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A Texas Walmart banned a woman who ate half of a cake as she shopped, then demanded half off the price of the cake. Stories like this one make me think that the moral compass of the nation is out of whack, but is it really?

Maybe it’s just a matter of shifting your gaze to find positive things going on in the world.

DIGITAL FIRST MEDIA/ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER VIA GETTY IMAGES

Like the community that rallied behind California bakery owner, John Chhan, buying out all of his baked goods quickly every single day. Customers lined up as early as 4:30 AM, buying donuts in bulk to clear out the inventory. Why? Once all the donuts were sold out, he could close the shop and be with his wife, who was recovering from a brain aneurysm.“We are so thankful,” Chhan said.

Image via MCACC and Callie Mac/Facebook

Or the volunteers coming together to comfort shelter dogs during Fourth of July fireworks. Operation “Calm the Canines” is underway, and every dog in the shelter will have his or her own personal paw-holder when the noisy celebrations begin. It’s a twist on the therapy dog idea: a therapy person. A thera-person, if you will!

Callie Mac of the Maricopa County Animal Care & Control (MCACC), the organizer of this event said, “Huge thank you to everyone who showed up to help our shelter dogs! It takes a village! ❤”

There’s plenty of positive energy still left in the world. It just takes a shift in focus and a little bit of hope.

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Photo: Tom Slemmons

Regret is just another word for that thing in life we feel needs fixing. I could be happy, if only I weren’t ______ fill in the blank. Sick. Broke. Too tall. Too short. Too heavy. Too thin. From the wrong side of the tracks. I’ve always wondered where that is, geographically. I know it’s supposed to be figurative, but so many of us have spent time there in our lives, it must actually exist somewhere. Sometimes the wrong side of the tracks is a powerful temptation.

It’s been an appealing adventure for generations, hasn’t it? Taking a walk on the wild side. We all seem to grow out of it and disavow it. Many claim that they just “fell in with the wrong crowd.” Wouldn’t it be refreshing if just one person admitted that they actually were the wrong crowd? That doing all those ill-advised and often illegal things were actually their own idea?

All of those choices, good and bad, led us to the place we are today.

We’ve all invested a lot of time being mad at some part of who we are, and those messages eventually seep into the psyche. It’s like an internal speed bump. You don’t know what it is exactly, you just know you can’t get over it.

There’s a life lesson in the Japanese art of Kintsugi. When a piece of porcelain is broken, it is repaired using gold and becomes more precious afterward. Maybe those broken places are intersections. One part of life ends and a new one begins. Every experience imbues and enriches you with new ways of being. Breaking down can break you open, and that’s not always a bad thing. It might even lead to a breakthrough.

Color me befuddled. I could have sworn the voiceover in the commercial said that patients with “Twerkulosis” were advised not to take this medication.

Pause.

Twerkulosis? Is that something you’d see in a viral dance video? Viral in a good way, I suppose. Not like a contagion, or something. Of course, twerking at my age could throw a hitch in my gitalong. A twist in my pretzel.

Of course, what he said was: “Tuberculosis.”

Then I could have sworn a man in a conversation with friends spoke of being a “nocturnal octopus.” What might that be? A man who gets all handsy in the evening? That’s a bad thing, I would guess.

Oh. Wait. He said “eternal optimist.”

Mercy. This is why people get cranky as they get older. We start to have trouble with the senses we’ve counted on our entire lives. Hearing gets hinky. Vision gets blurry. And, of course, most people don’t project when they speak, so it can all lead to frustration.

It’s like a real-life game of Mad Libs. What random word will my ears hear? What is actually being said? Maybe this part of our lives is intended to teach us humility and those around us patience. Now, more than ever, the Golden Rule is a godsend.

When my son was younger, one of the kids from the neighborhood came over just as my son and his friends were getting ready to ride their bikes. Landon (not his real name) didn’t have a bike, so I told him he could borrow mine.

When Landon came back he looked guilt-ridden. One of the other kids was saying to him, “You’re in big trouble, man. She’s gonna get real mad at you. She’ll tell your mom, and you’ll be on punishment forever. Nothing you can do about it.”

