Category: "Gift Giving"

Satisfaction

December 30th, 2015

I remember December 26th as one of the worst days of my childhood years. No one sneaks into your living room to hide presents under the tree on that day. All the anticipation and excitement leading up to Christmas suddenly fades into nothing more than a torn-up pile of wrapping paper and instructions to put whatever Santa had brought--whether wished for or not--away. I'd image my parents felt a similar letdown. Plus, not only did they have to contend with my post-holiday whining and my week's-vacation boredom, they had to deal with the leftovers and dusty decorations.

Even today, all the shopping, cooking, decorating, and wrapping seems to culminate into a quick minute followed by a calculation of debt. That's because, when we hinge satisfaction on material things, we set ourselves up to be let down. It's part of the consumer design: to always leave us wanting more.

Looking back on this December, what HAS been satisfying is the fact that I reconnected with friends, reminisced with family, and gathered with others to sing songs, pray for peace, admire decorations, and genuinely wish each other well. Even for those who were lonely on Christmas, satisfaction could be found in the wallowing, for Christmas was one occasion in which they could be free of the facade and simply be truthful to themselves. They were allowed to think of loved ones lost. They were allowed to be sad. Real emotions from real people with no price tag attached.

Yes, we've been setup, but that doesn't mean we have to fall for it. Yes, anticipation is 9/10s of what makes Christmas so fun, but we don't need presents for that. Consider that, for the Christians responsible for this mega-holiday, the whole event was built to commemorate a story of anticipation for the birth of a miraculous child. Correct me if I'm wrong, but as the story goes, on December 26, the manger was not dismantled, the stable mucked out, and the baby savior stored away till next year. The anticipation of a good thing, after it arrived, was met with a deep sense of gratitude for the experience and a promise to be rewarded for doing the right thing.

Obviously worshipers grasp the meaning of Christmas far more easily than those of us who have simply adopted the traditions without the belief. We are left to figure out how we shall accept, be grateful for, and use the non-material gifts we've been given. With must find our own metaphors for that which gives life joy, sorrow, and meaning; how to be kind to each other; how to be true to ourselves; and where the rewards lie in doing the right thing.

And just as there was magic in that birth, there is magic in every moment, Christian and non. Only you won't find it at the mall or any of the things you bring home from there. It's in our experience. With others. In solitude. Outside among the natural wonders. Inside among human creativity and connection. Tomorrow night at midnight we reset the calendar and thus reset our perspective. Fifty-one weeks later, we will scramble to get ready for Christmas morning once again. Do we expect a different result with bigger gifts? A car perhaps? Better start saving now. Or can we commit to finding true pleasure in the experience of winter's day, complete with a reminder that life is good. Flawed maybe. But still, very, very good...even on December 26.

A Massive Ceremony Coming to Philadelphia

September 25th, 2015

At the risk of beating a sensitive drum, I have to acknowledge an enormous occasion that is happening around me. I would feel foolish if I didn't write about this religious, spiritual, and ceremonial event after focusing on those same topics recently.

I've been watching with distant interest over the past year as authorities have made informative announcements in preparation. The event is so big, regular business in Philadelphia is coming to a temporary halt. Walking on American blacktop for the first time three days ago, Pope Francis, the holiest of all Catholic mortals, landed back on earth in Washington, D.C. after a flight from Cuba. His visit is stirring emotions that run from sheer joy to raging frustration. I think it's all a matter of perspective and is a perfect example of how perception can build up or tear down one's spirit.

For the most part, there are two common opinions around here when it comes to his visit: 1.) This is a life-changing opportunity to bring peace to one’s soul; or 2.) This whole thing is a total pain in the ass.

First, let's start with the reasons for pain.

A Massive Ceremony Coming to Philadelphia

• There is a disgusting amount of hype in the media, similar to the marketer's exploitation of the Christmas holiday. Many now wish the whole thing was over.

