Multigenerational Connectedness

29 12 2010

We’re all one, right? Brothers and sisters, connected souls, timeless, pure energy, love, and light. So how many of us actually spend time with people outside our age group…give or take 20 years or so? And why don’t we? Is it because it’s uncomfortable? Inconvenient? We feel we have nothing in common with people so outside our age range? How can we truly feel the connectedness with all others if we shun or exclude people much younger or much older than ourselves?

I had the pleasure of spending Christmas with four generations…my 16-month-old grandson, both my daughters (and one son-in-law), my sister and her husband, and my mother and her husband. The age span from youngest to oldest was 83 years. What did I observe and take away from my interactions with each generation in addition to lots of love and gratitude for being together?

  • My 16-month-old grandson – Instant smiles when he sees me, spontaneity, lots of hugs and kisses, fun, big faces that indicate delight, play, playfulness, and sheer joy
  • My two daughters – Pride in making their way in the world so well, joy in watching one be a mother, seriousness about life and drive, self-confidence, kindness, an adult-to-adult relationship, hugs, and smiles
  • My sister – Giggles, ease, familiarity, shared family history, remembering, delight, hugs, consideration, laughing at ourselves, and fun
  • My mother – Comfort, hugs, tears, understanding, patience, honoring, helping, taking time, being cared for, being girlish and playful with friends, and shared family history

Credit: Edanley on Flickr

In being with family from each generation, I got to connect with that child, young woman, middle-aged woman, and aging woman inside me and feel the delights and challenges of each age. I could be silly with my grandson and be totally spontaneous in the moment. I could talk with my daughters about their careers and remember when I was that age and so driven and I could recall how it felt to be a young mother. I could feel a real connection with my sister, who is also experiencing the fears and humor of aging and the delights and wisdom from a life lived so far. And I could be understanding toward and appreciative of my mother, who is slowing down, and delight in watching her giggle and chat with her friends around the table in the dining room of her retirement community.

There is much to be gained by stepping outside our comfort zones and being with people of all ages. I’m grateful for all of these relationships; they all help me to honor the many ages within me and within others. Spending time with others of varying ages reminds us that we are all timeless and are connected through our joy, love, kindness, consideration, acceptance, understanding, and being.

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Could You Survive the Worst Thing Imaginable?

25 10 2010

Emma, Katie, and Kyle Coble - Credit: Chriscoble.com

Imagine the worst thing that could possibly happen to you. The worst did happen to Lori and Chris (her husband)  who were on today’s Oprah show. A truck driver coming around a blind curve on a freeway slammed into the back of Lori’s car, which was stopped in traffic on the freeway.

Lori was in the car with her mother and her three children…Kyle aged 5, Emma aged 4, and Katie, aged 2. All three children were killed in that crash and Lori and her mother survived.

Somehow…with the support of family and friends and by making a pact with each other to not kill themselves and instead to help each other out…Lori and Chris got through it and decided 3 months later they wanted to have another child. One year after the tragedy, they had triplets…two girls and a boy! The children are now 2 1/2 and they brought them out…adorable. They said there is joy in their home again, but they still grieve the loss of the first two girls and boy. Amazingly, they forgave the truck driver, who is also the father of young children.

The story has several lessons:

  • That you can survive even the worst thing imaginable.
  • That supporting each other through tough times is important. The couple immediately went to counseling and learned to tell each other what they were feeling. You could tell that they are very close to each other and loving.
  • That miracles do happen. They had triplets who were the same sex as the three children they lost.
  • To hold your loved ones close and appreciate them and realize what a gift every day with them is.
  • That family and friends are invaluable and can love you and support you through whatever you are going through.

The couple has demonstrated unbelievable courage as has Lori’s mother, who was also featured and is also a survivor of the car crash. She of course has grieved not only for the loss of her grandchildren, but every day did all she could to help her daughter and son-in-law get through this unbelievable tragedy.

