Teach Me, Yoda

If you like Star Wars, you know Yoda, the tiny green Jedi master who was the mentor for multiple Jedi warriors, including his most famous pupil, Luke Skywalker. I believe most of us experience hardship in our lives at one time or another, and likely we all have had at least one mentor who  gave us guidance. If you are like me, however, you may not have heeded all the advice given, like young Luke, who wanted to follow his own path and was reluctant to follow all the instructions of his greatest teacher.

A mentor is a gift we typically don’t recognize until after their input has benefitted us somehow. Many times people neglect to thank their mentors properly for the skills they help us develop and refine. I wish to use my next few posts to pay tribute to some of my mentors over the years, though to be honest, I don’t quite know where to begin since I have been blessed to have several people who have helped me in various aspects of my life. I guess the easiest way would be to start at the beginning.

I have learned how fortunate I am to have 2 loving parents who raised me and who, despite some hard times of their own, did whatever it took to stick it out and try to set a good example for me and my brother. Like most children, they were my first mentors. My mom and dad did their best to raise me right and teach me good ethics and morals. While I went my own way and have certainly made my share of mistakes, some of them very major ones, I have learned lots of lessons and have turned my life around 180 degrees in the past few years.

It is no reflection on my parents that I made a lot of mistakes. Remember Yoda and Luke? Luke screwed up despite Yoda’s strong advice and teaching. So did I and so do a lot of us. I think we all try to be the best parents and teachers we can be, but we are all human and all make mistakes. All we can hope for as parents is that our kids remember and value the good things we teach them, and have enough grace to forgive us for the mistakes we make and the bad things we teach them. My folks did the best they could and although I ignored some of their advice and had to learn things the hard way on my own sometimes, I have come back around, and I credit them with a lot of my ability to get back up, dust  myself off and try it again. It’s amazing how smart our parents become as we get older ourselves.

It says in Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it”. Well I believe that. I am now getting old (just turned 49) and while I am stubborn and certainly have a long way to go, I know I have benefitted from the teachings and the example of my parents, who will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary this summer! 

Thanks Mom and Dad.

I love you very much.

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Bulldozers and Bedrooms

If you have ever raised teenagers, you have likely had to “choose your battles” to preserve your sanity. This mantra has saved countless parents from committing mass murder and prevented the need for a custom-fit straightjacket time after time.  AND…..even though in your mind you were ready, willing, and able to forfeit years of freedom for just a few minutes of quiet,  a clean house, and a car returned home BEFORE curfew with more than an ounce of gas in the tank, it was finally determined that all expense paid trips to state institutions are highly overrated. Limited socialization and dismal wardrobe choices are just two of the reasons to try and salvage your sanity by choosing not to fight to the death with your teen on every subject. However, there are some situations that you can’t ignore. They simply cry out for parental attention and you eventually have to try to break through to them. Maybe something like this.

Let’s imagine for a minute that, oh I don’t know, your teenager’s room is filled with dirty laundry. That isn’t a stretch, really. The homeowner’s association has already cited you twice for the odor coming from the room and they didn’t believe that there was an isolated gas leak or that the bedroom was built over a landfill. Both the Army and the CDC have come by, scouting your home for new strains of bacteria never before identified. Previous attempts to remedy this have not gone well, with responses like the following:

“It’s my room isn’t it? What difference does it make if my clothes are on the floor or not? It’s stupid that I have to keep it clean. If you don’t like it, don’t come in here. I can move around just fine. I have plenty of clothes. The Army? Cool.”

Well, this time there are so many dirty clothes that the bedroom door is jammed shut against the frame. Not just closed…. JAMMED. The door is bending like it is trying to escape, door frame bending, splinters and nails protruding, creating a hazard for those walking by the door, but there is also fear that the cloud of gas that would escape if the door was opened will kill all living things for miles around.  You haven’t heard any rumblings or other signs of life for 3 days and you are starting to worry, though if you check the computer network, there are signs of activity coming from their laptop, so you suspect they may still be alive in there.

Cartoon Landfill Guy © Planet Ark

The last time this happened you could at least track the food usage and determine that someone else was drinking the milk and eating cheetos, even if there were no visible or audible signs of human activity near “their room” (cue twilight zone music). No such luck this time. All the food is gone. You haven’t been able to go to the store because there is no more gas in the car, which is parked so unbelievably close to the garage wall that you can’t get into the driver’s seat without crawling through from the other side. You know they drove it but you don’t know when or how.

