“Each of you has a permanent school record that will follow you EVERYWHERE!” our teachers warned when I attended school more than fifty years ago.
For many of us those words of caution commanded our attention. While in school we thought twice before doing or saying anything that might jeopardize our chances of being accepted in college or landing a good job. The probability of that record extending beyond those applications never occurred to most students. Today, however, we live in a world where detailed personal information can be sent to a world-wide audience instantaneously. As adults we continue creating our permanent records which do indeed follow us everywhere. Just a few careless words posted online can cause irreparable damage. We see examples on the news or in social media of reputations ruined or careers damaged by a public’s rush to judgment before all the facts are presented.
The lack of face-to- face contact online often removes all inhibitions, emboldening people to say things they would never say in person. I have witnessed this especially in online forums and social media during which some have taken innocuous comments and turned them into angry political or religious tirades. Derogatory remarks often ensue, straining or fracturing relationships. It saddens me to frequently witness individuals carelessly direct judgmental pronouncements toward those with opposing views, sometimes people they hardly know or have never even met!
Despite these troubling conflicts, the popularity of social media suggests to me that many people desire connections with one another, even if it is confined to online interactions. While electronic communication may satisfy this need to connect, relying on it to the exclusion of face-to face encounters can deprive those who do this from developing real life conversational skills. Today many of our daily activities may be conducted without talking to anyone. Gas stations provide for credit cards at the pump; groceries can be delivered to one’s door; people frequently bank, shop, or pay bills using their computers or smart phones. We often have the ability to interact with medical personnel and make appointments through the Internet. A growing number of people today work from the seclusion of their homes. This technology serves as a welcome convenience or a needed respite for those who must interact with the public all day. If used disproportionately, however, these tools stifle the cultivation of meaningful relationships.
The Internet serves as a wonderful resource when we respect its capabilities and limitations. Google searches contain accurate information but also misinformation. Online connections have the capability of bringing people together or driving them apart. Having the answers to our questions at our fingertips can expand our horizons or give us a means of withdrawal from the world.
In 2019 I made the difficult decision to disengage with a volunteer organization which occupied much of my time for so many years, it was akin to a career. One factor which played a part in my decision to leave was the current pressure upon members to embrace an online mentality. Rather than submitting to the push toward more screen time, I decided to avail myself of activities which favor connecting with others on a personal level. Fulfillment for me is sharing real life experiences with those who accompany me on my life journey. Taking walks, laughing or crying together, offering or graciously accepting support, all are part of the human experience and make the passage so much more enjoyable. Hopefully in doing so, the permanent record I leave behind will be much more than a blip on the screen. It will be the real deal.
“I’m tired of being blamed!” a teenager I knew complained, after being questioned by the police about an act of vandalism committed in his neighborhood.
As it turned out, this particular time the teen was not involved in the incident, but his notorious reputation about past transgressions led the police to his door. Without realizing it, the poor example he had set for younger neighborhood children looking up to him led them to follow in his footsteps. Such is the consequence of misdirected leadership!
You see, while we may not consider ourselves to be leaders, there is always someone watching our actions and perhaps being inspired by our example. Setting a positive one gives us the power to make the world a better place. We not only do this through our actions but through our written and verbal communication. Every time we speak or write something for others we have an opportunity to make a positive impact!
Thinking back upon the many beautiful cards I’ve received, some of my favorites were those from our children when they were young. Even today, remembering those hand made cards with their heart-felt sentiments puts a smile on my face. Retailers, eager to make a sale, encourage us to demonstrate our affection for those we love through giving impressive gifts. I have found, however, that the best gifts we give one another involve offering a bit of ourselves in the process.
Reminiscing about old times with family, enjoying a cup of coffee with a friend or taking a walk together, for instance, shows them that they matter to us. When face to face interaction is not possible, even a phone call, letter or e-mail reminds them they are important. I believe the popularity of social media indicates a desire for this personal connection.