• For the past year, popular television news has been giving updates about the challenge of the Pope’s visit, including major road closures, transportation restrictions, and the towing of residents' cars from the security zone. We’ve heard about requests sent to businesses, asking them to stay open while Catholics hoped Planned Parenthood would close. Tens of thousands of special transit passes were issued by an online lottery in moments, only to be found for resale online by scalpers at ten times the original cost. Controversy. Controversy. Controversy. The words and phrases plucked from the headlines read:

“Urban Nightmare”
“Disaster.
“Security Nightmare”
“Havoc”
“Traffic Headaches”
“Excess Walking”
“No Option for Failure”
“Closures”
“Restrictions”

• Not all of us are Catholic. Many have either never been or no longer practice. For all of its history, the church has divided the world into two parts—Catholic and non-Catholic—while the melting pot of America begs for tolerance, acceptance, and respect for each other no matter what our affiliations. The scale of the event reminds those who are not part of the club that they are outcasts.

• Church rules seem hypocritical in the standards for what constitutes a family, etc. Doubt surrounds the church’s intentions when its walls are painted in gold while its followers are asked to sacrifice in Christ’s name. Even the kindest among its followers tend to question their ability to maintain a seemingly unreasonable doctrine.

• Scandal haunts the Catholic church. There has been wrongdoing so heinous its victims will never recover. It takes resolve to look at a priest without wondering if he might have had any part in breaking the spirit of a young, innocent, male child.

At a party last month, I asked some good friends what they thought was the REAL reason for the Pope’s visit. The common theme among them was, in summary, an attempt to increase the membership and financial wellbeing of the Catholic Church. “They’ve lost a lot of followers,” one person pointed out. I couldn’t argue with that.

Here are reasons for the peace

A Massive Ceremony Coming to Philadelphia

Determined to obtain the perspective of a devout Catholic, I turned to the closest source I could think of: the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Posted clearly on its Website was the number one reason why the Pope was coming: families. He is here for the World Meeting of Families, an occasion that asks all Catholics to come together, in person or remotely, and pray "to strengthen the sacred bonds of family across the globe and highlight its intrinsic value to the good of society.” The Archdiocese headlines read:

“Honor”
“Gift”
“Splendors”
“Good Work”
“Artistry”
“Blessing”
“Eventful Day of Song”

My mind drifted to my experience at a part-time job I hold at a small local library, one that serves a middle class community. I see firsthand the effect of families in my short exchanges with library patrons of all ages.

For instance...

A child wanders in with a half-hearted parent who gives priority to her phone. The child is anxious, loud, disinterested, and angry.

While…

A child comes in holding hands with a parent who is attentive and present and calm. The child is respectful, curious, and happy.

Meanwhile…

A mentally challenged adult comes in to read with the compassionate and attentive caregiver assigned to him that day. He remains distant, seemingly sad, as if he wants to be happy but he cannot connect.

While…

A mentally challenged adult comes in with her caring grandmother. She is smiling. She greets us a little too loudly, “Hello ladies,” and spells out reasons to love the day.

The difference between the two is always family.

There are the thoughtful daughters who come to help their elderly mothers carry stacks of books, wise fathers who guide their young sons toward topics of interest, and the sturdy moms who teach their rambunctious toddlers how to be still. This is family on display; imagine their impact in the quiet hours before sleep or the tense moments during a storm. The Pope is here to celebrate that.

His visit comes with an additional, spiritual gift that to a follower is precious. To my knowledge, America’s mass media has never mentioned it. It's not granted lightly. It's called the Gift of Indulgences. No, it doesn’t mean everyone can eat, drink, and indulge in as much merriment as they’d like at this Meeting. Instead, it means they will be freed from the usual punishment for their sins, as long as certain conditions are met. The conditions require a commitment to the Catholic sacraments as well as the Catholic intention of building strong families. It essentially washes a follower’s purgatorial slate so that he or she can move toward peacefully living a family-focused life.

The Possibilities

As long as we continue to look with scorn, we will continue to find doubt, hatred, fear, and anger. And if we continue to look with scorn, what becomes of the good of the church? When do we, people of all beliefs dip into our spiritual treasure chest and offer a Gift of Indulgences, one that includes enough acceptance that we may see the positive aspects of the Pope's visit and how it can be beneficial to us all, even if we cannot commit to the Catholic way?