So when you’re having a bad day, as we all do, think of all you have to be grateful for and hold those you love and who love you tight…both figuratively and in reality. We’re all here to help each other out and in the end, having that love and support is what matters.

P.S. I originally wrote this (with some additions, which I didn’t share here) as an email to one of my daughters. This story touched me so much, I wanted to share it more broadly.





The Power of a Mother’s Kangaroo Love

3 09 2010

Twenty minutes after twin Jamie Ogg was born prematurely at 27 weeks into his mom Kate’s pregnancy, he was pronounced dead when doctors could not get him to breathe. He was placed across Kate’s bare chest and she held him to her skin while she and husband David spoke to him about his sister Emily and the hopes and dreams they had for him.

David and Kate Ogg with their twins on the Today Show - Credit Today Show website

Kate (who is from Australia along with her husband) continued practicing kangaroo love, where the holding of an infant with their skin next to the mother’s or father’s generates heat and bonding for the baby like he received in the womb…or like a baby kangaroo receives in its mother’s pouch.

After five minutes, they began to notice Jamie move, but the doctor said it was just a bodily reflex. This continued for two hours of the parents holding the baby next to their bare chests and talking gently and lovingly to him. They kept trying to get the doctor to come back in the room and see the baby moving, but the doctor kept insisting the baby was dead. Finally, the doctor consented and was shocked to see the baby alive.

The Today Show featured this family and their story today and I burst into tears upon hearing this story. The babies are now five months old and both are healthy and doing well.

The Today Show’s website quoted Dr. Lisa Eiland of the Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City, who said this seeming miracle may be well grounded in science:

What’s important is the warmth that the mother provides and the stimulation that the baby may have received from hearing the mother’s heartbeat. So those are all things that may have helped the baby in terms of going down the path to living as opposed to the path of death.

My own daughter used this practice with her one-day-old son when he was taken to the ICU after a difficult start. This story and that of my own daughter and grandson are powerful reminders that love…especially that of a mother…can be so powerful to even save a life and how important love, nurturing, and human touch are for our very survival.





Life at a Fast Toddle

31 08 2010

Aren’t toddlers fun to watch? My grandson Sebastian recently turned one. I have so much fun watching him toddle back and forth at his house, mine, the library, the park, wherever. Although his steps may be a bit wobbly, he doesn’t judge himself, hold back, or act fearful because he’s not a perfect walker. He “runs” with abandon, not worrying about whether he is going to fall or run into anything or step on anything. He just does it because he can. He is gleeful and often laughs or scrunches up his face in a delightful look that says “I’m having so much fun!” And he loves having something to carry as he toddles…a basket, a cake pan, a ball, a wooden puzzle piece…just about anything will work. It’s just the act of carrying while walking that is just so cool!

He was at my house several hours yesterday and today while his momma is at a conference and observing and being with him awakens so much in me. I am completely present with him just as I was with his momma and her sister when they were young. I sit on the floor and play with him, dance as he’s dancing, and sit in the sandbox at the park while he scoops sand and watches it fall through his fingers. His attention moves from one thing to another at mind boggling speed, but for the time he’s doing something, he’s completely focused on it.

Sebastian doesn’t fret about where his next meal is coming from or what it’s going to be. He just eats when he’s hungry and says “Nah!” or throws it when he isn’t…sounds fun, doesn’t it? He has no idea when or if he’s going to be taken on a plane, to the park, the grocery store, out for a stroller ride, on the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) to go downtown San Francisco, to babygym, or to see Oma (that’s me…German for “grandmother”). Everything is fun and he just rolls with it.

And oh…the dancing. A toddler isn’t self conscious and doesn’t wonder if he looks stupid when he dances. He just does it. When I turn on the Raffi CD or he hears something with a catchy beat, he just starts bouncing up and down, twirling, moving his shoulders, and getting his groove on. He can’t help himself…the boy has to dance.