Many speakers realize the value of sharing a part of themselves with their audiences. Some do this through humor, especially self-deprecating humor. A speaker who can laugh at himself or herself tends to put listeners at ease. Others relate to their audiences through telling personal anecdotes which illustrate the speech’s message. They may use accounts of how they handled a common situation or experience. These techniques have a way of making a speech both interesting and relevant to listeners.
Whether giving a prepared speech or in everyday communication, taking time to share ourselves with others is one of the most precious gifts we can bestow. Words are often forgotten and material items will pass away with the passage of time. The people who shared their lives with us and the way they made us feel occupy a treasured place in our memories.
Sometimes an unexpected change happens at a time when we most need it. I never would have imagined butterflies to be that change for me. Butterflies and an unusually mild winter in 2012 enabled the Red Admiral butterfly from Guatemala to migrate north much sooner. Their arrival brought back fond memories of my parents, who created decorative wooden butterflies in their shop at home and delighted in meeting people who came to buy them. Still feeling the sting of recently losing my mother just a few months before, I welcomed this change in nature as a gentle sign that they linger near in spirit.
Sometimes though, butterflies do not invoke such pleasant feelings. A friend shared a personal experience of being back in school and unable to give a report to her classmates. Paralyzed by the sensation of “butterflies in her stomach”, she stood in front of the class unable to move or speak. Many of us can relate to similar experiences that haunt us. Some people even spend years avoiding future situations in which they might encounter those types of butterflies. Eventually life may bring us to the point, however, where we must face that fear to move forward. For my friend that happened when she needed to make presentations as part of her job and sought help from Toastmasters International. With practice she developed skill in managing her nervousness, spoke with poise before groups, and eventually began her own business. Transformations such as hers often happen when we confront obstacles in our path along life’s journey.
The butterfly serves as a perfect example of transformation. Starting life with a very limited world to explore, the caterpillar retreats to a solitary life within the cocoon where it matures. With time, however, that formerly plain caterpillar unfolds and eventually soars with its beautiful new wings! I like to think that my parents experienced a similar transformation when they shed their earthly bodies and their souls passed from this life to another. In my dreams I sometimes envision them happily together again once more, observing life from a place far beyond our imagination, yet forever close to us in spirit.
After I was born Dad greeted Mom in her hospital room with a big bunch of daffodils. Maybe that explains why I’ve always had a special fondness for them. I know Dad’s bouquet touched Mom deeply because she spoke of it often throughout the years and loved picking daffodils each spring.
When I was very young Dad continued honoring Mom on my birthdays with special gifts. Mom said that he had done the same for his own mother on his birthdays when she was alive, as his way of saying thanks to her for bringing him into the world. When old enough I decided to continue what Dad had started and gave Mom gifts on my birthdays, too. It became something I looked forward to doing each year, especially since these gifts typically were spring flowers, reminiscent of that first bouquet of daffodils Dad gave her. This tradition also helped provide comfort to Mom and continuity when Dad passed away in 2002, for my yearly gifts reminded her of him.
Mom passed away in February 2012. Although her health had been steadily declining for several years, a heart attack took her in minutes. Unknown to us at the time, the conversation we had just hours earlier was our last. Emptiness replaced the companionship we had shared. Bleak winter days following her passing matched the loneliness I felt inside. After a few weeks passed, milder weather came and the first spring daffodils bravely poked their way through the ground. My sense of isolation began to lift at the sight of these flowers emerging, bringing promise of better days ahead. As the daffodils’ cheerful yellow petals unfolded a little more each day, so did pleasant memories of Mom.
Witnessing life’s continuing cycle as evidenced by the earth’s renewal reminds me of God’s love and faithfulness. He knows my heart and provides each day for my needs even before I know them myself. The year Mom passed the daffodils were particularly beautiful. My grandson brought me some on my birthday.