I'm not suggesting we drop to our knees and give in. I am asking that we take this opportunity to intensify the positive vibes of this massive ceremony. Can we not recognize that our DNA eternally connects us to our ancestors, descendants, and siblings? Can we not remember that love attracted us to our spouses or our adopted children? Can we not try to forgive those estranged, honor those respected, and thank those appreciated? Shouldn’t we, together, in unity, uproot our hardships and sufferings and let our families help us get through the nightmares, headaches, and failures?

The arrival of Pope Francis and the ceremony surrounding him has put us on a roller coaster ride, from anticipation to dread, excitement to frustration, and peacefulness to concern. At the end of the day, let him lead our perspectives past temptation and into a stronger connection to that which has delivered every single one of us onto this earth: our families.

Everybody's Talkin'

December 5th, 2014

When Fred Neil released "Everybody's Talkin'," the stuff on his mind was different than what's on mine. Forty eight years later, I sing his lyrics because I too often hear:

Sell. Sell. Sell.

Buy. Buy. Buy.

"You need..."

"Isn't it time..."

"Aren't you ready for..."

"This is the most revolutionary..."

"How did you ever do without...."

Blah. Blah. Blah.

It's gotten worse. Advertising voices are everywhere. They break in at a frequency and volume that has become unbearable. Why?

Is it because there are more of us on the planet, so more of us have to shout to survive? Is it because so many of us already have what we need that sellers have to work harder to convince us to buy what we don't? Is it because our economic engine is straining from the weight of the billionaires, the new millionaires?

The Christmas holiday takes a lot of heat for its role in turning up the volume. I too must wonder if Santa isn't some ploy in a commercial conspiracy, planting a message in kids minds at an early age, "Life is about getting stuff."

However, I don't blame Christmas, because this is the one time of year when commercialism is exposed, like catching Santa with his pants down. Truthfully, I always enjoyed the magical mystery of the North Pole story. And now, being older, I realize that the presents were only a part of what made Christmas morning so great. (Sorry faithful ones; going to church for a birthday celebration wasn't it either.)

To me, the morning was about getting up before dawn (mom's groaning), sitting around a pretty tree and an old train set in our cozy PJs and smiling in the company of family. My brother wasn't mean to me. My dad wasn't yelling. My mom laughed easily. Christmas morning was daily strife interrupted by happiness.

Sure, the presents rocked, but the anticipation was bigger than the receipt. I tried to open slowly, to savor the moment. And it never failed, Christmas night sucked. What did I have to look forward to then?

Whether it's Christmas, a birthday, some Hallmark holiday, or just your daily routine, I'd like to suggest ways you can help tone down the selling chatter? I'm not talking about grinding our economic engine to a halt. I'm simply talking about changing the channel.

• Stop buying junk -- particularly gadgetry junk. Challenge: this Christmas do not buy a single electronic gift. Why? It's too easy and, next to car sales, electronics represent the noisiest babble of all.

• Use your purchases as a vote. Send a message that you will only buy inventions that solve real problems. The inability to lock your car door while flying over San Francisco is not a real problem. That you still need to fuel your drive through town with fossils is.

• Shift anticipation away from materials toward experiences. Extend the happy family time by doing something inexpensively fun.

• Buy from local small manufacturers whose budgets for product development exceed that of product peddling.

• Be creative and give of yourself. Make your gifts. Share your possessions. Offer your time.

• Consider all that you have when analyzing what you need.

• Stop counting billionaires. Who cares anyway?

• Sacrifice low, low prices for high, high quality.

And finally, when they start talking at you, put in some earplugs and say, "I can't hear you."

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Tell me, how do you deal with the noise?

Tapped out or tuned in?

September 20th, 2013

When John Rogers of Keystone Conservation Trust asked me to join another planning committee, I groaned silently. I needed more paid opportunities, not volunteer ones. Tempted to say no, I decided instead to see what it was all about first. I'm glad I did.

Don't get me wrong; there is a lot to be said for saying no. Many of us scramble to do everything for everyone but ourselves. However, there are times when saying yes is right, too.

