Beauty in darkness

It’s approximately 52 degrees, not a cold front but not the balmy weather we have recently enjoyed. The winds are howling, probably in excess of 50 miles per hour. And if I look carefully, I can see tiny spots of blue that are quickly obscured by the dark clouds.

We are accustomed to equating beautiful weather with sunshine, blue skies, and gentle breezes. This is especially true when on vacation, as we are now. But the more I think about it,the more it becomes my challenge and responsibility to find the beauty in otherwise gloomy conditions.

Ultimately, we make have the ability to identify our own definitions of beauty in our surroundings. For one, the wind and rain that I am seeing today will make the sunshine and brightness to follow that much more brilliant. Beyond that, we must derive happiness and security from the world we’re living, rather than the temperatures and wind we are experiencing.

I’m beginning to believe that it’s senseless and a waste of time to complain about the weather. We can’t fix it, we can’t order only good conditions, and the contrast is a good thing. My life is a gift that I am able to continue enjoying. Among my blessings are a pair of unbelievably kind and thoughtful offspring, a marriage that is secure and happy, grandchildren who are bright and inquisitive, and a world that is (now) one of democracy and freedom.

With all of that considered, what can be the problem with some clouds and wind? It will go away when it is time to do so. In the meantime, it feels so much better to celebrate life’s gifts than to whine about the weather. Maybe it’s more beautiful than we thought. Shalom.

Original

Is there a difference between emulating, copying and imitating? We all do one form or another of this. Every time I hear “a ton” of something in a written or television piece, I cringe. This is an example of someone or many imitating a word usage that is far beyond cliché, all the way into trite.

But what happens if you wear something I like and I want some item of clothing that is similar? It seems to me that if I buy an article that is exactly the same, I am copying you. If I buy an item that is similar, I am emulating. And with the possibility that I am poking fun or criticizing (not necessarily your taste in clothing), I am imitating.

This is fun because I am so specific about the words I use. To many others, the words may be interchangeable. And sometimes, the differences between them get blurry, depending on the age and sophistication of people involved.

Very often, I hear “don’t copy me” in the classroom. It rarely means, don’t write what I just wrote as compared to don’t do what I just did. Kids often decide that they are saying or doing something special and unique. Anyone who attempts a similar action or speech pattern is committing the infraction of copying.

If we make the comparison larger in scope, civil disobedience is copied or imitated behavior, but not emulated. But let’s not forget that imitation is reputedly the highest form of flattery. Does that mean that if you riot in your city, I am flattering you by rioting in mine? I think not.

The proverbial bottom line is that the behavior is copied if I don’t like it (or it’s illegal in the form of plagiarism). If it’s flattering, you are emulating me. You may be complimenting my style or methods or something I cannot identify. If you are imitating me, my best guess is that it’s a form of compliment, as long as it’s not verbatim imitation, another word for theft.

Most likely, I’ll probably engage in more word dissections as time continues. In the interim, feel free to ask for assistance rather than copying (appropriating) what I do. Shalom.

As good as your word

The appointment was for 3:00 pm. We had diligently cleared an area to work and prepared our electric bills for the past year. This was the preface to a scheduled 3:00 appointment with a solar panel salesman who had energetically petitioned for an appointment to discuss the feasibility of solar panels for our home.

We observed 3:00, 3:30, 4:00 and 4:30 come and go, with the salesman failing to appear. From my standpoint, it was an opportunity to save some time. So far, I have yet to see the practicality of solar panels, especially because of the cost and the fact that our electric bills were the lowest I’ve seen in many years.

Ultimately, that’s not the point. Having spent the majority of my career in sales (with the hiatus in the classroom as the only exception – and aren’t I selling knowledge and learning?), I can safely say that I never no-showed an appointment. That’s not to say that I felt confident of the legitimacy in all my appointments, but I would never think of not appearing.

This is a sad commentary, on the integrity of the representative and maybe that of the company and/or its products. If you believe strongly enough in a product to make it available through door-to-door canvassing, you must have some conviction of its value. And there’s the fact that he neglected to secure a phone number when he set the appointment a week ago.

