My Way

Cover of "The Gift of Years: Growing Olde...

Cover via Amazon

I began reading The Gift of Years by Joan Chittister yesterday.  Chapter 1 is entitled ‘Regret.’  Joan begins by telling the reader that one of the things we tend to do as we grow older is a review the chronicle of our life.  While there are productive things that can come from this review, it is mostly exhausting to rehash the list of things we should have or should not have done.  Joan says passing judgement on yourself can leave you depressed.

Far better to look at the person you have become and say to yourself, “If I had not taken all the steps I did along the way, would I be the person I am today?”  While it is true that more than one road might take you to the same destination, if you are content with the destination you have reached, then you have nothing to regret. 

About 30 years ago, I joined a 12 step fellowship, and one of the steps was to take a personal inventory.  After that, you were to take a daily inventory and when you were wrong promptly admit it to the person you had wronged. I can’t say I did that perfectly, but it did teach me to stop worrying about being “perfect.”  My initial inventory allowed me to deal with my past which at that time involved a failed marriage I contracted at age 17, and a relationship with another person that had ended badly.  Joan suggests that criticizing yourself for a failed marriage that has ended is a waste of precious life.  She says “Regret is not insight. It is in fact the sand trap of the soul.”  What I must remember regarding my own first marriage is that terminating it allowed me to find a person  I am, and the person who has been my best friend for almost 30 years.  The other thing someone pointed out to me along the way is that I have three wonderful children from the first marriage, whose lives did indeed keep me going during the worst of times.

I got up earlier than normal this morning (around 5:00 a.m.) .  I usually do my text-book reading in the morning, when my brain is fully functioning,  but I had finished reading my last text-book the day before.  While I was waiting for the newspaper,  I turned on the TV.  The channel that popped up was the one we watched last night before bedtime, and the program being shown happened to be  about judgement.   

The narrator was interviewing spokespersons from all the major religions concerning judgement.  Each had something interesting to say. I particularly like the thoughts of the Hindu spokesperson, who said the Hindus do not believe in a Day of Judgement per se, but rather they believe in Karma, which means, ‘Life has Consequences.’  I think this is akin to the “bread on the water” thought I have heard all my life.  Whatever you do along the way has effects, and the effects play out in your life and the lives of others. 

Our lives are unique.  Each of us has traveled a path of our own making.  We might not have understood at the time why we took the step we did, but we chose the path, step by step and the consequences played out for good or ill.

Joan says, ‘The burden of regret is that, unless we come to understand the value of the choices we made in the past, we may fail to see the gifts they have brought us.”

On Civility

Demonstrators. The sign, translated, says &quo...

Image via Wikipedia

My daughter and I had a conversation about civility the other day.  We are both Jane Austen fans, and we know Jane had much to say on this subject.  We are also both graduate students in different programs, with different professors for every class and we know civility in the classroom is important. 

One of my professors described the faculty of my history department as ranging from center to far left.  This is a typical distribution in most history departments in colleges and universities these days, and one reason leftists are sometimes labeled elitists, or vice versa.

In some classes, if you have a thought different from that of the professor, you might find your grade affected if you let your thought be known.  In most classes this is not the case.  Some professors actively try to provoke an argument if they think you have a logical argument based on a solid premise.  

Currently, my Post-1945 Europe class is reading The Assassination of Theo van Gogh by Ron Eyerman.  This interesting book written by a Sociologist who has spent hours investigating and deconstructing racial stereotypes.  Using what Robert Merton called “theories of the middle range,” in this case mostly social-psychological or anthropological approaches, and macro history of the Netherlands since the Golden Age  (highlighting the period around and immediately after WWII) Eyerman looks at the assassination from several different perspectives. 

Whoopi Goldberg

This book is relevant from our perspective today, because since 9-11 and other events, many of us have voiced concerns that have led to conflicts between opposing points of view, and arguments between the likes of Whoopi Goldberg and Bill O’Reilly, as well as the firing of Juan Williams from NPR.

