As we begin the 2023 New Year, it’s helpful to learn about others who have made some challenging choices based on their integrity. Such examples can motivate us to try to make honorable decisions from our own integrity in the days ahead.
There was an unusual story in the news after the recent senatorial elections. It was about a senator who had been running for reelection. Before his first campaign, this senator said he did not believe in climate change. His electorate were mostly conservative, and they held the same belief. Prior to his first election, his teenage son had told the senator he would also vote for him but he asked his father to learn more about climate change after the election. The senator did well in his first campaign.
The senator respected his son and took his son’s request to heart. After the election, the senator and his wife went on a cruise ship and traveled to the Antarctic. There they saw and learned about the glaciers that were melting. When he returned home, the senator also attended several scientific lectures on climate change. He realized how misinformed he had been, and he clearly understood the extent of the climate change that had occurred, and was occurring, with serious consequences for our planet.
I believe that every animal species has something to teach us if we would pay closer attention to them and understand some of their core qualities. For example, let us look at dogs. I frequently take a walk in a nearby dog park early in the morning and watch the dogs. I enjoy the beauty of the dog park and the views of the distant mountains, but most of all, I enjoy watching the dogs and their boundless energy when they are off leash. They are always excited to be able to move about freely. Some walk, some run and some even leap in the air. Some dogs stay close to their persons and some run off and then work their way back. Their joy of movement is infectious.
Many of us have busy lives with numerous responsibilities to our families, our jobs, our community and so much more. We work hard to be responsible and caring. Sometimes we lose our sense of joy and in particular, our sense of joy of physical movement. Some of us even feel guilty if we take time to be outdoors engaging in a physical activity that gives us pleasure. And yet, it is precious time to do something outdoors to refresh and energize both emotionally and physically. We can inhale the freshness of the outdoor air; we will see the sky, the trees, the mountains and meadows and know we are part of all that is on planet earth. The movement of our physical body will release naturally some of our daily tensions and worries.
We never know when the qualities of patience, persistence and gratitude will become important in our lives. Recently I met with several of my retired friends at the coffee shop for an informal meeting and here is what transpired.
Bob who was a plumber was the first to share. The internet server company he uses had made a recent change which caused problems with his voice mail on his land line. Bob works part time as a “handyman” and needs his voice mail for his customers. He called the company and spoke with eight different technicians before his problem was resolved. He said all the technicians he spoke to over a ten-day period were courteous and polite and each had assured him that his problem had been corrected.
However, each time he hung up with the technician, he found the “problem” was still on his voice mail. The last technician did correct the problem. Bob had to describe his problem with every technician to help them understand what was needed. He said it took a lot of patience on his part to calmly repeat the same information again and again.
Here we are in the middle of winter. It’s a gray-sky day and there’s snow and ice on the ground. We are all hoping for a decline in the prevalence of the Covid virus. Some of us have been vaccinated and some have not.
“Immunity” is a frequent word in our conversations, as we talk about the health of our physical bodies. We all have antibodies that contribute to our immune system and protect our good health. Some antibodies occur naturally; some come from fighting off a specific infection or disease; and some antibodies can come from vaccinations.
One way we develop antibodies to various organisms begins with a gradual exposure in our environment from infancy through childhood into adult life. Most of us played outside as children. We played in the dirt; we had domestic animals around us; we were in constant contact to germs and bacteria of all kinds. We ate the cookie that fell on the ground. We wiped our nose on a muddy sleeve. All of those different kinds of germs and microorganisms helped to strengthen and expand the capacity of our immune systems to develop a larger repertoire for fighting new environmental agents
We are coming to the end of 2021. Another year of our life on planet Earth is ending. This year has been challenging in many ways. There were the forest fires with the devastation of our beloved lands and wilderness. There were the heavy layers of smoke filling our skies day after day. There were the days of excessive heat in our summer season. There were and are the drought conditions creating a loss of crops for farmers and the inability of ranchers to feed their cattle. And then there was Covid and all the problems in our communities around vaccinations. Goodbye to 2021!