Any of the usual situations could have been in effect. He may have been ill. He may have had a sick family member or two. He may have gotten delayed on a previous appointment. He may have been run over by a road runner. But my best guess is that many have lost the professionalism that I feel is crucial to a viable sales career.

We’ll ultimately see if he shows up again or not. And if you want to make the case that his brand of salesmanship suggests large numbers for negligible chances of success, I understand that as well. No matter your conclusion, I maintain that we are only as good as our words. Telling someone, anyone that I will be somewhere at a certain time is tantamount to a promise. And breaking promises is a habit that I simply can’t support, for myself or those whom I am fortunate enough to educate. Shalom.

Earning trust

How many people can you say that you truly and completely trust? While family members are generally at the top of this list, recent horror stories of moms and dads doing unspeakable harm to their children make this questionable. What about brothers and sisters? We can also find evidence of this form of trust being violated or unwarranted. The same is true of sons and daughters, cousins, aunts and uncles, etc.

Excluding these aberrations, most of us can say that we have family members or close friends in whom we deposit all or most of our trust. Husbands, wives, confidantes and offspring are usually the people for whom we have the greatest confidence. But beyond that, when was the last time you told someone that you trusted him or her?This subject came up the other day in a conversation I was having with my hair stylist. When I assured her that I had the utmost confidence in what she does, we decided that few of our contemporaries issue the statement, “I trust you.” Why is that?

For one, I’m thinking that we are often reticent about expressing our trust for fear of having that status somehow violated. That seems ridiculous because if we truly had faith in someone, why would that deposit of confidence be susceptible to being overturned?

Most likely, I think that we don’t tell people often enough that we trust them. If you were a physician and heard from your patient that you were trusted, wouldn’t that enhance your feelings of self-confidence? The same question can be asked with regard to dentists, car repair professionals or educators. As I consider the concept, I don’t think that I’ve ever had a client or student indicate that they trusted me.

Because I believe that the consequences of telling someone, “I trust you” are so positive, I think that I’ll assure more of my network of people that I trust them. It appears to be a gift, a statement of faith and an affirmation of value. If the trust is returned, I am certain that it will enhance me to be that person who is trusted. Shalom.

If I may assist you in any of your writing endeavors, it will be my pleasure and privilege to do so. You may reach me at csbutts19@yahoo.com.

Footprints

Having recently watched the movie that was Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s biography, I find myself thinking about the footprints that all of us leave behind. The messages conveyed in the film were memorable and inspirational, causing me to imagine the exhilaration of leaving footprints nearly as large as hers.

If we take a moment to itemize all of our accomplishments, most of us have far fewer than RBG. And so it seems that we must be satisfied that we will never match her profound legacy. But does that mean we should stop trying to create the best and finest? Absolutely not.

While I will never represent a defendant or preside in the Supreme Court, I will settle classroom disputes. Likewise, just as I will never create the likes of Hamlet or A Farewell to Arms, I do create work requested by my clients and contribute my blogs for the entertainment and illumination of my readers.

Add to that a daughter and son who honor me with their character and integrity, as well as their own boundless affection. As an educator, I continue to hope that my students live up to the expectations to which they are entitled and that I diligently identify.

We all have the capacity to leave behind a footprint as formidable as we choose. Just as I aspire to teach more, write more and love more, we can all avoid those boundaries that are created for us by others and ourselves. The only limits we have are those we establish.

Few of us will have the opportunities to match RBG’S accomplishments. But we all have the means to learn and to give back to our world. Call someone and tell them that you love them. Write a letter to your grandkids, nieces, nephews or other special people – there’s a good possibility that your letters will be the only handwritten letters they will ever receive. Doing so and more, we can change the size of our imprints while improving the universe, one footstep at a time. Shalom.

Gifts

If I am very lucky, I have one student a day whom I can identify and empower for his or her kindness, attitude, cooperation or all of the above. This was one of those blissfully special days that remind me of my mission and blessings as an educator.

