The Art Of Simplicity

“Voluntary simplicity means going fewer places in one day rather than more, seeing less so I can see more, doing less so I can do more, acquiring less so I can have more.”
 John Kabat-Zinn

I was watching the Grammy Awards the other evening and aside from the fact that it seemed to be a requirement that all women wear an outfit that was cut open from neck to naval, the ceremony was pretty much as it has been for many years now; part talent, part extravagance and part freak show.

But what caught my attention the most was how simple it is for real talent to be expressed. If you possess the gift of a pure voice, you can captivate an audience without thirty-two dancers, extravagant costumes, pyrotechnics, gimmicks or relying on the shock factor.

If you can sing, people will stop and pay attention. It’s that simple. Everything else either detracts from the talent or attempts to cover up a lack of talent.

Then I thought about how that same principle applies to our lives. As Confucius once said, “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”

I think age sometimes allows us to understand that concept more clearly. Because at its core,  life really is simple. it’s our individual choices, decisions, influences, words and attitudes that complicate things. We just can’t seem to get out of our own way, even when someone hands us the directions.

We are infatuated with the accumulation of stuff. The brilliant mind of George Carlin did entire routines on this very subject. We laughed because we understood he was talking about us and yet we were incapable of stopping.
We think and over think. We accumulate and store. We find the easiest path and decide there must be a better one. We look out the window and want that color grass. We strive to achieve without considering the cost. We find peace in the simple beauty of a sunset on a quiet beach and decide it would look better if there were thirty-two dancers performing in extravagant costumes on a party boat just off the shore line.

Somewhere, Thoreau is dying a thousand deaths.

The most amazing moments we have all experienced in life; the ones that stay with us forever, are never planned and usually the most simple.

We each have a voice and a song to sing. How we choose to live that song, is entirely up to us.

The Brick

A young and successful executive was traveling down a neighborhood street, going a bit too fast in his new Jaguar. He was watching for kids darting out between parked cars and slowed down when he thought he saw something.

As his car passed, no children appeared. Instead, a brick smashed into the Jag’s side door. He slammed on his brakes and backed the jag back to the spot where the brick had been thrown.

The angry driver jumped out of the car, grabbed a young boy and pushed him up against a parked car shouting, “What was that all about and who are you? Just what the heck are you doing? That’s a new car and that brick you threw is going to cost you a lot of money. Why did you do it?

The young boy was apologetic. “Please mister…please! I’m sorry but i didn’t know what else to do,” he pleaded. “I threw the brick because no one else would stop.”

With tears dripping down his face and off his chin, the youth pointed to a spot between two parked cars. “Its my brother, ” he said. “He rolled off the curb and fell out of his wheelchair and I can’t lift him up.”

Now sobbing, the boy asked the stunned executive, “Would you please help me get him back into the wheelchair? He’s hurt and he’s too heavy for me.” Moved beyond words, the driver tried to swallow the rapidly swelling lump in his throat. He hurriedly lifted the handicapped boy back into the wheelchair, then took out a linen handkerchief and dabbed at the fresh scrapes and cuts. A quick look told him everything was going to be okay.

“Thank you so much,” the grateful child told the stranger, wiping away his tears.

Too shook up for words, the man simply watched the young boy push his wheelchair bound brother down the sidewalk. It was a long slow walk back to the Jaguar. The damage was very noticeable but the driver never repaired the dented side door. Instead, he kept the dent there to remind him of this simple lesson.

Don’t go through life so fast that someone has to throw a brick at you to get your attention. 

 

Meet The Beatles

“We were driving through Colorado, we had the radio on and eight of the top ten songs were Beatles songs.,, I Want To Hold Your Hand, all the early ones. They were doing things nobody was doing. Their chords were outrageous, just outrageous, and their harmonies made it all valid. I knew they were pointing in the direction of where music had to go.”
Bob Dylan

For most people, there is no middle ground with these four guys. Either you like their music or you don’t. Not many people are indifferent. Regardless of what you feel about them or their music, it’s impossible to ignore the impact they had on the music industry, and in many ways, the world.

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February 7, 2017 will  mark the 53rd anniversary of their first visit to America, where they broke all kinds of television records when they appeared on Ed Sullivan. But before we get to that appearance, here are some facts about them that many people outside the music industry probably don’t know.

They were the first band to have a record sell a million copies before it’s release. (Can’t Buy Me Love, 1964)

They were the first band to play in a stadium.

The first group to have its drummer sit higher than the band.

