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bird flying over the sea during sunset
Picture of a gradient-pink sunset over a shimmering ocean as seagulls fly in formation around the sun

Kind people, I’d like to share with you Auntie Ruth’s Rules of Life. In a nutshell, you and I will get along just fine if you’ve got the following attributes:

  • Sense of decency
  • Sense of humor
  • Sense of purpose

I don’t need to know your pedigree. What letters you’ve got after your name. Your group affiliations. Your alma mater. Your net worth. 

As long as you’re a decent human being who treats me like a decent human being, we’re golden.

So I found out recently that someone I’d thought of as a friend was actually a bigot, which violates the “sense of decency” rule.  I was surprised when I realized this; as a person with a disability who’s been on the receiving end of discrimination herself, you’d think she’d have more empathy.

You might say, call her out on it. But it won’t change her mind. She won’t suddenly see the light after our conversation.

Here in New Jersey, there’s a gesture that I’ve termed, “the up-down.” Someone looks you in the eye, scans your body all the way down to your feet, then looks back up at your eyes again. It’s an insecure person’s way of diminishing others in the mistaken belief that it will elevate them.

Maybe bigots are trying to be “big,” so they need someone else to be “small.” Maybe they’ve been hurt so many times in life that they’ve become one of the hurt-ers.

It could be that the only answer is no answer. Just disengage. As with any problem too large for me to get my arms around, I’ll pray it out, get back to center, and leave it in God’s hands. 

Potbelly stove - Wikipedia

Picture of rusty, brown pot-belly stove

At the physical therapy center last year, I sat on a table, getting TENS unit therapy for the pain in my legs. 

There were several patients there that day, and most were pleasant enough, considering we were all in various levels of pain.

An older man named Steve was getting treatment for his neck on the table next to mine. “Women always let themselves go after marriage,” he said to his physical therapist. “They never put themselves together with hair and makeup. And the worst part is, they always gain weight.” He shook his head.

There was silence as the other patients and physical therapists around him — all women — processed what he’d just said. Lying on the table there, his own gut was what one would call “voluminous”. He had the girth of a pregnant woman carrying triplets. As he stood up, it occurred to me that he resembled a pot-belly stove: short, squat, and kind of rusty.

That insult to women hung in the air until finally, his physical therapist said something to the effect of, “Sometimes, we just can’t see ourselves as others do,” which I thought was just the right amount of diplomacy and wisdom. Nothing else needed to be said.

This time in history may be remembered for many negatives: the pandemic, divisions based on race and politics, and most notably, an alarming deficit of empathy.

Whatever negativity you encounter today, rise above the visceral instinct to “put someone in their place.” Remember, Comeuppance Coordinator is not an actual job, even though it’s a way of life for many on social media. Keep in mind that everyone is an amalgam of humanity and divinity. This mindset will help the world find its way back to grace again.

ray of light near body of water

Imagine being an explorer from outer space, having traveled for years, and finally, you’ve landed on the third planet from the sun. Phew! That map you bought at the fueling station on Alpha Centauri was a bit outdated, but you made it eventually.

The cut-rate “Learn to speak like an Earthling in ten days!” lessons you took were supposed to enable you to converse with the natives, but you’ve encountered some snafus. 

So you say a “pantry” isn’t a place you store trousers, but food? Huh. And a roomatologist isn’t an interior designer, but some kind of doctor? Wait. It’s spelled how?!?

Also, your spaceship doesn’t fit into the drive-thru lane at the fast-food place. You put the food in front of you and it just sits there. It’s not fast at all! Should you get your money back? 

And what is the deal with money, anyway? Tiny pieces of green paper? This can’t be the most valuable thing on this planet. Back home, it’s a compound called blargen, which is a rare, strong mineral that emits a noise and spins. 

If it’s hard for an alien to understand our language and ways, it’s become equally hard to decipher what our fellow humans are communicating to us these days. 

A wedding with 10,000 guests in NYC? At the height of a pandemic? That’s a head-scratcher. People intentionally provoking fights over masks? Going on vacation and flouting rules? It just does not compute.

Others may make questionable choices, but there’s no need to lower yourself when those around you engage in pettiness and politics. Act as if God is watching (guess what?) and speak as if everything you say will be in history books. Calibrate your moral compass to the Golden Rule and always do the right thing.

woman in pink shirt sitting on chair“Any coughing, sneezing, diarrhea?” The woman asked as I rolled down my window.

At first, I thought my son had taken a wrong turn and driven us to the Worst Wendy’s in the World. 

Are these items… a la carte?

Should I respond, “No thanks, trying to cut down! Just a baked potato. Hold the mucus.”

But we were actually at the vet to drop off our cat, Squeaky, for his first well-visit. People aren’t allowed inside the vet’s office, so the procedure now is to pull into a parking spot, hand off your pet, and wait for them to call you with results.

