Had a good conversation with a woman today when I was shopping downtown. We know each other so it wasn’t talking to a complete stranger. We got to talking about attitude and the importance of maintaining a positive attitude throughout life. It isn’t easy. I remember visiting my dad when he was at the Vets’ Home here in Glendive. He was a pleasant man. I told him one day, “Dad, if you have some days when you don’t feel good, you don’t have to be so pleasant. The CNA’s will understand.” He said, “But it is easier to be pleasant and makes everyone around you feel better, too.” I just gave him a hug, and told him the world would be a wonderful place if we were all more like him. He wasn’t always that way. I remember a time when he really struggled with being positive. Dad knew he had a streak of the negative and it was going to take a conscious effort to become a positive person. In his later years, even with macular degeneration and other health issues he was a “Please” and “thank you” man who laughed easily. The CNA’s who took care of him said they liked to come to his room.
Both my parents were pleasant, practical people. A little like Will Rogers, they rarely met someone they didn’t like. We were taught that life was “not about me” and when we learned that, remembered it and lived it, we were always looking out for the other person and seeing their needs.
“It’s not about me”, is a philosophy that is difficult to practice. Life is difficult and complicated, one author has said. Until you recognize that fact you cannot get on with the business of living. “It’s not about me” is hard to live out when there is illness, economic disorder, death, disappointment, and all kinds of grief. Sometimes, like Job, we look to heaven and cry out, “Why me, Lord? Why all this suffering? I’m a good person.” And we mope and get depressed or at the very least we become negative and always look at the world with anger and frustration, that everyone has it so much better than I do. When will it be my turn?
Life is not easy to turn around when we let ourselves slip into this frame of mind. Life would be easier to go through if we received more support from other people, but too many of them are caught in this same circle of jealousy, selfishness and hopelessness. It seems to be a battle we must face on our own and without a doubt with the help of God. There have been hundreds of books written by people who have worked through the hurt and the anger in their own lives and then shared it with others. Years ago there was the book, “How to win friends and influence people.” It was about attitude and learning to accept yourself the way you are, recognizing what talents you have and what you don’t have and then finding your niche. Another book was, “You’re okay, I’m okay.” And there was the wall hanging, “God don’t make no junk.”
As my Dad insisted, life is so much better when we are pleasant and think about ‘the other guy’ instead of focusing on ourselves. It isn’t easy, but when we reach that perception, our journey of life is so much easier.
It has been a tough couple of weeks out here in Eastern Montana. Not that other places don’t have bad weather, but we have had our share. I am developing a close, personal relationship with my insurance company and thank goodness they are good people. If it was just once I could understand it but I had a new roof put on in 2013 and now I have to deal with it again. In 2013, the day before I was to head to Minneapolis for my niece’s wedding, we got clobbered with a terrific hailstorm. That evening I was out picking up debris and doing what I could before I had to take off. The next morning I headed east into the worst looking bank of storm clouds I have ever seen around Bismarck. Managing to miss that I then answered phone calls from the claims adjuster and that I would deal with it all when I got home which involved a new roof. There were roofing companies all over town since the hail was widespread. In 2015, the town was hit by a microburst, I ended up with a mammoth tree branch in my front yard and wind damage -- again I got to know an adjuster. About two weeks later as I was traveling, a deer came out of the ditch and slammed into my car doing about $3000 worth of damage. I was beginning to think I was walking around with a “gypsy curse”. This year the town was hit by three hail storms. One of them seemed to locate in our section of town because other folks did not have any hail. I lost flowers and bushes stripped of blossoms and leaves. I know this is nothing to losing a crop which is your livelihood, but it is still upsetting. It gives me a tiny taste of what folks go through who lose homes to floods, fire, mudslides and tornadoes. Of course, I got by easily in comparison. But I am amazed at the energy it takes and the time involved to do a major clean up and then have to do it again. When I think of Hurricane Katrina hitting the gulf coast area years ago and the repair and clean-up continues. Than about the time the people put their lives back together another storm hits. There must be something called “storm-shock” or a trauma identified with disasters such as these. One of the aspects of our lives in the summertime is watching the clouds and the sky. If there is a bank of clouds to the north or west you eyeball it throughout the day and start to listen to the radio. It is one of the benefits of living in “big sky country” that you have some advance warning that bad weather is on the way. I have also discovered the National Weather app on my smart-phone which shows me the weather radar for the area. It is really interesting to watch the clouds move through the area and which ones have areas with high winds and hail. Last year the storm hit us twice. There was no power for twenty-four hours but I could watch the radar on my phone and get ready for the second time it hit. Standing in your house in the middle of a bad storm is a surreal experience. I don’t have a basement so it is problematic where I should head when the bad weather starts. Under the bed, I guess.
