One of my favorite quirky things to do when I am walking (especially on longer, leisurely walks, as opposed to, say, walking from the parking lot of Dairy Queen to the counter inside Dairy Queen) is to think about what I would like to be “walking into” and then make up quick little proclamations that assert my desires–and assert them repeatedly as I stride along.
“I am walking into greater health with each step I take.”
“I am walking closer to my dharma, my purpose, with my every step in life.”
“Each step takes me closer to joyful, financial freedom.”
(“Each step also takes me closer to my Peanut Buster Parfait at the counter of Dairy Queen.”)
(“Why do they make the counter so far away from the parking lot?)
“I walk with confidence into the next successful phase of my long, healthy life.”
“I walk with youthful vigor.”
I LOVE this simple, fun exercise. Try it sometime. It’ll make you feel better. And lose weight. (Except for the Dairy Queen thing.)
But, you know, sometimes it might just be more important to WALK AWAY FROM instead of WALK INTO.
Parting can be sorrow, perhaps sweet sorrow. I don’t know about you, but I need to walk away from some things.
“I walk away from the tendency to judge those different from me.”
“I turn my back on criticizing.”
“I walk, no, run, quickly away from anything that makes me unhealthy.”
I love bestselling author Robert Fulghum’s assertion that all he ever really needed to know, he learned in kindergarten.
Looking at the news headlines each day (which in itself is probably a pretty unhealthy habit), I see our political leaders constantly engaged in embarrassingly hateful rhetoric, our world reeling from ongoing, horrific violence, even the recent White House Correspondents’ Dinner reduced to backroom vulgarity and nasty personal insults.
The news is consistently ugly.
I have a suggestion. Let’s send Trump, Pelosi, indeed all of Washington BACK TO KINDERGARTEN!
Here, according to Fulghum, is what they could learn:
“Share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody. Live a balanced life.
Take a nap every afternoon. When you go out into the world, watch for traffic, hold hands and stick together. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the plastic cup. The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that. Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the plastic cup – they all die, so do we.
And then remember the book about Dick and Jane and the first word you learned, the biggest word of all: LOOK. Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and sane living.
Think of what a better world it would be if we all – the whole world – had cookies and milk about 3 o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankets for a nap. Or if we had a basic policy in our nations to always put things back where we found them and cleaned up our own messes. And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out into the world, it is better to hold hands and stick together.”
— Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten
Wait! What am I thinking?! I need to go back to kindergarten too! And not just for that nap.
I’m getting ready to go register now.
Want to join me?
P.S. But I seriously hope I’m not sitting at the same table with Trump or Pelosi.
(I invite you, as you read this post, to recollect your grandparents, or any elders who have gone before, paving the way, in this perpetual, eternal Circle of Life. Picture them as you read.)
Last week a beautiful funeral/memorial service took place here in Savannah for Fred Pierce, the eighty-five year old father of my daughter Amy’s fiancé Scott. You can read Mr. Pierce’s inspiring obituary here. What an active, productive life he lived!
My talented ten-year old grandson Daniel sang (beautifully, I might add!) the national anthem at the interment at our city’s much lauded Bonaventure Cemetery.
He then presented the flag to Fred’s wife Ruth.
Daniel, a Savannah child actor/singer, also sang at my mother’s funeral back in 2016. He was eight at the time.
And back in 2012, my father-in-law, the Rev. Billy Boggs, passed away. Daniel, four at that time, wanted to go into the funeral home’s visitation area to see his great-grandfather. “Abu, what’s back there?” He simply could not understand how, if Papa was supposed to be in Heaven, he could also be down that long hallway at the funeral home.
With approval from his parents, I took Daniel, in my arms, down that lively, deadly hallway toward his great-grandfather. I don’t know, you may have chosen differently. But I had been carrying D around all over the place for years. Why not here, I thought?
Here’s the story, from six years ago, from my NealEnJoy blog:
[As I mentioned in a previous post, my father-in-law passed away earlier this week. Death, of course, is difficult for anyone to cope with, but perhaps especially so for young children. Because they are still so close to birth, little beings of the morning, and because their life experience has been with newness and fresh discovery, with joy and giggles, death must seem unfathomable, foreign, outside of understanding.
