Tag Archives: life lessons

On the precociousness of November flowers

FlowersThis morning during my dog walk it was a bit surprising to find two yellow flowers blooming in the already pruned bed of a Master Gardener that lives nearby. She’s not one to pluck much of anything during the summer months. She prefers to leave her flowers out where everyone can admire them. But come autumn her garden beds get a full house-cleaning.

Yet up popped these two flowers.

Their species is not so much important as their precociousness. So I will not go on about their life cycles or why they might be giving it a second go this late in the season. All of nature perks and plays with warm fall days. Migrating warblers sing quiet versions of their springtime songs. Sparrows and robins too, and all birds in passage from north to south. It’s not so much about singing for territory as it is about communication of existence these days.

I’ve even heard chorus frogs singing from inside the prairie in mid-November. The temperature and humidity of a 55 degree fall day clearly resembles those dank March or April days when breeding begins for frogs. So the frogs sing.

Occasionally I will find the stiff remains of a snapping turtle that died during a frosty night while making its way from the uplands to the lake below. Mother turtles lay their eggs in holes dug into the dirt. Many of of these holes and eggs are proceedingly raided and eaten by marauding raccoons. The next morning all the leathery eggs lay strewn about the hole. If lucky, just one or two holes with their clutch of turtle eggs may survive. That’s how life’s competition works.

Nature depends on this precociousness to advance its cause. It is a long and random process in which we are all engaged. As human beings, call survival a “battle” when in fact it is often something far more subtle that takes us down. A set of mutant cells. A virus. Old age.

Having been through many such human “battles” in recent years with family and friends that have now gone before me, I am absolutely sensitive to the precociousness of life. When my father recently passed away, it was only after thirteen full years of existence following his massive stroke in 2002. At the time, no one really thought he’d live a year past that event. Yet he survived the death of my mother ten years ago, grieved and kept on going. A precocious man.

My father-in-law survived an apparent heart attack and lived another uneasy year in its wake. His persistence was evidence of his character, for the damage to his heart and body were profound. We all credited his hardscrabble Nebraska upbringing for his perseverance.

When my late wife passed away in 2013 after eight years of cancer treatment, it was not because she had given up hope. Quite the contrary. The woman put up with more pain and discomfort than anyone could bear during those years of treatment. Yet she precociously wanted to live. So she did, and saw her children through graduation from high school and attending college. I know they miss her deeply. But I also know we all admire her strength, humor and appreciation for all of life.

I know those flowers down the block will not last forever into the winter But their presence is a reminder that all of us are precocious beings. We all feel the warmth of the sun even when it deceives us a bit, bringing us out to turn our faces toward the sky and breathe in. We precociously feel alive in the face of all that might defeat us otherwise.

Let’s face it. The news is almost never good out there in the world. Even our religions reek with the stink of death, and always have. Only faith survives precociously like two small flowers in the November dirt.

In politics, our hopes of peace lie like road kill along the information superhighway. Twitter throws 140 characters of crap in our faces and Facebook ridicules sincere and liberal concerns for humankind while videos of cats startled by cucumbers at least make us laugh.

Yet is it is the face of two small flowers in November that remind us the precociousness of life is worth appreciating. And protecting.

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The 10 ways I’ve most changed since I was a kid

This morning while pouring cereal into the bowl, the box of Maple Pecan flakes ran out. Seeking to fill the dish, I picked out the Ginger Granola and poured it into the bowl to create the right portion. Then I thought, “I’d never have done that as a kid.”

Growing up I liked my cereal pretty much homogenous. If it was Cheerios or Rice Krispies, that’s what went in the bowl. Never would I think of mixing the two.

I also had a favorite spoon with which to eat my cereal. It had a raised image of the United States Capitol building on it. I loved that spoon, and ate my cereal with it every day.

These little moments of recollection set me thinking about how many other ways a person changes from a child to a grown up. At one point my own son at eight years old confessed that he would rather not grow up. He could see that being a grownup came with all sorts of challenges that did not seem to be that much fun.

And yet, there are some things that you do and feel as a kid that are not that great either. Here is a list of my Top 10 ways I’ve most changed since I was a kid. Perhaps you can share a few of your own in the comments below.

