Truth to Tell

A few years ago I was having a healthy discussion with a friend’s husband about some political brouhaha or the other. Now, I like Greg. He’s treated me well over the years, but more importantly, he’s treated his wife, Jamie, like the treasure that she is. We’ve always disagreed politically but have never lowered ourselves when talking about this issue or that. Perhaps we both recognize there is fault on either side.

However, a few minutes into our animated talk I realized something I hadn’t caught on to before: Greg was a proficient storyteller, and he had no issue straying from the truth. As he rambled off some “facts” to me, points I knew objectively to be false, I glanced over at Jamie. Did she know he was lying?

Of course she did. Over the years mutual friends and I have more fully recognized the extent of Greg’s, shall we say, misinterpretation of the facts, but none of us have ever said anything about it to Jamie, nor has she said anything to us. It is understood that this is a fault, and a somewhat benign one in context, nothing of which we need to take issue. Frankly, I doubt most conversations between me and Greg would end any differently if he did diligently adhere to the facts. We would agree and disagree in the same measure.

I need to make it clear that as far as we know, Greg doesn’t lie to Jamie about issues important to their marriage. He limits the falsehoods to certain types of storytelling and political debate. It doesn’t make us question him in other conversations–he has seemingly never exaggerated his children’s success, for example, or for that matter, their failures. He is an honest businessman.

Integrity is a difficult issue to define at times. Some would say if Greg can’t stick to the truth in his storytelling you can’t trust anything he tells you. Knowing him as I do, I trust him. Has he perhaps told me Jamie wasn’t home when she simply didn’t feel like talking? Maybe. But that doesn’t bother me.

I appreciate spouses who can lift their partner up without pulling the rest of us down. This is perhaps doubly true because of another couple I’m friends with who will protect each other to the point of lying in a manner that belittles me. When I know the truth, and you know I know the truth, why would you lie about something just to make a fool of me?

It’s a delicate balance and it’s part of the reason relationships can be so challenging. Our perspective shapes the way we evaluate the veracity of other’s conversations. What some consider wrong others don’t even hear.

We all have to live with the faults of others, but as Millie Helper said in one of my favorite episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show, “People would be pretty dull without them.”

And therein lies at least one truth.


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The Final Forgiveness

There are those who hurt us and infuriate us, people who forever remain oblivious to the harm they are doing. They are locked into their own understanding of what is good and right.

You want to honor all they’ve done for you, but seeing them comes with a price. It is a constant battle of wanting to rise above knowing you will only be dragged below by your good intentions.

At what point do you let go?

It is best, purest, if it can be done now and the issues are put behind you. But they are difficult to let go of. We are human; we are — on both sides — in many ways locked into who we are and what we believe. It protects us, guides us and provides us with clarity. So perhaps you forgive, only to be set up once again for a battle of wills and false understanding. It is a vicious cycle.

Then you hear: he is dying. He is hanging on, but soon will be gone.

It is time for a final forgiveness, an acknowledgement of our own failings and the knowledge that the temporal, in the end, is a wisp of smoke, dissipating into thin air.

It is time, but it is still hard. You haven’t been heard. There have been assumptions and presumptions that wound. Rumors and lies that become fact in the minds of others.

What does it matter? His death isn’t the final word because you go on living. What matters most?

Refine me, O Lord, open my blind eyes and lead me down the path of forgiveness.


Image courtesy of Pixabay

 

Discerning the Assumption

They tell you not to assume anything. But I disagree.

I’m job hunting now, and it is (as others have told me) a demoralizing experience. But I assume at the end of the my search I’ll have a job. If not, what would be the point of continuing?

Maybe that’s faith, not an assumption.

I have a friend who’s told me she doesn’t enjoy going to movie theaters. We’ve stopped inviting her, because we know what she’ll say. It’s not that she isn’t welcome, and we frequently let her know we’re going so she can include herself if she wants to go. But why ask the question when you’ve already been told the answer?

That’s common sense, not an assumption.

When I was in college, I took a course with no prerequisites. It was, I was told, a bottom-line, basic, true beginners class — no prior experience required. It also was a graduation requirement. Turns out everyone in that class — except me — already knew these basics, so the teacher taught at a higher level and left me behind. He believed I must know more than I thought I did. After all, I was bright enough.

Now that’s an assumption. Fortunately I took the course pass/fail and he graciously passed me. I didn’t learn a thing.

There are times when we assume things based on the facts we have, yet that information isn’t complete. It seems so obvious, so clear what the situation must be, until that puzzle piece that’s been missing appears. I’ve said it before. We don’t know what we don’t know.

How do we know when it’s faith, common sense or an unfair assumption? Look at who you’re depending on for the information. That will shed some light. The rest is life experience.

Which I’m assuming you have. Just kidding. If you don’t have it now, you will soon.