But like most kids, my four-year-old grandson Daniel likes to understand: “Abu, why can’t I sit on top of your car? I could see a whole lot better.” “Abu, my teacher won’t let me bring my sword to school and fight like the blue Power Ranger. Why not?” “Why can’t I say potty words?” “Why do we have to wear clothes when it’s hot?” “Why?” “Why?” “Why?”
When his parents arrived at the funeral home north of Atlanta the other evening, they told me that Daniel had, as usual, been plying them with questions about the current subject which went beyond his grasp–his great-grandfather’s death. “But if Papa is in heaven, why will everyone be sad?” “Where IS Papa?”
I played with Daniel and his little brother Gabriel in the large kitchen area of the funeral home, where friends had brought mounds of food. Their mom and dad, Amy and Orte, walked through large white windowed doors and down a narrow hall that eventually led to a sitting room where the family received guests who came to pay their respect and offer condolences. Papa looked pre-cancerous in a striking gray suit, snow-white shirt, and brown and gray tie patterned with tiny crosses. He had been a Methodist minister in the North Georgia Conference. A large United States flag, achingly resplendent in red, white and blue liveliness, lay across the unopened lower half of the coffin. Papa was retired Air Force.
Every few minutes, Daniel ran over to tiptoe and peer through the windows of the white doors, gazing down that long hallway which twisted and turned but allowed no view of Papa. “Where are Mama and Daddy? I want to go too.” A few minutes later: “Why can’t I go in?” “Is Papa in there? Where?” “Let’s go in there, Abu.”
A while later, when we were eating lasagna in the kitchen, Daniel was still asking, asking. I made a decision, a decision you may not have made. I asked Daniel’s mom and dad if I could take him in to see Papa. They agreed, mainly (I think) because they trust me, and they know how much I love D.
I picked Daniel up and asked him if he knew what had happened to Papa. “He died,” came the quick answer. I told him that yes Papa had died. “And he’s in heaven,” Daniel added. His confusion centered on who or what was down that hall that everyone kept traversing. He wanted understanding, answers. He wanted to walk down that hall.
So we did.
The kitchen had been noisy with visitors loudly talking, eating, reminiscing, and occasionally laughing at the past. Its tiled floor amplified the clicks of my boot heels as we walked, Daniel in my arms, toward those doors, dividing doors which in my grandson’s mind led to answers. As we passed through them, my heels, like everything and everyone on that other side, grew quieter on the deep carpet.
We entered the viewing room, and walked past adults talking in hushed tones. Daniel kissed his Nana (Donna is the oldest of the four daughters of Papa), then his Great-Grandma, who sat regally next to the coffin. But his eyes were looking, searching.
Not expecting Papa to be lying down (why didn’t I think to tell him that detail?), Daniel finally found his great-grandfather.
He looked for a while, and finally asked quietly (Daniel doesn’t usually do “quiet” very well), “Is Papa sleeping?”
“No, not really sleeping. He died, remember?”
We stood there for about a minute, Daniel getting heavy in my arms.
“Are you ready to go, baby?”
Other folks waited patiently for their turn behind us. Daniel started to lean over toward the coffin, paused and looked at me for permission (and like “quiet,” D doesn’t always do “permission” well). I nodded, and Daniel touched the white satin edges of the liner and then Papa’s right arm.
Giggling just a bit, Daniel said, “It tickles.” I smiled.
“You ready now?”
We walked back through the hall, toward the kitchen. When we got to the doors, I saw through the windows my daughter Amy and Orte, waiting. I put Daniel down, and he pushed open the door. His dad asked him, “Are you okay, Daniel?”
But he was already off, running on the noisy tile, chasing his little brother. Doing “loud” once again.]
One of the many joys of living downtown in Savannah’s beautiful Landmark Historic District is the vibrancy of neighborhood. The fun, fun, fun social connections of post-modern urban living. Folks are flooding back into our country’s urban cores for an old, but new way of living. The excitement of all that the inner city can offer plus neighbors who relate.