At 12 months, he doesn’t have life experiences, societal influences, and the developmental “maturity” that can contribute to feeling hatred, anger, disgust, sadness, disappointment, resentment, worry, shame, or any other negative emotion. Life is all about possibility, learning, new experiences, wonder, discovery, delight, laughter, smiling, having fun, hugs and kisses, and toddling at full bore.

The more I observe Sebastian, the more I think he has it right. We can be a lot more present to the joys of life by practicing living life at a fast toddle.





A Would-Be Robber and The Power of Love to Overcome Fear and Desperation

24 10 2009

It was October 19, 2009. 23-year-old Greg Smith was out of work, desperate, and needed money. He held Angela Montez at gun point, fully intending to rob a cash advance store, but something miraculous happened. Angela, a mother and grandmother, started crying and began talking to Greg. She told him “‘No, you don’t have to do this. Nothing can be bad enough for you to lower yourself to something so bad.” Even though the cash register was open and Greg could have taken the money and ran, he didn’t. His heart softened and he got down on his knees and prayed with Angela for ten minutes. The two even hugged. He left without taking the money.

Oprah had Greg, who is now in Marion County Jail in Indiana, and Angela, who was in the Harpo Studios with Oprah, on her show on Friday. What Greg Smith - From Oprah websiteunfolded there…and what had unfolded during the planned robbery…was a testimony to what can happen when people let go of fear and see the good in each other.

Out of work for a year, Greg said that he felt like “less than a man” because he couldn’t provide for his family. His driver’s license had been suspended so he lost his job, which required him to drive. Feeling like he had no options, he robbed someone the week before and has since apologized to the woman he robbed.

Something really changed in him when he tried to rob the store where Angela worked. Greg said:

Honestly, it was a feeling when she started talking to me, like I told her, no disrespect to my mother or anyone in my family, but noone has ever talked to me the way that she did. She talked to me like a mother would to her child or a grandmother would to her grandchild. She made me feel comfortable and something just made me open up to her. I don’t know what it was. And I felt honestly something that I had never felt before. Honestly, I don’t even think it was Miss Angela talking to me; I actually think it was the man upstairs talking to me through her.

Upon hearing that, Angela said she wanted to give him a big hug, she forgave him, and that she understood. She told him to take the punishment for what he’s done and “…don’t let the past stop you from being great in the future.” Greg teared up and said “I”m sorry, Miss Angela.” He said he never meant to hurt her. During the encounter in the store, he even gave her the bullet in his gun.

Angela was touched and said “See that is remorse. He has a good heart and good love. You know he has served in the service. You have give four years of your life to our country; we love that. Thank you.” Greg’s mouth was trembling; he too, was touched at the power of forgiveness and love from Angela.

Oprah also had Donna, Greg’s mother, and Sherrie, Greg’s long-time girlfriend and mother of their two-year-old daughter, on the show. Donna saw the video of Greg walking out of the store after the attempted armed robbery on the eleven p.m. news and urged him to turn himself in.

Sherrie, Donna, Angela, and Oprah - Credit: Oprah.com

Sherrie, Donna, Angela, and Oprah - Credit: Oprah.com

Donna knew Greg was depressed and was suicidal at one point because he had no work. Yesterday was Greg’s daughter’s birthday and he was distraught that he had no money to buy her a present.

Sherrie works, goes to school, and pays all the bills. She and Greg are both 23 years old and have been together since they were 15. She said she never thought he would do this and partially blamed herself, saying she felt she pushed him over the edge with nagging him to get work.

Donna told her son she loved him and said that she knew he has a big heart. She was sorry she was so wrapped up in her own problems that she didn’t help him. Greg told her he was not mad at her, didn’t blame her, and loved her. He apologized to Sherrie for putting her through this. Their daughter Mya was there…on her 2nd birthday…so precious. She saw Greg on the monitor and gleefully exclaimed “Daddy! Daddy!” Greg said:

I’ve always been a firm believer in God and Christ, but I’ve never walked that walk. I’ve felt like for the longest time I was in control of everything and everything was supposed to go my way. I feel like a lot of the things that I did have before the situation I’m in now I took for granted and I lost it.