When Landon finally came up to me on the porch, he apologized. “For what, honey?” I asked. “I broke the bike,” he said. “My mom gets paid on Friday, so I’ll ask her to pay for the bike, and I’ll do chores to pay her back. Might take me a year, but I’ll make it right.”

This was both touching and heartbreaking. What a long ride back it must have been for that young man. Especially with the other kid bending his ear, piling guilt upon fear.

“No need for that, son. That bike was already hinky. One of Cole’s other friends messed it up, and didn’t even apologize. Don’t worry about it for a minute. Come on. We’re having Jiffy Pop.”

I wanted to say to the other child who’d appointed himself chief guilt-inducer, You should be ashamed! But it was too late for that. He already was. Misery loves company, and that’s the only language he knew. Someone had said these things to him, too, in his lifetime. I decided to extend hospitality to him instead. “Popcorn for you?” I asked.

Shame can be contagious, but luckily, there’s an antidote: grace.

Maybe regret is only regret because we keep it locked in a cedar strongbox at the foot of the bed. We keep it there thinking it’s locked away and can’t hurt us again. But maybe if we unlocked the box and set it free, it would stop festering. It might even turn into wisdom.

If you stopped putting the overlay of today onto it, regret really would have a different name. Today, you know better. Today, you learn from mistakes.

Back then, you took the advice of peers as gospel. Or didn’t trust your own gut.

What would regret be if you set if free? A learning experience, perhaps. Or just a faded picture in the scrapbook of your life with no intention to cause you pain today. It’s not an assassin sent to destroy your joy.

It’s not the Terminator from the original movie. It’s the one from the sequel, sent to protect you this time! “I’ll be back” it says (in the voice of Arnold Schwarzenegger) only, now, as something positive.

Having compassion for who you were at the time makes it easier to extend it to people you meet who don’t seem to know better. Maybe they don’t. But they might see the light someday, just as you do now. They may open up the lockbox of life lessons just as you did, and see the world in a different way.

While waiting for my son to pick me up after my doctor visit yesterday, I saw two women pushing an elderly gentleman in a wheelchair. As one wheeled him out of the elevator, the other screamed at her, “Wait! Wait! For God’s sakes. He dropped his slipper. Hold on!” The other yelled back, “I was just trying to get him out of the (expletive-deleted) elevator! Gimme a break!” They went back and forth for a while, until one finally said, “I’ll go get the car,” and I thought That poor man. He’s being cared for by these two. I hope they do right by him. I can only imagine how things are at home.

But I also thought, those poor women. They’re in that sandwich generation, so they’re caring for an elderly relative and taking care of their own families as well. Tempers are going to flare. I wonder: Who takes care of the caretakers?

It’s not just people tending to sick relatives or sons picking up mothers who can’t drive anymore. It’s the cashier you chit-chat with as you pick up your morning coffee. The mailman who notices the lawn hasn’t been mowed for a while and checks in.

The people who take care of you could use a nod or a kind word. Chances are they’re also taking care of others at home, too. When you offer some encouragement, you’re taking care of them right back.

Last month, I had some visiting nurses taking care of me, and I was always glad to see them. Along with my medical check-ups, I noticed they had to do a lot of paperwork.

As a former secretary, I suggested that an office coordinator could help them with administrative tasks. They said they didn’t have an administrative specialist, so they ended up spending part of our visits on tasks such as documenting, ordering equipment, and scheduling appointments.

If you’re like me, well… lucky you! 🙂 I jest, of course. But if you’re like me, you want to take care of everybody. Especially if they’re taking care of you. This isn’t bad, of course, unless you end up depleting yourself in the process.

It occurred to me: How do we learn self-care? It really isn’t taught in school or at home by example. I heard someone talking about a friend who had passed away, and she said, “She put everyone else first.” I used to think that was a good thing. Now, I’m not saying you should be self-absorbed and obnoxious. Just that in order to live your best life, you have to put yourself on the list. In fact, your needs should be right at the top. You can’t draw from an empty well. If you’re replenishing everyone around you to the exclusion of your own sustenance, that’s a moment to stop. If you can’t find yourself anywhere on your to-do list for the day, it’s time for a checklist check-up.

