hard-wired to examine and navigate the ever-growing realm of inner and outer discovery.  With each new achievement, we seem more certain of who we are.

We are physical beings capable of fantastic feats of strength and endurance. We are intellectual beings who create scientific, medical, and technological marvels. We are emotional beings with an extraordinary capacity for sensitivity.  We experience ourselves and our surroundings through the senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste.

In addition to the physical, emotional, and intellectual capacities and the senses by which we perceive stimuli originating from outside or inside our body, a higher wisdom exists within us. I have known it from my first memory.

I was eighteen months old.  I was watching my newborn sister being carried by two nuns down a long sidewalk.  The tips of their hats flopped up and down in rhythm to their synchronized footsteps.  I was aware of each step, each sway of their robes as they moved closer and closer.  My senses were heightened. The sky was a magnificent deep blue.  Seagulls squawked overhead.  The air smelled like the sea. A cool breeze raised goose-bumps on my arm.

I watched expectantly from the back seat of our car as the nuns gently placed a bundle in my mother’s lap.  I peeked over the seat and saw a tiny pink face, eyes squeezed tight against the bright sunlight.

Unable to have children of their own, our parents adopted my sister and me.  Many important events in life have left crystalclear memories within my heart, but none compares to the special day when my sister joined our family.  Awakened to the power of living in the present moment, I received a sister, and with an open heart I became conscious of all we are.

It took years for me to describe what actually happened on that day.  As a child, being present and openhearted is natural. And, as children, we lack the ability to understand how special it is to remain open and present in the now moment as we grow up.

I now realize that day was significant because I was aware of observing myself observing the world, its inhabitants, and my surroundings with a wide-eyed wonder.  Now, many years later, I am able to express the experience as simultaneously seeing myself clearly and feeling myself fully as both participant in and witness to life.  I became aware of a peaceful, present, and patient existence within my being. Connected to this part of my Self, I remembered we are spiritual beings.

As a result, I am aware how powerful each of us is in the moment at hand. In the present NOW we are capable of awakening to ourselves and acting as the conscious beings we are.

Knowing ourselves as soul requires a deep faith in what we cannot see.  We may never prove our soul’s existence with scientific, intellectual, or theological theories.  Attempting to prove soul’s existence with one’s intellect is like trying to see black holes in space.

“Is seeing black holes important?” asks Neil DeGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist with the American Museum of Natural History.  “No.  What’s important is that we can see a black hole’s paw print.  We see them by observing the impressions they leave.”

Our spirit’s “paw print” is also clearly visible through the impressions we leave. When we give as we want to receive, listen as we want to be heard, and speak as we want to be spoken to, the wisest, most powerful part within us—spirit—permeates each cell, each breath, and each beat of our heart. Soul’s awareness surrounds us and fills us with love, which fuels our desire to live an ordinary life in the most extraordinary way:  remembering we are Divine beings on great human adventures.

The Gift

Photo by Christian Spencer

This beautiful photo by Christian Spencer reminds me of the day when a gentle thud caught my attention. This sound was curiously familiar.  As a bird lover, I know immediately when one has been temporarily blinded by the sun’s reflection, causing it to crash heavily into one of the many windows in my home. I rated this sound similar, yet lighter, reminiscent of one human finger placing a single sharp rap on a pane of glass.

I hurried to the kitchen window that wrapped itself around the right back corner of my house, offering a magnificent view of the tree-filled backyard. Scanning the bushes and grass close to the house, I saw nothing out of the ordinary. I rushed down the steps and reached the bottom just as one of my dogs, Charlie, who had been roused from a nap by the sound, arrived there. We headed in the same direction, stopping at the hydrangea bushes lining the flower bed beneath the window. There, on a single leaf, lay a hummingbird. I scooped up the tiny bird before Charlie could get the notion to do it himself, and headed back up the stairs into the safety of the house. Charlie remained for some time, sniffing for the source of the odd smell that lingered in the air.