It is quite possible they starved to death in their room after becoming obsessed with a video game. Battling with 1,000 of their closest online friends, all of whom have been blown apart, shot, stabbed, crushed, and mutilated time and time again, only to return for the next “battle to beat all battles.”

“I just need to get to the next level”. Those were the last words you heard…3 days ago.

What can you do? You have lost contact and you need to confirm survival….and you need them to move your car! The stress is overtaking you. Bulging veins in the neck and forehead, crazy look, rapid breathing, sweaty palms. What will you do?

 

“I’ve got it!” You rush out the door to the garage.

“Crap”

You trudge back inside……. and call a cab.

2 hours later you return

Driving a bulldozer.

No, silly, not one of those big ones used for roadwork. That would be ridiculous. It’s one of those small ones with tracks that fits through the gate so you can dig up the back yard. THAT is MUCH more reasonable. He said it should fit inside the hallway by the bedroom….. after a little creative remodeling. Did I mention that you are the only parent at home today so this seems totally logical and no-one has dared to question your sanity?

 SO, now the bulldozer is in the hallway and positioned against the door. The carpet and walls haven’t fared well, by the way. The engine moans and groans, wood cracking,  exhaust and sparks fill the air,,,but you are losing traction. The door is not moving. You thought you heard something inside, but then there was only a faint clicking, only clicking. Could it be a mouse? A keyboard? Crickets? Finally, after the foam from the fire extinguisher was cleared and the bulldozer was uprighted, you jarred the door open just enough to slip a hand inside. You feel something. It could be…..rubber?…..no, cloth?….you just aren’t sure.

You use your infra-red camera to scan for survivors. You upgraded this month since the one you used last time melted as you retrieved it, sparking and dripping with a black goo that smelled faintly like cheetos and old shoes. Is there evidence of life? Lifeforms of any kind?  There! flashing on the screen…….Inconclusive…Inconclusive….Inconclusive. You are devastated….. and still without answers. The door is starting to close again. Grasping at straws now, you slam yourself against the door.

You try yelling through the opening but the sound won’t travel through the Bermuda Triangle, where no adult communication can enter and only video games and texting can survive. Clothing must be optional since you know there have been no clean clothes in this environment for weeks on end and the effect on what used to be carpet can not be imagined.

Nobody blames you. You tried. You slowly back away. Tears staining your soiled face. You drive the bulldozer back out in to the living room, too depressed to go any farther. Then you have one last final idea. You dial the phone and wait. The trap is set. The doorbell rings.

“PIZZA!”

Whar yew frum?

“Whar yew frum?”    “Ah, wayuh ah ya fram”   “Weer ya frem?    “Wuryafrom?’

“Hay thar”

Whether it’s the rapid fire speech heard in “New Yawk”, the distinctive tones in New England and the “Noth-east”, the slow twangs of  the “Deeeeeep Sayouth”, Chicago’s “Da Bears”, or other regional distinction, I find the various dialects very entertaining….and sometimes quite challenging to interpret. “California speak” can be very distinctive. I am a native Texan, but there are even different dialects here, depending on the area of the lone star state from which you hail. Louisiana and Cajun?  That’s a whole different article,  I garonteee!

Some of my family hails from the Appalachian region of the south, well known for their extreme dialects and rural lifestyle. Remember the movie “Nell”?  I recently watched a documentary about Appalachia and the majority of it was subtitled because the speech patterns were so different and hard to understand. Terms like “his’n” and “her’n” = “his” and  “hers”, “nar” = “narrow”, “better n life (loff)” = “really good”, “Pewt” = “golly”. I heard these from aunts and uncles when we would travel through the Applachians and I also lived in Tennessee for a few years , where I heard even more variations. Here are some examples.

“Wall, youins otter come back soon. This hyar visit was better n loff. Just cain’t stain it. Be carful headin round the nar n curvy road, as youns headn outcha holler. Be watchin for Ole Bud. That truck a his’n aint got but three good tars and kindly tips over when he turns them carners. Emma won’t let him drive at new car of hern. Fraid hill go off n get hisself kilt”.

“Thanks, we will. You be sure and come see us too”

“Pewt! Lawdy boy that’ll be the day. Nope. We ain’t gonna be goin that way, but youins come back to see us up hyar. Bah nayow.”

I think it is interesting how we can be in the same areas and speak so differently. Like Professor Higgins noted in My Fair Lady, dialects can differ in neighborhoods or even from street to street in certain areas.  