Robert and I live on Washington Square, the northeastern-most of Savannah’s 22 squares, a couple of blocks from the Savannah River and one of the busiest ports in America. Georgia founder James Edward Oglethorpe laid out Savannah in a simple grid system, which makes for easy neighboring. Our square, for example, every Friday evening beckons area residents (and anybody else who meanders though) to join us for “Fancy Friday,” which now-a-days isn’t fancy at all but brings together neighbors with their children, dogs, drinks and hors d’oeuvres to chit chat and relate before moving on to other evening activities.
And this past Sunday morning was our annual Washington Square Bathrobe Brunch. The event, revived from years ago when a resident would sit on a bench in Washington Square and conduct business from his phone in his bathrobe, saw over 50 folks in robes and pj’s coming together for fun and food.
In his latest incredibly insightful book, Ageless Soul: The Lifelong Journey Toward Meaning and Joy, former monk, bestselling psychotherapist and cutting-edge modern spirituality guru Thomas Moore posits that we need to (we must!) celebrate and embrace those who have paved the road before us.
Moore explains that, “Centuries ago artists and writers had a practice of honoring a certain historical line of figures who shaped them. They referred to their own list of inspirers and muses as ‘prisca theologia’–a spiritual lineage.” We all have this gift from the past and present, don’t we? Folks who contribute to our lives, our growth, our thinking, our mental and physical development, our essence. Life benefactors.
Everybody has such a developmental legacy, a set of contributors, not perfect (or anywhere near perfection, of course) but THERE, one way or another, in our humanly sacred DNA.
My life, for example, has been/still is lifted up by a plethora of men and women who gave and continue to give me breath to live–my personal prisca theologia, my spiritual legacy.
Great-grandfather J. P. Saye was my North Georgia hometown Ball Ground’s first doctor.
I grew up with stories about his brand of doctoring. In 1963 the University of Georgia Press published a slice-of-life portrait of turn-of-the century small town Southern Americana, Yesterday in theHills, by father/son historians and co-authors Floyd and Charles Watkins. One chapter features Dr. Saye, illustrating a sample of what life was like for a country doctor who was often paid with chickens and pigs. Consider Dr. Saye’s obstetrics work, for example:
“Once Dr. Saye was delivering a baby in Andy Cockriel’s home in Lawson Town. Andy said, ‘You keep your hands off my wife. She’s mine and you nor nairy other man ain’t gonna tech her.’ Doc snapped his old black bag, rose, and countered, ‘You deliver the damn baby yourself then,” and walked out the door. Andy had to change his mind fast and beg hard before Doc Saye would return and deliver the baby.”
One of the odder pieces of family history involves my great-grandfather’s house in Ball Ground. Dr. Saye’s first wife Angie spent months at a time at Georgia’s state mental asylum in Milledgeville. During one particularly long stay, “Doc’s home burned, and he hired carpenters to build another house exactly like the first one so that she would not be disturbed when she came home” (Watkins and Watkins). Family stories suggest that great-great grandmother Angie never realized her first house had burned.
I urge you to revel in the quirkiness of your own family lore. According to Thomas Moore, “odd” simply means you have more soul in your family dynamics. (I possess an abundance of soul.) Yesterday in the Hills: “Another oddity is that no one ever knew Doc Saye’s age. How old he was remained his secret until the end, and no dates were placed on his tombstone or those of his two wives who died before him.” My great, great grandfather and I are definitely kindred spirits.
My fifth grade teacher Mrs. Ligdon gifted me with the lifelong joy of reading. We had oral reading every afternoon, either she reading to us (often, classic novels far above our grade level) or the students taking turns. I remember trying to hide my eyes in class when she read the sadder parts of Dicken’s Oliver Twist. (Seriously, Oliver was hungry–he needed more gruel.)
I could write about neighbors, teachers, friends, pastors and favorite authors who have all left their imprint on me. Where would I be if I hadn’t, in junior high, stumbled upon Chaim Potok’s The Chosen (reread time and again) and learned that books not only entertain but impact our lives. This coming-of-age novel showed me the enduring significance of both friendship and fatherhood. Much of my personal legacy can be found within the pages of books.