Once inside, I opened my hand. Cradled there was one of the most spectacular beauties of Mother Nature, tiny and still. The bird’s eyes were shut. It was stunned by the impact, but it was still alive. I saw it breathing, and with one finger pressed lightly against its chest, I felt the rapid beating of its heart.

Braving the likelihood of having to refuse another invitation to tour my aging neighbor’s beer bottle collection, I ran next door to get witnesses to this event. On the doorbell’s second ring, Marie, the old man’s wife, slowly opened the door. Through the screen, she motioned for me to come inside.

“Thanks, Marie, but no. I want you to come outside to see what I have in my hands.”

“Robert, come here and see what Regina’s got,” Marie hollered back over her shoulder into the cavernous hallways of the house.

Soon Robert appeared, smiling from ear to ear, ready with his invitation for the tour. But Marie spoke up before he could.

“Look,” she said, pointing to the little mass of metallic green feathers.

“Well, would you look at that,” Robert replied. Surprise spread over his face as he saw the tiny bird. He had probably come to greet me with thoughts of familiar things – a tour, the weather, how high the grass was growing and when he’d get around to cutting it. What he found as he opened the screen door to join us on the porch was most likely not in the realm of his imagination. I watched his face as he stepped out into the beautiful spring day. Wrinkles he had borne like badges of honor for all he’d seen during his 85 years of life seemed to smooth out in awe of what he now witnessed.

I told them the story and answered their questions as best I could. When they were satisfied, we all fell silent—a new occurrence in the six years we had known each other.

The bird remained still, its eyes closed as both Marie and Robert took turns gently and lovingly stroking its tiny body. Touching the bird allowed each of us to know for sure what we were experiencing was real. It was so soft and downy, small and helpless, yet its powerful heartbeat was proof of its tenacity to survive.

After a few more minutes, I told my neighbors goodbye. I felt such a love connection with them for sharing the experience with me. But now, something called me to be alone with the little bird. I returned to my front porch and got comfortable in one of the chairs.

I was reluctant to leave it alone, fearing it would perish to a wandering cat. It was beautiful, small, vulnerable—and yet displayed a magnificently strong design in such a petite package. I was torn between wanting to keep it and praying for its full recovery.

It was a male Ruby-throated, the widest ranging of all North American hummingbirds. I remember as a child growing up in South Texas, they were constant visitors throughout the spring and fall. The tiny bird was common in Central Alabama, too. I often watched three or four competing at my feeder. Almost invisible, they dove, and darted, and dive-bombed, and somehow miraculously avoided colliding with each other. Cheeping and clicking, they delivered strong protests to others who tried to compete for a spot to rest or feed. I thought them civilized representatives of a natural world with often cruel and uncaring aspects. They are two-inch-long powerhouses of fierce independence. Hummingbirds are always ready to courageously defend their territory, but in a way in which the birds never seem to get hurt. I thought how wonderful it would be if humans, too, could find ways to settle differences without hurting one another.

Sitting on the porch holding the bird, I was content. Rescuing birds, squirrels, mice, and other creatures from nature’s harsh realities is one of the things I do. It’s a common occurrence for me to make a box for a family of robins upended from their nest by a thunderstorm, or find a new home for the mice I might discover while spring cleaning. This, however, seemed a different and more enlightening connection to the natural world.

I had witnessed hummingbirds so many times but never had been this close. Their wings beat so fast they often seemed more fantasy than real. A blur of color flitting from here to there so quickly my eyes could not follow. Nevertheless, here one was, real and still in the palm of my hand. I was able to see up close how its little clawed feet curled slightly and to study the perfectly uniform feathers that covered its small body. The vibrant, iridescent colors of its wings and throat were truly amazing.

We sat together for several more minutes. With each moment, I wondered if it was going to make it. Tenderly I stroked its chest, watched, and waited.