The first rock band to designate one of its members as lead guitarist. (George, 1962)

The first band to combine rock with classical music. (Yesterday, 1965)

The first band to create a song that faded out and then in again. (Strawberry Fields Forever, 1967)

The first band to create an album of all original songs. (A Hard Day’s Night, 1964)

The first band to create an album of more than ten songs. (Please Please Me, 1962)

The first band to print the song lyrics inside the album. (Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967)

The first rock group to use a harmonica in a song. (Love Me Do, 1962)

The first rock group to use a sitar. (Norwegian Wood, 1965)

The first popular band to use electric keyboards and synthesizers in some of its songs.

The first recording artists to use sound effects in their songs.

The first band to combine an early form of reggae called ska with rock and roll. (I Saw her Standing There, 1962)

The first band to create an album in which one song runs into another.

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When they appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show soon after their arrival, this country was in a state of hysteria. Incredibly, seventy-three million people watched television that evening, which was the largest TV audience for an entertainment program, ever. The show was watched in more than twenty-three million homes. Remember, this was 1964.
While the program was being aired, much of the nation came to a standstill. It was near impossible to get a bus or taxi anywhere. Even more interesting was that between 8:00-9:00 pm that Sunday night, crime rates in many American cities fell to an all time low.

In 1965 when the Beatles once again toured America, they appeared at Shea Stadium in New York. Until then, the largest crowd to attend a rock concert had been twenty thousand people. More than fifty-five thousand showed up at Shea that night.

It was a different time, one that, for many reasons, may never be repeated. But on February, 1964, these four boys arrived.

imagesWhat happened next, was history.

Words

“Words are seeds that do more than blow around. They land in our hearts and not the ground. Be careful what you plant and careful what you say. You might have to eat what you planted one day.”
-Unknown

Several years ago I ran into a young man at a wedding that I used to work with, but hadn’t seen in a few years. I asked how and what he was doing and he explained, among other things, that he had moved out to the opposite coast and was now living in Oregon.
I was surprised for a number of reasons and when I asked him why the move, he told me it was because of something I said to him once, several years earlier, and he decided to take my advice.

At first I thought he had mistaken me for someone else because, A) no one really listens to me, and B) even if they did, they wouldn’t listen to me.

Curious, I asked what kind of advice I could have possibly given that would cause him to move three thousand miles away. He said I once told him that if he woke up one morning, put his feet on the ground and was not happy with where he was, he should have the courage to do whatever was necessary to make a change in his life.
He told that story to his wife about a year after they got married and soon after, they left their jobs and started a new life on a different coast.

Words.

They have such power over us. More than we care to admit to sometimes.

They can change a life, save a life or destroy a life. They are free, priceless and sometimes carry burdens that last a lifetime.

They leave scars.

They soften and harden hearts.

For all that we know about words and the kind of impact they have on each of us, we sometimes remain careless with them.

Especially with children.

Words can affect adults in many of the same ways they do children. They can make us feel incredibly special or drop us to our knees. The difference, I think, is that adults can sometimes rationalize or explain away the negative comments. They can bounce back by understanding the source or respond by standing up to those words. Children, especially younger children, don’t have those same abilities. Too often they believe what they hear and may internalize those feelings for years. Sometimes it begins to shape their lives.

Being a parent can be challenging at times. I don’t know a parent who doesn’t try to do the right thing when it comes to their children. Or at least believes they are.

You know, volume is a funny thing. There have been times when I’ve heard a band play a song live and the music is so loud, I couldn’t hear the words. Children are no different. Sometimes, when the volume is too high, they just hear the noise, which can be as damaging as the words they can’t hear.

Sometimes we think we’re disciplining our children when we’re only inflicting our control over them. There’s a big difference between the two, just as there is between encouragement and constant critiques. Parents sometimes attempt to live their own lives through their children, instead of allowing them to grow, make mistakes and find their own way through life.

All these actions involve words.

With children, words have a greater impact and last much longer. The control or influence we think we have as parents, only lasts a few years. Rebellion, much longer.
They will remember. And when they’re old enough, they will understand and make their own decisions and choices.

Then the impact of words may be reversed. Strange how that works.

You know, the funny thing is, I didn’t remember having that conversation with that young man I spoke with. Even after he told me about it and I tried to go back in my memory and remember when I may have said it, I couldn’t.

But he did. And that’s the point.

That’s the blessing and the curse about words.

You may not remember what was said today, especially when it comes to children.

But they will.

And one day, you may have to eat what you planted.

No F#@$ing Way!!!!

So my oldest daughter sent me this article recently which claims that those who have a tendency to use salty language were also the most honest people. My guess is she sent this because it was, a) interesting and, b) she is searching for redemption.

