HOW DO YOU FEEL?

Jack Benny circa 1959 © 1978 Glenn Embree

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 18:  Deepak Chopra attends The Chopra Well Launch Event at Espace on July 18, 2012 in New York City.  (Photo by D Dipasupil/WireImage)

Elizabeth Willis Barrett……………..May 2015

When I was in High School I played the violin in the school orchestra.  I don’t think I was ever first chair but perhaps I had that honor for a week or two.  Back then not many were taking private violin lessons so the competition wasn’t so great.  Our foreign exchange student Rafael from Italy played the violin, too.

One day Jack Benny came to town.  For those of you much younger and unknowledgeable about historic stars, Jack Benny was a comedienne and entertainer.  He died in 1974 so you might have missed him.  In some of his acts, he played the violin, albeit badly, for comedic effect.  For some reason Rafael and I were asked to have our picture taken with him because we, too, played the violin.  Perhaps because we didn’t play so well, either.  I don’t know.

I wish I were a rememberer of details so I could tell a more accurate and spellbinding story.  But I don’t remember where we were for the picture.  I’m sure Jack Benny didn’t come to Westwood High School for this marvelous opportunity.  Unfortunately I don’t remember much about this significant event in my life except that I was having a bad hair day—which is always a thing to remember—and that this picture made it into the Mesa Tribune, the local newspaper.  If I were in total control of my faculties and scrapbooks, I would scan the picture for you.

But most of all—and this is what my point is—I remember how Jack Benny made me feel.  He didn’t smile.  He cared nothing for Raphael or me.  He wasn’t interested in us.  We were the little people and he was the star and he was putting up with this photo shoot because for some reason he had to.  For all the times he had made people laugh and for all of his fame and most likely great wealth—although he always joked about pinching pennies—he didn’t know how to treat the people that didn’t matter to him.

Just last week I had a similar experience.  I was very lucky to be able to attend an event where Deepak Chopra was the keynote speaker.  For those of you who haven’t heard of Deepak Chopra, he is a prolific writer, speaker and New Age guru.  We were also in the pre-luncheon group that met for a question and answer session with him.  His answers were wise and insightful as he stood before us in his loose jeans, red tennis shoes and Indian shirt which may or may not be called a kurta.  Since we were at a ribbon cutting for a wonderful new drug rehab facility, some of the questions were asked by concerned parents of newly reformed drug addicts.  Dr. Chopra knew so much and talked about the importance of ………..of……………  I don’t remember what he said!  And maybe this is why:

That night was a final gathering with wonderful food and company.  I saw Dr. Chopra sitting at a table surrounded by adoring fans.  When some of them left his side and it looked like he might be uncomfortably alone for a moment, I hesitantly approached him to ask my question.

“Dr. Chopra, do one of your books address the problems of addiction?”

He looked at me like I was intruding on his transcendental  meditation.  Without a smile, a greeting, or any gesture of welcome, he simply answered in a very dead pan voice:

Overcoming Addiction.”

There was nothing for me to do but say a meek “thank you” and go stand in the non-alcoholic cocktail line.

Maybe I was asking too much.  Maybe I had looked forward to meeting him for too long and had imagined a much warmer encounter.  Maybe I am just way too sensitive.  But the guy has written approximately eighty-two books with titles that include The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success and The Ultimate Happiness Prescription.  Don’t you think that in all of that research and all of that writing he would have picked up some pointers on how to make others feel accepted and welcomed?  Has he not learned how to treat the little people who have bought his books and attended his seminars and brought him to his great success?

Maybe I caught both Jack and Deepak in the “off” position.  No one can be “on” all the time.  But even the big guys should know that “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

If I’m ever in a “star” position—and it’s looking a little late for that—I hope I’ll remember how I want to make people—all people—feel.  And truly, at one time or another, we are each a “star” to someone.

Carl W. Buehner has been credited with saying, “They may forget what you said — but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

He was right—you never forget.

CLIFF NOTES

cliff

Elizabeth Willis Barrett………….April 2015

“Stay away from the cliff,” Mama called to Charlie for the 426th time, but Charlie didn’t listen even though he pretended to.  He’d heard those words so many times that they just bounced off his hard reward-centered brain like a ping pong ball and got imbedded in the walls with all the other words he didn’t like hearing.

