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Sunday Meditations on a John Wesley Quote

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I have been taken with this John Wesley quote for a while now. As it’s Sunday, let’s dive in!

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The above quote resonated with me the first time I heard it, which was sometime in junior high school. So I’d like to dissect this quote, starting with “do all the good you can.”

Too many of us think we can’t do any good at all, so we don’t do anything. And that’s not wise, nor is it smart. We can all do something to help our fellow man, woman, and/or child…it may be something small, like carrying in some groceries if you’re able-bodied and the person you’re helping isn’t. Or it could be something big, like helping someone fix a car when they can’t do it themselves but desperately need it.

(Note I’m talking about individual big things rather than societal big things. But I will get there.)

The key words there are “good” and “can.” Do your best, always; do what you can, always. And if you are in distress, and all you can do is offer good thoughts one day, do that. If you can offer a shoulder to cry on (even a virtual one, these days), that’s even better.

“But Barb,” you say. (Yes, I can hear you.) “What if I truly can’t do anything? I’m in a nursing home. Or I’m in the hospital. Or I’m just…tired, I guess.”

If you’re in a nursing home or in a hospital, the best thing you can do is to heal up. But while you do that, speak kindly to the nurses, doctors, and the staff. Encourage other patients, if you see them. Continue to learn whatever you can learn, via the TV or books or magazines or computer. And again, heal up.

If you’re just tired — and I know the feeling, because I often feel this way myself — you have to look at it a different way.

If you have had an abysmal day, just one from the Hells, and there’s nothing at all you can think of to do that’s any good for anyone, the best thing you can do is to calm down. Talk to a friend. Read a good book. Watch a movie that makes you laugh. Listen to some music that moves you. Whatever works, but do something to get your mind off these problems that are plaguing you.

Anyway, on to the next part of the quote, which is “by all the means you can.” Here, I think John Wesley was talking about the various ways you can help someone. Yes, you can help financially, but you can help emotionally, you can help physically sometimes, you can help spiritually (often we need that the most no matter what it looks like from the outside), and you can do it in whatever fashion you want.

The main thing is to not give in to despair. (Or if you need to, use my late husband’s Zen Buddhist trick and give in to it for five minutes. Then say to yourself, “Self, I’ve heard you. Now let’s get on.” I have used this trick frequently in recent days, and I know it works.)

Wesley here is saying again that you can make a difference by whatever means necessary. And that’s important.

The next part of the quote is “in all the ways you can.” I have already covered this, to an extent, in my previous paragraphs, but I will reiterate for the record: do whatever you need to do to help others in whatever possible ways you have available. Even if they seem small, they can do wonders.

For example, if you are at the grocery store in these days of Covid-19, you can be extra-nice to the cashiers. (Or just polite if you’re normally rude, I guess. Though I would hope none of my readers are rude on a regular basis. Yes, that’s a small joke. Probably very small. Moving on…) You can also help others get their groceries to the car if the clerks are too busy to do it or are unable to do it. You can be polite in the parking lot and make sure you give extra space and time to people walking to and from the store, and pay extra-close attention to the various cars in the lot because not everyone else is.

These are all small things. But they add up. And the clerks will appreciate someone who is not rude or abrupt. The people you deal with, in or out of the car, will appreciate that you are paying attention whether they realize it or not. And if you are helping someone get their stuff to the car, that is vitally important and will probably have made someone’s day.

Small things do add up, you know.

Wesley goes on to say “in all the places you can.” I think what he meant by this is for people not to stop thinking about ways to help others when they walk out the door of the church. If you can help someone in the store, do it. If you can help someone on the road, do that. If you can help a friend by listening even if it’s the tenth time you’ve gone over the same subject and you’re just tired of it — but you can rein in your frustration, and listen and empathize anyway — these things matter.

The next part of Wesley’s quote is “at all the times you can.” I think Wesley put it this way because of what I said before about “days from the Hells.” But it could also be that he dealt with too many people who thought the only time to be charitable was when they were actually in church. And once they walked out the door, that was it for charity for the week, almost as if they had “banked” the charity by going to church and enduring the hour-long sermon. (Or whatever.)