Oprah wrapped up the story and told Greg:

We’re hoping the best will come to you really. You seem to have a good heart and you didn’t harm Angela in that circumstance and allowed yourself to have your heart open enough that you could put the gun down and walk away. I know Angela is grateful and we all are grateful too that it worked out this way.

Greg, Sherrie, Mya, Donna, and even Angela have all had their lives impacted because of the economy and the desperation that people can feel from being out of work and not having money. It doesn’t help that Greg is a young black man without a college education and without the creativity and resources to get the help he needs. He is in jail now and is charged with six felony counts and two misdemeanors. On October 22 a judge entered a not guilty plea on his behalf; he does not have an attorney.

By letting go of fear, opening her heart, and seeing Greg as a human being who needed understanding rather than as a criminal, Angela forevermore changed her life, Greg’s life, and the lives of his mother, girlfriend, and daughter. Most likely, Angela’s love and forgiveness have impacted thousands or millions of others who have heard this story, which has been repeated on other shows in addition to Oprah’s. Angela and Greg are each testaments to us that love is a much more powerful force than fear and that what appears bad can be transformative for good in our lives.





Hatred in Action at the Holocaust Museum

10 06 2009

Tragic. Today an 88-year-old white supremacist walked into the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. and killed a 39-year-old security guard before being fired on by other guards. The Holocaust Museumkiller was known to hate Jews, Catholics, and African-Americans and on the radar of those who study fringe extremists who devote their lives to hatred. He wrote a book denying the Holocaust and praising Hitler. He spent more than five years in prison for the 1983 conviction on charges of attempting to kidnap members of the Federal Reserve Board with a hunting knife, revolver, and 12-gauge shotgun. He even invoked others to kill people who threatened what he saw as the supremacy of white people.

These kind of people terrify me more than any Taliban or jihadist. These are people living on our own soil who at any moment in any location and without provocation can take someone’s life…or many lives. These people walk amongst us. They look like us. They may be our grandfather, our son, our uncle, our boss. We usually don’t have a clue as to the level of depravity and hatred they harbor. Their souls are dark places where light never enters.

And yet people like Palin, Limbaugh, Cheney, O’Reilly, Beck, and Hannity fuel the flames that burn in these in-grown terroists’ hearts. These very public people tell lies and make insinuations that inflame the ignorant, the uninformed, the uncurious, and the gun-toting racists. They speak with seemingly innocent irresponsibility and then act surprised and are in denial when their words produce predictable results.

I am disgusted with the talk of these people and the talk of any person who promotes hatred. I am alarmed and saddened by the results of their hate talk.

Credit: MSNBC.com

Stephen Tyrone Johns Credit: MSNBC.com

Stephen Tyrone Johns was the man killed. He had worked as a security guard at the Holocaust Museum for six years. He was doing his job to protect the school children and others who come to the museum to remember the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust. He didn’t deserve to die.

The other news today? Carrie Prejean, Miss California, was fired by Donald Trump. She is the contestant in the Miss USA pageant who spoke out against gay marriage and preached intolerance toward gay people. Is it any accident that these two incidents headline the news in the same day? I think not. They, along with the killing last week of the abortion doctor by a right-wing extremist, speak of intolerance, of people claiming their way is the only right way, of excluding others who are not like you.

We need healing, love, and inclusion. These are what President Obama is practicing and teaching. Why are these positive principles so threatening to those who hate? We must hold the light and shine that light into the dark corners of the extremist corners of the dark hearts in our society. Our country, its citizens, and the citizens of the world need our light.

Here’s “This Little Light of Mine” sung by the African Children’s Choir. I heard them sing in Austin a few months ago. These children shine light and love into our hearts with their singing, dancing, and ebullient spirits. We can learn a lot from children…they remind us to be about joy and love.





