Nothing More Dangerous

Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity. Martin. Luther King Jr.

Be curious about the world. Talk to people who are different than you. Listen and try to understand their worldview. Trust that there is a lot you don’t know. Stand up for the underdog. Know that your place in the world is quite small and that what is done to another group could be done to you too. Embrace your own humanity and try to do better. Try to be better. Practice who and what you want to be. Learn. Be teachable. Reject ignorance and stupidity. Be kind. Reject anyone who tells you to do otherwise.

In the words of Dr. Martin Luther Ling Jr. “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”

It was a privilege to stand before the national monument to this great leader this year. Click here to read about the experience.

Can’t go? That’s ok. You can help keep the dream alive in your own family, your own neighborhood and your own community by leading with an example of kindness to all. Think you can’t manage that? Then at least get out of the way of those who are trying.

There’s Always January 1

The grocery store was nuts yesterday.

We’re talking lines so long it was difficult to find the end. Most people seemed polite and happy to wait their turn which was good because there were just two cashiers. The self checkout line was also long as people were buying carts full of groceries and most of us civilians aren’t nearly as efficient as the average cashier/bagger combo.

My cashier was a young man, perhaps college aged, who indicated it had been a zoo all afternoon. When I asked why, we talked about the impending holiday and he said something truly profound. “People get all uptight and rude around Christmas but it seems like people try harder around New Years. They are gonna eat better or do things to reinvent themselves. Everyone tries to be a better person around New Years.”

He’s absolutely right.

Personally, I believe every day is an opportunity for a fresh start. Waiting till January to start doing better seems silly to me but I do understand the appeal of that fresh slate provided by a new year.

That said, I have been plotting some improvements in my own life and have a handful of goals to work on in the first quarter of this year.

My only wish is that everyone would always try a little harder to be better people. After all, it was refreshing to see people getting along and to hear the friendly, casual conversations among strangers. The lady in line behind me even offered to watch my cart while I ran for a gift card.

Speaking of nice people, I had superb lunch service at Los Mariachis and encountered a super kind employee at Lowe’s who helped me locate something I would have never found on my own. The picture above represents my favorite purchase of the day – this vintage style light up ceramic snowman. He was 75 percent off and a conversation starter everywhere I went in the store.

By the way, one of my goals for the next few months is to curb spending by doing a No Spend Challenge. Sigh. I guess I’ll be starting January 1!

You Never Know

This photo comes from a rest area near Gallipolis, Ohio and captures the last gasp of the setting sun Wednesday night. The parking lot was stacked with eighteen wheelers and the exit ramp was lined with the big trucks as well. These truckers crisscross the country, keeping goods and raw materials moving and our economy moving. They are symbols of progress and activity in our country.

I had just come from a joint meeting of local school boards where we dined and offered up some beginning of the school year inspiration. We heard from a professor of History and African American studies talk about his ideas for inspiring young people and giving them the tools to build a better tomorrow. Like any good historian, he encouraged teaching the hard truth about our history as understanding where we’ve been will set us on a better path to tomorrow. It’s when we teach the hard stuff and stop politicizing education that we will see real progress.

I appreciated his perspective and left with much food for thought on the drive home. Yet it was hard to concentrate. You see, I was on my way home to visit a sick aunt who won’t live to see this better tomorrow that our speaker described. She has terminal cancer, a disease that has robbed her of all quality of life, of her ability to speak or perform the simplest tasks for herself. There’s no life in her eyes and I can’t help but think her existence is no way to live.

She could be gone by the time you read this. Maybe it will be days from now. It is not ours to know. While I don’t want to lose her, I hope for her sake that her suffering ends soon.

This week has involved far more in-person interactions than normal. People seem more stressed than normal. Some seem depressed or sad. They are quick to tell you that something isn’t their job or that you’re wrong. Others are a little edgy, looking for trouble and ready to hurl an insult.

I try to remember that you don’t know where other people are coming from or where they’re headed to at that moment. Maybe they’re coming from an inspiring event where they learned something or that left them excited for the future. Maybe they’re headed home to say goodbye to someone who matters to them. Maybe they’re simply working hard to keep moving forward in whatever they’re doing. Maybe they need to take a break and rest for a while as these truckers are doing in this picture.

The point is that we need to be a little more patient and more tolerant of the people we encounter each day. It costs zero dollars to be a decent person and you never know when a bit of patience or a kind word will make a difference to someone else. You never know when that person who was rude to you will suddenly become nice simply because you extended a kind word to them.