“Don’t go near it or you’ll fall off!”  Mom’s voice got hysterical as it always did but Charlie grinned and promised again that he’d never get close enough to fall over its edge.

“Silly Mama,” he nearly added as he put a slight shake in his head and continued his exit through the kitchen door and out into the inky blackness.  As usual he called back:

“Just lookin’, Mama.  Just checking it out.  Trust me.  Don’t worry.”

Those words: “Trust me” and “Don’t worry” had become for Mama a red flag that was heaved and waved and blazed with the words “Don’t trust me, Mama, and you’d sure as heck better worry.”  The flag waved so close to her in her waking hours and as she tried to sleep that it was hard to see anything else—-the pride of Marie’s straight A report card, the thrill of Margo’s piano recital.  “Don’t trust me, Mama. Worry.” had become an unwelcome and constant mantra.

It was a dangerous place to live Mama knew, but they had tried other places.  And those had had their own cliffs and dangers.  Was there anywhere in the world that didn’t have a unique set of perils?  The four other children didn’t have a problem with the cliff.  They stayed away and found activities that kept them from even looking in the cliff’s direction.

But Charlie was different.  For some reason, known only to the Creator of all mankind, his focus was riveted on the cliff and no matter how many times Mama told him to stay away, there he was just teetering on its edge.  Mama begged and pleaded and bribed but it didn’t make any difference.  She might as well have been attempting to teach math to a cougar.  It didn’t stop her from trying though.  Somewhere in her vast vocabulary, there must be just the right words she could say.  And in all of her abundance of great ideas there must be one that would finally illuminate Charlie, make him see the error of his ways and get him back on the path leading far from the edge of the cliff.

On a particularly terrifying night Mama heard Charlie calling from a distance and knew at once what had happened…finally happened….inescapably happened.  Mama jumped out of bed and grabbed the rope she kept nearby for this anticipated emergency and ran out into the night barefoot and nightgowned.

“Charlie,” she called.  “Charlie?” more insistent.  “Charlie, Mama is here.  Tell me exactly where you are so I can help you.”

Mama ran along the edge of the cliff forcing her eyes to slide away the darkness so she would know where to throw the rope.

“Here, Mama.”  Finally a faint call and she heaved the rope over the edge.

“Grab it, Charlie.  Grab it.  I’ll pull you up.  Grab it, Charlie.”  Her voice was choking.  Her eyes were streaming.  What if she wasn’t strong enough to pull him up?  What if her hands slipped?  What if he was too heavy for her and he pulled her down over the cliff instead?

And that’s what happened.  Mama gave one futile tug and  Charlie’s weight—bloated with defiance, selfish arrogance, stupidity and disregard for her well-being and safety—pulled her down over the cliff and she landed with an agonized crumple on top of him.

“I’m sorry, Mama,” whispered Charlie when he could finally speak.  “I’m sorry, Mama.  I won’t go to the edge again.  I won’t.  You’ll see.”

Hope eased into Mama’s battered limbs.  “This fall was worth it,” she thought. “At last he will stay away from the cliff and we can all pay attention to other things.”

After Mama and Charlie were ceremoniously and painfully rescued, Charlie kept his word—for a time, a short time.  Then the old pattern blasted back ready for battle.  Charlie spent even more time at the edge of the cliff and Mama spent even more time trying to keep him away.  The other children felt neglected.  The Disneyland fund was spent on a protective—but ineffective—wall.  The money set aside for a new bathroom was spent on classes for Charlie.  In them he was supposed to learn ways to stay away from the cliff. But he didn’t learn them and he didn’t stay away.

Mama never ventured far from home since she needed always to be ready to save Charlie from himself.  She was missing out on a lot of things she had planned on doing at this stage of her life.  But isn’t that what mothers do? Sacrifice? She adored Charlie.  She’d give her life for him.

Her saving attempts forcefully wrenched her over the cliff so often that she had lost count of the times and the bruises and Charlie’s whispered and insincere promises ceased to make the fall worthwhile.

