Politeness is the Flower of Humanity

 

“Politeness is the flower of humanity.” – Joseph Joubert

 

“In the Spirit which draws us into honest engagement with one another, including those who may be very different from us in various ways, God calls us to wake up and learn how to love and respect one another, period.”–Carter Heyward

 

There is a woman with whom I work. Her genuine smile rarely ceases.  Even when she is expressing disagreement, frustration, and anger, she is able to articulate it in a way that is both respectful and without a hint of anger in her voice.  Whenever I am feeling particularly moody, I chastisingly ask myself why I can’t be more like her.

 

While I like to think of myself as an overall kind and polite person, I fully recognize I have a long way to go in the thoughtfulness department.  Perhaps, that is one of my drivers for writing regularly–my own quest for greater understanding and personal growth. One thing I know for certain, on those days when I feel less than my best self–I see my co-worker’s smile, and I feel inspired to dig a little deeper to shake off whatever annoyance or struggle upon which I have focused.  And, perhaps, that is the key: focus.

 

adorable angry animal animal portrait
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

 

There is an old saying that states, that which we focus upon we become. Thus, maybe I need to ask myself on those days, where is my focus, and what can I change?  How can I begin to cultivate more inner joy like my co-worker seems to possess? As fate would have it, the Universe kindly provided me with a lesson.

 

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Photo by Bekka Mongeau on Pexels.com

 

John, my husband, suggested that we take advantage of an upcoming three day weekend and head out of town for a couple of nights.  Sometimes just a change of scenery can reset and rejuvenate our spirits. Besides, John knows me all too well, when I am home, I typically focus on work.  Therefore, my only request, upon his suggestion was that we not travel too far in order to return home with enough time for me to–yes, you guessed it– get caught up on my weekly weekend chores, so I didn’t have to start the next week feeling frantic and rushed.

After a bit of price comparisons on various travel sites, we ultimately settled on returning to Charleston,WV and the Four Points Hotel.  We have personally found the staff at this hotel to be exceptionally friendly and helpful. Furthermore, we love the location along the Kanawha River within walking distance to the downtown Charleston Historic District.  

 

 

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Due to an extreme drop in temperatures, we decided to remain within the hotel grounds for dinner that evening.  While the hotel does have its own restaurant, it also has another eatery on the opposite side, Recovery Sports Grille.  Many of the hotel staff members had recommended this spot on previous trips, but we had never before tried it. Therefore, with temperatures hovering in the teens, we gladly walked the short distance to the restaurant, using it as an opportunity to view the beautiful local artwork and photographs displayed along the warm interior route.

 

 

Once seated in Recovery, we met Britney Stamper, our waitress/bartender, for the evening.  John and I learned years ago that sitting at the bar often renders the best service, plus it typically gives us insight into the areas in which we are visiting.  While we didn’t, per se, gain additional insight into the Charleston area, we did learn a great deal about Charlotte, NC, an area in which Britney had lived for several years with her family.  By the end of the evening, we gained a greater awareness of another town we now plan to visit, ate fantastic food, and thoroughly enjoyed connecting, if only for a couple of hours, with another human whose varied life experiences expanded and enhanced our own. 

 

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Britney Stamper, at Recovery Sports Grille

 

 

Throughout the rest of the weekend, we were able to meet other people from all walks of life.  For example, while browsing in the Historic District, I wandered into The Consignment Shop. While I had discovered this store on a previous visit, I had not met the owner. However, on this visit I was able to meet her.   We shared a lovely conversation through the process of checking out, bonding over aging, being a woman, and other life experiences. I exited the shop smiling at the sense of connection.

 

 

Later that weekend, John and I met two engaging young people at Pies and Pints, a favorite dining establishment.  While dining there, we could not help but find ourselves drawn into their conversation as one employee celebrated and congratulated the other’s acceptance into nursing school.  Again, their short life experiences were certainly different from ours, but that did not hinder us in our conversations as we were able to find common ground.

 

 

Additionally, during breakfast, both mornings, we learned about Bruce, who may (or may not) be the morning manager of the hotel restaurant.  (We are uncertain of his exact title.) What John and I do know is that Bruce has been part of the Four Points staff during each of our visits, and he is the friendly face with whom we chat during our late morning meals.  It is easy to talk with Bruce, and it is clear from our conversations that he is kind, thoughtful, and devoted to his girlfriend and family.   

 

 

As we said our good-byes to Bruce, he confessed that he usually doesn’t talk much to his customers, “But, I really do like talking to you guys,” he added with a crooked smile, and I found myself smiling in return.