Assumption

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Know the Truth

On my way home from work, I heard the news. Another shooting, unknown numbers dead.

My first thought was a prayer for those whose hearts are breaking tonight, and I think most of you probably responded in a similar way.

Hot on the heels of this rapidly evolving news story was the comment by one politician: “we’ve got to get serious about mental health.” A statement made before anything is known about the shooter’s state of mind, his motive, facts we can seek our teeth into. The assumption was this eighteen-year-old was mentally ill. Maybe. I don’t have the story, and neither did that nitwit congressman.

I’ll agree, we’ve got to get serious about mental health. And here’s where you start: know the facts.

  • Mental illness does NOT make you violent.
  • The majority of violent crimes are committed by people with NO mental illness. NONE.
  • People with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violent crime.
  • Drug and alcohol abuse is far more likely to lead to violent crime than the most severe mental illness.
  • One of the strongest indicators of potential violent behavior is being a young male with a troubled childhood.

So let’s get serious about child abuse, domestic violence, and drug & alcohol abuse. I’m not saying don’t pour money into caring for the mentally ill. I’m saying, when you do, know what your money can accomplish. A better life for a highly stigmatized population, but probably not a serious reduction in the kinds of horrible events that flood the news.

In the next few days, countless reporters and politicians are going to contribute to the ignorance of the American people by going in front of the camera with trite words and misleading information. Take it upon yourself to dig deep for the truth. Write to those who spread the lies. Post, tweet, and cry out for fairness.

At work, at school, at church, you may be sitting next to someone with mental illness and never know it. They aren’t crazy, and there are a lot of options for those who seek treatment.

So let’s get serious. Let’s tell the truth.

And peace to those who suffer tonight — and all the nights to follow.


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Lonely Road, Locked Away

A few months ago…and a few months before that…I told the story of a woman I loosely know who embezzled more than a million dollars from her employer.

That employer was the county government. She was in a lot of trouble.

This woman (let’s call her Judy) is dating the ex-husband of a friend of mine. Actually, he was my friend first; we worked together in the county’s IT department. Since I don’t believe in being friends with a married man unless I’m friends with his wife, I made sure I met Pam as soon as possible. It’s uncomfortable finding out a man you work with has been talking about you to his wife…and she’s not sure what to think about it.

Anyway, when they divorced, my loyalties leaned toward Pam. Her ex (we’ll call him Joe) began dating Judy, who looked remarkably like Pam. I mean, remarkably. Apparently, the similarities ended there.

I learned from Pam, who heard it from Joe, that Joe and Judy were convinced she’d get probation. After all, this was a first time offense, and she’d had cancer ten years ago. The prison wouldn’t want a 50-year-old woman with a history of cancer, right? I laughed out loud at that idea. Judy stole public funds for ten years, and the prison system could not possibly care less about your health.

She was sentenced last month. Today is her last day of freedom for nearly three years. She has concurrent sentences and this was a federal offense, and it adds up to her serving the whole time. I think she was lucky to get only 34 months. She could have been sentenced for up to 13 years.

I don’t know if it’s hit her yet, what she’s about to face and how long she’ll be there.

I have mixed feelings about all of this. What she did was terrible and foolish. Based on records published in the newspapers, she started out with a bang. It wasn’t a slow seduction into evil, for which I’d have more sympathy. It’s hard to know what to think.

Judy’s two daughters were out of her life long before all of this took place. They won’t let her see her grandchildren, and they’ve told her, actually, told other relatives, they won’t visit her in prison. Pam’s girls despise her, although for their father’s sake, they are courteous.

Speaking of Joe, he was planning to break up with Judy right about the time she was arrested. He stood beside her until now, but is ready to be free of the whole situation.

She simply doesn’t come across as someone who’s going to evoke a lot of sympathy.

Yet I don’t wish federal prison on anyone, particularly a 50-something woman with no background to prepare her for what’s ahead. People talk about “country club” prisons. That’s bullshit. There’s no such thing. Prison is a tough place to be, no matter what level it is.

Our jail and prison systems need an overhaul. Incarceration is meant to remove you from society, not punish you with subtle tortures until you learn you have no value. Remember, most of them will be back in society again, and need help to lead the lives they want to lead — and for everyone’s sake, should lead.

I wouldn’t have these mixed feelings if I believed Judy will be safe in prison. Being locked away is lonely and isolating, and that’s punishment enough. It’s a long day when so much is taken from you.

So my prayers are with her. Yes, she deserved to go to prison — but not one of the prisons in place in our country today.


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Cry First, and Water the Flowers

I just heard my friend Casey is getting a divorce.

Casey is 29, and this is her second marriage. She has four children, one with her current husband, two with her previous and one from a brief relationship when she was just 15. She’s been in prison, is a recovering alcoholic and lost her three oldest children for a time because of those issues.