A Beautiful Day

I celebrated the completion of my Christmas shopping by catching a matinee on Saturday. For 108 minutes I sat in a nearly empty theater, lost in the world of Fred Rogers and the cynical reporter assigned to write a fluff piece about him.

Friends, you need to see this movie.

In fact, I think that everyone needs to see this movie. It’s an uplifting glimpse into how Fred Rogers treated people. He loved people and could always spare the time for a sick child or to inquire about what was upsetting to another adult.

“I like you just the way you are” is a line he used often and meant. He truly was interested in the well being of others and he believed in the power of a kind word.

Personally, I’m trying to do better at offering kind words, especially to strangers. I don’t do small talk very well but never hesitate to compliment a stranger’s accessories. It sounds silly but most women beam when you notice their scarf, cute hat or broach and it often inspires a conversation.

The bottom line is that this movie has a happy ending, something the world so desperately needs. I’m sick of political bickering. I miss the days before Facebook when I didn’t know that so many neighbors and friends are actually selfish racists and homophobes who mainly want everyone to be exactly like them.

I’m tired of being disappointed by the world. We need more Fred Rogers and less of what’s on the news every day.

Tom Hanks does a beautiful job bringing to life this man who was an icon of so many Americans childhoods. I was also pleased to see his wife, Joanne Rogers, had a quick cameo.

In short, this movie made my day and I’m excited to add it to my collection.

If you’re so cynical that you think you don’t need to see the film, you need it most of all. Go. Report back. We’ll chat about it.

Remembering Natalie

Frequent readers here know that this space is typically dedicated to positive topics – adventures, stories about my cat, the occasional pep talk and whatever else is on my mind.

The working theory is that there’s enough negativity in the world without my adding to it. But something happened this week that’s been weighing heavy on my mind and heart.

It’s time to talk about it.

On Monday morning, a woman that I knew was kidnapped and murdered by her estranged husband before he turned the gun on himself.

Today, loved ones will gather in a country church in the woods to remember a mother, daughter, sister and friend. Her little boy is an orphan. Friends are devastated. A community is in shock.

Things like this don’t happen here.

There’s a lot I’d like to say here. I would like to tell you about the failures of our justice system for not doing enough to stop domestic violence or about the complacency of regular people because we think it isn’t our place to get involved in a family matter and how we talk about these things as though it’s something to be kept secret. I would like to gripe about the concept of a restraining order, a document that’s not even worth the paper it’s printed on when someone is crazy and mean enough to want you dead.

But standing on my soap box won’t change anything.

There’s no way to change what has happened. Her parents will bury their daughter today. Her child will spend a lifetime without an amazing mother because of something his father did. No matter what we say, the world will be a darker place without our friend.

Natalie was a bright, happy person who took a sincere interest in everyone around her. You got the impression that she was thrilled to see you and never had a harsh word but instead always had a kind word or compliment.

She exuded true kindness and literally lit up a room. She had an energy about her that I only wish I could capture. And she had no idea how special she was.

When someone dies after an extended illness we like to point out they aren’t suffering anymore. When they’re very old, they had a long life and are in a better place.

There’s nothing to say here. I have nothing. She was 35, vibrant and kind – the sort of person we should all aspire to be.

Everywhere I go, people are talking about it, they’re tearful, they’re upset. They’re confused, angry and numb. All of us are struggling in our own way.

If you think that this sort of thing won’t happen to you or doesn’t involve you, think again. Domestic violence threatens us all. Your neighbor could be in danger. Your child or friend could be suffering and you may not even know it.

Have you ever wondered why a woman doesn’t just leave? This is why. Because it’s hard and it’s dangerous. Because women die when they have done nothing wrong. Because there are people out there who would rather kill the one they say they love than allow them to be free.

My heart is tired, friends.

I cannot fathom how her close friends and family are suffering today. And I can’t understand how someone could behave viciously toward the person they say they love.

Sadly, she isn’t the first person to be victim to this kind of senseless cruelty and she won’t be the last. Many of you reading probably at least know of similar stories.

My apologies for this sad and rambling story today. It isn’t nearly so fun as an adventure but life can’t always be fun. Sometimes it’s a confusing, tragic, horrifying place.

Make the best of today. Tomorrow is not promised.