One night while lying in the muck at the bottom of the cliff with Charlie’s assurances rattling around in her despairing mind, other words came to her that she had heard over and over:

“You have to let him go.”

“You are as addicted to Charlie as Charlie is to the cliff.”

“He will never stay away from the cliff if you keep rescuing him.”

At last those words made sense to her.  Here at the bottom of the cliff, wallowing with her beloved son, those words finally made sense.  And something happened.

It had tried to happen before but Mama just hadn’t been desperate enough.  Perhaps she hadn’t hit the rock bottom that all the experts raved about.  She had thought the rock bottom analogy was for Charlie’s necessary change.  But maybe rock bottom applied to her, too.  And she had hit it.

“No where to go but up,” she thought.  And saying nothing, she walked away, ignoring Charlie’s calls of “Mama, Mama.  Where are you going?  You’re not going to leave me down here all alone.  Mama?”  At last Mama found a way to climb out of the gloom and home again.

After that, Mama lived her life.  After all, if she didn’t, who would?  And Charlie lived his.  It wasn’t the best life to be wished on a son, but it was his life and little by little it started getting better.  When Charlie finally understood that Mama wasn’t going to be his savior anymore, he started reaching down into his own rescuing options and found that he had a few to choose from. With tedious effort, he eventually turned from the cliff and explored paths that held greater promise.

For Mama, life became doable again.  Joy invaded the cracks made by everyday happenings and peace left its calling card much more often.

The cliff, the looming hated cliff,  seemed to dissolve into the horizon and Mama, just like Charlie, gladly turned her back on it and followed safer paths.  Sometimes she even followed Charlie—but not too often and not too close.

GET OUT OF MY MORNING!

Person_Stretching_under_the_Sun

Elizabeth Willis Barrett………….January 13, 2015

I love mornings.  Not that I have gotten up early enough lately to claim their full benefits.  When I’ve had to catch a very early flight to Seattle or Salt Lake or take someone to a 5:00 am job appointment, I realize how much I am missing by not getting up at 5:00 every morning.  Getting to bed in a timely manner to allow a 5:00 am reveille hasn’t happened for a while.  But it really is a shame to miss those early hours when the sun is beginning to stretch and blaze its promise across the sky.  It is so beautiful and renewing.  To me, morning is when the vital doings of the day must be done. As the day moves along toward sunset, it seems to collapse and press down on all the remaining minutes leaving them rather unproductive.

If I had my way, I would wake up to an empty house with all other occupants hard at work somewhere else.  I wouldn’t need to help anyone find a missing phone or satchel or point out that the peanut butter is right where it has been for at least the last 10 years.  I wouldn’t hear the radio blaring out heart deflating accounts of kidnappings and murders and political sniveling.  My psyche is so fragile that an overheard bit of bad news acts like a stiff scrubbing brush to my good humor and sense of well being.  And although I really love to hear new insights on religion and the way of the country gained by deep spousal study, morning is not the time to pour any new found truths into my brain.  In the morning, the mixer of my cerebrum is whirring with other ingredients and extra bits and pieces are likely to get flung aside, my congeniality with them.

In the morning, I’m trying to concentrate on my weekly list.  It is a very long to-do list that I usually write out during Church on Sunday. I want to get on with the day and that list without any interruptions.  That is probably a very selfish desire.  But I’m just trying to put on my own breathing mask first so I can help others put on their breathing masks, so to speak.  And to me, that means getting certain things done in the morning.

For instance, if I don’t “stretch with Jane” before 8:00 am, the opportunity for that particular get-it-done item will be gone for the day. Without this stretching (which I have tried to do every morning for about 30 years since I discovered the wonderful DVD of Jane Fonda called “Start Up”) my aging body will just quit moving all together, and what help would I be to anyone then?

Next, I need to be totally ready for the day—showered, dressed, blown, curled, contacted, made up.  It is very deflating to look in the mirror at mid-day and realize that several of these points didn’t get addressed.  Of course, by then even the addressed items must be re-addressed.  If someone wants me to do something—after my morning, of course—I want to be ready.