The message here is simple. We are all children of God/dess. (Or Deity. Or “Hey, you, big guy in the sky.” Call Deity what you wish; I don’t think it matters much to Deity.) We are all fallible, imperfect, mortal, all that — just as I’ve said in many other blogs — but along with that fallible, imperfect, mortal stuff comes some pretty good basic instincts. We, most of us, want to help others; we want to do good, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it makes us feel better to do it. (Maybe that was a biological thing Deity built into us, for all I know.)

And when we deal with those who just don’t seem to care, or don’t seem to want to do the right thing to help their fellow man (or woman or child), it can be frustrating to know that you’re doing your best but someone else is slacking off.

(I don’t know if that’s something Wesley considered during the writing of this, but it makes sense to me.)

The next part of the quote is, “to all the people you can.” I think here Wesley was saying that you should not stop caring about those you dislike. That you should try to find ways to help everyone, not just your own family, your own church, your own clique. That you should make a point to reach out, even when it’s hard (some days it’s very hard; I know!), to help someone who needs it. (Especially as some days, that person is going to be you. But I digress.)

And finally, Wesley closes his quote with, “as long as ever you can.” (I know that reads oddly to modern readers, but Wesley died in 1791. Word choices were different then.)

What does that mean, exactly? Well, I think Wesley believed you needed to keep doing whatever you possibly could to help others for the entirety of your lives. Period. Full stop.

Now, I did some digging into this quote. Wesley is attributed with it because of several sermons he gave during his career as a minister. This was seen to be his overarching philosophy, but Wesley probably never put it exactly the way this quote is put now during his lifetime.

(Which does make me wonder about that “ever you can” stuff, but again, Wesley died in 1791.)

What is important is that Wesley believed we all could and indeed should make a difference. That we indeed should do these things outside the church as well as inside; that we should do these things in the stores as well as our homes; that we should help those we knew and those we didn’t; that we should continue to pray for those we don’t understand and even those we dislike, along with those we know and do understand and deal with on a regular basis.

On this Sunday, take a minute and ask yourself, “What can I do to help someone else today that I normally don’t do?” And then, if you can, do that thing; if you can’t do it today but can do it tomorrow instead, do it then.

But do it. Because it matters. Even when it seems like it doesn’t.

Sunday Meditation: Learning to Let Go

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It’s no secret that over the years I’ve had a hard time letting go of things, good and bad. The best I can do with certain things is agree that I’m going to go on with my memories intact, and do the best I can with them. With my late husband’s death, that’s the level best I can do — letting go is not an option, because that would also let go of all my hopes, dreams, aspirations, and anything else positive that I still wish to obtain.

But maybe I can let go of how angry I am that he died too early. (I’m not angry at him. I’ll never be angry there.) And maybe I can let go of some of the nonsense I saw immediately after my husband died, including some of the rudest comments any widow could ever get. (Including one idiot who said that I would be just fine because I was young, and could still remarry. Um, what?)

So I’m not great with letting go, but I’m working on it.

This becomes more imperative with other things in my life, though. Things I regret doing, that I cannot change now. People I wish who had been different, or better, or less toxic; again, I can’t change that now either. And things that frustrate the Hell out of me…again, if it’s not an ongoing occurrence, why waste any more time on it?

So just for today, I’m going to do my best to let go of all the negative emotions I feel and focus instead on whatever good I can find in the midst of this pandemic, including the love of friends and family who’ve stayed in my life (not to mention good books and good music).

While I know it’s going to be a work-in-progress, I have to do what I can to keep going and give myself a chance to find happiness. Or at least fulfillment. Or peace. Or all of the above.

If you are like me, and you need to let go, try to tell yourself, “Just for today…” and see what happens. (Then do let me know about how it went for you in the comments, OK? I care.)

