The Breeze of Friendship

Waiting patiently, he scans the never-ending surge of lunch patrons through the door. Traffic was kind to him and he felt fortunate to have arrived early and secured the table. As servers rush by, the breeze is flavored with the aroma of baked bread and the foods your grandmother prepared for Sunday lunch. Comfort food.

Photo by Abdullah Öğük on Unsplash

Then, he spots his friend. A quick acknowledgment from the friend as he waves off the hostess and makes his way to the table — an island for conversation for the next hour.

For a little while, two people with a special bond share their lives. Occasionally there is a theme for the day. But often the talk is a meandering path of intimacy and discovery, history and future. That’s the magic of friendship. A solid presence peppered by the breeze of surprise and newness.

Technology and the demands of today’s lifestyle have changed the way we practice friendship. Social media and the belief that forceful opinion is the stuff that glues us together is watering down our significant relationships with others. Crowded calendars push friends out. Instead of a delightful and welcoming breeze, our personal conversation often takes shape as a suffocating blanket or a furnace blast of rhetoric. Or, merely a platform for rapid-fire delivery of information.

Friendships wilt without the pleasant breeze. Although, true friendship, because of previous breezes shared, can weather almost anything.

Sensitivity to Sound

Why sometimes it's easier to simply not hear

My dad was hard of hearing. He was robbed of a sensitivity to sound. Most of my life, I remember his struggle to comprehend the things that were said in his presence. Regrettably, because of the pitch of my voice in later years, he could barely understand anything I said even if I shouted. He was frustrated. I was frustrated.

 

Over time, a more frustrating condition emerged. Living with a diminished sensitivity to conversation, his mind was trained to believe that he couldn’t hear.

That frustrated me, too, because I wanted to have rich talks with my father. He wasn’t a man of many words. He was wise and kind and practical. I’d give anything to sit with him now, ask questions, and hear how his life was shaped by his faith and his love for people. I’m grateful because, in this case, his actions did speak more loudly than his words. I am blessed by my witness to his life.

I understand his world more now. I’m hard of hearing. Loud music and drumming in my early years left me with tinnitus and some hearing impairment. Having technological assistance in hearing has been a wonderful blessing and a great curse. I can hear better in most settings. In others, I cringe. I’ve never liked crowds and loud events. Now, being at a concert, a sports event, or, sometimes, even at church, creates an anxiety that is difficult to handle. That, plus the fact that the hearing aids, despite the valiant efforts of my audiologist, don’t fit well and are uncomfortable, leads me to remove them.

And in those times, the strong voice I can hear is that of my mind telling me that I cannot hear. That can be a comfortable world. For the most part, I choose not to ask people to repeat what they’ve said. I just move on without knowing.

I don’t think that my situation is simply one of physical limitation. I know people who live with significant hearing impairment. And they choose to engage. Even in the throes of silence, they hear. Some do it with presence and patience. Others grapple with their condition with outspoken boldness.

Whether blessed with good hearing or not, we live in a world of rich noises and communication. At times symphonic and at times cacophonic, the swirling pulse of words and music and collision and gentle rustling is Creation’s desire to bring understanding and peace. When we become purposefully deaf, we turn our back on the blessing of community with all around us.

Many of us lament earlier days where harmony was not just a melodic ideal but a benchmark for community. We are saddened by the rhetoric of our leaders and the hardness of hearing and heart of our neighbors. We find ourselves drawn to our own quiet places where the only voices and sounds we hear are the ones that echo our own. We choose not to listen.

As a result, we find it simpler to choose not to speak.

Withdrawing from the world of sound, either as a result of our sensitivity or insensitivity robs us of the unique blessing of sharing. It’s easier. But it cancels our contribution to the greater good. Speak. Contribute. Make some music.

Comparative Gratefulness: Learning the Art of Celebration

I’m sitting comfortably in my study with a hot cup of coffee. Today is Thanksgiving and I am thinking about my life and inwardly calculating my degree of gratefulness.

I’ve noticed that, too often, my tendency toward self-pity causes me to look sideways rather than heavenward when I’m voicing my prayers. The inner script goes something like this:

God, I’m having a really hard time. But, at least, I can be thankful that I’m not as bad off as [insert someone’s name here].

 

In many ways, that’s a better prayer than the one that actually forms when I glance over at others. As I hear them voice their woes with their own lives, I sometimes find myself chuckling at the trivial nature of their life challenges.

“At least, you don’t have the burdens I have!” I want to scream.

But they do have burdens and they impact them in the same way as mine do me even though they are different. Their problems cause worry and anxiety. And challenges plant a seed of envy as these folks look around and see others who seem burdenless because the cargo they carry is different.

