Wednesday, June 25, 2014

June 25, 2014

Do you believe in Karma?

One doesn’t need to be a Buddhist in order to put credence to this principle. Basically and simply stated, Karma, as it is defined in that ancient Indian religion says that we are the heirs of our own actions.

You see that word written and hear it spoken a great deal these days. As it’s used today, you wouldn’t be remiss if you assumed that Karma equals payback. Whether for good or ill—and it’s used for both results—as Karma is defined by popular culture today, it’s widely held that people inherit either the rewards or punishments for their own actions, in the due course of their current lives.

One of the best things about being nearly 60 is that I have a lot of years that I can look back on, and enough experience that I can expound on certain things, and one of those things is the existence of Karma as it is popularly used.

I can tell you with a fair bit of certainty that Karma is a force to be reckoned with. Over the course of my life, I have encountered people who, for one reason or another, have set out to purposely harm others. Some of these people—not all, but certainly some—have directed their efforts against me.

I can completely understand that because, despite all appearances to the contrary, I am not an easy person to like, or even to get along with. We all have personal, emotional baggage and mine, quite frankly, gets the best of me sometimes.

I’ve been spending a few good afternoons in hindsight lately, and I can definitely say that there were times when I was the recipient of ill will and actions, that I had it coming. But there were also times when I didn’t earn whatever it was someone did or said against me. In response to many of those times, not surprisingly, the perpetrator later—sometimes within a year or two, and sometimes a fair bit longer—received a big slab of bad Karma to choke down.

If you can wrap your head around this concept, it could quite handily alleviate a great deal of stress from your life. You don’t need to worry about how you’re going to pay so-and-so back when they’ve done you wrong. After all, revenge really is a double-edged sword. Why risk even more crap raining down on your personal parade? You can get caught up in getting even, and before you know it, you have your own engraved, silver-plated fork for your regular consumption of Karma cake.

No, friends, it’s far better to take a few moments after these instances and bind your wounds. And then adopt that well known expression of Mr. T from the past century. Yes, after the binding of the wounds, take time to look upon the one who wounded you, and pity the fool—resting confident that Karma will come to visit them sooner or later.

Spend what time you can turning away from what has hurt you and instead focus on doing something for someone else. Make a difference, using whatever gifts you’ve been given, and give no more thought to “getting even” or paying someone back. Not only will you feel better, you’ll be earning yourself good Karma, which can end up being a very valuable commodity for you indeed.

Karma is real, and it will take care of things for you. However, if you’re someone who eschews the trends of pop culture, preferring to cling to traditional mores and concepts, take heart. You too can trust in the inevitability of Karma.

Or, as it is also known, the Biblical principle of sowing and reaping.


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

June 18, 2014

I hope the dads among us all had a happy Father’s Day on Sunday. Too often in our society, fathers, just as much as mothers, are under appreciated.

We expect a lot from fathers. Some of these expectations hark back to the days when a woman married a man based on his ability to provide basic needs and protection for her and the children she would bear him. In those days the man was the undisputed king of his home, not just by tradition, but by law. As much as we woman chafe at that concept in today’s modern times, historically speaking, it really was the way society was organized to provide for the survival of the species.

In today’s world, we haven’t lost all of those old expectations, no matter what we would like to believe. In fact, not only have we kept several of those prerequisites as a society, we’ve added new ones, too, because what is “expected” has changed over time. The combination of the two, in my opinion, make the job of being a father a lot more difficult than it ever used to be.

Even in this enlightened age, we still mostly expect fathers to be the main breadwinners of the family. Women work outside the home, of course they do. They are equal home-owners and decision makers by today’s standards. Yet still, women consider the question, when they become mothers, of whether to go back to work after the maternity leave has ended, or to give up the job and be a stay at home mom, at least until the children go to school. There’s no right answer to that question, as women are individuals with individual aspirations. But we women all do think over which option is best for us.