Holiday Musings on a Prescient Bob Costas Quote

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“I am a firm believer in this: one of the measures of a person is how do they treat someone they have no reason to believe can do them any good.” — Bob Costas, legendary sportscaster, quoted in MADDEN: A Biography, p. 189-90**

Bob Costas is right.

How you treat people is what matters. Whether they can help you in the moment or not, how you act when the world’s supposedly not watching is what defines your character.

But not everyone believes this.

Why? Well, there there are so many people in this life that can’t seemingly do us any good. From your local grocery cashier, to the clerk at the gas station, to the folks who answer telephones for your local Congresscritters, these are folks that some people seem to believe are disposable.

Obviously, I am not among them.

What you do for a living is not what matters. Who you are — that is what matters.

Your character, your soul, your willingness to understand others even if they seem very different from yourself…this is what separates good people from bad, in my opinion.

But in case you disagree, I want you to consider the following:

We are all human beings, fallible and mortal. We all have hopes, dreams, fears, and struggles. You name it, we all have it. And we are all worthy of care, consideration and respect.

I’d believe this even if I hadn’t been, often, in the situation where I was the one who seemingly “couldn’t do any good” for someone.

Please do your best, especially at this critical time of the year with the holidays fast approaching, to remember the Golden Rule. “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.”

That may help you recall that there are no disposable people.

We all matter, each and every one. We should be treated respectfully, with care, with consideration, and with as much compassion as possible.

Remember Bob Costas’ quote.

It is important. And so are you.

——–

**This quote stuck with me, even after I finished reading MADDEN: A Biography. It’s an older thought, but it’s well-encapsulated by Bob Costas here…and I realized, at the time, that I needed to come talk about this further.

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 20, 2019 at 2:05 am

Survivors Heal at Their Own Pace

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Folks, I read a Facebook post from a friend I’d like to know better earlier tonight. It was from two years ago, and I missed it at the time.

Without any privacy violations, my friend had gone through an ordeal while in middle school (once upon a time called junior high school; whichever works). A teacher had abused him for over a year, and he ended up with PTSD and other problems.

While I left as supportive of a message as I could now, albeit two years late, I wanted to say more about this.

Many of us have suffered wounds that take years, if not decades, to heal. And because we have had these problems, we think we’re less than we are; we think that maybe, just maybe, we deserved to be abused, or mistreated, or assaulted, or even molested.

I’m not saying we do this consciously. But we still do it.

How do I know this? Because I’m a survivor of sexual assault, that’s why. It happened in my teens. And for years after, I felt I wasn’t good for anyone, and never would be.

It took me over seven years to get any sort of a handle on it. I went to counseling. I read as many books as I could. I tried to forgive the person who’d assaulted me — which I found to be impossible, setting back my healing for a few more years.

And then, I found The Courage to Heal Workbook. That, along with a good counselor who knew how to use it, was my salvation. It taught me that I did not have to forgive the person who’d assaulted me. Instead, I could leave it up to the Higher Power.

Best of all, I learned that I was not to blame for any of it. And that I was stronger because I’d survived.

All of that helped me heal.

After I did all that hard work, I eventually found my late husband, Michael. He and I found a fulfilling life together in all aspects. He wasn’t afraid of my flashbacks, and would hold me until I was better; he had empathy, and knew how to use it. (I wish all people did. But empathy is still an exceptionally rare quality, it seems…but I digress.) And our sex life was second to none, because we both understood each other, loved each other unconditionally, and wanted to make each other feel that love every minute of every day.

Why am I’m sharing this now, rather than at the height of the #MeToo movement? Well, it’s mostly that I want my friend, who has found a good woman at long last and will be married soon, to know that he, too, can have a fulfilling relationship and that his past — the stuff that was inflicted on him — doesn’t have to derail anything.

The right person, you see, will be there for you no matter what. That’s what unconditional love is all about. And once you find that person who loves you, no matter what, hold on to him or her — because that’s a person whose worth is above rubies.

