Month: July 2014

Faith of Our Fathers

“In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future.” -Alex Haley

Family ties are one of the most prolific sources of irrational actions taken by humans. A bloodline can lead a person to do things they wouldn’t do for any other reason. That irrational loyalty could be the reason the forces of evil are hell bent on destroying families. People will favor the family before the flag. That’s why communist countries have always claimed state ownership of children. Family bonds are dangerous to those in power. Loyalty to one’s bloodline is primary; and therefore, it threatens the primacy of the state. Some of the most inspiring stories from history are those where people risked everything to save their children, brothers and sisters from thugs and tyrants. If I were the devil, I’d try and break family ties, bound by blood, so that people would have fewer reasons to lead one another towards salvation. If that is his plan, it’s working wonderfully. Our families are not only shrinking, but they are divided by divorce and abuse, and a thousand other modern maladies.
Many years ago, I was afforded a favor by a cousin that I didn’t even know because he was inspired by family loyalty. Even though we’d never met, he felt he owed it to the patriarchs to support the family. I’m blessed to have many cousins that I know well, and many more that I’ve never met. Before there were networking seminars to attend, extended family was a natural network of influence and support. It’s something my children will never understand. Families are shrinking, so they are likely to know all their cousins. They will never have the pleasure of meeting one late in life and sharing an oral tradition that is not identical, but very similar. A familiar stranger will probably never call them out of the blue and enhance their life in any way. Pity. Maybe their children will provide the next baby boom and a fresh batch of cousins.
Twenty years (or so) after the War Between the States, my great-great-grandfather left Springfield, KY, on horseback bound for Daviess County. I’ve never ascertained the exact reason he made the move, but there are a number of families that left Washington County and arrived here about that time. My guess is that they were searching for greener pastures. I’ve made the pilgrimage to Springfield several times to tour the churches and scour the tombstones of my forbearers. The first time I ventured there, I could feel my blood stirring in a very strange way. I felt I had been there before. Through this connection to the past, I was given hope for the future. The bloodline that had made the journey across the Atlantic, and then from Maryland to Kentucky, was still intact. As I walked through those headstones in another part of the state, I was surrounded by familiar names. I thought of the struggles and obstacles they went through in order to survive their trip through the mountains and valleys to arrive there on the graveyard hill at St. Rose. I remember reading of the family of one great-grandfather (not sure how many greats back he’d be). He and his wife lost seven children on the journey from Maryland. I imagine they arrived broken and beaten, but their bloodline survived; thrived even. From there the family would rebuild and rebound. And here we are, two hundred years later.
There’s a legend that I’ve read on Ancestry.com that says when the Marylanders arrived in Kentucky, they would meet on Saturday nights. After shaking hands, neighbors would turn around and kick each other in the rear end as punishment for ever leaving Maryland. They bought their new home at the great cost of tackling hostile natives and an untamed environment. That investment, made with blood, sweat, and tears is what landed my children in the fertile soil of West Daviess County centuries later. When I think of those early, tail kicking, settlers that celebrated Mass at Holy Cross and later St. Rose, I’m given hope for the future. My favorite hymn is Faith of Our Fathers. In spite of the modern challenges my own family faces, I find myself steadied by the hope given me by my fathers. Though we are threatened by challenges of a different kind, the family has always been in danger of annihilation. We have always persevered. And so it continues. May we never forget the sacrifices made by others to carry us this far.

Anxiety, with a side of hope

In the nineties, there was a spoken word art piece that was set to music and ended up being quite popular for a time: “Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen.” It was a pithy life guide that got people’s attention. The only sure things in life are the simple ones, and this song articulated many simple truths set to a catchy beat. As I sit down to write this week’s column, I’m reminded of one of the lines from the song: “…know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum.” How true. I’ve always been a worrier. I worry about personal problems, and world events. It would seem no issue is too small or large for me to fret about. When U.S. troops invaded Granada in 1983, I was worried about that. I’m sure a lot of people were, but most of them were not four years old. I was. A limited military engagement on the Isle of Spices is not something most four-year-olds would concern themselves with. I did. I have no idea why, but for whatever reason, my brain happens to be wired that way. fear

Lately, there’s been no shortage of things to worry about. The world has a limitless supply of problems. Thanks to instant news, I get to be aware of most of them. I’ve got a business, kids, and a wife to worry about. I’ve got siblings, parents, and extended family to worry about. I’ve got that sales lead I forgot to follow up on last week, and a hundred other minor details to worry about. All this, and yet I also have a rational mind. I know that the words of the Sunscreen song are true. I might as well be chewing bubble gum. Still, at night when I lay down, I worry. In the morning, when I wake up, I worry. I most definitely sweat the small stuff. This leads me to an unavoidable conclusion: I’m a moron. It’s no surprise that despite a family history of good hair, mine fell out when I was 22. Stress I suppose. We all know how stressful it is to be 22 and have few responsibilities and a life of relative ease.

