The Waiting


waiting-room - 2

My mom died from metastatic melanoma a little over 3 years ago.  She found her first lump in mid-Feb of 2009 and she died about 10.5 months later.  She lived here in town near me, we had a good relationship, so I accompanied her through the entire process-through all of the consultations, appointments, treatments, et cetera.  I was there at her bedside much of the time during her last weeks, including when she died.

I learned a lot about waiting during that time.  Most obviously, there were the many waiting rooms where I would wait with my mom before her various appointments.  Then there was the waiting for test results—PET scans, MRIs, CAT scans, blood counts, et cetera.

And then there was the waiting that took place during the last couple of weeks of her life when it was clear that all of her treatment options had been exhausted, that the cancer was incurable, and the end was nearing quickly.  During that time, when I was at my mom’s bedside and she was sleeping, I would try to wrap my head around the concept that there would soon come a time when my mom would no longer be here.  There was going to be a clear and absolute division, a time in my life before my mom’s death and then the time after that.  And that time was coming soon.  It was a lot to try to wrap my head around, not just emotionally, but even intellectually.

And then one day it did indeed happen.  My mom did indeed die.  And then life with my mom ended, and life after my mom started.

I don’t have a grand philosophic point in mind as I am writing this.  Just a sense of similarity, but in a different direction.  I am waiting again, in a very turning-point sense again.  This time for the birth of my first child.  At 45-years old, my suspicion is that one appreciates this much more and much differently than when one is 25 or 30—or had this happened for me when I was 25 or 30.  45-year old me has lived more and seen more and read more and thought (and written) more—thought (and written) a lot more—than the 30- or even 35-year old me.  30 or 35-year old me hadn’t yet lost his mom, hadn’t yet had Rilke’s writings open up to him like a 3-D picture because of the ending of a particular relationship.  35-year old me wasn’t yet into photography, had only begun exploring Bowen and Schnarch’s writings on “differentiation of self,” was just starting to get a sense of what the world (and many of its inhabitants—human inhabitants) were really like beyond the façade and the veneer.

At 45-years old, becoming a first-time father means something more to me because there’s more of me for it to mean something to.

As Rilke put it, “The richer/deeper we are inwardly, the richer/deeper too is all that we experience.”  Something like that.

As I said, I have no grand philosophic insight in mind in writing and sharing this, no pie-in-the-sky Eckhart Tolle-like living in the now while still waiting take on this.  Just the simple observation that waiting for a new life has something in common with waiting for a death.  Just the simple observation that while my daily life is going on and while I am making preparations for this new member of the family, I am also temporarily in a bit of a holding pattern, waiting for this latest crescendo-like turning point in my life to actually occur—this next *life-will-never-be-the-same-again-afterwards-as-it-was-before* type event, but in an opposite and much more joyous direction.  Hopefully.  Hopefully, meaning my child is not yet born, my wife has not yet gone through this labor and emerged healthy and having given birth to our son yet.  But so far, everything looks good, very good.  Any day now.  Any day now and my life will change in ways that I cannot fathom.  Any day now, and that line will be crossed—the line separating the time when I was not yet a biological father and was still waiting to become one and the time when this new chapter of my life will start.

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The only tidbit I have approaching a bit of advice is this:  Wise people think about death.  Their own and others’.  They have a realistic relationship with their own mortality and thus with others’ mortality as well.  It’s not a depressing relationship or a morbid one, but a very life-enhancing and perspective-giving one.  As in the real meaning of carpe diem—being very grateful for and appreciative of what one has, not sweating the small stuff, not going through life childishly and angrily with a hole in one’s soul that nothing can fill.

We live in a society where the concept of growth has been usurped and externalized to mean improvement and is measured in material ways—home improvements, lifestyle status improvements, social improvements (“How to Win Friends and Influence People”).  Advertising has us convinced that if we improve the externals of our situation—take a vacation, redecorate the kitchen, put on a new coat of paint, get a fancier car, travel here or there, somehow gain more attention adulation and fame—then we’ll be happier, or then we’ll finally make it—or at least get closer to this.  And for some this does seem to work to some extent and perhaps for a while.  But it’s my experience that for this strategy of roundabout self-pseudo-improvement to work, there has to be a fair amount of self-delusion and self-deception in play, as well as some sort of psychic numbing and placating in addition to the shopping and consumerism—alcohol, antidepressants, et cetera (arguably even with some people religion).