By and large, the fathers aren’t given that choice at all. They are expected to continue to work, no matter what.

We expect fathers to protect our children from harm, even though that expectation, in today’s world, isn’t always realistic. Neither are fathers allowed the same tools they once had to ensure the safety of their families. There are no more castles, or moats; fathers may no longer lock their children in their rooms to keep the dangerous elements of society away from them. In an age when children are seeking and being granted rights that quite frankly they are sometimes far too young to truly understand, we have made the father’s job of protecting his family very difficult.

 And yet despite all these things, today’s father has adapted. You don’t see fathers with picket signs bemoaning how hard it is to do what we ask of them. You see them, instead, coaching baseball and soccer for their sons and their daughters. You see them driving kids to games and lessons, playing at the park with their children, sitting at the kitchen table helping their kids with math, or science projects. You see today’s fathers being an integral part of their children’s lives.

Fathers take an active interest in their children’s educations, teach them how to drive, fix broken toys and sometimes, do their best to patch up broken dreams. Fathers are there in the night when the bogey man is near, and they lend a solid shoulder to cry on when the tough stuff of life hits.

They never stop being fathers, either. When their children are grown and have children of their own, they are still there, with advice and a hug, stalwart in their role.

Mothers are good at nurturing in a gentle way. Fathers are good at setting the limits, and loving you even when you overstep those bounds.

So fathers, here’s to you, and the countless selfless acts you perform for you families, doing what you do because it’s the right thing to do—and not ever once considering doing it any other way.

You’ll say that’s nothing special. But the rest if us know, that’s what being a hero is all about.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

June 11, 2014

Some people suffer a loss, and that loss changes them irrevocably. And for them, the answer—the only answer—is to make that loss count for something.

The death of a child is a terrible thing—the greatest tragedy a parent can suffer. Like other horrendous life traumas, that loss is often far-reaching and life altering. Many find solace and closure by dedicating themselves to doing good work in the name of the one they’ve lost.

For some people, that dedication leads them to prominence. In their efforts to do what they can to see to it no other parent has to walk their path, they make a positive difference, a difference that touches many.

On May 3rd, 1980, a 13 year old girl, Cari Lightner, was killed in a hit and run accident in Fair Oaks, California. The driver of the vehicle was a repeat offender of driving under the influence. Cari’s mother, Candy Lightner’s response to the death of her daughter and the light sentence given her killer, prompted her to begin an organization, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers—later changed to Mothers Against Drunk Driving—MADD. This organization, in my opinion, is why today, in our society, driving drunk is such a taboo. When I was a teen, the crime wasn’t taken all that seriously, either by society, or through it, by the courts. Now, for the most part, those who drink and drive become pariahs.

In July of 1981, on the other side of the country, in Hollywood Florida, 6 year old Adam Walsh was abducted from a department store. He was never seen alive again.

The murder of this young child drove his father, John Walsh, to become an advocate for the victims of violent crimes. He rose to national prominence as the host of America’s Most Wanted. As a result of this case, and others, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children was formed, and the U. S. Congress passed the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act.

These are two well known examples of bereaved parents taking positive action so that the pain they endured, and the lives of their young children were not meaningless.

But not everyone is given to this kind of service; not everyone is blessed with the same gifts. We’re all different, and how we process our life events can be as varied as our personalities. There is no “should” here, no expectations as to how one ought to deal with devastating personal loss.

Some folks never get over the loss itself. Some can never leave the grieving behind. Actually, the truth for all of us is that the death of a child leaves a hole in the parents’ hearts that will never—can never—be filled. There is no “getting over” it. There are ways of coping, and while we continue on living our lives, getting up each day, going to bed each night, going through the motions—life is never the same for us.

But then, life never stays the same for anyone, even those who’ve never endured such a heavy tragedy. We’re not, any of us, exactly the same people we were twenty years ago, or even ten years ago. Sometimes the changes in us are subtle. Sometimes we mellow, and sometimes our inner curmudgeon becomes more of a visible part of our personalities.