There are about ten things I really want to get done each day and morning is the best time to do them.  Without distractions, I could easily get them all done by ten or eleven and then I would be eager to get on with the interaction and saving of others.  Not that anyone will need saving by then or want to interact either.

Again I find that I am not only thinking outside the box but outside the universe of my family and friends who are ready to engage way before I am.  Maybe they’ve already secured their own breathing masks and they are trying to help me with mine.  As usual, I could use some help. That universe has tried for years to teach me that warm, wonderful people are far more important than crossing items off my lists. So, come back into my mornings and my days and my nights and I will try to be more discreet as I’m making a list and checking it twice.

A LITTLE SAMPLER OF LIFE

 

cross_stitch_samplers

Elizabeth Willis Barrett………October 19, 2014

When I was little, I went to Primary—faithfully.  I usually walked.  Once I called my Aunt Mona and asked her to take me but she said no.  It wasn’t that far and she knew I could easily walk it in about seven minutes.  Mom was at work or I certainly wouldn’t have asked Aunt Mona.  She would have felt really badly if I had been kidnapped on the way.  I think.  I never tried the Aunt Mona avenue of travel again.  I loved Primary.  We’d have opening exercises and then go into classes.

Do you think that in the hereafter we will get our full memories back?  Because right now I can’t remember sitting in class.  I easily remember that one of my Primary teachers was killed in a terrible car accident.  I can still feel a deep sorrow with that memory.  That was the first time I learned that someone in MY church could die unexpectedly.  I was pretty sheltered.  Anyway it was a terrible blow to her family and to all of us who knew her.  It shook my faith.  So God doesn’t always protect you even when you pray every day, “…….and let no harm or accident befall us”?

I just read on the Internet (and how could that ever be wrong?) that nine, ten and eleven year old Primary girls became LiHoMas.  And all this long while, I thought we were called Liahonas, named after the golden instrument of direction found by Lehi in the desert in the Book of Mormon.  But nope!  I guess we were LiHoMas which stood for Little Home Makers.  Whew!  I like Liahonas much better!

To be more specific, the nine year old girls were named Larks, the ten year old girls were named Bluebirds and the eleven year old girls were named Seagulls.  The most significant thing from Primary that I remember is making a sampler.  I really need to find mine so I can scan it and let you see it.  It is a real work of art.  I still remember what was so carefully stitched onto that sampler in cross stitch of various colors:

Greet the Day With a Song

Make Others Happy

Serve Gladly

My friend Louise and I used to work on our samplers together once in awhile.  I was a very tall LiHoMa and she was a small one.  Once she wanted to work on our samplers in a top cupboard in their guest room.  Why?  I don’t know!  But my body didn’t quite fold as well as hers did and that experience might have added to my extreme claustrophobia.

I am proud of myself for getting my sampler completed at all since many craft projects like that never make it to finé. Maybe the finishing of it gave me an extra doodad on my bandlo which I thought was called a bandalo—a felt thing you wore around your neck like a long collar.   Neither of those words is in the dictionary, by the way.  Interesting what you can learn on the internet.  My whole childhood could be changed if I’m not careful of what I look up.

Anyway, aren’t those wonderful words?  The words on my sampler, I mean.

Tomorrow I’m going to try to put them into practice and see what happens.

IN DEFENSE OF SARAH’S MOM

TemplepillsLisa Ling

Elizabeth Willis Barrett…………Oct 14, 2014

The other day I watched “This is Life with Lisa Ling: Inside Utah’s Struggle with Drug Abuse.”  She showed that even though Mormons have a strict health guide, they are still falling in high numbers to the addiction of pain pills.  I felt that she was very compassionate in her interviews.  She attended a Mormon Addiction Recovery Program meeting, spoke with a Mormon Bishop and in addition to others, met with a very candid girl named Sarah.

I didn’t learn about the danger of prescription pills until my son was in high school.  He went to a friend of mine who worked in the school’s bookstore and asked her for one of her pain pills.   Very responsibly, this friend called me before giving him one.  She told me that Jeffrey had come to her saying that his back really hurt.  As a football player, Jeffrey had many reasons to have a hurting back.  I told her it was OK to give him one of her pills.  Unbelievable, I know.  Looking back, I am astounded at my naiveté.  I had no idea that I had just given my consent to an addiction that would become so full blown that we wouldn’t see the end of it for fifteen years.  I knew nothing about addictions and, of course, nothing about the role pills play in dependency.