The recent article in the Ranger concerning the decay of Glendive’s downtown area certainly gave this reader pause for thought. I have lived here since I was 6 years old and I have certainly seen the ups and downs in the business community. I remember a time in the seventies when farm auction signs plastered windows down town. I remember watching national companies pull out of Glendive because we didn’t meet the quota the business had to have to make a store viable; or national mergers caused by down-sizing affected those of us on the lower end of the business food chain to experience closed doors. Everyone loves the food chains and years ago we had Hardy’s, A&W, Dairy Queen, McDonald’s, Taco John’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Country Kitchen, but one by one they slipped away for one reason or another and it wasn’t because local people didn’t patronize them. We became victims of a bottom line decision that was far removed from our community.
We have to be aware of the newest trends in world business that affect us and that includes people who do their shopping in larger markets, at shopping malls with their anchor stores; others who shop on-line at QVC or Amazon.com for example. There is a whole new way of buying that does not include the small town merchant. They have to offer a specialized service, one that isn’t easy to find on the internet or can save me having to drive eighty to one hundred miles to get what I need.
I really don’t think there are any easy answers, but it does take a “can-do” attitude among the people who live here and the daring men and women who open businesses and keep them running. No one wants to take a chance, so these folks who start businesses really need our thanks. I am also interested and pleased at all the women I see operating successful small businesses in town. But people can’t keep working forever and business owners like everyone else want to retire or they die and for some reason no one is there to pick up the baton and continue the race. Because once again the attitude is “we can’t do it”. “It is a dying community.”
Somehow there have to be perks for people with a solid business plan who want to make the move into business in a small town. Like anything else, money is always the key, but there also has to be shared sweat equity from the store owner, and also from the city who wants to make it happen. There is a passage from the New Testament book of James where the author tells about people who see the poor and tell them ‘to eat and be filled’. James says how they going to do that when they have nothing. This is the plight of business owners. They can’t make it on their own. They need help from city supported grants, a business-friendly atmosphere in local government, cooperation of fellow business men and women and most of all the purchasing power of the local community.
Like every other small town in America, the future is in our hands. We can’t sit around and wait for the oil to come back or some other business boom to fall from heaven. We all have to make our own future. Local government, promotional groups, and the Chamber of Commerce need people to be interested and to step forward to help rebuild a community of which we are justly proud.
A number of years ago, in a book of essays by Kathleen Norris (author of Dakota and other books of a spiritual nature), I learned a new word. I think that is always fun. A word ‘that trips along lightly on the tongue’ , that provides a new direction for the brain, is a jewel.
When I was in grade school I was intrigued with medulla oblongata which is the continuation of the spinal cord into the skull; then came ennui, a feeling of listlessness that comes from boredom; and there were others. Norris’ taught me the word quotidian which refers to things which happen daily, i.e. the ordinary tasks of everyday life.
I think another reason I liked the word was because instantly it reminded me of a prayer that was always on the mirror in my aunt’s bathroom. When I visited her I would read these words, “Thank God when you get up every morning that you have something which must be done today whether you want to do it or not.” And my grandfather who was quoted as saying, “Thank God for work.” And he meant it in a prayerful way.