Our own mortality and fragility and brevity is a lot to wrangle with.  And at first, this wrangling can be very very unsettling—very anxiety-provoking and or very depressing and nihilisitic (life has no meaning, paint it all black)—anything but life-enhancing and perspective-giving and empowering at first.

And clearly this is where many people get caught.  We get our first brush with death—someone close to us dies, or we start being haunted by thoughts and intimations of our impermanence and cosmic brevity—and we spin out, dive headlong into a superficial life of appearances, of psychic numbing, of distractions and dissipation, of the pursuit of status and advancement and travel, of checking things of our bucket list—self-indulgent things that we think are ultimately important but that in actuality likely really won’t be.

Or maybe our dive isn’t headlong; instead we just go along even more fervently with the crowd: no else seems to be integrating their own mortality into the fabric of their everyday decision-making, everyone else seems to be chasing after the wind in one form or the other, so why not join the crowd and chase after it too?—after all, what else is there to do in life with one’s life?

But there also seem to be those who have endured the first line and very powerful dissuaders of depression and anxiety and who instead of turning aside from a more realistic relationship with life and with their own and others’ mortality and fragility and brevity, have stuck with it, wrestled with and through the depression or fear and panic, and who have come to some deeper and more abiding sense of perspective and wisdom.

And it’s this realistic relationship with death has much to do with their wisdom, with having made them wise.  Arguably, a realistic relationship with our own impermanence, with our own brevity and fragility, is the only source of real compassion—compassion that doesn’t merely involve the limbic system, but that also includes the higher brain—the neo-cortex, the frontal lobes, our conscience and our consciousness.

When we are living in denial, when we live and love and fight and argue as if life goes on forever, we live and love without perspective, and arguably, without much depth or appreciation.  Real compassion, real wisdom, stem from developing a realistic relationship—instead of a denial-based relationship—with our own mortality and with our place is the universe.  Mortality is a lot to haul; it’s a lot to wrestle with; it can be unfathomably frightening and unsettling and disorienting, but it might just be what ultimately saves you, or lets you avoid living a life of quiet or unquiet desperation and un-appreciation.

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Responsibility & Character Development — A checklist for the kids (as well as for myself!)


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I can’t control “the world” (no one can), but I can control (or at least really really really try to control and influence) how I show up to it; and I can certainly strongly influence how the three little ones living here with me show up to it as well.

So much of parenting (and even teaching) is focusing on the character-development of the children you are entrusted with. And when you begin finally parenting yourself, a large part of that means focusing on your own character development—the type of person you are, your sense of right and wrong, your capacity to give and honor / keep your word, your moral courage, your level of integrity, how responsible you are.

Character development does not happen on its own, unless a person is born with an innate strong sense of right and wrong.

Most of us aren’t; so our moral development—as well as our character development and integrity—are all up for grabs. If we are graced / gifted with a good strong caring (and moral) influence (or a few of these), then our character and our conscience can be influenced in a certain (positive) direction. (So much of what Jesus said and spoke about in the Gospels is designed to influence the conscience and character of the person reading / hearing his words.)

On the other hand, if while growing up we do not have the good fortune of having any positive role models around us—any teachers, coaches, parents, mentors, aunts or uncles who are wise and caring and responsible—then we are apt to be swayed in a more apathetic or even negative direction by the influence of all of the forces around us—TV, radio, Internet, video games, pop culture, socialization and contact with other children whose character-development and conscience are being neglected or left to the haphazard influence of happenstance.

The reality is we live in a world of more and more sham relationships—relationships of convenience, of only superficial loyalty and fleeting committedness. Promises and commitments are easily broken and revised. People break their word with greater and greater appalling ease—and with either little to no thought of how it affects others, or with utterly no concern—with callous indifference—as to how it affects others.

