Saying The Right Thing

Photo by Daniel Fazio on Unsplash

Have you ever had a conversation with someone and immediately afterward you wondered if you’d said the right thing?

The right thing.

I’ve been thinking about that phrase for a while now, pondering its meaning. There are opinions about it everywhere. How-to articles for saying the right thing even when you don’t know what to say. Blog posts enumerating the right things to say in the case of death or divorce or despair. Books offering instruction for saying the right thing not just sometimes, but every time.

Can you imagine? Getting blindsided with bad news, yet being promptly prepared with the right words of comfort. Or having some helpful wisdom snap to the forefront of your mind at the very moment a friend reaches out for advice.

I’ll be honest, I’m not sure that’s ever happened to me. I’m not sure I’ve ever come up with the exact right thing to say at the exact moment I needed to say it. I mean, I’m a writer. Sometimes it takes me three, four, even a dozen or more tries to get the dialogue right in a scene.

But this is real life and unfortunately we don’t get to go back to edit and re-edit what we say, nor do we often have a lot of time to come up with it. In most situations we only get one shot. And sometimes I wonder if the pressure of needing to say precisely the right thing (or else risk ridicule or criticism) may lead to a lot of not saying anything at all, or worse yet, not showing up at all.

Because on the flip side of the right thing is, of course, the wrong thing. But maybe that is an illusion as well. A conclusion based solely on our own expectations and perceptions. A ruling that does not take into account the other person’s intentions. Their attempt to understand our experience, to offer the best guidance they can.

And shouldn’t that be what matters most? Response over rightness. Effort over exactitude. Presence over perfection. Maybe that’s all it really takes to always say the right thing.

Don’t Let The Old Man In

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

Recently, I was introduced to a song I’ve never heard from a movie I’ve never seen. The movie was The Mule and the song was Don’t Let The Old Man In by Toby Keith. Though I still haven’t seen the movie, I have listened to the song several times. I’ve watched the music video (which is, I assume, a compilation of clips from the movie) and Googled the lyrics.

Due to copyright laws, I won’t quote the exact words here, but there’s a line in the song that basically encourages us to think about how old we might be if we didn’t know how old we actually were. As a writer, I am in awe of those who can craft these magnificently thought-provoking phrases. Those who can pump so much significance into so few words. It’s boggling, it’s mind-bending, and since learning of the song, I haven’t stopped pondering its meaning.

How old would I be if I didn’t know my actual age?

Granted, growing older generally brings with it additional challenges and responsibilities that we don’t experience as youngsters. And certainly, aging bones and muscles and joints are quicker to remind us of our physical limitations. But obligations and physical changes aside, is aging as much a mindset as it is living a number of years? And if that’s the case, would we approach it differently if we were unaware of that number?

I like to think that not knowing my age would, by default, free me from the weight of expectation based on that age—how I should be spending my time, what life stage I should be in, what I should have accomplished by now, etc.

And without that added pressure and anxiety, I also like to think that I would be able to create more freely, sing more loudly, dance more confidently, and laugh more often.

I would throw on a swimsuit without concern of the state of my skin or muscle tone.

I would eat ice cream with reckless abandon (and without counting the calories).

I would play more and worry less.

I would go sledding and build snowmen and run through sprinklers and marvel over the beauty of God’s creations.

I would love compassionately, give generously, and live wholeheartedly.

I could go on and on adding things to this list, but I don’t think I need to. I think I have my answer. If I didn’t know my actual age, apparently I would be about eight years old.

How old would you be?

Christmas Movie Nostalgia

Photo by Denise Jans on Unsplash

This is a season steeped in tradition for our family (as it is, I’m sure, for many of yours). From the foods we eat, to the treats we bake, to the ornaments and decorations that grace our tree and home. There’s music and gatherings, gift exchanges and Christmas light tours, and of course, all the movies.

One of my favorite things to do is set aside a chunk of a December Saturday to stage a Christmas movie marathon. A stay-in-pajamas, wrap-up-in-blankets, veg-on-the-couch-with-popcorn-and-warm-drinks kind of day. Unfortunately, for varying reasons over the last many years, finding an available stretch of free time for such things has been difficult, so our marathon movie tradition has morphed into more of a piecemeal sprint—taking in those we enjoy most whenever our schedule allows.

Although movies, in general, are powerful in their inherent ability to transport us into different times and worlds and experiences, for me it is Christmas movies, with their nostalgia-inducing effectiveness, that can magically return me to certain points in my life.

Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the original cartoon classic) reminds me of Christmases past, when I would look for the listing in the TV Guide so I wouldn’t miss its limited run. And then the year I received the VHS tape as a gift, which meant I could witness the Grinch’s miraculous Christmas transformation any time of year.