Life itself changes us, and really, that is the purpose of it. We are not born to party. We are not born to be miserable. We are born, period. What we do as we travel this individual path we’re each of us on is the formula for the alchemy of our own existence. If we’re lucky, then along the way, we learn, we love, and we laugh. We know sorrow, of course, everyone does, but hopefully we know joy, too. We help others, and learn to accept help in return. We come to appreciate small victories and large ones alike, and maybe we understand that each is valuable, each has its place in the grand scheme of things.

Hopefully, we evolve and use our talents, and the seeds of greatness within us and create a beautiful, abundant garden with them.

Our gardens won’t be the same—but that’s what makes them so breathtaking and so very worthwhile.


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

June 4, 2014

I’ve always been more than just a bit of an odd duck. I was told—though I don’t really recall—that when the “Lassie” theme song would come on, [the theme known as “The Whistler”], I would cry. I couldn’t have been more than four or five at the time.

Then, fast forward pre-teen and teen years, and watching episodes of I Love Lucy. They weren’t first run episodes but reruns, and it wasn’t so much that I wanted to watch them as Mom watched them, and if I wanted to enjoy television, then so did I. I distinctly remember watching this show, everyone laughing at the antics of the zany redhead, and me left feeling...embarrassed.

Seriously, I was embarrassed on behalf of that ditzy woman. Sometimes I would even cover my face with my hands. Yes, that embarrassed, as if those moments were happening to me.

That was probably taking empathy to the extreme, but I didn’t know that at the time. I was just a kid, after all. And that’s just how I was.

And it wasn’t just these television shows, either, where I experienced this sort of a reaction. It happened more times than I could count—music would move me to tears, and comedy programs would make me feel uncomfortable. And horror movies? Or movies where the characters were threatened/tortured/killed? Not happening. As far as I was concerned, those genres didn’t even exist. As an adult I still refuse to watch horror, or movies where the lead characters are killed.

Strangely, that aversion to what I considered stupid comedy stayed with me a long time. I had to become an adult before I lost the tendency to think, “oh my goodness I am just going to slither down in my chair while that actor/actress makes an total ass of themselves.” We’re talking, probably, twenty years ago when I finally broke that habit.

And yet traces of that strange reaction live on, coming awake again in this second career of mine, as I contemplated plots and plot twists for my characters.

In the beginning, I had a real hard time putting my characters in peril—or having them involved in really bad arguments. The romance genre is rife with stories where the heroes and heroines have terrible fights, and then walk away from each other and the love that the reader knows is so right for them. It doesn’t matter that they then, a chapter or two later, come together again. I could not let my characters have those kinds of fights.

You might be thinking, well, how silly, and yet, in a way, that I would feel this way makes sense.

 I’d begun to explore my creative side as an author when I was still a kid—a kid who never quite really dealt with the loss of her father. My reality at the time was so sad, that I turned to writing to create my on world. Of course, that world had to be vastly different from the world I knew. Conflict, in those early stories, was a definite no-no, because in my world nothing bad was allowed to happen.

Sometimes the habits we form as children stay with us beyond our need for them. The first few times we consciously choose to break those old patterns, it’s uncomfortable. But that discomfort is not a sign that what we’re doing by changing our behavior is wrong.

It is merely a sign that we are doing something different and stepping into the unknown.

These days I do have my characters in peril, sometimes hurt, wounded, possibly near death. They can have rip roaring fights but never quite manage that moment of turning away—even to turn back a chapter later.

Oh, and there is one thing you will never find in my books: a stupid heroine. That’s right, I still haven’t broken that habit. And when I’m reading a book, and I encounter one?

Well, let’s just say I don’t quite want to slink down in my seat in total, empathic mortification for the silly woman’s extreme stupidity.

But it’s close.