His comment remained with me throughout that day, and it later occured to me the lesson within his comment.  Perhaps, inner joy comes when we focus on others. Reflecting on my co-worker, she possesses a strong focus on others’ needs as well as a genuine and sincere curiosity.  I began to realize that I had spent so much time trying to measure up to what I perceived was “wrong” with me and “right” with her, that I had forgotten she has also talked privately about her own inner battles and demons.   However, in spite of any inward struggles she may be experiencing, when she comes to school, her light is on, open, and ready to engage, much in the same way John and I were engaging during our weekend away. Hmm . . .

In the final assessment, I fully recognize I still have many shortcomings, and there remain numerous areas in my life in which I still need to  improve. That recognition, in and of itself, may not be a bad thing. Perhaps, if I thought I had “arrived,” or had no more ways to improve, maybe that would be a bigger problem.  Instead, I will humbly accept that I have more inner work to do, need to focus on others’ needs more, and must continue to remain open to the lessons and sources of inspiration Divine Providence keeps providing me.

 

“Many eyes go through the meadow, but few see the flowers in it.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

It’s What You Leave

“We do not remember days, we remember moments.”–Jennifer Niven

 

“The thing I realize is, that it’s not what you take, it’s what you leave.”–Jennifer Niven

 

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Chester “Check” Arlen Slater, aka Papaw

 

There he was, in my mind’s eye, intently gazing at me with those merriment-filled blue eyes, that, though dimmed by age, still had the ability to communicate to the person with whom he spoke, “No one but you matters at this moment.”  

 

“Stethie,” he would say as he steadfastly clasped my hands, “Get your education.  Go as far as you can. Don’t be like your dumb ol’ Papaw.”  

 

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Papaw and me when I was around two years old in his backyard in front of his garden.

 

Chester “Check” Arlen Slater was my maternal grandfather, but my siblings, my Kentucky cousins, and I called him, “Papaw,” while our “Texas cousins” called him “Poppie-Check.”  On one hand, I was closest to “Grandmother,” his wife, in spite of our continued clashes–unfortunately, I was as strong willed as she; however, as my mother talked to me in a recent conversation, I realized, it was Papaw who tended to inject me with doses of conviction and self-reliance as if giving me a vaccination of inner-strength against the challenges of the world.

 

Grandmother and Papaw through the years.  In later years, they tried to color coordinate their outfits .

 

To be clear, Papaw was a complicated man.  As I understand it, based upon stories I recall my grandmother, my mom, and other various family members telling me, he possessed quite a bit of wanderlust and a roving eye when he was early married to Grandmother.  In fact, he was known to leave my grandmother for months at time to go “hobo-ing,” hopping from one train for another. Furthermore, I was told years later, he would lock himself upstairs for days at a time once he and my Grandmother settled into a home they had built after my mother was born.  Regrettably, I was never brave enough to ask him about any of those events. I sensed it would have embarrassed him.

 

 

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Papaw could been seen at his desk every Sunday between church services, working on various items for the church he and Grandmother faithfully attended.

 

I do know that he often described in great detail how he never did well in school.  He told tales of a teacher putting a “dunce” hat on him and putting him in the corner of the classroom.  Then, there were the stories of how the teacher would tie a string from her finger to his, “because I was her favorite pupil.”  His educational career was short-lived as he only made it to the 5th grade.

 

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Papaw with his motorcycle 1929.

 

He loved to play football when the game was in its infancy and did not require much in the way of safety gear.  I can imagine him as a strong, swift athlete, full of swagger. Papaw was even once described to me as a spoiled and indulged child.   He owned one of the first motorcycles, if not the first, in the town of Raceland, KY, and was known to perform “wheelies” and other daring feats on the town’s streets–sending bystanders swarming to the sidewalks.

 

His sister, Gladys, whom he dearly loved, and for whom felt immense pride–although it likewise seemed to create personal shame–was educated at Morehead State University at a time when women of Eastern Kentucky were rarely educated beyond the 5-8th grade.  She became a teacher, married a veterinarian, and they lived in a town not far outside of Lexington, KY. 

 

Papaw often held up Great-Aunt Gladys to me as the gold standard for how I should aspire to live my life. She had a master’s degree, a career, and a successful marriage/family.  Her husband was soft-spoken and kind, and Gladys possessed a quiet strength and grace that never failed to impress me during the few times I recall meeting her.

 

 

Somehow, I think Papaw felt inwardly like failure due to his lack of education, especially when in comparison to that of his sister.  However, as a lifelong educator whose university studies focused on the needs of special education, I recognize that Papaw most likely had a learning disability accompanied with what would now be identified as ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).  I further suspect he was both an auditory and kinesthetic (tactile) learner, and he probably best learned through some form of movement while listening. I am further inclined to think he may have battled depression that may have been tied to this same learning issue.