And much of this is because we live in a world where moral education and character development are sorely lacking. People want to have fun. They want to be comfortable, to enjoy life, consume, be happy, “have it all,” live the dream, gain attention, fall in love, have sex, eat cheeseburgers, read gossip magazines, go on adventures, take lavish vacations. But pay attention to the nuts and bolts stuff? No. It’s not fun—character development, informing our conscience, isn’t fun. It’s work. It takes effort, attention, focus; it requires critical thinking; it requires looking honestly at oneself and at life and willingly and continuously examining both; and above all, it takes real goodness; it takes giving a damn. And all of these things cost. It’s easier to go through life with a glib and unfocused and often closed-mind, in self-chosen ignorance, and pay the price for this (—because it’s basically the same price that everyone else is paying, because almost everyone else is going through life in this same way—on auto-pilot, half-heartedly, with minds riddled with unawareness, prejudice, bias, half-truths, propaganda, nonsense, illusions, self-deception), than it is to live with heart and mind wide open, to think critically, to care deeply, to try to be of some genuine benefit to self and others.

But that’s what character development is all about—trying to combat this tendency toward decline and laziness and self-indulgence and apathy and not thinking (thoughtlessness) in each of us.

Character is who you are when you think no one is watching.

Our character shows in how we treat those who can do little or nothing for us.

Our character shows in how we treat the “little people.”

When we have good character, there are no little or unimportant people.

Character is doing what’s right when no one’s looking.

Character and conscience are closely related. Our conscience is comprised of our higher values—the better angels of our nature; our character shows in how we actualize these values and principles.

You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.” – James D. Miles

Character, in the long run, is the decisive factor in the life of an individual and of nations alike.” – Theodore Roosevelt

The true test of civilization is not the census, nor the size of cities, nor the crops – no, but the kind of man the country turns out.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. . . Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

The best index to a person’s character is (a) how he treats people who can’t do him any good, and (b) how he treats people who can’t fight back.” – Abigail van Buren (Pauline Esther Friedman)

Character is that which reveals moral purpose, exposing the class of things a man chooses and avoids.” – Aristotle

Every man has three characters: that which he shows, that which he has, and that which he thinks he has.” – Alphonse Karr

If we want our children to possess the traits of character we most admire, we need to teach them what those traits are and why they deserve both admiration and allegiance. Children must learn to identify the forms and content of those traits.” – William J. Bennett

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” – Abraham Lincoln

Happiness is not the end of life: character is.” – Henry Ward Beecher

The proper time to influence the character of a child is about a hundred years before he’s born.” – William R. Inge

So much of what constitutes developing character revolves around (and hinges on) the concept of *responsibility*.

(*Much of what follows has been adapted and elaborated on from http://www.k12.hi.us/~mkunimit/responsibility.htm*)

*CHARACTER VALUES*

Respect
RESPONSIBILITY
Compassion
Sharing
Perseverance
Friendship
Cooperation
Fairness
Caring
Citizenship
Self-discipline
Honesty/Trustworthiness

Responsibility – In short, being RESPONSIBLE means others can trust you to do things with care and excellence. You accept accountability for your actions. When you give your word, you follow through. When you make a mistake, you offer amends instead of excuses. Responsibility is the ability to respond appropriately, ably, and justly; to make smart choices; to honor your commitments, your word, your obligations. Responsibility means that you take good and proper care of yourself, and your relationships, personal property, and anything that has been entrusted to you; that tidy up after yourself; that you leave things as good as if not better than how you found them; and that is you make a mess or if you mess up, you own the mistake, clean it up, make up for it, and take steps with yourself to ensure that it does not happen again.

THE MEANING OF RESPONSIBILITY

Responsibility is taking care of your duties.
Responsibility is honoring your word.
Responsibility is answering for your actions.
Responsibility is accountability.
Responsibility is treating others as you would want to be treated
Responsibility means understanding the impact of your actions (or inaction) on others
Responsibility leads to trustworthiness.