I do grasp for good news where I can though, so let’s see if we can scratch some out of this situation. Worry, like fear, can be an excellent motivator. In school, it made me turn in my assignments on time. In business, it has made me conscientious about getting back with people (despite that lead I lost last week), and trying to stay one step ahead. I was worried once about a property I was having trouble selling. In talking it over with a confidant they told me, “You know the difference in you and ‘Broker A’? He doesn’t lie awake and worry about this stuff.” Maybe that’s a good thing. My business is better than his lately. Maybe he would do well to worry a little more. For all his good thoughts and positive thinking classes, he’s failing at the task at hand. The guy with the worried mind is not. It’s true that I owe a part of my success to the fact that I can’t get some of this stuff out of my brain. At the end of the day, the fear of failure is what keeps driving me. If fear can motivate you to keep moving, it’s probably a good thing. It’s just a very respectful fear; not a paralyzing one. That respect has seen me through the first half of my life with just the right amount of failure and success. So I view fear and worry as friends, not enemies. Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.” Having the courage to continue in spite of the worry is what’s hard sometimes, but I soldier on.

The other day I read a story about pessimists being better at their jobs. I’ve also read articles that say we live longer too, and that we’re more likely to develop dementia (not excited about that last one). A quick web search will offer lots of hits on the power of pessimism. I’ve always claimed to be a realist. Dealing in reality can make you look very pessimistic given the state of the world, but one thing I’m sure of: Pessimism is better for some of us than optimism. There is at least as much power in pessimism as in positive thinking, you just have to know how to channel it. So, if you’re one of those people on the other side, peddling optimistic claptrap, just remember that it doesn’t work for all of us. Some of us live on the darker side called the real world. We have plenty to worry about, but that awareness can be used for positive things. Gravity is a bit heartless when you fall, but it’s also the force that holds everything on this world in place. Worry holds some of us in place. So be it.

The burden of free time

In reading an article from the Wall Street Journal last week, I was astounded to find that on average Americans work only three hours and twenty-eight minutes a day. Less than four hours per day? The heck you say. Granted, the findings were released based on a 2013 study from the Labor Department (so the source is suspect), but if it’s anywhere close to right it’s no wonder we’ve ceased space flights and haven’t cured cancer yet. The study also indicated that on average, Americans watch close to three hours of TV per day and spend another two and a half hours on sports and leisure. Those numbers did not shock me.
The story got me thinking about TV vines in the tobacco patch. What are TV vines, you say? Well, back in the good ole days when farming was done more with brute force and a hoe than herbicides, we would chop the weeds out by hand. When they would start to get a bit out of control, we would say that the TV vines were taking over. Those are the weeds you should have been hoeing while you were watching TV. In looking around the nation, I can’t help but see that the TV vines are taking over everywhere. Idle hands are the devil’s playground, so goes the adage. It sure looks like Satan has a heck of a vine crop going around here. From sea to shining sea, the vines are choking out the fruited plain to the point that it’s getting hard to find fruit.Image
The thing that doesn’t square with all this TV watching and sports and leisure is how much everyone claims to be working and suffering. From secretaries to teachers, and realtors to ranchers, all I ever hear is how everyone is overworked and underpaid. And that’s just those who are working. The people I run into on permanent disability (few of which are visibly disabled) are even worse. Their ailments are terrible, according to what they tell me. Whether they can’t work because of an emotional disorder, back trouble, or tendinitis, everyone is suffering, and no one is doing well. The strong economy of the 90’s was followed by a big boom and a bigger bust with the great recession, and the nation’s work muscles have collectively atrophied to the point that we are unable to compete the way we always have in the past. A lot of people have just given up, and a lot more are on the verge. So where do we go from here? Trying to live a well balanced life has never been easy. It’s true in the past that we may have spent too much time working and not enough time taking care of our families, but the statistics show that we should have plenty of time to take care of the family now. They also show that the family unit is dying at the same time. Once you step on the slippery slope of free time, it’s breakneck all the way to the bottom, and then you’re paralyzed. I’ve never been sure about how literal the Book of Genesis is, but I do feel it’s true regardless. Man got into trouble and got kicked out of a perfect setup in the Garden. Since then we have been doomed to scratch a living out of the ground that God cursed. When we stop scratching, the cursed ground stops providing. That’s a fact. America was once a pretty good setup, but at some point she stopped scratching. At the very least, she’s slowed down a great deal. As a result we find ourselves cursed. Could our idle hands be to blame?
These last few years I’ve not been troubled with an overabundance of free time. Running a business and raising a family in the current environment is time consuming, but I do have time to watch TV almost every night. I try not to work on Sunday, and I still manage to be there for many of the kids’ events. I’ve even been blessed to be able to help a few neighbors on occasion. The thing I try and remember is that these are all good obligations. Too much time on your hands is bad medicine for the soul. Busy and happy are not mutually exclusive. It’s a tragedy to have too much free time. I’ve never known anyone with an overabundance of free time that was truly happy. Being busy is a good thing. And I’m thankful to be busy. My message this week is a challenge. If you’re struggling finding happiness in your life, I invite you to roll up your sleeves and get to work. Help a neighbor, or a stranger, or take a second job. Go back to school. Hate your job? Get another one. Do something. Don’t just watch TV and complain. There are plenty of vines that need chopping, and if you don’t do it nobody will. May God bless you in your WORK.