Suddenly it woke up. Flipping up from its side, it sprang to life. It hesitated for a split-second, seeming to gather its bearings. Then it was off, propelled rapidly upward by its awakening. As it cleared the porch, it made a half-circle and returned to where I was sitting. It hovered in front of me, about two feet from my chair, and remained for what seemed a full minute. Never taking its eyes off me, it stayed back, yet was close enough that I could feel a slight breeze from the rapid beating of its wings. As it looked at me, I thought surely it was saying thanks for plucking it off the leaf and keeping it safe for the past half-hour.

I will never know exactly what the little bird was thinking as it made one final circle above my head and flew away. Later I found some tiny feathers on the porch that must have fallen from its wing or tail. They weren’t green like its body, or red like its throat, but white and black and gray. Today I still have those feathers in a very special bowl.

Holding the hummingbird was a miracle. It was an opportunity that taught me to appreciate the things I love, to cherish each moment, and to courageously get back up when life throws a punch. It was an awesome privilege to be given thirty unforgettable minutes when time stood still and I held the most exquisite creature in my hands, to feel its warmth, and to marvel at its magnificence. That little bird taught me to pay very close attention to life, because often the best gifts really do come in the smallest packages.

You Are That One Person

One day a man was walking along the beach, when he noticed a boy hurriedly picking up and gently throwing things into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked, “Young man, what are you doing?”
The boy replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.”
The man laughed to himself and said, “Don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make any difference!”
After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said, “I made a difference to that one.”
This story, by Loren Eiseley, has stuck with me since childhood. It inspired me to ask mom to buy shoes for a shoeless classmate in elementary school. To take an extra sandwich to give to a hungry friend. To rescue wounded wildlife. To acknowledge homeless people. To love as I want to be loved.
From childhood I have believed one person can make a difference. Each of us is that one person. Find a need and fill it. Be an Ambassador of Love. Lead with Your Heart. Spread Positive Vibes. Show the world what Love Is.

Say Thank You to Those Who Deserve Our Thanks

In addition to the occasional letter of compliant I spoke about in my last blog, I write many thank you notes. I believe in supporting others as I want to be supported. So I recently sent letters thanking the four officers who bravely testified about their experience on January 6th.

Dear Officer Hodges,

When I lived in Birmingham, Alabama, in the late 1980s, I had a friend named Libby. She had a son. She seemed to be an ordinary person living an ordinary life. What many did not know is Libby was actually an ordinary person who chose to live an extraordinary life.

Libby was twenty-three when her uncle and three other Ku Klux Klansmen and segregationists planted at least fifteen sticks of dynamite beneath the front steps of the African-American 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. The bombing on Sunday, September 15, 1963, which killed four little girls, was an act of white supremacist terrorism. In 1965 the Federal Bureau of Investigation concluded the church bombing had been committed by four known Klansmen. No prosecutions ensued until 1977, when Robert Chambliss was tried and convicted of first degree murder of one of the victims.

My friend, Elizabeth (Libby) H. Cobbs, was star witness for the prosecution against her uncle. He was convicted, in large part, as a result of her testimony. After the trial, threats and harassment from Ku Klux Klan members forced Libby and her son to leave Birmingham for several years. I cannot tell you my friend was not terrified to testify, to expose her uncle for his part in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing or the many other atrocities he committed. On several occasions, Libby shared with me how afraid she was to do what she chose to do. However, she did not let fear stop her from standing up to courageously do the right thing.

You did not let fear stop you from doing the right thing either.

The people I most admire in life are not entertainers, sports stars, or titans of business. My heroes are everyday people like Libby, and you. I am humbled by your sacrifice, saddened by your pain, and inspired by your courage. Like my friend Libby, you, and all who defended our Capitol on January 6, will go down in history as our nation’s great heroes. Ordinary men and women, who when called upon, do extraordinary things.

We Can Complain, Nicely

After a very hard five weeks in Little Rock taking care of mom I was exhausted. I boarded a flight in Little Rock bound for Dallas to catch a flight back home to Los Angeles. I was really disgusted by the dirtiness of the airplane from Little Rock to Dallas. And decided to write a letter to complain, nicely. I wrote directly to the President and CEO of American Airlines. Don’t know if he will get it but that did not stop me from writing to him. Because it is okay for us to complain, nicely.