If you are reading this, live in the United States, and have suffered from rape, incest, molestation, or other forms of sexual violence and need to talk with someone, call RAINN at (800)656-HOPE. They are free, confidential, and open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And if you can’t call now, but need to find out more about how you’re not alone — as indeed, you aren’t — and that people do care (as we do!), go to https://www.rainn.org and read at your leisure what they’re doing to combat sexual violence in the United States.

Dealing with Disappointment, part the Nth

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What are you supposed to do when your efforts are not rewarded?

This is something that every single human being has to deal with at some point in his or her life. You’ve done everything you possibly can, and yet, your efforts are not appreciated. And sometimes, you wonder just how to appreciate yourself when you think no one else on the face of the Earth does.

It can be very hard to deal with this sort of disappointment. Even though we know, realistically, that other people will sometimes disappoint us, the lack of appreciation for our efforts tends to come at the worst possible time, often adding insult to injury.

In addition, I know that I tend to look at myself through a very harsh lens. So when I do something to the utmost of my ability and it doesn’t seem to have made a dent — think of what I said earlier this week about the efforts to get politicians to do anything about mass shootings, for example — I just wonder what the Hell I’m doing here.

Then everything starts to spiral down, out of control…at least, until I get some perspective, and tell myself the following things:

  1. You can’t control what other people think, say, or do.
  2. But you can control your own reactions. So if someone takes your hard work, grunts, and turns away, rather than saying, “Great! Thanks for putting in the hard work to get this done,” you have to tell yourself that’s their issue and not yours. (Maybe something is going on in their lives that’s making them be less responsive and less empathetic than they should be.)
  3. Sometimes, you just have to celebrate your own efforts yourself.
  4. It’s OK to be upset if someone is rude. That’s natural, normal, and human.
  5. Don’t beat yourself up due to other people’s failings.

If you can tell yourself those five things, it may help you feel a little better.

And even if it doesn’t, there’s still one more way to deal with your frustration, anger, and hurt over whatever’s disappointing you.

My late husband, Michael, told me you should not push your anger, frustration, or disappointment away. Instead, you should fully feel whatever it is, and put a time limit on it. (Say, five or ten minutes.) Then, after that time, you tell yourself, “OK, self, I’ve heard you. Now, let’s go back to what we were doing before.”

This may not sound like something that works, but it does.

Why? Because you’re acknowledging your feelings. You’re not pushing them away. You’re telling yourself it’s OK to have these feelings, even if they’re ugly and make you feel less than your best self; you’re reminding yourself that you’re a human being, and we all have bad days.

And when you can accept your feelings, even if you still dislike them, it’s much easier to get back to what you were doing.

In a few days or weeks, whatever was upsetting you probably won’t be as bad. (Excepting this whole mass shooting mess. That just seems to go on and on. But I’m putting that aside for now…hm de hum de hum.) But even if it is, you may have figured out how to deal with it better, and how not to beat yourself up for being human.

So, that’s how I deal with disappointment. What do you do? Tell me about it in the comments!

That Irreplaceable Someone…

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As it’s Sunday, I wanted to talk about something vaguely inspirational. Enjoy!

We are told, as we grow up, that we need to be that irreplaceable person. Be the best. Be the brightest. Be the only one who can do everything that’s required.

What we aren’t told is that not everyone can be the best. Or the brightest. Or be the only one that can do everything, either.

However, what we’re told isn’t wrong, exactly. Because we can only be ourselves. And if we are our best self — well, then, that is something no one else on the face of this Earth can be.

And that is, indeed, attainable.

I write this as I’m about to play a concert this evening with the Racine Concert Band. Tonight, I’m playing alto saxophone. Next week, I’ll be playing clarinet. (And, possibly also, alto saxophone.) And when I play a part on one instrument, someone else has to cover the part I’d usually play. And while they can and will cover the part, they can’t and won’t do it the same way I can.

(This sounds obvious, but hear me out, OK?)