 

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Grandmother and Papaw at his mother’s house in 1932.

 

In spite of his struggles, Papaw had the ability to quip numerous adages, a few poems, random science facts, bits of trivia, geographic information, and oh-so-many stories.  He “read” the daily local newspaper, National Geographic, American Heritage, Guidepost, and various other magazines. His bookshelves were lined with these periodicals as well as World Book Encyclopedia with its annual updates. Although truth be told, I suspect, as I reflect on his reading behavior, he mostly looked at the pictures, read the captions below, and focused on reading headlines, titles, and bold faced words.  Nonetheless, his thirst for knowledge and understanding of the world, his desire to make real human connections, and his even greater eagerness to be the center of attention were all real sides of this complex man.

 

 

I share all of this to lend context to the following. All of these images, and more, hit me as mom and I talked on that Saturday.  

The ebb and flow of our conversation led me to share with her a beautiful quote from a young adult book my daughter had recommended to me: “The thing I realize is, that it’s not what you take, it’s what you leave.”

 

 

“Like the ‘Bridge Builder’ poem Dad used to recite?” mom queried with an eyebrow raising. “Dad used to recite it all of the time.”

 

In my mind, I tried to scrape, claw, and dig my way to a memory of this, but I kept coming up empty.  

 

 

At home, later that day, I looked it up.   There it was, the very lesson Papaw was trying to convey to me all those years ago. He wanted me to be a “bridge builder” because that is how he saw his sister.  He failed to recognize that he, himself, was a bridge builder to hundreds of members of the local Boy Scout troops he led, to the local church he loved, to the C & O railroad employees with whom he worked, to the hundreds of missionaries he either visited or hosted at his home, and to me, along with all of his eight other grandchildren who listened, learned, and loved this conflicted, but well-intended, man of heart. 

 

And so, Dear Reader, I say to you, no matter what your career, position, job title, and so forth–none of that matters.  Life is neither what you take from it, nor is it the money you make; rather, life is about the moments you create and the bridges you build for the next generation. 

 

 Be a bridge builder; I fervently pray that I am. 

 

The Bridge Builder

By   Will Allen Dromgoole

 

An old man, going a lone a highway, 

Came, at the evening cold and gray, 

To a chasm vast and deep and wide. 

The old man crossed in the twilight dim, 

The sullen stream had no fear for him; 

But he turned when safe on the other side 

And built a bridge to span the tide.

 

“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim near, 

“You are wasting your strength with building here; 

Your journey will end with the ending day,

You never again will pass this way; 

You’ve crossed the chasm, deep and wide, 

Why build this bridge at evening tide?”

 

The builder lifted his old gray head; 

“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said, 

“There followeth after me to-day, 

A youth whose feet must pass this way. 

This chasm that has been as naught to me 

To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be; 

He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;

Good friend, I am building this bridge for him!”

 

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A poem that I wrote for Grandmother and Papaw for their 50th wedding anniversary. (I was only 17 years old, so while it is not the best quality, the message still rings true!)

 

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Papaw Slater and me one Christmas.  I would have been in high school, and he was most likely in his 70s at this point, or at least, close to 70.  

Spring Grasses

“You could cover the whole earth with asphalt, but sooner or later green grass would break through.”–Ilya Ehrenburg

 

“Every blade of grass has its Angel that bends over it and whispers, ‘Grow, grow.’”–The Talmud

 

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The largest part of my childhood was spent in a tiny cul-de-sac built into the valley of U-shaped hills.  A creek ran down the back of one side of the neighborhood, and behind it were steep, rocky hills. Along the rear of the opposite side of the neighborhood–the side on which my family and I lived–was a low hill with a gravel road running along its flattened top with tall wooded hills soldiering alongside this.

 

During the summers, my mom ran a fairly tight ship with my three siblings and me, even during the times she wasn’t home.  While we were permitted to sleep-in within reason, we typically had a list of chores to complete, limits on the time we could watch the family TV, and we were, most of all, encouraged–aka ordered–to spend most of our days outside.  Ironically, however, she preferred us to stay in our own yard.

 

Mom told us to get out outside and play!
Photo by Jonathan Petersson on Pexels.com

 

As a parent, I now understand why she enforced this rule, but as a kid, it certainly seemed, “not fair.” Looking back, it seems to me that she wanted to be able to look out one of the windows in our small, ranch-style house and be able to see us. However, there were soft edges to her boundaries that we eventually discovered because–as children do, especially me–we tested those edges for firmness.