Drugs were so out of my realm of consciousness.  I had five nearly perfect children.  It was very interesting to watch the Ling program because it stressed the obsession we as Mormons tend to have with perfection.  We don’t want anyone to know that our family might be having problems, so disasters like drug addiction can be swept under the rug of denial for years.  Although that’s probably not solely a Mormon dilemma.

Lisa showed how easy it is to get addicted.  Many start innocently with prescription pills given by a well-meaning doctor.  When pills get too scarce or expensive many turn to heroin and other illegal drugs.  Addicts need their next hit just like everyone needs their next breath of oxygen and they’ll do about anything to get it.

When Lisa Ling was interviewing Sarah—a full blown heroin addict—she asked her if she wanted to quit.  “More than you’ll know,” said Sarah.  Lisa also asked Sarah what she wanted.  Sarah’s answer was that she just wanted a hug from her Mom.

Sarah’s Mom, who was never named, might have sounded like an unfeeling woman, one who wouldn’t even hug her daughter.  But not to me.  I have been that mom to some degree and I praise her for her courage.  It takes a lot of courage to divorce your addicted child and let her determine on her own that she is ready to pay the price for sobriety.  I would guess that Sarah’s Mom has already spent years hugging and encouraging and saving Sarah from the consequences of her disastrous choices.  After all, she is raising Sarah’s child which is a difficult thing to do after raising your own children.  I would also assume that Sarah’s Mom has been lied to and stolen from because that is what addicts do—they lie and they steal.  Enough is enough.

Brad and I have had many couples sitting in our living room trying to absorb any advice we can give them about dealing with their own addicted children.  We tell them all the same thing that a recovered addict told us:  “There is nothing you as a parent can do or say that will change your child.  They are the ones who have to decide when they are really ready to walk the difficult path of recovery.”  We also tell them of helps that are available to parents and meetings that would strengthen their resolve.  Most parents don’t like our advice.

I am assuming that Sarah’s Mom finally arrived at the point we all must come to: we are not helping our children by enabling them.  We are not helping our children by giving them a nice place to live and driving them places and paying for their needs.  They will never recover until it is harder to be an addict than it is to be sober.  When we make life easy for them,  addicted children continue farther down that destructive path and there is no retrieving them.  Our son wasn’t willing to get ultimate help until he had been homeless for about a year—living behind dumpsters and on the canal bank in a bush, panhandling for money to get more drugs.  We couldn’t coddle him anymore.  We couldn’t bring him home.  We had to go on with our lives and let him go on with his even though his path might lead to death.

So to Sarah’s Mom I would say that there are many imperfect Mormon Moms who are behind you right now, wishing you the best and saying, “Hang in there, Sarah’s Mom.  You are doing the right thing.  The only right thing!”

I wish I could tell Sarah that although she wants to be clean she didn’t sound like she was quite ready to throw herself into a program where she’d have to give her all into getting well.  With the nation watching, I imagine that many would step up to help her into a rehab if she had said that she was ready and willing to go right now.  But when she is done, truly done with her addiction, there is help for her.

Our son finally got the help he needed in a 24 month program that changed his thinking and his life.  It is called the John Volken Academy . It was started by a wonderful philanthropist and costs next to nothing. Two years seems like a very long time to be in a program, but the many expensive thirty day and three month programs worked only for a little while and then the addiction returned.  When you are deep into addiction, a few months isn’t going to pull you out. Thanks to John Volken we have our son back—our wonderful son.

And one day, Sarah, if you are willing to make recovery your first and only priority, your Mom will get you back .  And, I promise, the hugs won’t stop.

a MAZING grace

 

parking

Elizabeth Willis Barrett

There are some things that I think the men of this world, or the women, if they are in charge, should discuss with those of us who are not in charge before major decisions are made.  We have lots to say that could be of benefit to many people.  One involves the efficiency of floor plans.  Another is the complete imbecility of the technology needed to simply watch the news on TV and another has to do with parking.