The other person will get things right I won’t. The other person will miss things I would’ve gotten right. Or, maybe, we’d both play it note-perfect all night long, but have different nuances to add — or not — to the equation.

But what’s important is, that other person is playing the part the best way he can. Doing his best, making his best effort, trying his hardest, all that.

While of course I’m doing the same wherever I am, as nothing less will do.

Tonight in the band concert, we’re playing a piece called “Jubilation Overture” by Robert Ward. This is one of our conductor Mark Eichner’s favorite pieces (it should be, too; it’s really a fun piece), and so that means I’ve played it before. The last time I played it, in fact, I played the solo clarinet part — which means tonight on alto, I have to remember other people are playing that, and I have to concentrate on my own part instead, thank you. (Otherwise, my fingering and embouchure will be off, to say the least.)

And, this week, my section leader and stand-partner, Vivian, is off on vacation. While I’m covering her parts for her, I can’t do anything the same way she would — just as she can’t do anything the same way I would.

But do I miss her playing? You bet I do. And do I miss her being there, steady as a rock, on nights I quite frankly don’t feel well? Absolutely.

She is irreplaceable, you see. (And yes, so am I. But that’s not the point.)

We as human beings need to concentrate on what we can. Not worry so much about what other people can do. Just what we can do. And do it to the level best of our abilities, and keep doing it, as long as we possibly can.

That’s what our parents and teachers and others meant, when they told us to be our best selves. And it’s something we can continue to work on, all the days of our lives.

Sunday Thoughts: Be a Better Person (Starting Today)

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Former President Jimmy Carter is the inspiration for this blog post. Enjoy!

Have you ever felt like wishing that you could just start over? That you messed up something so bad, so vital to your well-being, and you have no way in the world to fix it?

We all have done things we’re not proud of, as there are very few saints walking the face of this Earth. (At least, saints the quality of Mother Teresa, or Father Damien the Leper-Priest.) So I’m guessing that at least a few of you know what I mean.

You’ve had a bad day. Or a bad succession of days. And you wonder what you can possibly do to redeem yourself. Or at least do better than you’ve been doing.

Jimmy Carter has the answer, and it’s surprisingly simple. Decide to be a better person. Starting today.

See, the first thing you have to do, if you feel like you’ve messed up in an irredeemable way, is to tell yourself, “No more. I will do better. I will be better.”

Then, of course, you have to do the work. You have to figure out what type of person you want to be. And do everything in your power to work toward what you see as your best self — a more generous person, perhaps. Or a wiser one. Or maybe even one that’s more self-forgiving…ahem.

But you first have to make up your mind that you are going to change for the better. And that you’ve had enough of the status quo, whatever it is that’s plaguing you; that, too, you have to decide to get past, because otherwise, you’re going to fall into the same old traps.

That said, every day is a new day. If you screwed up badly yesterday, today is a clean slate. You can still make it a worthwhile day full of laughter and love, or creativity and inspiration (or better yet, all of the above). You, too, can make a better life for yourself, brick by brick, resolution by resolution.

You do not have to be held back by your fears, or by your past mistakes. Not if you don’t wish to be.

No, you can’t change the past. But you can learn from it. And you can grow, and change, and deepen, and make yourself more interesting and empathetic and kinder if you truly wish.

So, what do you want to do? Stay in the same ever-changing rut? Or learn from your failures, and make a clean, fresh start?

Yes. You can be a better person. Believe in yourself, give yourself a chance, and go forward rather than reliving the past.

You can still change the future, if you act today. But ultimately, it is all up to you.

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 26, 2019 at 4:43 am

Love Matters. (Really.)

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The most powerful force in the universe is love.

This may seem simplistic. But it’s the flat truth. There is nothing more powerful than love in its purest form; there’s nothing that can motivate you more, make you try harder, make you want to be better, or give you more joy than love.

When we run into life’s difficulties — and oh, aren’t there a bunch of them! — love helps smooth the way. Knowing that you are cared for, needed, appreciated, and loved for yourself without any preconditions and without any need to be anything other than what you are is the most phenomenal feeling in the world.