Today my big non-traditional family is at the heart of my spiritual legacy.
My former wife Donna taught me the meaning of enduring family love, and sticking with it, supporting it. My younger daughter Emily taught me to love gymnastics and to joyfully affirm the okay-ness of jumping up and down, twirling and spinning in life. My older daughter Amy taught me the appropriateness of meandering through the complexities of life and relationships. My grandchildren are continuing to teach me the joy of childish enthusiasm. And Robert continues to teach me the freedom and day-to-day reality of love.
The most longstanding force in my prisca theologia is my elderly dad up in North Georgia. Harold Hulon Saye Sr., my father, is …
He’ll be 95 in November, in the last season of his life. (Unlike Old Doc Saye–and me–he isn’t hesitant to reveal his age.)
Along with my late mother, my father taught me some of (most of?) my greatest life lessons, none more profound than this one I heard in various iterations over the years: “Neal, treat everybody you come in contact with as if they are the most important person in the world. Because when they are with you, they are.” My dad personifies that ambitious life strategy.
Who are the members of your own spiritual legacy, the people who made you who you are today? The models who helped you dream and even believe you could fly? Maybe take a few minutes and jot down a quick list. Can we ever thank them enough? I don’t think it’s possible.
Consider these lines from the gorgeous ballad, “Never Enough,” featured in the recent musical movie The Greatest Showman: “You set off a dream with me. Without you, all the shine of a thousand spotlights, all the stars we steal from the nightsky will never be enough for me.” I agree: without our “contributors,” we would not be us.
If you have a moment, take a listen:
“Towers of gold are still too little, these hands could hold the world, but it’ll never be enough for me … without you.”
For my second blog post, I’d like to reflect briefly on last weekend’s St. Patrick’s Day festivities here in my Savannah, Georgia hometown, site of the nation’s second largest St. Patty parade and celebration. This past Saturday the 17th, however, was somewhat of an odd St. Patrick’s Day. Vice President Pence was here, which (because of heightened security concerns) altered the usual joyful, chaotic meandering of the parade and of the day.
For me, it started out like any other, with an estimated 500,000 visitors to our city of 150,000.
(The view from my study window early St. Pat morn. Folks gathering to celebrate and watch the three-plus hour parade.)
Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE the Green Joy of Savannah’s largest annual celebration …
… but there was a slight but discernible Overhang of Tension, a noticeable hybridity of “It’s Time to Celebrate as Usual” and “Because of the Negative Political Climate of the Day, the Vice President’s Visit is Not Such a Happy Occasion for Many.” A duality I had never perceived in years past.
Walking the route before things got underway, I saw that even the University of Georgia’s mascot, Uga (or a lookalike) seemed a little lethargic before mounting his parade float.
So, what was the difference this year? I think it was a sense of unease, a sense that as a nation we do not have it all together, that we are divided, as the parade route was divided. The 12 square blocks where Pence was stationed were cordoned off–you had to pass through a metal detector. You could not have coolers, folding chairs, tents. A frustrated neighbor asked a security person to hold her house key so she could venture inside the secure area.
The city got in hot water before the parade, saying that signs would be prohibited in the Pence-secured parade area. Until the ACLU filed suit in federal court and the city backed off.
As I walked Savannah’s historic district, enjoying house party after house party …
… I realized that we have some steps to climb …
… some compromises to make, in order to come together as a people in this country. For part of the morning, I was downhearted, listening to patriotic high school bands but hearing in my mind the incredibly beautiful but sorrowful refrains of “Danny Boy.” (If you have a moment, listen to Celtic Woman’s glorious version below.)
“But come ye back when summer’s in the meadow, Or when the valley’s hushed and white with snow, It’s I’ll be here in sunshine or in shadow, Oh Danny Boy, Oh Danny Boy, I love you so!”
We have a great city and a great country, “in sunshine or in shadow.” So regardless of political comings and goings, Republicanisms or Democratisms (are those words?), We are one people, one nation under God.
As I See It, we are gonna make it. Even when a parade is inconvenienced.