It’s important to ask if anyone in the household is sick, but it would’ve been nice to be greeted with a “hello” first.

I think we can all relate to the harried, masked workers making their way through the day with uncertainty hanging in the very air around them.

Last month, a utility worker in a mask confronted me at my front door. “Step out of the house, please, ma’am.” I looked at him for a good, long time, like DeNiro. You talkin to me? You’re telling me to step out of my own house? I don’t think so. 

When I didn’t move or speak, he finally received the energy of my fixed gaze, and softened his tone. “Company policy, ma’am. We have to ask you this outside before we can come in.”

“Then say that, son,” I told him. He was actually nice, but was grappling with how to keep himself safe while doing his job. He’s got to put food on the table. If he gets sick, nobody eats.

One of the lessons I’ve learned during this pandemic is that people can somehow not be themselves for a protracted period of time. Trying to balance health, safety and financial security has had an impact on the human psyche.

So for the time being, if you find those on the frontline a bit curt, don’t take it to heart. Common courtesy may be uncommon these days, but cover your own karma. Keep the mask on your face and the forcefield of faith around your soul. This too shall pass.

We’ve been dealing with quarantine and conflict for some time now, and it’s taking a toll on everyone, so it’s important to remember to shore yourself up from the inside.

How do you do that? By reminding yourself of the blessings still in your life, like the fact that your pets are happy to have you home all the time. Well, until they start to feel you’re crowding them, at which point, they’ll have a cat caucus and decide how to address the situation.

Cats have their own unique way of communicating when they need something. Feed me, my cat will say, staring at his empty bowl. Play with me, he’ll say, swatting the air with his paws. They don’t need no stinkin’ words!

Of course, even those of us who know how to use our words find it difficult to say what we need. For example, it’s universally hard to say, I need help. People with mental health issues are often encouraged to “tough it out,” which is not very helpful, especially in times like these.

Another challenge is learning how to say, Please stop helping me. I can do this for myself. 

Maybe we could all learn from this store in Bangkok, which has two types of shopping baskets: a black one for shoppers who want to shop on their own, and a pink one for shoppers who need help as they shop.

Say what you need clearly. You never know who might be standing by, waiting to help you. And if you don’t need help, you may know of someone who could use a hand. Staying centered through prayer and perseverance shores you up so you can become a conduit of grace for all those you meet.

Squeaky and the Squirrel

Twice today, I turned on the microwave to heat up my coffee, only to realize my mug was sitting on the counter. 

Twice today, a squirrel slammed into the window, full-force, and rappelled his way into the bird feeder. This is the self-same bird feeder advertised on Amazon as “squirrel-proof.” Oh har! 

Is this a strange day? Heck, it’s a strange week. Month. Time in history. It’s hard not to feel discombobulated.

In this surreal era, people are on edge. It doesn’t seem to take much to set them off.

In these times, maybe the best we can do is not make things worse. That may sound like a low bar, but if these fraught days have made reasonable people become unreasonable, it won’t help to lecture them.

It surely won’t help to ram your grocery cart into them, as one mask-clad woman did when she crossed paths with another woman who refused to wear a mask. 

Some people are using the mask issue as an excuse to act inappropriately, and viral videos have taken on a whole new meaning.

It’s hard to believe that these words need to be said, but here goes: Don’t get into someone’s face because they’re putting your health at risk by not wearing a mask.

Did you read that line? Read it again. 

Have we all taken leave of our senses? 

The virus isn’t to blame for virulent ideologies and vile behavior. 

You can’t be the boss of everyone, but you can be responsible yourself. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s. Do what you have to do as a citizen — Pay your taxes. Don’t jaywalk. Post no bills.

And when you’ve done all you can, keep calm and leave the rest in God’s hands.

Let me tell you, I really do love a good zombie movie. I know this is a strange topic for a post on a prayer blog, but with everything in the news lately, dialing into the dystopian dimension has been rather comforting to me!

The way I see it, zombies need better PR people. Also, a good law firm. They could probably win in a class-action lawsuit against scientists with clumsy hands in labs. As the old saying goes, Don’t drop the beaker filled with experimental toxins if you don’t want to spark a zombie boom! Could be I just made up that saying, but c’mon, it’s really just common sense.

Zombies may have a bad rep, but they’re really just misunderstood. Don’t you think? They never asked to be undead. It’s just one of those things.

In some ways, people in America have become less humane than zombies. We can’t even get along at the grocery store. Some people refuse to wear masks, saying it’s an infringement of their personal rights, even in the middle of a pandemic. Is this some form of brainwashing that’s turning people less than human? Even zombies don’t attack each other.