 

Typically, we could climb up the moderate hill in our backyard and play on the portion of the “backroad”–as we called it– that was within view of the kitchen window.  It was, in actuality, an extended driveway to a family farm just beyond our neighborhood; thus, the only traffic on this road, as best as I can remember, were those traveling to and from this home.  

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

Likewise, we could also play in the street in front of our home.  Again, we needed to be visibly seen from the house–this time from the picture window in the living room–as the only traffic flow was from neighbors traveling to and from the four houses around the top of “the circle,” as we called it, one of which was my own childhood home. 

 

Our summer play varied from year to year as our ages often determined the type of play in which we participated.  During my youngest years, it seems to me that play centered around the yard–often around the larger of the two trees in the front yard, the area around and on our small front porch, or in the backyard where the shady area would expand in the afternoons. These younger years, it seems to me, were filled with mostly imaginative play as we kids played “house,” “school,” and role-played popular shows and/or concepts on TV, such as “war” and “cowboys and Indians,” and other similar ideas.  Afterall, this was the seventies.

 

 During my older years,  it seems that our play occurred often in and alongside the top part of “the street” and “the circle,” especially alongside the front of a split rail fence belonging to one of our neighbors, the Allen’s, that lined their front yard.  These were the summers of riding our bikes up and down the road, as well as playing more organized games; such as, wiffle ball, red light green light, dodgeball, monkey in the middle, football, and the ever-popular kickball. Tempers flared, egos grew quickly–and were just as swiftly deflated–swear words were uttered by the most daring, and time seemed endless. 

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Time seemed endless.

 

Depending upon the year, but especially so during the summer months, once grassy areas would be worn down to flat brown earthen patches due to the heavy foot traffic of kids.  Most years, there was a brown, semi-oval shaped edge to our front yard that rarely held any grass. Likewise, in our backyard, there were bare patches alongside of our house as well as in parts of the backyard that recieved the heaviest footfall and/or wear and tear, such as under and around the swings of our swing set.  On the back road, irregular grassy sprouts would grow in the middle of the road and alongside it, but the path for the tire tracks would be worn smooth except for the gravely rocks. Meanwhile, the Allen’s poor fence line would begin missing patches of grass from the “teams” taking turns standing, sitting, or leaning on their fence, waiting for a turn to “at bat” or to kick.  

 

 

Once school resumed, fall became winter, and less foot traffic stressed yards. Come spring, the grass–albeit sometimes crabgrass–would begin to threaten to fill in those brown patches.  Then, our feet would trod down those areas once more. Eventually, as kids grew, leaving for other locations, I can imagine, as if viewing a time lapse video, the grass triumphed again and again–even with a new generation of kids.  Some areas may have required a bit more TLC, save for back road–assuming it is still used– but nature’s green carpet was sure to have returned; and so will you, Dear Reader. 

 

Eventually, nature’s green carpet would soon return, and so will you, Dear Reader!

 

Throughout one’s life seasons, wear and tear occurs.  There are times in which life can absolutely wear a person down. This can be manifested physically, mentally, and even spiritually.  Moreover, these wearing-down time periods often affect more than one aspect of a person’s being. Fatigue sets in, weariness abounds, and the proverbial grass from the past, in the future, or even the proverbial yards of others’ lives, seem greener and more lush–leaving us clasping and wishing for better, less downtrodden, times.  However, like those brown patches of earth from my childhood, eventually, with time, growth will occur–and that is the fact upon which to focus.

 

According to an old adage, it takes a fire to grow grass around a hydrant.  Likewise, it takes time to bounce back after an abrasive and inflamed time period in life.  Afterwards, you are often not the same person you once were, as you are more informed about life and your own inner strength/resolve. 

 

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Furthermore, it’s worth remembering that there are angels in your life, encouraging you to grow–even at your most worn-down time.  Sometimes these so-called angels can been seen, known, and identified as friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, and sometimes, even strangers..  However, there may be other times when you may not realize that so-called angels are guiding, prompting, praying, and nudging you towards regrowth.  

 

You, like each blade of grass, were planted on Earth by The Divine Creator, to grow, change, and bloom into a unique creation.  Like each blade of grass, you are continually transformed by life’s seasonal modifications; but you can, and will, rise–face shining in the sun again.  As a matter of fact, in life’s ultimate conclusion, you will also rise, and angels will still surround you.

 

Don’t give up, Dear Friend, don’t give up.  Angels are everywhere, and new grasses are already sprouting their roots within you. 

green grass
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