Full of Live and Living Life Fully at 77

2 04 2009

Often seniors suffer a loss of support, safety, choice, income, dignity, physical health, mental health, and value in society and their lives contract as they experience more depression, more health issues, and more invisibility. My mother doesn’t fit that mold at all; she is an example of someone who lives life fully and today I honor her as she celebrates her 77th birthday on Sunday.

It’s always challenging to think of what to get someone who has one or more of everything they could possibly want and can get it if they don’t have it. Just how many crystal vases, knick knacks, bottles of body lotion, framed photos, nightgowns, or magazine subscriptions does one person need? How often do we sit down and write a tribute to that person who has everything? Okay…so here goes, Mom.

mom-in-front-of-piano-april-2008-smaller1My Mom is like a playful teenager when she gets together with her friends at the retirement center for lunch. They giggle, tell stories on each other, and you’d swear you were back in junior high or high school. It’s just adorable and fun.

My Mom has such an active life it makes my head swim when I get her emails about all her activities. She may be playing the piano for four events over the next week and has to learn a whole new program of music to play by Tuesday. Her men’s chorus may be singing at a luncheon on Friday and have another engagement next Wednesday. They rehearse at her place every week. They have been featured in the local newspaper, include a movie star’s father, and are in constant demand for performances. And let’s not forget the church activities, going to the symphony, community activities (she was President of the community board for two years), four children, grandchildren…and much more.

My Mom had been widowed for seven years, remarried last fall, and is now back to traveling and planning a cruise. It gives me hope!

My Mom fell and broke her hip last June and despite her immediate declarations that she’d never make it out of the nursing home alive, she recovered fully and is as active as ever. You just can’t keep a live wire like her down! She was one determined and persistent patient in physical therapy and amazed them all.

My Mom always has time to talk no matter what she might be in the middle of doing (if she’s home). And just like when I was a teenager and would start a multi-hour conversation at 11 p.m. about something that was troubling me, she still takes the time to listen and be empathetic and caring. There are four of us children who have certainly lived interesting lives…the woman is a saint for listening.

My Mom has lived a lifetime of stepping outside her comfort zone to do things that required a lot of courage and chutzpah. She’s been the organist for  commencements for a large university. She’s served on boards, written newsletters, and served in other capacities for technical and scientific organizations even though she had no formal training in those areas. She once was a band director and even taught high school game night drills to the marching band. She’s taken extensive trips all over the world and even spent a month in China when it was not a tourist location. And let’s not forget that she had four children by the time she was 25 years old and the considerable patience it took to raise us included enduring listening to us all playing the piano, a stringed instrument, a band instrument, and singing in choirs. It was one noisy house! She just joined in the fun.

My Mom is compassionate to others even in the face of her own loss. She lost her father to a heart attack when she was 26 and her mother a year later to a stroke. At age 27 and with children ages 6, 4, 3, and 2, she faced the challenges of motherhood and the loss of her own parents to guide her. She spent over two years by the side of her ailing second husband who died shortly after 9/11. She spent several weeks helping my cousin who was hospitalized in another state with cancer and made my cousin feel loved and helped her recover. She was there when I had both of my children and has stood by each one of her four children as we suffered losses and cheered us as we achieved successes.

My Mom is well liked in her senior community as evidenced by the exclamatory comments I hear when I visit her. They see her as the special person she is.

So Mom, on your 77th birthday, I couldn’t think of a thing to give you because you seem to have it all. The one thing I can give you is a big THANKS for being you and for all the love you’ve shown me and others through the years. Happy birthday, Mom. I love you.





Say What You Need to Say

9 02 2009

John Mayer’s “Say” won Best Male Pop Vocal Performance at the Grammy Awards tonight. The song is featured in the movie “The Bucket List,” and in it he sings “Say what you need to say…even if your hands are shakin’ and your faith is broken, even as the eyes are closin’, do it with a heart wide open…say what you need to say.”