  1. No longer afraid of the dark. At some point in my late 30s I was running down the dark stairs to our basement and realized that the haunting feeling of fear at entering a dark space was no longer there. No boogeyman. No devil. No ghosts or other imagined dangers in the dark. It was a liberating feeling.
  2. Sex is no longer such a mystery. I can remember having sexual feelings very early in life. Children do, but they often don’t know what to do with them. Most masturbate their way through puberty and early teens, then experiment their way with sexual partners into some form of knowledge. It took me a long time to understand anything about sex, and that is not to say I know all about it now, either. But the giant wall that was “sex” looming ahead in life from the perspective of childhood was quite difficult to figure out. I was always jealous of kids who seemed to know so much about sex. And some just did. It’s a gift, I guess.
  3. My sense of wonder is not the same. This is both a relief as a person, and a shame as well. As a very sensitive child there were many moments of experience so deep and heartfelt it was difficult to function at times. I recognize now that some of this was tied to an anxious mind. Gaining control of my ruminative nature has been necessary to function in this world. And yet, I sometimes miss the intensity with which I felt a keen sense of wonder at nature, or in a moment.
  4. My trusting nature has evolved. I still trust people, especially those I love. But through many experiences in life, one learns that some people simply cannot be trusted. That was not me as a child. I trusted everyone. I often got teased or tricked as a result. The long journey to loss of naivete is the hardest road many of us travel in life.
  5. Money is just something, where it was once everything. As a kid you’re happy as heck to have money to buy candy or cheap stuff to entertain yourself. Our acquisitive nature drives us to want way more than we need. We obviously need money to survive in this world, and one learns through odd jobs and real jobs that you have to work hard to earn it. Some people judge themselves (and others) by what they earn. They see it as a mark of adulthood. And that is to some degree true. But there’s also an immature or childish nature to liking money too much. The Bible warns us that the love of money is the root of all evil. It is also the mark of adulthood to balance your love of money with gratitude in life.
  6. I put competition in perspective. For some crazed reason I could not stand to lose as a kid. Hated it. As an athlete I became one of the most competitive people you could meet. My brothers called me The Mink because I’d get spitting mad in the heat of competition. That fire to win served me well for the most part, winning races as a runner and leading the teams on which I competed or coached to victories. But at some point I recognized that the desire to win must be tempered with the understanding of what it really means to win, and when winning actually represents some sort of loss. Because that can happen in relationships, for example. But I have always, always fought for the underdog and for fairness to the best of my ability. I’m proud that I have not changed or lost that childhood sense of fair play to this day.
  7. I’ve learned to forgive myself. In my case childhood essentially lasted through the age of 29 years old. That’s when I woke up pounding the pillows in anger over some of the things that happened in my upbringing. I was confused by these angry feelings all through my teens and 20s. As I began to understand their source and grow out of the vexing events so many of us experience in childhood, it became evident that I was beating myself up all the time by not being willing to forgive those who might have wronged me. But it was a wise counselor that finally asked me this question: “You seem to be good at forgiving others…how are you at forgiving yourself?”
  8. My sweet tooth really is my enemy. We all want candy without the consequences. Back home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania there was a candy store a quarter mile from our home. A dollar would buy you tons of sweets, and that foundation of candy-loving carried through my college years and well into adulthood. But the harsh truth is that sweets are bad for your body in a lot of ways. Between sugar and carbohydrates, the supposed fuel of athletes, there lies deep danger to your heart, stomach, liver, kidneys and other organs. Reigning in my sweet tooth is hard, but it truly is the sign of a wise adult.
  9. Love has changed me. For all the flaws we see in our parents as we grow up, it often takes a lifetime to appreciate how they loved you. I no longer have any doubts about that, even with my father, who at times was a hard and exasperating man to abide. Time has given me insight into how many ways he did nurture me, and my mother too. As a result, love has changed me from a child who felt hurt due to a sensitive nature into a man who is sensitive to the power of love to heal those emotional pains. I’ve also grown in my understanding of faith from a child taught through bible stories to think of heroes as outsized personalities to a person who sees heroics in the small and wonderful things people do for each other. That is true love.
  10. Death is no longer so scary. Dead things were always both interesting and scary as a kid. The only funeral I attended as a child was for some relative I knew little about. It reduced me to tears seeing my aunt and uncle cry at the loss of their loved one. Yet when I lost a treasured former teacher to a heart attack in 1993, the funeral turned out to be a celebration of his life. I learned from that. Then my mother passed away in November 2005, and I was there when she ceased breathing and I saw that her body was through with life. Of course, during the eight years in which my wife struggled through cancer treatment, death was the frightful thing that always lurked ahead. When it came to us n March, 2013, my next worries were how to help my children deal with the loss of their mother. That is a challenge that will never abate. I think about my own mortality as well, and if you do the math and add up the years you have remaining on this earth, life itself can seem pretty scary.

So how delightfully ironic it is, that one of the best ways we can learn to enjoy life is to bring back our inner child. That’s when we begin to experience life in new and meaningful ways. It doesn’t mean you need to relinquish all the things that you’ve earned for yourself as a healthy adult. It may mean setting aside some of your more restrained behavior so that you can try new things, take chances and live a little. Or a lot.

The inside lesson of a pocket door

By Christopher Cudworth

CeramicFor many years a beautiful ceramic hung on the wall of our kitchen. It featured an elegantly composed design of grapes and vines. The wall on which it hung was the entryway to the basement. We looked at that grape ceramic every day and walked by it perhaps 1000 times over the years.

The pocket door that led to the basement had a broken latch. It was therefore hard to pull it out from the wall. In fact that door had not been closed in nearly five years. Every time I tried pulling it out there seemed to be something stopping it. The door felt stuck.

Finally curiosity forced me to take a closer look at how the door worked, and why it seemed so stuck. Using an LED flashlight, I shone the beam between the wall and the pocket door. The mystery was solved.

When we hung that ceramic on the wall the nail had pierced the wall and embedded its point in the surface of the door. It basically nailed the door in place.

I took the ceramic down and pulled the nail out of the door. The pocket door easily slid out of the wall.

We had a good laugh thinking about the many times I had tugged and tried to get that door to work. We’d assumed the problem was insufficient leverage from the broken latch.

That wasn’t it at all. It took a look inside the door to figure out the simple solution to the pocket door problem.

There are quite a few things like that in life. We imagine things holding us back or keeping us stuck in place. Usually the solutions are much simpler than we’ve taught ourselves to think. Slowing down and actually taking a look at the situation can often reveal the answer to our inner questions, those things that make us doubt ourselves or make us too proud to question our self-perceptions. Little flaws can cause our whole world to stick.

It’s always worth a second look.

Christopher Cudworth’s book The Right Kind of Pride features insights on how to face life’s challenges and make the most of life’s opportunities. It’s available on Amazon.com. This blog continues the vein of thoughts and insights gleaned from 8 years of cancer survivorship and all that it taught and wrought. 

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