WHY BEING RESPONSIBLE IS IMPORTANT

Responsibility is a core value for living honorably.
Responsibility is essential to good character development.
Responsibility is being accountable for your behavior.
Responsibility is being dependable when you have things to do.
Responsibility is keeping your commitments

EXAMPLES OF RESPONSIBILITY

You complete your chores at home without being constantly reminded.
You take good care of your personal possessions.
You come home on time.
You call your parents if you are late.
You eat healthy food, get plenty of exercise, and take good care of yourself.
You take care of your lunch money and don’t lose it on the playground.
You keep a promise.
You put part of your allowance into a savings account instead of spending it all.
You complete your school assignments on time and to the best of your ability.
You take care of your pet and spend time with your pets.
You return library books on time.

RESPONSIBLE CHILDREN

Understand and accept consequences for their actions and try to correct their mistake
Complete assignments and tasks
Clean up after themselves
Do the “right thing” and apologize sincerely if wrong
Help others in need
Follow through without giving up
Understand the effect they have on others

STEPS TO MAKING RESPONSIBLE DECISIONS

Define your goal. What do you want?
Explore all the choices and options.
Gather information and facts.
Write down arguments for and against each choice.
Take time to think through the consequences of each choice.
Make the decision.
Honor your word and keep your commitment

PUT RESPONSIBILITY INTO ACTION

Clean your room without being asked.
Throw away your trash and pick up some litter.
Practice self-control when you feel angry.
Clean up your area after lunch and encourage your friends to do the same.
Follow through on all assignments at school and chores at home.
Do your chores at home without being asked.
Look for something extra to do at home or in your community that is helpful.
Organize a park cleanup.
Keep a promise (or your word) even if it is hard.
Express your anger with appropriate words and actions.

HOW TO CARRY OUT OBLIGATIONS TO PLAN

Write a list of all the things you need to do.
Write down when each task or jobs needs to be done.
Write down what you’ll need to accomplish each task or job.
Always have a backup plan—a “plan B.”

MORE ACTIVITIES

Tell about an experience where you exhibited or did not show responsibility.
Think of a new skill or talent you’d like to develop. Practice and share.
Write a poem, jingle, paragraph, or saying about responsibility.
Research discoveries and inventions that have had both positive and negative consequences.
Consider whether math makes you more responsible. Cite examples.
Research responsibility in advertising.
Research responsibility toward indigenous people. Choose a country that was taken from natives by invaders, setters, or foreign governments.
Survey your neighborhood to see who needs help.
Write a skit that demonstrates your school’s rules.
Find a job or start your own business such as a yard service or babysitting.
Make a family jobs chart.
Create a responsibility tree to show what you are responsible for doing.
Make your own daily planner.
Find examples of popular music that promote responsibility, dependability, and perseverance.
Examine the role of responsibility in sports.
Play a “What’s Their Responsibility?” game for various careers.
Read stories about responsibility.

MANY TYPES OF RESPONSIBILITY

Moral Responsibility—to other people, animals, and the earth. This means caring, defending, helping, building, protecting, preserving, and sustaining. You’re accountable for treating other people justly and fairly, for honoring other living things, and for being environmentally aware.

Legal Responsibility—to the laws and ordinances of your community, state, and country. If there’s a law you believe is outdated, discriminatory, or unfair, you can work to change, improve, or eliminate it. You can’t simply decide to disobey it.

Family Responsibility. —Means treating your parents, siblings, and other relatives with love and respect, following your parents’ rules, and doing chores and duties at home.

Community Responsibility. —As a part of the community, you’re responsible for treating others as you want to be treated, for participating in community activities and decisions, and for being an active, contributing citizen. Pick up trash to keep the community clean. Read local and community newspapers to stay informed. Vote in elections when you’re old enough.

Responsibility to Customs, Traditions, Beliefs, and Rules. —These might come from your family, your community, your heritage, or your faith. Learn what they are, and why they are, and do your best to respect / honor and follow them.

Personal Responsibility. — It’s up to you to become a person of good character. Your parents, teachers, religious leaders, scout leaders, and other caring adults will guide you, but only you can determine the kind of person you are and ultimately become. So get organized, be punctual, and honor your commitments.