It’s not too much to ask that we look out for each other, doing simple things like wearing a mask. Keeping social distance. Washing your hands. It’s not a political statement. It’s a sign of one of the few attributes that separates humans from zombies: compassion.

Don’t be an unthinking zombie. Be a person. Take care of yourself and your neighbors. Do the right thing. No matter what you hear from authorities who say otherwise, the golden rule trumps (pardon the term) zombie drool.

Beata Zawrzel—NurPhoto/Getty Images

Drop me off in a snowstorm, and you might lose me. I’m not just Caucasian, I’m lily white. Polar bear pale. But I can tell you one thing: Black Lives Matter.

I thought it went without saying that to say, “Black Lives Matter” is not to say that no one else’s life matters.

The other day, I had to “unfriend” someone on Facebook because she posted these hashtags: “AllLivesMatter” and “CopsLivesMatter.”

This means that, despite seeing the video of George Floyd being choked to death by an officer who had his knee on Floyd’s neck, she believes that the police are always in the right.

It’s shocking to see something so graphic and realize that someone else doesn’t appreciate the gravity and brutality of the incident.

In this unprecedented time, the country is contending with two virulent contagions: COVID-19 and systemic racism.

If only there were a way to implant a moral compass into everyone’s heart, the way a surgeon does a pacemaker. Or give the whole world an empathy-injection, along with our B-12 shots. 

There’s no vaccine for COVID-19 yet, and certainly no vaccine for racism.

You can’t regulate or legislate hate out of a heart, but short of that, there are a few concrete steps to be taken:

  1. Remove the issue of police discipline from union labor negotiations. Many police union rules protect officers who act violently. 
  2. Enforce the use of body cameras so that officers aren’t allowed to turn them off to commit acts of violence.
  3. Fire any officer using choke-holds or excessive force on a citizen.

We’ve got some deep rifts in this country now, and many wounds in need of healing. As for those who deny there are systemic problems in law enforcement and implicit bias toward people of color? Sadly, there’s no vaccine for that.

closeup photo of woman's eye wearing maskAs I shopped the early “senior/disabled person’s shopping hour,” I overheard two grocery store workers talking about an incident involving another employee. “It really got ugly. That customer got so angry, he pushed a cart at her!”

Could it be that the “subcutaneous” part of the Coronavirus is that giving in to fear and panic will lead to you actually losing your grip on reality? Could people really be going out of their minds in this time of chaos?

If so, the best protection is to shore yourself up with a mind-clearing, soul-centering meditation before you leave your home to go grocery shopping, or go to work if you’re in an essential job. 

If you believe in God, say a specific prayer, asking him to put a fence and a forcefield around you, body, mind and soul. 

If you don’t believe in God, what the heck is wrong with you?!? Sorry. I was temporarily outside my mind (as comedy duo Key and Peele would say) right then. Apologies, indeed! If you don’t believe in God, be aware that you make the world better or worse based on the attitude you bring out into it.

No matter what you believe, put on your grace mask before you leave your house today. People who are gripped with fear are inside their own heads. Don’t go in there with them. Stay in your own place of equanimity. This is a moment in time. Don’t let it inflame you into being someone you’re not. 

Shelter in place today. If you must go out, travel with grace today. This won’t go on forever, but until it’s over, stay true to who you are. You’re not a ruffian or an animal. You know right from wrong. Don’t push a cart at a grocery store worker, i.e., essential employee. Don’t designate yourself the moral high ground police if you see someone buying too many paper towels. Get back to your moral center. Get home to your family. Get over these small moments and look at the big picture. Remember how much you have to live for and let it go.

Forgiveness is one of the main tenets of most religions, but for me, it’s a work-in-progress. Sometimes I’m able to forgive those who trespass against me instantly, and, at other times, only incrementally.

I realized the other day that I’m also guilty of “forgiveness head-fake;” that is to say, I start out full of compassion, intending to let go of an infraction, but then I get to mulling. Once I start really thinking about it, I start to smolder. Mulling and smoldering might be a good recipe for cider and fondue by the fire, but it’s not so good for the soul.

That Mull and Smolder Syndrome came into effect recently when I realized my mailbox had been run over, yet again. It really had me riled up, because the perpetrator was the grocery delivery driver. He’d brought my food into the house and never mentioned that he’d just demolished my mailbox.  I even gave him a tip and a granola bar! 

This irked me so much that I couldn’t let go of my anger, even after the grocery company paid to repair my mailbox. Then I came across the viral video about a young man who ran over a mailbox in icy conditions and apologized sincerely to the homeowner, even coming back a few days later with cookies. That’s how it should be done! I could forgive that young man in a heartbeat. If I could forgive him, I can find it in my heart to forgive the truck driver.

Sometimes, it’s important to forgive — even when the offender hasn’t apologized — to protect your own mental health. When you’ve done all you can do, let go, let God and leave the past behind you.

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