July 16, 2021

Dear Mr. Parker,

Frequently in organizations, especially one as large as American Airlines, customer comments, particularly critical ones, do not reach the top. Which is why I am writing to you personally to share an experience I had recently.

I have been a frequent flyer member for several years. Overall, my experience with American Airlines has been very good. Until flight AA 3642 from Little Rock, Arkansas, to Dallas on Tuesday, July 13.

The enclosed photo is the seat mechanism in front of me. I have never encountered this level of neglect and filth on any American Airlines flight. I am certain cuts to staff during Covid-19 continue to impact many aspects of AA’s operations. Yet I trust you, as CEO, care about daily details such as the cleanliness of all airplanes. In the mind of this consumer, the job each AA employee does is a reflection of all who work for American.

Thank you for your time and attention. I assure you this one experience has not caused me to seek a new favorite airline. But it has motivated me to communicate my displeasure, because if I were in your position, I would want to know.

Love Is Powerful to Heal

You may remember that my mother, at almost 97, fell on June 6th, broke her right arm, fractured her right hip, and then developed pneumonia. I rushed from Los Angeles to Little Rock and for the next 5 weeks took care of her day and night. I have never worked so hard in my life. And I have always worked hard.  But this was different on so many levels.

The physical exhaustion was tremendous because I had to do everything for her. Moving her, pushing her, helping her stand, bathing her, etc. I also cooked, cleaned, shopped, ran errands. There was no down time. Each night I fell into bed dreading the next day. I was too exhausted to sleep well. I was waiting for my dad to appear at my door to ask for help to get mom to the bathroom.  It was the hardest 5 weeks in my almost 65 years.

It took time to get a team of caregivers to come in and take over. By the time the arrangements had been made I was at the point I could not physically, emotionally, mentally do one more moment. I returned to LA and have spent the past 3 weeks working to recover.

We don’t just get over things in life. When we go through something challenging it is easy to say I am okay, when we are far from okay. I can tell you that I am becoming okay again.  It has taken time for me to rest, to get back into a routine of self-care and self-love. I don’t want you to think I am not grateful for the time I spent caring for mom because she is walking. She is now able to take better care of herself. She can answer the phone again.

Love is powerful to help us do what we have to do in life.  To face the hard, hard challenges we must. And to help us get through those challenges to heal. Not only from physical injuries and exhaustion but also from the emotional toll life takes on us at times.

Love has amazing powers to heal a broken mother. And a daughter who is slowly finding her footing again.

Our Actions Teach

My mother taught me to smoke cigarettes.  Of course it was not her intent to do so. But each time she lit up I learned by her example that smoking was okay, even though she told me over and over to “do as she said rather than as she did.” 

The problem with “do as I say not as I do,” is that 80-90% of all communication is non-verbal. That means our behavior is vastly more influential in teaching than our words.   

One of the most important things for us to remember is that what to value and how to behave appropriately must be taught. You and I have the responsibility to be a positive example for others of how life works best, especially children, because they learn from watching us. So if we do not intentionally teach them how to behave and what to value they will learn on their own through television, video games, the internet, movies and their peers.

With something as important as values at stake, we do not want to leave their character to chance. One way to be a positive hands-on example is to remember it is our actions that teach.

The Actions Behind “I Love You”

It is easy to say, “I love you.” It is more challenging to actually love because to give and receive love we give and receive positive behavior.

Giving love is being kind, peaceful, loyal, and honest. We are faithful, compassionate, supportive, and patient.

Receiving love we feel valued, heard, and appreciated. We feel nurtured and accepted.

We feel love by others when we receive positive behavior.

Someone knows we love them through receiving positive behavior.

It is giving  and receiving positive behavior that gives real meaning to, “I love you.”