In a society where retirement is the ultimate goal of every adult from 30-on, the idea of work is really a four-letter word in many cases. The dream of ‘having nothing to do’ is something people speak of longingly to the point that I find it rather odd. Having “work” is first of all a great blessing if you are jobless. I think of pictures of refugees who sit and stare at nothing day after day. I think of people who immigrate to find better work, something more satisfying. Or men and women in nursing homes who can no longer work and often say, “I wish I could do something again.”
To be without work, something to do, can be a curse depending on your circumstances. Norris’ word ‘quotidian’ intersects itself into the conversation with the reminder that all the daily tasks we perform -- mowing the yard, watering the flowers, baking a loaf of bread, washing up a sink of dirty dishes, throwing in a load of clothes, writing a thank-you are all part of the every day ‘work’ we do and there is a blessing in all those things.
I was visiting with a man who recently retired. He is finding great satisfaction in saying “yes” to many things -- big jobs and small, helping folks when they need an extra hand, trimming weeds around the church, taking care of the needs of his family. He is not alone. Many people volunteer. They want to help with projects in the community they did not have time to do before. It is good to be able to use your life’s skills in a way that gives you joy.
The gift of time comes when we are not bound by time constraints but can do those quotidian tasks with a sense of peace and great satisfaction, at our own time and place of choosing. Not much of the world has that luxury.
This week-end is the 4th of July week-end in the U.S. There will be many speeches and lots of flag waving. It is a good time, but perhaps during the festivities we should have had a moment to remember all the voices in the world that are silent. Who had no one to speak for them in the middle of tragedy.
Today I learned that Elie Wiesel has died. His life-long commitment was to be the voice of six million Jews who died in the Holocaust including his father and mother and youngest sister. At age sixteen Wiesel was taken from his home in Eastern Europe and shoved into a cattle car with eighty other people. After many days they arrived at Auschwitz. In an instant his mother and sister were gone into the flames of the crematorium where the chimney, night and day, belched out black smoke. Later his father died from beatings received at the hands of an SS guard. The wonder of this experience which changed everything about who he was, was that Wiesel became a voice for those six million voices which were forever silenced.
As I began reading NIGHT, his first book and the story of his time in the prison camp, I am horrified at how childish we are to think we know and understand the blackness of true evil. When we pontificate in this election year about petty issues and act as though we know how to solve the world’s problems, I am ashamed of what the world has become. Without voices like Wiesel’s voice will we be able to find our way through all the work that lies ahead? Or will we pretend that homeless and hungry refugees do not exist; that political prisoners and those imprisoned journalists and artists who speak on behalf of personal freedom are of small matter. That we need to isolate ourselves from the “others” and their issues and maybe the world can return to ‘the way it used to be’. Another philosopher said that for evil to happen it only takes good men to do nothing.
In 1986, Wiesel received the Nobel Peace Prize for all his work on behalf of the Jewish people, but more importantly on behalf of the world. “The world did know and remained silent [about the holocaust]. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must -- at that moment-- become the center of the universe. . .There is so much injustice and suffering crying out for our attention: victims of hunger, of racism and political persecution . . .Human rights are being violated on every continent. More people are oppressed than free. How can one not be sensitive to their plight?. . .One person of integrity can make a difference, a difference of life and death. As long as one dissident is in prison, our freedom will not be true. As long as one child is hungry, our life will be filled with anguish and shame. What all these victims need above all is to know that they are not alone; that we not forgetting them, that when their voices are stifled we shall lend them ours, that while their freedom depends on ours, the quality of our freedom depends on theirs.. . .We know that every moment is a moment of grace, every hour an offering; not to share them would mean to betray them.”
In the cacophony of senseless noise that surrounds us, this week we lost a voice of sanity. Elie Wiesel’s voice is silent.