A New Year begins, but we never completely forget the past one. Memories connect our years and compose the very fabric of our lives. Happy memories we tuck safely within our hearts to encourage us during darker times. Unpleasant memories we often file away in the recesses of our brains and try to forget. As long as we live we never stop building memories.
Although with age they may find it sometimes challenging to recall certain details, elderly people often enjoy sharing their memories. By telling about their past, they have a chance to relive it while entertaining those who take the time to listen. Younger listeners may have history brought to life as they listen to stories told by people who actually lived through those times.
Once we complete our earthly journey, we leave memories with our loved ones. Memories forever bond us to one another. Hearing a particular song, sniffing a familiar scent, or observing certain signs from nature often remind us of dearly departed ones. Through memories we may feel a continued sense of communication with those who are no longer with us. These ties we have with loved ones who have passed can be powerful. In some cases they are so strong that survivors relate feeling their presence during critical times in their lives.
In a more deliberate way, we can choose to remain in touch with those we have lost through writings they left behind. Before his passing my dad began writing his memoirs. As I read these stories he wrote about his life when he was a young man, I get a glimpse into past events that shaped him to become the person I knew. His writing style, the words he used to convey his thoughts and the emotions he brought forth through his descriptions, all keep his memory close to me.
No matter which season in life we find ourselves, we have a need to communicate. Infants communicate with their parents by crying when they are hungry, tired, wet or in pain. Parents sometimes can even distinguish the complaint by the type of cry. As babies grow a little older, they add gestures, facial cues, and body language to their communication tools. For example when she was a baby one of our grandchildren rubbed her eyes when she was sleepy, smiled when we talked to her, and reached for things that interested her. Babies’ babbling evolves into first words, then sentences, and later progresses to putting those sentences together into complete thoughts.
Watching communication develop throughout childhood can be equally fascinating as children begin to enhance and clarify those thoughts through the use of descriptive adverbs, adjectives, and logical sentence structure. Maturation of these basic skills during the teen years and adulthood makes it possible to further expand one’s contribution to the world. Communicating ideas, sharing information, and telling stories are just a few of the ways we can do this.
In addition to mastering the spoken word, we continue to add gestures, body language and facial expressions throughout life to either emphasize or even replace some of our spoken words. Did you ever stop to think about how many things we communicate to one another without saying a single word? A look, a handshake, a rolling of the eyes, can speak volumes without a single sound being uttered.
Interestingly enough, when something happens to alter someone’s communication abilities, such as an accident or suffering a stroke, that person may return to the beginning stages of language development. Unable to speak or to find the right word, he or she might use sounds, gestures or even another word relating to the one being sought. And reminiscent of the way parents of infants instinctively know their babies’ needs, those closest to that person often know what their loved one is trying to say.
One of the things I like best about living in the Northeast is watching the change of seasons. Each season holds its own special beauty and I enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells each one brings. Not surprisingly, as I live each new season, my mind returns to memories of seasons past.
Fall, for example, brings forth images of attending our town’s annual festival when I was a child. The crisp autumn air carried the sweet aroma of donuts and the drone of the auctioneer’s voice from the center stage. My eyes feasted on the assortment of prizes at each of the booths lining the perimeter of the event, and I hoped to win one of them to bring home. At home, fall meant a time for decorating the house in warm autumn hues, the scent of freshly picked grapes, and preparation for the upcoming holidays.
As an adult, I know fall is here when I hear the sound of geese flying overhead. A neighbor has a pond where they often stop on their journey south. We put out the birdfeeders for the birds that winter here, and the chipmunks scurry around gathering food for the long winter ahead. Watching the bright colors of summer fade into fall can be both breathtaking and a little sad, as we watch the earth take on a new type of beauty.
Observing these wonders of nature often reminds me of the seasons of life and the beauty in each one. Through my ever-changing surroundings I have the privilege of continually reminiscing about each of the stages of life that I’ve experienced so far and savoring memories of each one.