He was a tiny, effervescent and thoroughly obedient little man. We’ll call him Jesse. For my whole day with him, he required no correction or discipline, remaining quiet and attentive.

At approximately 1:45 pm, I called him to my desk and told him in a small and private voice that he was absolutely special. We looked each other in the eyes and I went on to advise him that he was smart, kind and had everything it takes to be anyone he wants to be.

Jesse confided that he wanted to be a ninja, to which I responded that he would be the best ninja there could ever be. Within the next two hours, he returned to me at least three times, advising that he also wanted to be a football player and for no apparent reason at all, other than to maintain our connection.

While I individualize my attention and work to connect with every child on one level or another, this one was extraordinary. Whether it was the words used, the tone of my voice or the look on my face, he knew how special he was and is.

This day in kindergarten, I had the time to let kids use my construction paper and stickers to create whatever their imaginations may produce. We had castles and crowns, dinosaurs and dragons, farms and families.

Early in the project, I indicated that the more paper and stickers they used, the lighter my bag would be to carry to my car. At least one little girl remembered that statement. As we were cleaning up, she scurried around, assuring me that she was working toward making my bag as light as possible.

But the best gesture was one last visit from Jesse. As he and his class prepared to go to the gym, he stopped one more time to see me. He handed me a sticker of a bus, saying nothing but putting it in my hand. After I thanked him profusely, I attached the bus to my writing sheet, and he went on his way.

No amount of money, accolades or appreciation could compensate me more than the bus or the look in Jesse’s eyes. Two or three sentences may well have improved his day, his semester or his life. Reading, writing and arithmetic remain vital to growth and becoming responsible, functioning adults. But believe that if every educator finds and enables one Jesse each day, we will all make immeasurable contributions and receive indescribable gifts to ourselves. Shalom.

Work

If you are anything like me, you have a difficult time putting aside your busy life to relax. Three or four days per week, I spend some time in a classroom,  a pursuit that requires my full attention and concentration. On an average of two to three days per week, I find myself completing some freelance work or maximizing my opportunities to secure new assignments.

On those days when I have no tasks to complete, I discover that I continue to find efforts to occupy my time. Sometimes that consists of cleaning a closet, regardless of the fact that I’ve cleaned said closet at least three times in the last three months. Sometimes it’s reorganizing my office, a space that consists exclusively of my possessions that were already in logical and accessible places.

What all of this means is that some of us find it difficult to do nothing unless it somehow resembles work. Be certain that I earned a semblance of retirement. My first full-time, permanent position happened in 1969 and except for a few months following my final job, I have worked nonstop since that time.

It appears to me that the problem is not a lack of endeavors on which I can spend my time but that I have spent so long doing work that it’s nearly impossible not to do something productive. Is that my version of the Protestant work ethic – work hard, thrift and efficiency? In other words, you will be doing that which you are “supposed to” do. Or is it the voice of my dad saying, “You’re lazy and always will be,” a voice that should have been silenced long ago.

Happily, I think that I’m just a person who derives satisfaction and gratification from building, creating and completing. So far, I don’t see that this has produced any negative consequences. Life is happy and without significant stress. My family brings me unequalled pleasure and I’m not missing anything that I can identify. Most importantly, I agree with a fifth-grade teacher whom I met recently. He said that he had been teaching for four years but had never had a day of “going to work.”

And so, if I am unable to stare at a wall and watch the world go on without me, so be it. When I am no longer part of that world, I hope that others will remember me as someone who always wanted to contribute more. Shalom.

Excuses

He that is good at making excuses is seldom good for anything else.      Benjamin Franklin

People I’ve known who are happiest and most fulfilled have never made excuses for success, happiness or achievement. Why is it, then, that we are full of excuses for all negative outcomes? It seems to me that the simplest and most reasonable explanation for a lack of victory or positive consequence is that I didn’t work hard enough. Or maybe I didn’t spend enough time in understanding what needed to be done.