Here’s the thing: she is honest, hard-working, attractive and kind. She puts other people first but doesn’t get pushed around, and no one is more important to her than her kids. We worked together last spring, and I would recommend her to any employer.

My heart is breaking for her.

Her time in prison was the result of a drunken argument she had with her mother. She admits to trashing her mom’s apartment after the fight, breaking a few dishes and possibly a chair. Her mom, however, called the police and said Casey had tried to kill her and had been trying to poison her for months.

Original abstract acrylic color painting on artistic canvas. Han

When mom sobered up, she recanted her statement, but the prosecuting attorney refused to drop the case. Casey told me her biggest problem in all of this was she ended up being “too honest,” and the judge flat out stated she didn’t believe her when she admitted to all her crimes in court, but believed she was guilty of much more.

She threw out the plea agreement and sentenced Casey to 20 years in prison, which in my state means with the right programs and proper behavior you’ll serve less than four. Casey served 3 ½ years, came out sober, educated and prepared to move forward.

She worked hard to make things right with her children, met the man she later married and took any job she could to make ends meet. Eventually potential employers saw past the background checks and hired her, and she proved herself invaluable. Her children were doing well, although her teenage son was driving her batty. As fourteen-year-old boys do.

But Jim, her husband, started treating her in the same demeaning manner the prison guards had, and with a broken heart, she left him. She wasn’t going to let anyone, especially the man who vowed to love her more than all others, consider her with such indignity and shame.

I know she will be okay. I believe she will rise above this as she has risen above the rest of the detritus in her life. Still, in this moment, she is crying herself to sleep and struggling to keep her emotions in check at work and in front of her children. She smiles a little and says, “at least I don’t want to drink.”

She has been through the fire and knows it will end, something she shouldn’t have to understand so well before turning 30. It’s hard enough to get through your 20s, but two divorces, a prison sentence and all that goes hand-in-hand with those events makes it a little…harrowing. I told her 30 was the best year of my life, and she has wondrous times ahead.

Then I let her cry.

abstract watercolor painting color colorful background illustrat

Image Credits: (Three Women) © BenRoman — stock.adobe.com; (Chaos) © Gordan — Bigstock.com; (Abstract Rainbow) © Benjavisa Ruangvaree — stock.adobe.com

Pages of the World Book

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
― Augustine of Hippo

Travel, or otherwise explore the world.

It is easy to dismiss the decisions of others, particularly those of people in other cultures, if one has never traveled more than 100 miles from their place of birth. Brief trips to a large city for business travel are often sheltered, and the annual visit to the family cabin, albeit more than 100 miles away, isn’t truly traveling in the sense I’m speaking of here.

At the age of 19, my brother loaded his backpack and headed for Europe, Australia and New Zealand, hiking and taking odd jobs for about a year, as I recall. I believe that trip shaped him, helped him focus his priorities and exposed him to thinking different from that which he heard while growing up. He has always been a kind and thoughtful person, but traveling alone gave him a perspective he couldn’t get any other way.

He shared with me some of the conversations he had with complete strangers during his trip, and those words have changed me, so I know they changed him. I wouldn’t have survived the last few years without him, and I believe that foundational, transformational experience is part of the reason he has so much to offer me.

Over the years I’ve talked to parents who are agonizing over their son’s or daughter’s choice to travel for a time, giving up their dreams of a college education (or so it seems to mom and dad) for a hobo lifestyle. I tell them not to worry, and inevitably those children have gone on to greater things, some back to school, some not, but they knew that that time away from all that comforted them would be healthy.

The Whole World Kids

Even Prince William took off for ten weeks to volunteer in Chile, where he faced ribbing by other volunteers, such as less-than-complimentary nicknames, among other things, I’m sure. At the time he said, “I’m with a group of people I wouldn’t normally be with and getting along with them is great fun and educational. There are some real characters in the group who don’t hold back any words at all.”1

I imagine.

Several friends of mine graduated with honors from high school, went to a nearby college and moved on to career success in the same city they were raised in. Their standards and norms are measured by the world immediately around them, and they mock others whose lifestyle and thinking is foreign to them, even if those people vote for the same president they do. They are experts in their own world with no grasp of what motivates people outside the walls of their great city.

Not everyone can backpack through foreign countries, or even distant parts of their own country. It isn’t suitable for some to travel extensively. But the world we live in today gives us exposure through traditional and modern methods to pages of the World Book. It’s not the same as travel, but it still is an opportunity to grow.

Take the time to grow.


1 The Telegraph, December 10, 2000, “Hard work and high adventure for William in Chile.”

Image Credits: (World Map) © asantosg — Bigstock; (World Kids) © lenm — Bigstock