True thanksgiving in moments like this can happen. Moving from a perspective of self-centeredness to one of gratefulness takes a small step.

Pray for others.

Pray to increase the good in their lives. Pray for their safety. Pray for their happiness. Pray that their loads be lifted.

Pray for your family, your friends, your enemies.

When we change the flow of our prayers, we alter the very nature of our relationship with God. When we pray with a view that others are more like us than different, when we pray with the understanding that every individual is valuable, when we pray with true gratefulness . . . we must also pray knowing that “Thy will be done” can only be offered honestly when “my will” merges with His. And we can, at last, experience true gratefulness.

And from those prayers flows true joy.

 

Adrift in the Sea of Pleasure | Missing the Islands of Joy

Semantics aside, there is a difference between pleasure and joy.

Pleasure

Photo by KaLisa Veer on Unsplash

Both can be good. Yet, as I watch the world around me I can’t help but notice the emphasis on pleasure. It is advertised and sold in the marketplace, online, and on the street corner. Pleasure comes with a surge of dopamine and good vibes. But ultimately, its energy source dims and our memories of the moment drive us forward to find, to procure, and to consume pleasure.

Addicts are those who constantly chase pleasure. The cravings created by the rush of stimulation are seeming undeniable. Talk to someone who is dependent on pleasure and you’re talking to a person who suffers more than they smile.

Joy, on the other hand, is a perspective on life and a way forward fueled by a self-renewing energy cell. Joy comes from relationship and an acceptance of how we fit in with the world around us. Great literature and holy texts speak of joy. Yet, you don’t see anyone advertising joy as a commodity.

Joy is generated from walking among the hurt and the chaos of the world with the ability to see and grasp the good that exists there. Good is resilient. Even in the face of seemingly overpowering evil, good will surface. And joyful people seem to have a special talent for brushing away the dust and grime to make joy apparent to others.

If you’ve ever experienced joy, you know that it isn’t a heart-pounding experience. Joy is release and contentment. Joy is more than pleasure and simple happiness. Joy is a glimpse of heaven on earth.

Pleasure has its purposes. However, the constant drive toward pleasure displaces the essence of joy — the sense of purpose that does more than paint a smile on our faces.

If you feel an absence of joy in your life, take a look at those things you chase. In all likelihood, they are the things that you believe will bring pleasure. The short-term may allow you to grab pleasure, but eventually, you’ll discover you are adrift and unable to sustain the momentum.

Remember the islands of joy are all around you. Walk ashore. Sit down. Enjoy the security of solid ground. You may be surprised how many joyful people you meet on those beaches.

The Pendulum Effect

Over a month ago, I announced my decision to leave Facebook. My decision was based on what I viewed as the debilitating impact it was having on my attitude toward other people. On February 15, 2017, I deactivated my Facebook account. My absence from that space has had a number of positive results for me — more time for other things, less judgmental thoughts about people posting inane political rants or cluelessly posting unsubstantiated information. I have missed the news about families, personal needs, children, and pets. In this few weeks of freedom from the daily Facebook routine, I have experienced a pendulum effect.

The pendulum was a remarkable breakthrough in technology in its day. A pendulum is a weight suspended on a rod or a line. When the weight is moved off center, the force of gravity causes it to move toward center. Because the force of gravity, the force that causes the weight to seek the center, is not strong enough to hold it there, the weight moves past center into the opposite direction. And the process is then repeated in reverse. If you have time on your hands, feel free to watch Mr. Science explain the pendulum effect.

In theory, if the pivot spot, the place where the rod or line is connected, is frictionless and the weight and the rod experience no resistance as they travel, this moving back and forth continues . . . forever. But there are outside forces that diminish the effect. Thus, with no additional assistance or boost, a pendulum set in motion will eventually swing back and forth until the resistance brings the weight to rest in the center.

The pendulum effect I have experienced was not theoretical. In my absence from Facebook, I left my judgmental ways and I experienced an extreme aversion to saying anything about, well, anything. But, then, my previous experience and other influences pulled me back toward center — and then back toward the desire to be excessively judgmental and vocal. I’ve been back and forth on this a number of times.

I’m beginning to feel that constant shifting in my intent fade as the forces of friction and the natural force of gravity — common sense and clarity — pull me to a place of equilibrium. I no longer fixate on a desire to judge others and to express my thoughts in a derisive tone. Yet, I find myself able, in this neutral place, to view what is happening around me and ask those questions that seek truth and understanding.

In other words, without being driven to be right, I am freed to calmly, rationally, and, to a great extent, joyfully explore the world around me. If you are feeling anxiety over events spinning around you, I’d urge you to set your pendulum in motion.