A Christmas Story takes me back to a video store in the mall (the name of which escapes me at the moment) where I bought the movie for a friend because it was her favorite. At the time, I hadn’t even known of the existence of Ralphie and his Red Ryder BB gun shenanigans.

Home Alone evokes an inner wistfulness that I can neither name nor pinpoint, but I imagine the reason lies Somewhere in My Memory as the John Williams’ arrangement of this song, played throughout the movie, only deepens those feelings.

Other movies that, for reasons similar to those above, tug at my sentimental heart as much as they entertain, and are therefore also on my must-see list, include:

  • A Charlie Brown Christmas
  • National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
  • Elf
  • The Year Without a Santa Claus
  • Deck the Halls
  • Debbie Macomber’s Mrs. Miracle

What are the movies and/or TV show episodes that top your annual holiday watch list?

CON-tent vs Contentment

Photo by Luca Laurence on Unsplash

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about CON-tent (the noun meaning all that is contained in something*) versus contentment (the adjective which describes the feeling of being happy with what one has*) and how the two relate to each other. It’s practically impossible to have such a discussion without acknowledging that while the former may have, at one time, referred only to the actual physical stuff of our lives, it now also encompasses the barrage of information that most of us consume on a daily basis.

All of this CON-tent—the media and opinions and social media posts, as well as our belongings: our furniture and electronics and keepsakes—is meant to make us feel more connected and make our lives easier and more complete. But anymore, it seems the opposite is true. That the more time we spend absorbing the ins and outs of other people’s filtered online lives and the more we clutter our homes with all the modern conveniences available to us, the less satisfied we actually become.

Regardless of how much we acquire or achieve or experience, there seems to remain an underlying desire for more, a persistent fear that we are or will be missing out on something if we don’t keep on or keep up, and a certainty that our happiness will rise along with the number of likes our latest Instagram pic reaps.

I fall into these traps as much as the next person, and although there are numerous improvements and worthwhile attributes associated with CON-tent, I sometimes find myself getting caught up in the negative aspects. When that happens, when I start to feel overstimulated and underwhelmed and discontented, I know it’s time to take stock of the CON-tent in my life. The physical crap, as well as the emotional that accumulates over time, creating chaos in my space and spirit and obstructing my pathway to joy.

Because the thing is, our CON-tent and our contentment are directly linked. The CON-tent that we allow to enter into our minds and hearts and homes influences our level of contentment. The good news is we’re in charge of both. So if you find your energy dragging, your mood sagging, and your contentment flagging, it may be time to re-evaluate your CON-tent. If meaning, purpose, and fulfilment is what you seek, then fill your days with meaningful, purposeful, and fulfilling people and possessions and practices. The CON-tent of your life feeds your contentment, choose wisely.

*Both definitions are from Webster’s NewWorld Dictionary, 2nd College Edition

A Few Words of Wisdom for My Younger Self

Photo by Matt Ragland on Unsplash

I love this time of year. The subtle shift in the air bringing with it notes of the coming fall. The return of football season. The plethora of school supplies littering store shelves. Although I haven’t been involved in the back-to-school hype for many years now, the arrival of those character book bags and lunch boxes, bright-colored crayons and markers, crisp notebooks and folders fills me with an overwhelming sense of nostalgia.

I think back to my own first days of school. The nerves, the excitement, the promise of growth and change, the requisite picture of my brother and me sporting our new duds while shouldering our fully stocked backpacks. Aided by the passage of time, my memory of those days is largely shaded with warmth and fuzziness and although I have no desire to relive it—there are just as many awkward and insecure moments tucked in my brain’s hard drive (and likely many more that my subconscious keeps in a password protected file that even I can’t access)—given the opportunity, I would offer my younger self a few words of wisdom:

  • It doesn’t matter what clothes you wear, the condition of your skin, the sound of your voice, the timing of your development. Although others may identify you with these things, they don’t define you. But the level of your strength in character, your generosity in spirit, your honesty and loyalty in relationships, now these are the guideposts with which to measure yourself.
  • Don’t worry so much. Most of the imagined worst-case scenarios you lose sleep over will never actually happen.
  • Have faith. All things in life are temporary, but God is steadfast. Learn to rely on Him.
  • You know the walls surrounding the gym floor at those junior high dances? Yeah, they don’t need your help to stay standing. And neither do you need to wait for someone to lead you out onto the floor. Use your own two feet to get out there and boogie.
  • Don’t be afraid to try something new. Hidden talents and secret passions aren’t discovered by staying in your comfort zone.
  • Your family and friends provide the foundation for a full life. Treat them with love and respect.
  • Live in the moment. The past cannot be altered and the future will unveil itself soon enough. So wake up, pay attention, and embrace the present.

If you had the chance to speak to your younger self, what advice would you give to her/him?