Routines, Rituals and Holy Days

…the wonder of life is often most easily recognizable through habits and routines.

Anne Lamott

I am afraid of darkness outside my window where something I can’t see might be watching. I close my curtains every night  and open them when the sun peeks through. That is how I start and end my daily routine.

A sane routine creates space in time and place for delight in the joyful unexpected and for coping with its dreaded counterpart. Breaking with routine on occasion is comforting in its own way: a holiday, a vacation, a spontaneous moment of presence:  watching a cat chase a butterfly or listening to a toddler learn language to bring order to the chaos of overwhelming new sensations.

On holy days like Thanksgiving and Christmas, alternate routines are dusted off and elevated to the status of rituals. For a few hours these rituals replace our mundane habits. There are people who are not around every day. There is magic in children’s wide-eyed belief and in the stories we tell about other days and other people. There is food that is not part of the daily fare. We give thanks to whatever we believe in for sunlight and darkness and curtains to let the light in and close out the darkness, for health and the sickness that makes health a blessing, for peace and joy and the trouble and sadness that make them real, for daily routines and holiday rituals, for food and coffee, cats and dogs, butterflies, toddlers, and words.

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Let America be America again

Langston Hughes (1901-1967)

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed–
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek–
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean–
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today–O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home–
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay–
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again–
The land that never has been yet–
And yet must be–the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine–the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME–
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose–
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath–
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain–
All, all the stretch of these great green states–
And make America again!

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Gratitude is the secret of wealth

I had not yet heard of Minimalism when I learned that the habit of gratitude is the secret of wealth. I am blessed by good things–material and spiritual–only if I am conscious that they are good things. This is a fundamental principle of the Minimalist movement. A need is something needed to survive. Everything else is a want. I can enjoy a luxury if I acknowledge that it is not necessary for survival, that I don’t need it. I am poor when I don’t recognize the difference between a need and a want.

I have been poor most of my life because I was always thinking about what I “needed,” and I thought I “needed” more. My mother thought that more would be better. My friends were convinced that more would be better. A landslide of publicity made me certain that more would be better. No matter what I had, there was always more that I needed. It took me a long time to realize that more, like tomorrow, is forever out of reach.

I have never been hungry or thirsty for lack of food and clean water. I have never been dirty or uncomfortable for lack of indoor plumbing. I have never been exposed to cold, heat, rain, sleet, wind, hail, or snow for lack of adequate shelter. My clothes have never been a source of shame. My father had a job. My family had a car. My mother didn’t have to work. I finished high school without a struggle and graduated from an upscale university. I enjoyed love, family, friends, and respect.

I was never hungry or thirsty, but I wanted steak instead of hamburger. I wanted to go to fine restaurants and dine in houses where people dressed for dinner. I never lived in a house that was unsafe or uncomfortable, but I wanted to live in an elegantly furnished mansion with crystal chandeliers, bedrooms and bathrooms for everyone, and an elegant gadget-filled kitchen of industrial proportions. I wanted a swimming pool with cabanas, a green rolling lawn, a furnished patio, a barbecue, and stables for a few horses. I wanted central heat and cooling, lots of fireplaces, and a tornado shelter. And my own jukebox. My family had a reliable Ford, but I wanted a Cadillac for the family and a little T-Bird just for me.

I was never dirty and unkempt, but I wanted a weekly appointment at an upscale salon to have my hair styled and my hands cared for, and get facials, massages, and body wraps. No one laughed at my clothes, but I wanted to dress in the latest trendsetter fashion–a stunning wardrobe from Neiman-Marcus with underwear in colors to match every outfit. I wanted gold, silver, platinum, diamonds, pearls, rubies, emeralds, mink. I wanted Lancome for my face and Chanel for my body.

My father had a job, but I wanted him to have a more prestigious position with a higher paycheck–or maybe be a millionaire oil man like his father, who died young, leaving his fortune in the hands of my grandmother, who sold the business and spent the money on hypochondria and pill addiction.

My mother didn’t have to work, but I wanted her to go to luncheons at the Women’s Forum so that I could be presented as a Junior Forum Debutante in a long white formal and elbow-length gloves. I wanted her to show up at PTA meetings in beautifully tailored suits with scarves and other matching accessories. I graduated from Baylor, but I wanted to go to Columbia or Vassar or Sarah Lawrence and have my photograph in the local newspaper when I came home at Christmas.

I wanted money to do whatever I wanted and never have to think about money. It took me a long time to learn that no one can do whatever she wants and never have to think about money. A few people sell their souls to spouses or lovers who allow them to live in a bubble. Everyone else has to think about money, and the more money they have, the more they have to think about it.