When I got to my first committee meeting, I found that the individuals involved were dedicated to their task. This wasn't just some well-intentioned-but-ineffective group; these people had a goal, one that was directly in the line with the mission of their work as well as my own: to inspire people to take part in the good health of the environment in which they live. Now, more than a year later, I and my fellow committee members are once again ready to see the results of our work. On Saturday, September 28, the The Green Lane Park Bird and Wildlife Festival will take place for the third time.

We have reached the moment when we begin praying for good weather, checking lists twice, and packing up materials for hauling to the site. Come 12 noon, people will arrive to find games for both kids and adults, hayrides, artwork, music, demonstrations, and even a bird calling contest.

The event will take place alongside Deep Creek Lake, near the amphitheater.

A scene from the start of the 2012 festival.

It couldn't happen without the committee any more than without the support from sponsors, vendors, volunteers, and most importantly, Pennsylvania Audubon and Montgomery County's parks department.

For me, a communicator, the best part is and will be the spread of information and the conversations that get started. For instance, last year, representatives from three local municipalities (Marlborough, Lower Frederick, and Upper Salford Townships) were there to promote and explain their participation in PA Audubon's Bird Town program. (Related article). Better than any newsletter or blog post, residents and leaders were able to stand face-to-face and talk about why they believe a healthy, natural wildlife habitat is good for people, too.

Lower Frederick Township's display included a place where kids could make a peanut-butter-pine-cone bird feeder.

I created a video slideshow to give those who missed last year's event a glimpse of what went on.

Looking back, I remember my initial, reluctant response. It's easy to feel maxed out and unable to take advantage of opportunities when they come around. It's wise to limit the number of volunteer activities when there are bills to be paid. Meanwhile, it's also important to engage in the things that energize you. It helps to ask yourself a few questions before responding to invitations such as John's:

• Is this something I need to do?

• Is this something I like to do?

• Is this something I aught to do?

When you can say yes to all three, you should say yes to the opportunity at hand. More often than not, the results will be positive ones.

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This Week's Small Step: Ask for Help

March 9th, 2012

At some time over the course of the next seven days you're going to need some help. Maybe you'll need someone to lift something with you. Or you'll need an associate to give you some feedback before coming to a final decision. Whether it be physical or mental, large or small, we're all going to need assistance.

Yet, asking can be a sign of weakness. We don't want burden anybody. We don't always have something to give in return. We've been told to pull up our bootstraps and do what it takes to make stuff happen. These are the overused mantras that not only make life harder than it needs to be, they sever our connection to others around us.

A request for help draws people in. It makes them feel worthwhile. It lets them join in, even if in just a small way. It enriches the life of the one who answers, as well as the one who asks.

So this week, at some point, I encourage you to:


Ask for Help

 

If your hands are full, ask a stranger to open a door. If you are tired after a long day, ask your family to help with the chores. If you are unsure what the next step in your business should be, ask a mentor for advice.

 

My friend Jamie asked for help when she didn't understand what a women was doing at the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Science's butterfly exhibit. Everyone nearby benefited from the answers that followed.


Sometimes, a need is so great it requires hired help, and that's ok too. Hired help can be equally connective. In exchange for money, a person shares their talent. Relieved of your burden, you are free to better focus on those around you. Sufficiently sustained, the sharing and connecting cycle continues.

However, it's important to note, you do not pay the stranger to open the door for you. Doing so would nearly be insulting. Payment for help is only due when payment was in the arrangement from the start. Otherwise, it's just people helping people because that's what we do.

Yes, there is a measure of greatness in independence. The child who pours his first glass of milk is proud to declare, "I can do it myself." However, we cannot forget that conditions change constantly. Sometimes the glass is too tall or the milk carton too heavy. Most moms would be thrilled to know their kids still need them once in awhile. Should we grow too independent, we find ourselves nothing but alone in the kitchen.

Is there something you have been struggling with? Have you been reluctant to ask for assistance? Have you been thinking about a friend with a talent you could really use? Show them how strong you are, and ask for help.

 

The Write Beat's "One Small Step a Week" series offers suggestions for simplifying life in order to slow down, reconnect with Nature, and live in a way that is in better harmony with our surroundings.