This makes me wonder why it becomes so difficult to realize that we weren’t up to or prepared for a particular journey or task. If you didn’t finish a 5k race, was it really because the weather was too hot or humid? Many others finished, probably at a faster speed than you had. Saying that I didn’t train, didn’t focus or didn’t push hard enough is a much better explanation than climate.

Very often, we make excuses for not doing something. Why not call your mother instead of conjuring reasons not to do so? Why not save something out of every paycheck? And if you haven’t worn something for over a year, don’t keep it because you will someday – donate it to someone who can use it now.

We all have a huge amount to learn from special Olympians who finish races or compete in sports that are difficult for those who have all their physical and psychological capabilities. And how many of us have seen youngsters and older people survive and overcome illnesses that would have incapacitated most of us?

My lesson learned is to understand what is required and do everything necessary to approach whatever work or undertaking with all aspects prepared to succeed. Blaming everything outside of us for our inability to prevail provides the enticement to shirk any responsibility we choose. But nothing is learned, and growth is impossible.

Don’t make the mistake of removing yourself from every unfulfilled equation. Excuses are easily created and perpetuated but taking ownership and growing is much more difficult and infinitely more rewarding. Shalom.

No-one knows

Parked at a stoplight, I determined that I was at the long end of the cycle allowing me to make my left turn. It’s probably germane to mention that I was in no particular hurry. For some reason, I looked around and persuaded myself that there were no police cars in the vicinity; I briefly considered making an illegal left turn. In retrospect, I don’t know why I thought about it. But magically, I had a left turn arrow that was entirely out of cycle and proceeded (lawfully) through the intersection.

Throughout our lives, we have enticements and opportunities to be a little wrong, a trifle illegal or a bit off center. It’s similar to fudging on our income taxes or parking in a handicapped space to run in “for a minute.” Without getting into whether God is watching or not, we are the same as the actions we take. Having had a handicapped plaque for a while following surgeries, I can assure you that an extra ten, twenty or thirty feet represents serious inconvenience.

Somehow, I can’t do the wrong things that may or may not be detected. The risks of doing so are far beyond the IRS audits or moving violations. If we commit those infractions, what else can we justify? In the process of saving a few minutes or a few dollars, don’t we sacrifice our integrity? Teaching our children and grandchildren and students about honesty, those lessons must be accompanied by actions and statements that are genuine.

It may be that my thoughts at the stoplight were a test – just to make certain that my moral compass was still working properly. My guess is that it would have been more difficult to break the law than to sit through as many traffic light signals as it would have taken. And the lesson – it’s never necessary to analyze or justify the right decisions that we make. While I probably wouldn’t have had any trouble sleeping if I had run the red light, I don’t know that it’s the type of thing that a role model would do. Shalom.

Ending and beginning

As this year comes to an end, many of us contemplate what has taken place and what we hope for the upcoming calendar year. The fact that none of us can accurately predict the events that will take place, this lack of impact doesn’t prevent anyone (including me) from wishing the best for 2019.

Listing the realities that I hope to take place next year, I can only wonder how many of them I can in fact influence. The easy answer is that most of it is out of my hands. While I can suggest to others that they purchase and read my autobiography, ultimately, I can’t cause anyone to do so. The same is true for reading my blogs, soliciting professional services or asking me to teach. And as I hope for continued good health for my family and me, how much of that health is out of my direct control?

With all of that inability, what are our options for 2019? Sitting in my recliner in preparation for the next year seems neither attractive nor productive. My intention is to return to the classroom, for the opportunity to touch young lives every day. Along with that, I hope to join a local choral ensemble so as not to allow my vocal chords to rust. And in a community that actively seeks volunteers in a wide collection of venues, I will seek out the one where my energy and experience may be best put to work.

While I am aware that none of those intentions will insulate me from negative occurrences, I also believe that all of them will maximize my opportunities for a happy and fulfilled life. And the bonus is that by engaging in my planned activities, I have the ability to make the lives of others better in some way, large or small.

Thank you in advance for your wishes for a happy new year; they are enthusiastically reciprocated. But I leave you with the recommendation that you can be a contributor to a good year, primarily by engaging in giving more to the world than you take. Shalom.