Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Anne Lamott Gives Us Hope with "Hallelujah Anyway"

If I wanted to sound hipper than I actually am, I'd tell you that Anne Lamott is my "spirit animal." But at my age, I'm probably not cool enough to use terms like that. So instead, I'll just say that Anne Lamott makes my world a better place, because her books are like elixirs for my soul. I've been hooked on her writings since my wife introduced me to them several years ago during a difficult period in our lives.

When I read Annie's books, I feel like I’m being hugged by her words, and Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy is no exception. In fact, the words on the pages of this book are the best kind of hugs, full of love and hope and spirituality. And even though I don't consider myself to be a very religious person, I am a big believer in love, hope, spirituality, and the comfort they bring to our lives.

In Hallelujah Anyway, Anne Lamott explores the complicated concept of mercy. The dictionary may define mercy as "compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one's power to punish or harm," but Annie's got a better definition: "Mercy is radical kindness," she writes. "Mercy means offering or being offered aid in desperate straits. Mercy is not deserved. It involves absolving the unabsolvable, forgiving the unforgivable."

Yes, mercy is complicated, but Hallelujah Anyway does a fabulous job of breaking it down so it’s easier to understand. And Annie even paints visual pictures of mercy that help you feel what mercy is. "Mercy is a cloak that will wrap around you and protect you," she says. "It can block the terror, the dark and most terrifying aspects of your own true self. It is soft, has lots of folds, and enfolds you. It can help you rest and breathe again for the time being, which is all we ever have." Can’t you just feel those words giving you a hug?

Showing mercy isn't an easy thing to do in this day and age, but it's something that's so very necessary. So many of us are struggling and hurting, and we need to be embraced and connect with each other. Because, as Annie states, "the last word will not be our bad thoughts and behavior, but mercy, love, and forgiveness."

Sure, people come in all different shapes, sizes, colors, religions, and ethnicities. But the bottom line is, despite all our differences, we are all human beings. And we all deserve mercy. And the way we start making that possible is to accept one another for what we are. In what I found to be the most powerful line in all of Hallelujah Anyway, Lamott tells us:

"Polite inclusion is the gateway drug to mercy."

On the first page of Chapter One, Annie writes about "scary, unsettling times--times "when we know that we need help or answers but we're not sure what kind…. We look and look, tearing apart our lives like we're searching for car keys in our couch, and we come up empty-handed. Then when we're doing something stupid, like staring at the dog's mismatched paws, we stumble across what we needed to find. Or even better, it finds us."

At this point in my life, when I’m going through still more trying times, I truly needed Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy. I’m so grateful that Anne Lamott put it out there for me to find. You should go find it, too. I guarantee it will make you feel better and give you a little bit of hope for the world we live in today.

Monday, February 6, 2017

We've Lost Our Sense of Wonder

I love trivia.

For as long as I can remember, I've been fascinated by little-known facts about all kinds of things. Back in the 1980s, a couple of friends and I would make regular trips to a local bar to play an electronic trivia game, and we won on a regular basis. I also won numerous prizes for answering trivia questions on something called Sports Phone, which was--are you ready for this, Millennials?--a phone number you paid to call to get up-to-the-minute sports news and scores.

And don't even get me started about my lifelong obsession with Jeopardy!, a game show my wife and I watch religiously every weeknight.

There's something so incredibly satisfying about knowing the answers to obscure questions like: Who was the last switch hitter to win the American League Most Valuable Player award? Answer: Vida Blue in 1971. (Yes, Blue was actually a pitcher, but pitchers still batted in the American League in 1971, so that’s a totally legit answer.)

For me, possessing little nuggets of information like that has always been something to be proud of. I'd come across them and tuck them safely away in my memory bank, where they'd reside until I needed to pull them out so I could challenge someone else's knowledge of all things trivial.

On the other hand, when someone asked me a bar bet-type question and I didn't know the answer? It would drive me crazy until I could actually verify the answer. Sometimes it took days for me to confirm the answer via a reputable source. Sometimes it even required a trip to this place called a library to do some research. 