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Definitions: private, cooperative, and universal health care

March 29, 2020

The foundation of any insurance program is this: Individuals put money into a common fund, to be used by any of those individuals in case of specified circumstances.

WITH PRIVATE HEALTH INSURANCE, YOU PAY
*Your contribution to the common fund
*Administrative costs (managers, clerks, accountants, etc.)
*WHATEVER THE OWNER AND STOCKHOLDERS DECIDE THEY CAN TAKE FROM THE COMMON FUND AS THEIR “PROFIT”

WITH PRIVATE HEALTH INSURANCE, YOU RECEIVE
*Payment for your health care, according to what you and the owners have agreed to in a contract

WITH COOPERATIVE HEALTH INSURANCE, YOU PAY
*Your contribution to the common fund
*Administrative costs (managers, clerks, accountants, etc.)

WITH COOPERATIVE HEALTH INSURANCE, YOU RECEIVE
*Payment for your health care, according to what you and the owners have agreed to in a contract

UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE
It is like cooperative insurance, but it also covers people who, for reasons beyond their control, have not contributed to the common fund. Universal health care may be owned by government. It must be overseen by government. Most universal health care programs adjust contributions based on ability to pay, rather than on the extent of coverage as with other types of insurance.

Obviously, any kind of insurance can work satisfactorily or it can be abused and corrupted. The results depend on the good faith and competence of the managers and overseers. Ultimately, the contributors themselves must see that good managers and administrators are hired and held accountable. In the case of government programs, the people who are represented must also see that honest and good-faith representatives are elected and held accountable on a regular basis.

Mary Ann Lesh

Universal coverage is not free medical care

Universal coverage is medical care that is pre-paid BY all the members of a political entity (those who have the means to pay) and FOR everyone under the jurisdiction of that entity, regardless of their socioeconomic condition. This payment is made through equitable and effective collection and administration. The end result is that no person who is in need of treatment will be turned away, no patient has to deal with payment at the time treatment is received, and no medical entity has to bill patients directly. It does NOT mean that doctors, nurses, hospital staff and other care providers have to work without fair compensation. It DOES mean that decisions about prevention and treatment will be based on what is best for patient and society, not on what will generate a profit. Universal coverage does not preclude wisdom in making those choices or sound financial stewardship. Quite the contrary.

This is a good time to to think about the broken medical / pharmaceutical system in the United States, lay aside old biases, put an end to name-calling, and look pragmatically at ways to do it better. A change of heart at the national level would be wonderful, but even the most heartless and self-interested individuals should be able to agree that if there is a vaccine or a cure for a highly contagious and potentially fatal disease, they should be available to ANYBODY who needs them, no questions asked, no money changing hands between patient and provider. Those with even a flicker of compassion would also agree that no person suffering from a curable or manageable illness or accident should be left to die just because they have no money.

There are many options for funding and administering universal health care and dealing with the many complexities of the effort. We can study the models provided by all the other developed nations and even some less-developed ones. Medicare for All has the advantage in the United States of giving us a familiar place to start, adapting and extending any of its policies and structures that have worked well, and building others that will make it work universally.

Any system will be less effective if it is not administered with honesty, integrity, and hard-nosed oversight. However, the decision to make the best health care available to everyone who needs it should not be postponed because of a lot of “what if’s.” Make the commitment, and then put the best qualified, most honest people you can find in charge. Perfection is not attainable, but ongoing improvement is.

Corruption and abuse can creep into even the best systems. They should be dealt with proactively and as they arise, but the possibility should not stand in the way of getting started any more than the possibility of rain should stop us from ever planning to do anything because we might get rained out.

“I can’t live without you” is not love

“I can’t live without you!” Does that mean that the one who says it really really loves you?

No

It’s a romantic thing we say to each other, but if your prospective partner shows signs of really believing it, he or she is not reality-based, and you should run as fast as possible in another direction. Love means being a whole person who doesn’t need another person but can choose freely to love that person. Love may mean carrying on alone what you and a loved one have built together. The traditional marriage vow reminds us of this in the words until death do us part. It is not the happiest part of the marriage vow, but it reminds us to live and love and rejoice in being together in the here and now and that someday, sad as it may be, one partner will have to carry on without the other.

True love doesn’t make anybody happy

The right person, your true love, your soulmate, will make you happy for the rest of your life. All you have to do is find that one person who is right for you.