Is there something you need to say to someone? Join the wave of courage, authenticity and integrity, which begins now with the inauguration of President Obama, the end of the George Bush monarchy, and the exposure of Wall Street fat cats and others who have built a house of cards at our expense.

Authenticity is about saying what you need to say even when it is hard to do. It is about President Obama telling us that the road to healing our nation is going to be rocky and we will all have to make sacrifices. It is about speaking out about torture and child abuse even when people don’t want to think those things exist in the world and don’t want to hear about them. It is about telling a troubled family member their actions are hurtful and yet you are there to help.

I think a lot about women and children all over the world who live in fear, who are physically, emotionally, and sexually abused, who are refugees, who are treated as property and/or slaves, who are forced into marriages with men they don’t love, who are hungry, who have no money or means to support themselves, who have AIDS, and who have no hope for a better future.

Living in such conditions and just trying to survive, do they even think about life being precious, being understood, feeling a connection with others, being comforted, and treating others with integrity and love? How do we help people who have been so afflicted to rise above the trauma of the affliction and begin to trust, love, and connect with others?

The thing is that we don’t have to go to Darfur or the Congo or Somalia or any number of other places to find women and children who are suffering. Look around. Perhaps you have or know a child who is suffering, or a cousin, a friend, a parent, an acquaintance. Maybe you don’t know they are suffering, but you sense that something is wrong. These could be women or children who live with the shame of having been sexually abused, who live in poverty, who live in physically violent homes, or who are so desperate that they are considering committing suicide.

What do you need to say? Are you holding something back?  Reach out to that person. Be courageous. Step up. Perhaps what you have to say could make a difference in someone else’s life and could even save their life. Say what you need to say.

Here’s John Mayer singing the song as featured in “The Bucket List.”





Unwrapped Gifts Mean the Most

12 12 2008

Are you giddy thinking about the gifts you’ll get for Christmas? When was the last time you thought about the gifts you have already received and continue to receive every day?

I made a CD of me playing Christmas carols on the piano (I recorded on a keyboard) for each person in my Artist’s Way group. I have played the piano since I was five years old (many, many years ago). Although the notes don’t stream from my fingers without practice (and 17 years of lessons), I sometimes forget what a gift it is to be able to play the piano. Even I enjoy listening to my own CD.

I remember dating a man years ago who had not grown up in a household where lessons of any kind were a possibility, where attending cultural events was unheard of. He was so astounded as I showed him my scrapbook of all the things I had done growing up. My family was not rich, but my mother was intent on all four of her children having music lessons, singing in choirs, and having rich life experiences.

As I think of all the gifts I have, I think about those who have little. I wonder how many children of rape in the Congo ever even get any education. I wonder how many children in Darfur have ever heard a poem or read a book. I wonder how many children living in Haiti ever heard someone play the piano. I wonder how many innocent suspected terrorist detainees live a day without being tortured. I wonder how many Rwandan refugees have ever slept in a bed or felt safe. I wonder how many women who are victims of sexual violence as a tool of war believe they will ever feel a day of joy in their lives. I wonder how many children who are victims of sexual and/or physical and emotional abuse live in fear every day. I wonder if people held in slavery cry themselves to sleep at nights and feel dead inside.

The wrapped gifts are nice, but pale in comparison to the real gifts of life. Those of us who live free, in relative comfort, and in safety often forget what gifts freedom, comfort, and safety are. I don’t have to fear being attacked and raped when I venture out of my home to get food as women in the Congo do. If I decide to have sex with a man before marrying him, I don’t have to fear that my father might kill me to save the family honor. I have running water and indoor toilets. I have transportation, warmth, and a home to live in.

I am blessed with a good education and an ability to think and research and read and understand things. Even though I am often alone, I’m not really alone. There are people who care about me. I have good health. I have a faith in a power greater than myself.

As you go through this season of gift giving, consider the gifts you already have…the ones that are the most meaningful. Share those gifts with others and accept the personal gifts of love, care, kindness, and even a smile that others give to you. Tis the season.