I am not going to write a synopsis* of the book here, but recommend it if you have a desire to investigate the social constructions or paradigms associated with the “war” on terrorism as viewed from different perspectives. You probably don’t have such a desire during this season of peace on earth and hopefully good will. I would not have selected this book if it had not been required reading for my course.  However the text has provoked me to think about the left-right conflicts we have today, and wonder if civility is still alive. I also like the book very much, because this author takes the charge to use his intellect to shed light instead of heat very seriously.       

*(This book deconstructs what the death of the film maker Van Gogh at the hands of a ‘Muslim’ youth meant to all concerned. Eyerman is looking at arguments about topics such as “free speech”, “artistic license”, “identity” “Jihad” “cultural concepts” and others.)    

According to Wikipedia, civility includes:

1/ Participating in a discussion in a respectful and considerate way, and avoiding directing profane and offensive language at others. Insulting a third-party with whom your opponent agrees is not civil, i.e., calling someone with whom you disagree and idiot, for example.

2/ Not ignoring the positions and conclusions of others, but seriously consider they might have a point.

3/ Discouraging others from being uncivil, and avoiding upsetting others whenever possible.  (This latter is a difficult task, because you must set yourself up as having adequate knowledge to determine when someone else is uncivil, which requires making value judgements in as objective a way as possible. Few of us can do that.)

Wiki uses these guidelines for its editors (authors), because anyone can make a contribution to the site,  and sometimes different authors disagree with the conclusions, points, arguments of others.  This is typical in the academic world, where we are taught to argue.

Lyrical memories


Robert Louis Stevenson

When I was a child, I spent many days in bed with pneumonia or some other lung ailment, and my mother gave me a book of poems by Robert Louis Stevenson to while away the hours.  From his book, I learned about Stevenson’s “Land of Counterpane,” as well as a poem he wrote about the night sky, which begins, “In winter when I go to bed, I see the stars shine overhead…”  From his poetry, I learned how different summer and winter are when you live as far north as Scotland.   Stevenson must have impressed me because when I was in junior high, I wrote a review of ‘Treasure Island‘ which I still have tucked away in my armoire.   Later as an adult, when I lived in Hawaii, I found a marker that said “Robert Lois Stevenson once had a house on this site.”  Like Mark Twain, Stevenson got there before me.  

I developed a love of poetry largely because of my Mom who had saved some of her poems written in childhood.   I wrote a few of my own poems too.  I believe we are attracted to poetry when we are younger and find life romantic.  OR perhaps it is later when we have discovered life has its sad moments, and we are drawn to Elliot or e.e. cumming.  

When we reach the twilight years, we might be drawn to poetry once again, and Shakespeare‘s “ruined choir branches”  make sense.  Is it just me, or is Hamlet more comprehensible after you pass 65?  I have seen my favorite plays, Midsummer Night’s Dream,  Hamlet, and Richard III  hundreds of times.  I named my oldest son after Richard III.  I fell in love with Richard after I saw Lawrence Olivier’s version of the play.  Okay, I know I was a weird teenager, and some people think Richard was a villan.  I tell my Richard he was named after Richard the Lion-Hearted, who was one of the good guys in my book.  I know that’s not “politically correct” thinking these days, but old ideas die hard.  

I tend to read eclectically, so, I have read Harold Bloom‘s book on Shakespeare, as well as Carolyn Heilbron’s ‘Hamlet’s Mother’, and Virginia Woolf‘s ‘Room of One’s Own‘ in which she describes the travails of Shakespeare’s sister.  I read writers from the Left and Right, if they are thoughtful and intelligent, and do not insult my intelligence.  I believe this is  important for developing an open mind, and certainly the right of an American citizen.  One of the best books on literature I read in recent years was ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi.  A feminist perspective on Nabokov.  Check it out. 

When I was sick and lay a-bed, 
I had two pillows at my head, 
And all my toys beside me lay, 
To keep me happy all the day. 



And sometimes for an hour or so 
I watched my leaden soldiers go, 
With different uniforms and drills, 
Among the bed-clothes, through the hills; 

And sometimes sent my ships in fleets 
All up and down among the sheets; 
Or brought my trees and houses out, 
And planted cities all about. 

I was the giant great and still 
That sits upon the pillow-hill, 
And sees before him, dale and plain, 
The pleasant land of counterpane.