NO

You are the only person in the world who can make YOU happy. If you are an unhappy single person, you will be an unhappy married person. Your spouse, your mother, your friend, your counselor, your minister may point the way to Happiness and her less-glamorous but more desirable sister, Contentment, but you have to find them for yourself.

A book of valentines and a 4th-grade crush

vintage-valentine

On the tenth of February when I was in fourth grade, Mama gave me a quarter to go to the dime store and buy a book of valentines to cut out, address, sign, and give to my classmates at the homeroom Valentine’s Day party. A quarter was enough to buy a respectable book with an adequate number of Valentines, but not enough for the fancy flocked and glittered ones, and that made me sad. I wanted to give very special Valentines to my crush, my best friend, and my teacher.

From the time I can remember, I had very intense crushes: James, the nineteen-year-old farm hand I admired from afar, the very definition of handsome for me; seven-year-old Bob, the little redheaded boy in the bluebird costume who thrilled me when he held my hand, leading me onstage as queen of the flowers in Mrs. Stripling’s recital for our Expression class in Nocona, Texas. When I moved away to Denver City, Bob sent me a hand-printed letter telling me that he missed me and hoped I would come back soon.

By fourth grade I was in love with a boy named Ronnie in the Wickett, Texas, Elementary School. Ronnie’s sister Shirley was my friend and playmate. Of course, Ronnie had no idea how I felt about him, and if he had known he probably wouldn’t have cared or would have run as fast as he could in the opposite direction because fourth-grade boys and fourth-grade girls see crushes differently, but I wanted to give Ronnie a big valentine with flocking and glitter, like the ones in the twenty-nine-cent books because I thought he deserved it. I also wanted to give fancy Valentines to my best friend, Billie Ann, and to my teacher, but the rules were that you had to give a card to everyone in the class if you wanted to participate in the Valentine’s Day party exchange. I had only twenty-five cents to spend, so I pored over the Valentines, looking for one that would subtly show Ronnie that he was the one I REALLY wanted to “be my Valentine,” no matter what all the other boys’ cards said. Billie Ann and I knew we were best friends, so the special Valentine was just a formality, and the teacher would know that a fancy Valentine probably meant that the kid who gave it to her was either rich or spoiled or both.

On the day of the party, our room mothers brought pink cupcakes, iced cookies, and red Kool-Aid, and we forgot about science and social studies for an hour or so while we enjoyed the treats and ceremoniously handed out the carefully cut, folded, pasted, and signed Valentines with our friends’ names on the envelopes, also folded and pasted. I read and re-read the messages for signs that each giver REALLY liked me, checking Ronnie’s especially for signs of true love.

I had carried my homemade Valentines to school in a shoe box, and I felt all happy inside as I carried the ones my friends had given me back home in that shoe box. Even though I knew that everyone gave everyone a card and that the messages were made up by someone in a Valentine Book Factory, when I read each one, I felt like the message was for me and that the sender really meant it. Even Ronnie’s. Especially Ronnie’s.

Organized is not picture-perfect

It has taken me a long lifetime to learn that a clean and organized house where real people live will never look like those wonderful houses on HGTV. Real people are messy, and the secret of an organized house is that neither messiness nor obsessive order are allowed to intrude on the joy and peace of mind of the people who live in it.

Overwhelmed by the amount of work that it will take to put my house in order, I turn on Hoarders to enjoy a moment of schadenfreude–a secret pleasure in someone else’s misfortune because, I say, “There, but for the fact that I am not a TOTAL nut case, go I. “Then I flip on Fixer-Upper to indulge another sinful pleasure–coveting one of Joanna Gaines’s beautifully staged fixed-up houses before the lucky owners move in and mess it up.

There are no hard-and-fast rules for getting organized. If it works for you, then it works. If, however, you have a feeling that “it” (whatever “it” is) could be working better, you may benefit from learning a few principles of organization and having a few rules of thumb to help you along. I’m not going to teach you those principles and rules of thumb because you can find them in abundance in books and blogs, but I am going to share a few tricks and tips that have worked for me and hope that maybe they will work for you to help you cut down on the time you spend searching for lost objects, re-organizing and cleaning, and spend more time doing things you really love to do.