But what is coming in 2022? Will things get better or worse? Will there be more forest fires? Will we get the water we need for the crops, for the animals, for the wild lands, for the vitality of our soil, even water for us to drink? Will there be another Covid variant? What else could possibly happen?
“What does that phrase mean?” asked Lena, as she heard Carol state it. Four women were all sitting at a restaurant table having a cup of coffee. Carol said, “Think about it; it’s happening all the time these days.” Marta spoke up and said, “I know what she means. Several friends of mine were going to come and visit me in September. We get together every year but couldn’t last year because of Covid. We each live in different states. We connected on Zoom in April to make our plans for September.
We decided they would come to my home in Bozeman and then drive to a national park in Canada for several days of hiking. We quickly made reservations for both lodging in Canada and for a local rental car, because we had heard it was going to be a busy summer with lots of tourists.
“Our only concern was about when Canada would open its borders to tourists. I felt certain they would open long before our scheduled visit,” said Marta. “Sure enough, they opened the border in August, but we had a problem. They would only accept tourists who were vaccinated and two of my friends were adamant that they would not get vaccinated.”
This question is not about your grocery list or your “TO DO” list. It is a list about you. It may be a list you have yet to make.
Let’s back up a little and first learn about Ruth’s story. She and her parents were in a concentration camp in Germany near the end of World War II. They suffered severe hardship until they were freed by the Allies in 1945. They were poor; they had no savings; they had no home. They had lost all contact with their relatives. Somehow Ruth’s parents found work and received help from different groups.
After they had recovered physically, mentally, and emotionally to some degree, the family made their way to the U.S. and settled in New York City. They worked hard and saved enough money to open a clothing store and a few years later, a clothing factory. Ruth worked long hours beside her parents, but she was grateful. She was safe and free to live her life.
On a recent hike in the mountains, I saw with great pleasure the abundance of wild flowers, blossoming trees and plants. Some were tall, some short, some were colorful, and some were many shades of green.
Nature has an infinite capacity to create and restore. Each plant has a unique niche in the greater ecosystem, and each has its own purpose in order to maintain the balance of life. We human beings have much to learn from nature.
We are each the same as all other human beings physically, mentally, and emotionally. We are the dust of creation. We share DNA with everyone else. We have the same body organs, arms, legs, ears, and toes. As human beings, we even share 42 common viruses in our bloodstreams.
One cold night in January, I was driving home and listening to the last part of a radio interview of a mother and her son. The mother has muscular dystrophy, which is a degenerative disease of the voluntary muscles that control movement in the body. She talked about making “choices” in life. She said that everything we do or don’t do is a “choice” and has a consequence.
This mother is in physical pain much of her day. She makes a conscious choice every morning to get up, to make a cup of coffee, and to go through her day in physical pain. She said she is very aware of each choice she makes. Her muscular dystrophy is slowly worsening, but she appreciates all the medical help and medications she receives.
Her eleven-year-old son, who was born with muscular dystrophy, was also interviewed. His health and ability to live is more precarious. He struggled to breathe and talk during the interview. He had two siblings who were also born with muscular dystrophy, and they had died. The doctors told his mother that he would not make it past one year. He did. They then predicted he would die by age two. He didn’t. The doctors are amazed he has made it to age eleven.
Here we are already making plans for the upcoming holidays, especially Christmas. Some of us have already stashed presents away, and some of us will be last minute shoppers. The spirit and joy of the holidays is infectious, and we all want to be a part of it one way or another.
One of the main themes at this time of year is giving gifts to friends, family, and others. Some of us worry about finding the “right” gift for each person on our list. Will it be a good color or the right size? Will it be “enough” for a certain person? If it is not well received or valued, what should I do? How can I afford all of the gifts on my list?
These kinds of questions and concerns create tension, worry, and frustration inside of us. We seem to have lost the real value of giving. Maybe these two stories will help us remember the essence of gift giving in the days ahead.