When I graduated college with a degree in speech pathology, I was concerned that my “Texas accent” would make me sound less professional in my new job, so, I practiced using my best newscaster voice to be as “neutra”l as I could. Think Tom Brokaw. I have a deep voice and I could pull it off pretty well. Well, my fears were relieved after about 10 minutes of listening when I got there, since southeast Tennessee is not known for generating many midwestern dialects. The Tennessee drawl was not far from the Appalachian patterns I knew, and suddenly I was not self conscious about my Texas dialect anymore. I could speak however I wished and would be right at home. I learned that being able to fit in allowed me to make other people more comfortable than they did when speaking to Mr. broadcaster.

However, there was a local professional there (who was from….duh duh duh… “up north”) who was advertising to work with local business people to “improve their speech patterns”. Why, you ask? “Because the southern drawl, after all”…(and this is what sunk her program) “makes you sound less intelligent”.

OUCH! Did you feel the slap of insult or was it just me?

Well, you might expect that a few VERY SUCCESSFUL and VERY INTELLIGENT business people who “growed up rotcheer in east Tinisee” were “holly offended” since they had “done just fon and could ford to buy this here bidniss and close it dayown” just so she wouldn’t offend nobody else. This was in the deep south after all, and peole are polite above all, even when trying to kill you….with kinidness. That program never really got off the ground. Can you believe it?

 Of course there were a few other things I had to learn when I got there, like what “HON” was.

“HON? What’s HON?”

Oh, you know what I mean. “Good mornin, HON”, “Thank ye HON”, “HON, can you comeer fer a minit?”   “HON” was short for “honey”, which I always liked to be called. Much better than other things I can get called at work, and HON was the traditional nickname for any younger man working among older women. It was so sweet. “Doncha thank so, HON?”

I was watching the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon last night and Fred Armisted was on. He gave great examples of the differences between the Bronx, Queens, and other of New York’s 5 boroughs. He obviously grew up there and it was so easy for him to switch between the tone of voice and pronucniations. Watch “Wiseguys” or “Donnie Brascoe”. Nuff said.

Minnesoooota and Wiscahnsin have their oooon distinctions, as does Vuhginya, waya an ah cayunt be fayund hodly anywayuh. “Oh mussy. I thank I may be gettin the vapuhs.”  Ok, it’s not that bad anymore, but I do know some old tranditionalists from Richmond……

“Hand ovuh yo hot when you refuh to mah fayuh city suh”

….where the “r” is delightfully omitted to this day and the more genteel the drawl, the bettuh.

And you wonder why peoople who come to America have trouble understanding English?

Go figure   or   Go figger   or   Gah figyah   or ……

Aw Shucks.

Do you ever do this?

It is 8:30 pm. I have lots I should be working on. I am writing instead.

Why?

It doesn;t seem right that when I finally have time to get some things done, I can’t focus and stay engaged in the activities I need to be engaged in.

Do you ever experience that? Maybe I have ADD. See what you think.

 distraction

Allright now. Let’s get settled down for an evening of paperwork, data entry, and completion of the to-do list. Oh, look at that. A bug is crawling ion the counter. I better kill it. Oops. made a mess. Now I better clean it up. Thats better. Where was I? Paperwork. Got it.

Hmm, where is that pen? It’s too dark in here. Light bulbs? I better go get some. While I am at the store I need to get to some toilet paper and bacon and nails and motor oil and….

ADD

Oh, shoot, paperwork. 9:15 already? Wheww. I better get busy. Ok, number two on the list. Yuk. I hate that. Number 3?. Ok, let’s start there. Ew. I better call the kids to check on them. 10:30? Wow. time flies when doing all this work. Guess I will have to try harder tomorrow. Tomorrow? Friday . Oh no. I have that project due next week. I guess I need to buckle down Saturday, right after the movies. right before dinner. Ok, that gives me 30 minutes to get it done. Hmm. Sunday? Nope.

image_drawing_distraction

Guess I will be calling in Monday morning.

Some things are really not important in the big picture

Some things hit you right in the face and make you think about what is important in life.

I was at work late tonight in the world’s best cancer center, as I am too many nights. I went to eat dinner in the cafeteria and saw a large family connecting for the first time in a while. It was obvious by the way they all hugged and kissed each other, holding hands, touching each other. Showing comfort and support to each other. Undoubtedly, someone in the family was ill and in the hospital. I imagine they may not be doing very well, prompting the reunion.