. . . .

To me, what all of this talk about responsibility comes down to is playing chess and not checkers in life. Responsibility requires that we learn how to think well, that we learn to think ahead, think widely, put ourselves in another’s shoes, and think such that we understand and appreciate the effects of our actions on others.

And it’s clear to me that to the extent that we practice this and role model this—Responsibility—we actually help create a kinder and more thoughtful and harmonious and civil society. And to the extent that we fail to practice this (intentionally or unintentionally), we contribute unnecessary chaos, disorder, even suffering to the world.

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Perhaps a bit over the top, but it makes the point. There are times when as a parent we need to actually step up and give a little tough love. And of course, it depends on the kiddo as well–some children do better with tough love and need that as part of their upbringing; others do fine with lots of tender love and rarely ever do anything that requires tough love.

WEBSITES OF INTEREST—

http://www.52virtues.com/virtues/the-52-virtues.php
http://www.virtuesforchildren.com/the_virtues.html

BOOKLIST for RESPONSIBILITY

*For grades K-4*

Value of Responsibility: Ralph Bunche – Johnson
Brother Eagle, Sister Sky – Jeffers
Horton Hatches the Egg – Dr. Seuss
Arthur Babysits – Brown
Berenstain Bears: Messy Room – Berenstain
Annie and the Skateboard Gang – Carlson
Bear and Bunny Grow Tomatoes – Koscielniak
Stop, Look and Listen, Mr. Toad – Petty
Katy and the Big Snow – Burton
Keep the Lights Burning, Abbie – Roop
A Light in the Attic – Silverstein
Where the Sidewalk Ends – Silverstein
Salt Boy – Perrine
Shoe Shine Girl – Bulla
Two Bad Ants – Van Allsburg
School’s Out – Hurwitz
It Takes a Village – Cowen-Fletcher
Red Light, Green Light, Mamma & Me – Best
Franklin Plays the Game – Bourgeois
D.W. the Picky Eater – Brown
Valentine – Carrick
Solo – Geraghty
A Very Important Day – Herold
Little Brown Bear Dresses Himself – Lebrun
Nine for California – Levitin
Badger’s Bring Something Party – Oram
The Paperboy – Pilkey
Shaker Lane – Provensen
One Up, One Down – Snyder
Another Mouse to Feed – Kraus
Herbie’s Troubles – Chapman
Pigsty – Teague
Sachiko Means Happiness – Sakai
Strega Nona – De Paola
Swimmy – Lionni
Tell Me a Mitzi – Segal
Amos and Boris – Steig
Five Minutes Peace – Murphy
Luke’s Bully – Winthrop
Horton Hears a Who – Seuss
Little Red Hen
Mother’s Day Mice – Bunting
Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge – Fox
Arthur’s Pet Business – Brown
Arthur’s Computer Disaster – Brown
Star Wars: a New Hope
Making the World – Wood
Whem Mom Turned into a Monster – Harrison
I Did It, I’m Sorry – Buehner

*For grades 3-6*

Across Five Aprils – Hunt
The Book of Virtues – Bennett
A Christmas Carol – Dickens
Hatchet – Paulsen
In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson – Lord
The Indian in the Cupboard – Reid Banks
Island of the Blue Dolphins – O’Dell
Profiles in Courage – Kennedy
Stone Fox – Gardiner
Tuck Everlasting – Babbit
The Yearling – Rawlings
The River – Paulsen
Buffalo Bill & the Pony Express – Dadey
In Trouble with Teacher – Demuth
Julie – George
Nothing But Trouble, Trouble Trouble – Hermes
Marvin Redpost: Alone in His Teacher’s House – Sachar
Learning About Responsibility from the Life of Colin Powell – Strazzabosco
Fudge – Graeber
Dicey’s Song – Voigt
Little House in the Big Woods – Wilder
Malu’s Wolf – Craig
Summer of the Swans – Byars
When the Road Ends – Thesman
The Giver – Lowry