I write this today mostly because a good friend of mine, in New Zealand, is struggling. He just got married — only a few, short days ago — and his wife is ill. (As in, in the hospital.) He and his wife found each other online, she flew to meet him and spend a few weeks with him, she flew home, they became engaged, and she flew back out to be with him. They have been very happy together despite all that life has thrown at them thus far, but I wish very strongly that my friend’s wife were not ill and that they’d been able to have the first few days as a married couple without so much stress and strain.

That said, they love each other deeply and well. I know they can and will come through this, precisely because of the love they bear for each other.

While I don’t know much else with a great deal of exactitude at the moment, I do know this: If you find true love, nurture it, work with it, and let it heal you…as much as it possibly can. (It may not heal you physically. But it can heal you every other way.) And celebrate it, every day of your life.

I know my friend and his wife have done all that, are doing that now, and will keep doing that. And I am certain they will continue to appreciate each other, for as long as they both shall live.

That is what is truly important, in life. (Don’t let anyone else tell you anything different, either.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 6, 2019 at 6:42 am

Be That Someone

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As we’ve entered Lent, a season in the United States that is observed more in its breech than in its keeping, I wanted to write about something I’ve only rarely talked about. (Yes, me. The person who seemingly talks about everything.)

In the 21st Century, the vast majority of people seem disconnected. There are many studies showing it, and there are a number of reasons for it. We are more electronically connected than ever, but somehow it’s made us feel less important and less necessary.

Granted, there are billions of people on Earth, and most of us will not be remembered once we pass into eternity. That’s just the way it is.

Do I like that fact? No. But that doesn’t change the fact either.

So, what can we do against the oncoming oblivion?

My advice is, help others. Be that someone. Take an interest. See who’s in need, and try to meet at least part of that need. Don’t act in a way Lois McMaster Bujold’s character Mark Vorkosigan once described (my best paraphrase) as, “People always say they can’t do it all, so they don’t do any,” even though that seems easier.

And you can take small steps to help, if you’re struggling yourself, as many of us are these days.

When you’re out in a checkout line, really look at your cashier and say “thank you.”

When a friend is hurting, but you don’t know why, and they just won’t tell you, stay in that person’s life. Tell them you care. Tell them, “You matter. I see you.”

I know it’s hard to keep trying. It seems useless.

But it’s not.

Do these small things. Be that someone.

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 9, 2019 at 5:07 am

Sunday Inspiration: Find Your Path

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Folks, I thought a great deal about what I wanted to write this week.

Then, just a few minutes ago, I finished reading this article, about a young man named Mats Steen with substantial disabilities who found his way forward as a character in World of Warcraft named Ibelin. There, he could be himself, the man he wanted to be but was prevented from being…there, he found friends, and is still mourned to this day. (He died in 2014.)

His parents didn’t understand until after Mats’ passing just how much Mats had made an impression on others. The people he gamed with came to his funeral, even though they’d never met him in person (that would’ve been quite difficult, for obvious reasons). And they spoke about the person they knew: the warmth, the humor, the silly jokes, it was all there.

Mats cared about others, you see. And he was best able to express it as Ibelin. He found his path, and he lived the way he wanted to live despite all odds.

Why does this hit a powerful chord in me?

Well, one of the things Mats said on his blog, according to his father, was that the computer screen wasn’t just a computer screen to him. (This is my best paraphrase, and the article says it better.) Instead, it was a gateway to whatever Mats wanted and needed it to be.

Modern technology is a blessing that way. We can have friends from all over the world, and get to know them as if they live next door. Perhaps even better, as they get to know who we are inside, rather than who we are on the outside. Without masks. Without filters. Without any preconceptions.

Just us.

Learn from Mats’ life, and take what you need from the story now being told accordingly. If he could do it — and he surely did! — you can do it also.

No, it may not be traditional. No, it may not be what you expected.

But it still has rewards beyond measure, if you only try.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 10, 2019 at 2:46 pm