But today's world is different. Technology has made it so easy to find anything out in just a few seconds. When we don't know the answer to something, we go to our computer, smart phone, or tablet, type in a few words, and boom! There's our answer.

*How old is that celebrity? 

*Who was the actor who played that obscure role in that movie from the '60s?

*What was that singer's biggest hit? 

*How many home runs home runs did so and so hit off of left-handed pitching?

Nothing is a mystery anymore. Bar trivia has been ruined forever.

And we've lost our sense of wonder.

Another example from the mid-1990s: I remember when a quiz having to do with lines from '80s pop/rock songs was going around via email. Email was pretty common at the time, but the Internet had yet to become something everybody had access to. People would email this quiz around, print it out, and pore over it for hours, trying to figure out which band or artist sang the song each line of lyrics was from.

People spent time wondering about that stupid quiz! They'd fold it up, carry it around with them, and ask other people about it, because they wanted to find out the answers. And they'd work hard to do so.

But those days are over for good. Today, whether the question you're seeking an answer to is silly or serious, the answer is right at your fingertips. And if you have access to Siri, Google Assistant, Cortana, an Amazon Echo, or a Google Home, you don't even have to use your fingers. You can just ask your question out loud and get an answer. Technology is such a fabulous thing!

Or is it?

Maybe I'm just getting old, but sometimes I think it would be better if people today were left to wonder about more. Exercising our brains is a good thing, and taking some time to think about why the sky is blue (molecules in the air scatter blue light more than they scatter red light) or how many toilet paper tubes it would take to fill up the Empire State Building (8.5 billion) might be good for our brain health.

For better or worse, kids these days have access to everything kids from earlier generations had to wonder about. Whether they're curious about something that occurred in American history, how a certain product is made, or where babies come from, they only have to wonder as long as it takes to plug their question into a parent's--or, more likely, their own--device. Young boys with raging hormones don't even have to hunt down Playboy magazines to see what a woman's naked body looks like anymore because anything (and I mean anything) they could ever want to see is out there in cyberspace, readily available to them. Now where's the fun in that?!

There's a song that appeared on Sesame Street a few years back called "I Wonder." It's sung by Ernie and the lyrics go something like this:

How does a bunny hop, hop, hop?
And what makes popcorn pop, pop, pop?
Why does the rain fall drop by drop
And the lightning always come before the thunder?
I wonder.

Do you ever wonder as you walk along
What makes a tiny little ant so strong?
Does every bird have a different song?
Do you wonder why?
Well, so do I.

Somebody needs to loan Ernie their iPhone. I wouldn't want him to wonder too long.

By the way, "I Wonder" was co-written by Adam Schlesigner, bassist for the band Fountains of Wayne, which you probably know from its Grammy-nominated song “Stacy’s Mom,” which was also written by Schlesinger, who also wrote the title song for the movie That Thing You Do!, and whose cousin, Jon Bernthal, played Shane in AMC's TV series The Walking Dead.

You can Google it.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Update on 2017 Scholarship Contest

Just a quick update to let folks know that I've been doing a lot of thinking about the feasibility of a 2017 My Life as 3D Scholarship Essay Contest. As you may or may not know, my wife and I started our essay contest back in 2015 as a way to help college students who have been affected by a sibling's addiction. We were thrilled to be able to award two scholarships in both 2015 ($1,700 total) and 2016 ($2,050 total).

In both of those years, my wife and I seeded the scholarship monies with $500 of our own, with the rest of the funds provided by generous donors. Unfortunately, I haven't worked full-time in more than three years now, and money is about as tight as it can be. Funding last year's contest was a challenge, but funding this year's contest is pretty much an impossibility.

As much as we'd love to do it, I think the scholarship contest is going to have to take a break this year. Sometimes you just have to be realistic, even if it hurts a little.

If anything changes--like if by some chance I win the lottery in the next few weeks (note: that probably won't happen since I don't buy lottery tickets)--I will update you. But for now it looks like we'll set our sights on getting the contest back on track in 2018.

Thanks for understanding.

Peace. And remember...

#SiblingsMatter