Now I don’t throw around that particularly distasteful four letter word loosely, though it has slipped out under my breath when I slammed a hammer down on my finger while poorly attempting some household project I should have left to professionals. Quite honestly, I don’t like the word and think it’s used gratuitously in too many areas of life. Its a word that usually makes me cringe.
That being said, I do curse on occasion. I think most people do. Not F-bomb cursing, of course, but the usual stuff that generates emotion or gets your point across.

This study, done by scientists at the University of Cambridge surveyed 276 people about their most commonly used swear words and how often the say or write them. Then they measured the participants honesty  with questions about blaming others, cheating at games and taking advantage of people.
The study claims that while some may view swearing/cursing as negative social behavior, those same people are not filtering their language, so they are probably not fabricating stories which may result in untruths.
Essentially, if you’re willing to drop a few F-bombs, you’re probably not worried about making yourself look good in front of others.

A larger study of 74, 000 people on Facebook came up with the same results. Researchers found that people who try to keep it clean also try to look cooler online, which involved fudging the truth. That same practice of dishonesty would eventually carry over to their personal/professional lives.

While I initially dismissed my daughter’s attempt at halo polishing, the more I thought about this, the more validity it had for me. I initially told her that a person can be honest and still not curse. Then I started thinking about the people I knew, both past and present, and began compartmentalizing them. Friends, business associates, family, clergy, etc.
I even remembered a saintly aunt I had growing up, and I know she cursed, even if it was in Italian.

I began to realize, as I went through my list, that I don’t really trust the people I never heard curse. Now I understand why. If this study is correct and those who don’t curse are not honest, it stands to reason that I wouldn’t trust, or even like, them.

So there you have it. If you ever want to be taken seriously by people or have them take you into their confidence, you’d better sprinkle a little salt on your vocab. If not, you’ll find your friends becoming fewer, your professional life becoming stagnant and your family largely choosing to ignore you. Because the truth is, people who throw in a few little colorful words now and then are more fun, tell interesting stories, are better children to their parents and better parents to their children. Hell, I exchanged off-color jokes with my parents from the time I was a kid. I can still see my mother laughing as I told her another one.

Of course the seriously rigid, can always hang out with other tight ass non-cursers.

Imagine how much f@#%&ing fun that dysfunctional group will that be?

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Just Another Day

On the first day of 2017, 210 people were killed or injured by gun violence in America, including a one year old, teens and a mother and daughter.

Today, there was Ft. Lauderdale.

Tomorrow, it could be my hometown.

Or yours.

Like most forms of illness, there is an indiscriminate nature to gun violence. No one is immune. Not you. Not me.

As I was watching the news today, with the sound off, my nineteen month old granddaughter played next to me. She was innocently laughing at everything she touched. And as I watched her play, I wondered what kind of world my grandchildren are going to know. I wondered what kind of fear they will understand and how they will live their lives. And I wondered if they will ever truly be free.

We should all be wondering the same thing, because this senselessness doesn’t seem to be going away. That’s the reality we all try to turn away from.

Those who died today were probably someone’s child and/or parents.

Someone else’s.

Whose will they be tomorrow?

What You Don’t Know

You know my name,
not my story.
You see my smile,
not my pain.
You notice my cuts,
not my scars.
You can read my lips,
not my mind.
Unknown

About a year and a half ago, shortly after my grandson was diagnosed with lymphoma, (he’s fine now, thank God), my daughter and I were in a store picking up some things she needed. We looked like everyone else in the store, going about our business as if everything was normal. People who may have noticed or spoken to us could not possibly know what our lives were like at that time. The uncertainty, the shock, the pain. The feeling of wanting to breathe but not remembering how. To everyone else, we looked like everyone else.

Everyday, we sit next to cars at traffic lights, not knowing if those people are on their way to work, or a doctor’s office for test results. Not knowing if they’re going to visit a dying relative or attend a wake. We speak with people who work at their jobs, especially in the service field, and wonder why they’re not very friendly. Co-workers may be having a personal crisis they choose not to share and be withdrawn or distant. Some may become argumentative or angry.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that we all have moments in our lives when life just doesn’t seem fair. We struggle to get out of bed sometimes and face what’s in front of us. We hope people are kind that day, even if they don’t know or understand our pain.

Kindness and understanding are the best hugs you can give someone.

We’ll all need a little of both at some point in our lives. If we understand that simple fact, then why not return the favor or set the example for others. Give that person who may not be in the best mood the benefit of the doubt. Don’t assume the worst of people without understanding the reason for their behavior.

Kindness and understanding.

It’s really not that hard.