  1. Ditch those pictures in your head. Look honestly at what you and your housemates do at home and maybe some things you would like to do if you had the right space for it. Then decide what you need so that you can happily do whatever those things are.
  2. Start small. If you’re the kind of person who can pull everything out at once and then put it in order without getting overwhelmed, you can ignore this suggestion. I like to make a huge mess and then clean it up, but the truth is that this method doesn’t work for me, so I’ve learned to work on one space at a time–whatever I think I can finish in the time that I have. It may be a bathroom, a drawer, or a corner. Finishing something, however small, gives me a sense of accomplishment.
  3. Acknowledge that you’ll never “get caught up.” For much of my life, I’ve lived in the fantasy that someday in some mythical future, I would finally “get caught up” and then life would be marvelous and I could get some rest. Life, it turns out, is always a work in progress. If you think you are caught up, you should start a project so you don’t get bored. However, if you work on getting organized, you can have more stress-free days no matter what you’re doing.
  4. Identify and deal with clutter before you start organizing. If you still have issues to deal with about letting go of material things and you have a reasonable amount of available space and a fair number of boxes, quickly clear away things you don’t use and pack them in boxes. A little proactive procrastination can help you get to the more urgent business of organizing things you use before you tackle harder issues involving sentimental clutter.
  5. Designate places for everything you need, use, or want. “A place for everything and everything in its place” is an old saying. If you have a place for everything, putting it away is much quicker and easier. Things that are used often should be within easy reach. Infrequently used objects, like Christmas decorations, can occupy less-convenient spaces. Before you buy anything at all, mentally give it a place in your house. If you don’t have a place for it, you probably shouldn’t buy it!
  6. Use containers and labels. The Container Store is one of my favorite business establishments, but I try to avoid the temptation of spending way too much money there (1) by minimizing the possessions to be contained and (2) by re-purposing used commercial containers like coffee cans, shoe boxes, and sturdy plastic containers. Labeling is a real time-saver and well worth the time it takes!
  7. Get professional advice (but take it with a grain of salt). I can’t afford to hire a professional organizer, but I do look for advice online and in books and magazines. However, advice should always be tailored to your needs and wishes. Marie Kondo, who has a lot of good advice to give, says thirty books are enough. I say, “You don’t know me, Marie!”
Here are some ingenious organizing hacks from Good Housekeeping. If you seriously declutter first, some of them will be unnecessary!
One hundred tips for organizing your house

The perils of going shopping

It is a novel idea and a liberating one. Stop shopping, or rather stop going shopping. Decide what you are going to buy, where you are going to buy it, how you are going to pay for it, and where you are going to keep it before you ever leave your house. It’s that simple, but it’s not always easy!

The goal of advertising is to make us unhappy. Ecstatic joy over a brand new iPhone or Lexus is interrupted by the announcement that the NEW iPhone with MORE features is available and that there is a car that is better than your brand new Lexus for showing the world how successful you are at being whatever it is that you want to be.

Coveting is big business in the United States of America. Far from being considered a sin, it is sanctified as The American Dream. It is woven tightly into every waking hour and creeps into our dreams.

I have never been what you would call well off. Daddy was a blue-collar wage earner, and Mama stayed home cleaning and cooking. We had a comfortable house in a safe neighborhood, but I knew that there were much grander houses with a lot of stuff that we didn’t have. I knew because my grandma lived in one of those houses, and so did the McCalls where my mother had baby sat when she was younger and whose daughters gave me their hand-me-downs with Neiman-Marcus labels.

Neither Daddy nor Mama had a clue about how to manage a family budget, so they could never seem to “get ahead,” as Daddy used to say. They passed their cluelessness on to me, and I followed their footsteps into my own adult life, always thinking that everyone else must be making more money than my family did because many of them did seem to “get ahead.”

One reason my family could never get ahead was that Mama’s favorite form of entertainment was “going shopping,” and I learned to love it almost as much as she did.

Shopping and trading have been human activities for milennia, but “going shopping” has been around for fewer than two hundred years. Even in the early twentieth century, people decided what they needed or wanted, and then went to specialized shops where those needs could be met.

“Going shopping” consists of going out to see what is for sale and buying for the joy of buying, being tempted as at a fair, by the many things for sale at department stores, supermarkets, malls, and one-stop big box stores like Wal-Mart. We are thoroughly prepared for the experience by a constant stream of advertising, encouraging us to covet not only our neighbors’ possessions but also the possessions of the rich and famous and the possessions and lifestyles of paid models who don’t even own the things or live the lifestyles that they so artfully tempt us to covet.

We meet our needs, of course, but we also acquire an enormous number of things that we don’t really need or even want. Then we spend inordinate amounts of time shuffling those things around, dusting them, storing them, maybe eventually selling them in garage sales or becoming hoarders.

Since I stopped going shopping, I not only save time, money, and storage space, but I really enjoy the things I buy because I have identified a need or desire, planned for it, and set aside the money to pay for it.

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