My Dad’s side of the family was always that way. If someone was in the hospital, 20 of the Smith bunch were up there in the waiting area in no time. Soon the laughter was enough to have us all run out of the waiting area. That is a nice memory for me, despite being intermingled with sad times. It has been too long since we were all together outside of a hospital or a funeral. My great Uncle is 94 and has had a birthday party that serves as a family reunion of sorts for the past few years, but it hasn’t been complete. We are all too busy and tied up with our own stuff. I went when I was having chemotherapy and was bald in 2011, but haven’t been back since. I need to go again. I have hair now and won’t freak so many people out. 

“Family”. The mere word conjures a multitude of images, memories, thoughts, smells, and feelings. Some good, some not so good,  but as much as we all wish there were no “difficult” situations in our families, they exist. We need to look past them and be family anyway.

We get so stressed out about our lives and the minutia that clouds our heart and minds and we waste so much of our time with anger and frustration, fighting and resentment, hurts and offenses, revenge, guilt, and sadness. “I can’t believe he said that. I just am so OFFENDED.” “Who did what to whom and how does it affect me, because after all, I am the one that counts in all this mess anyway, right?” I am tired of hearing people complain and whine about things that really don’t matter in the big picture. 

We need to get some perspective.

In the past two weeks, a friend from college died suddenly and I also attended the funeral of the son of another college friend. Another friend is dealing with the anniversaries of both parents’ deaths. In Kenya, a group of friends have been on a mission trip for 2 weeks.  After spending all week with the pastor of the church they were helping, he was killed Saturday night in a car wreck, on the way home from the church dedication service. Tragic. People died and were injured in an airplane landing on a runway in San Francisco. This week in Houston, a father and teenage son were killed by intruders in their own home. And you have problems?

If you have children, stop what you are doing and hug them right now. If they are teens text them a hug. They’ll like it even if they think you are weird.  

Sitting in the funeral service for my friend’s son two weekends ago, I could not help but think of my boys. I did not know his son but he was close to my oldest boy’s age. My eyes would not stay dry. What were the last words they shared?  What were mine with my boys? Were they kind or harsh? How about mine? I know he told him he loved him? Did I?

It was obvious by the outpouring of support this family received that they are a special group, close to each other and those around them. I think about the pain my friend endures daily now, not having the chance to tell his son how much he loves him, how proud he is of him. What is keeping me from doing that right now?

It gave me some fresh perspective on what is important from day to day. It isn’t work and it isn’t money, and it isn’t status. It is family and time spent with them while you have it to spend. It may be a bit late to be learning that lesson, but I never did claim to be the early bird and this late bloomer is trying to start over in all aspects of his life.

I am still alive and so are my boys. I don’t see them as much as I want to but I try every time we speak (or more often these days, text) to tell them I love them. I try not to stress out about the details of what is going on that I used to get upset about. I try to look at the big picture as much as possible. It keeps me less angry and frustrated and I hope, makes me a nicer Dad to be around. By the way, guys, I love you both very much.

My parents and several aunts and uncles and cousins are still alive. I need to see them more and even if I don’t see them, talk with them more because I miss them. I love them and want to let them know that. I got to see my brother and father earlier this year when they came to see my great Uncle and made a special trip down to see me because I couldn’t drive up. It was the first time I had seen my Dad since last spring and the first time I had actually been with my brother in at least 2-3 years. Regardless of the reasons, all valid, that is too long. 

I am travelling next week and will get to see my parents together for the first time since last March. when they came down and spent a month to help me after my cancer surgery. I am SOOOOO looking forward to it. I cannot wait to hug my mom and dad and spend some time just being with them.

Do you get my point? Spend time with your loved ones when you can. Tell those in your life how you feel about them. If your family is gone, love on a friend or neighbor. Everyone needs someone to care for and we all need someone to care for us, whether we think we do or not. Even if you can’t bring yourself to utter the phrase, show them you love them however you think is best. Give em a hug, sit and visit, mow their grass, or even bake them a pie (buttermilk is my favorite, by the way).

So, repeat after me. “To those in my life who I cannot be with right now, you know who you are. I love you and I miss you and I want to visit with you, whether in person, over the phone, or even email. Let’s make that happen soon. Deal?”

Now don’t let it hang there. Do something to make it happen. And by the way, if you think this is a good idea, share it with your friends and let’s see how big a difference it makes in all our lives.

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Fall is my favorite time of year. Football season, cooler weather, fall colors, and the holiday season, as it used to be. Whatever happened to the holidays? Seems like now they are all run together so we have HalloThanksMas. Should have … Continue reading