A news segment on airline mechanics who feel pressured to hurry through repairs or not do a thorough job was really eye-opening. Reporter Gayle King commented, ”It’s amazing how much trust we have in people we don’t know to do their jobs well.” But even when we realize we can’t do the job, we still need to eat. Pay for minor sundries like heat and electricity. And pay the note on the car that gets us to the job we can’t do anymore but don’t know why.

Then there are the choices we have to make when there is no other choice.

Like the length of time it took me to realize that I couldn’t see well enough anymore to get behind the wheel and drive. Then one day, I was coming out of my garage and said “Hi!” to my neighbor on his porch across the street, only to realize it wasn’t my neighbor at all. It was a life-sized scarecrow sitting in a rocking chair that they’d put on the porch as a Halloween decoration.

Okay. This has to stop, I told myself. But with that choice, a host of other daily choices were spawned. With no source of transportation once I took myself off the road, I’d have to rely on family and friends when they were available, but they had their own obligations. I ended up using a paid rideshare to get around.

Look into the eyes of the people you meet today. The ones who deliver your mail. Ring up your groceries. If the cashier gives you the wrong change, it may be because they’re dealing with pain you can’t see and are working through it. You’ve been there. Maybe you are there. Being patient with other human beings is the point of being human.

The blueberries I had with breakfast this morning were so big, they could’ve been plums-in-training! I was so amazed, I took a picture of them, putting them next to other fruit for perspective.

Now, you could look at that blueberry and say, Sure, you’re big for a blueberry, but why can’t you be as big as this Mandarin orange? Or this Pink Lady apple?

Berries can’t conform to dimensions they can’t possibly live up to. Why should they? They’re perfect for what they are.

It might seem like we’re in a big race with each other, based on the fact it’s called “the human race,” but that’s not the case. We’re all running, or walking, or meandering on our own pathway.

It’s never helpful to say, “Why can’t you be like the other…”:

  • Students
  • Siblings
  • Employees
  • Believers
  • Writers
  • Runners
  • People somewhere in the world

Those others can do this thing well. Why can’t you?

Comparing is actually a passive-aggressive way of trying to control others, as well as a quick-and-dirty way of deciding how to treat people. If you believe someone is not trying their best, you feel justified in mistreating them.

Remember: it’s how you treat those you consider “the least among us” that really shows the world who you are.

You can’t possibly know God if you don’t treat people with respect. That’s across the board. Even the people you think aren’t trying.

If you’re doing your best, why not assume others are as well? It might not be your best, but it may be the best they can do right now. And who knows? One day they might catch up and even surpass you. They’ll remember you were kind to them as you raced past. Maybe they’ll even offer you a Gatorade and some freakishly large blueberries!

On the one hand, giving labels with letters to conditions like ADHD or OCD helps people. It gives insight on how to manage it.

On the other, it’s limiting. Here’s what you can do, but more tellingly: HERE’S WHAT YOU CAN’T DO.

If it’s ADHD: You can’t sit still. You can’t focus.

OCD: You can’t stop doing repetitive behaviors. You can’t override your wiring.

I’m not an expert in this field, but could that be the thing to focus on?

You can’t override your wiring. Well, you can take a pill. Get counseling. But maybe, if you can’t beat em, should you join ‘em?

When I gave one of my son’s friends with ADHD a project he was interested in, I’ve never seen better focus. He was all in. But when he was without a specific goal, he tended to touch everything. He moved constantly. Once, he put his hand into a pan that was sitting on the stove. “Don’t do that! What if it was hot?”

“It wasn’t,” he said. “Just checking.”

“Don’t check with your hands, son,” I said. But it was too late. He was touching everything else in the house.

I realized that he’s a tactile learner. He takes in the world using his hands. He’s gathering data. Processing it all.

If there were such a job, I think he’d be a great Reverse Inventor. He could tell you how something works by taking it apart, examining it and putting it back together, perhaps in a different configuration.

It’s only fitting you should be who God made you. Work around the aspects of your condition that hold you back. Get help and treatment, if possible. But also, why not write a letter to yourself? A reminder to give yourself a break and your soul some TLC.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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