Every time I go to Trader Joe’s or Michaels on the corner of Gilbert and Baseline, I am perturbed by the parking lot.  It truly is a maze, especially when one enters from the most western entrance off Baseline.  The main complaint I have about it is that when you go down a row looking for a parking space, since you can enter the row from both ends, invariably the empty spaces are on the left while you must park on the right.  The only way to access those spaces on the left is to drive clear around and come into the row the other way, which, if you read my other blog essay entitled “Dumbing It Up,” isn’t always easy.

I think parking rows should all be in one direction. You should be able to drive toward Michaels and park on the left or right or enter a row driving away from Michaels and still be able to park on the left or right.  Do you get what I’m talking about?  Life is confusing enough without this dilemma.

When you park in front of Fry’s, the Powers That Be did it the right way.  You drive toward Fry’s and you can park on the left or right.  You drive away from Fry’s and you can park on the left or right.  Easy!  You have twice as many parking spaces to choose from without switching your direction.  Parking in front of Macy’s is the same.

I know we are each different and the longer I live, the greater seems to be my wandering from society’s mainstream, but I really don’t see any advantage of the two way parking and just had a need to tell someone.

Not that those in charge will listen, but at least I’ve said it!

 

Waste Not Want Not

Waste not Want Not

Elizabeth Willis Barrett

I don’t know if my title’s adage has been proven to be true, but I know that I hate to waste anything.  I got this trait from very conservative parents.  My Dad took some Boy Scouts on a campout and one of the boys swore that my dad would have had him save his spit.  I’m sure Dad didn’t go that far, but he did not like people to be wasteful, especially little annoying Boy Scouts.  When my parents would go out to eat with that boy’s parents, Dad would comment on how wasteful the boy’s mother was because she would leave so much food on her plate.  He wondered why she would order so much in the first place only to let it go to waste.  Waste rankled him.

It rankles me, too.  No matter how much I ever have, and I am lucky enough at the moment to have enough, I never want to be wasteful.  I think all our resources should be governed well and used conservatively.

Unfortunately, in an effort to not be wasteful, I save.  And I save things much too long.

Sometimes I save them for some perfect future event which, of course, never comes.  When I was in grade school, someone gave me a jar full of fancy soaps. I kept them in the bathroom and no one ever used them.  I was saving them for just the right use.  Guests maybe?  Anyway, that pretty jar of pink oval soap sat on the back of the toilet in the upstairs bathroom for years.  If the house hadn’t been sold and literally moved away, they’d be there still.

I hang on to toothpaste tubes until I have squeezed the very last fraction of toothpaste out–probably a penny’s worth which could hardly pay for the Herculean effort to extract it.  I rest near empty shampoo bottles upside down to gather what’s left and then add a little water to get the last dredges.  You can get at least two more uses out of the bottle that way.  I wrap up leftover tidbits from Sunday dinner and cram them in the freezer to spend time with last month’s bounty and once day-old bread.  Someday we’ll be glad to have chicken cacciatore again.  I hope.

There are many things in my closet that I should let pass on to more accommodating owners.  But it seems quite wasteful to get rid of things that still have price tags even though it has been two years since I gleaned them at some fantastic Macy’s sale.  I just might find something to go with that unattractive top if I hang on to it a little longer.

I don’t like to throw puzzles away if there is a slight chance that the missing piece will be found or discard the five single socks that must have mates somewhere around the house.  I hang on to music that I’ve never sung or played because someone gave it to me and I don’t want to waste their thoughtfulness.

I file away articles I will probably never read and recipes that haven’t made it to a dinner plate because I don’t want to waste the time some teacher took to run them off for me or the paper on which they were run.  Silly, I know.  But I feel I owe it to a hard working instructor to hold on to her handouts for a while anyway.

As far as purchases go, I have made a great attempt to be more discerning before I pull out my credit card to be swiped.  It’s obviously much wiser and less wasteful to not bring things home at all if they’re just going to be thrown out within a month.

The wasting of time is another squandering that puts me into a frantic internal realm of rebellion, but I’ve already written much on that and will continue to do so.

For now, all this talk of saving is getting to me.  Excuse me while I go clean out the files and make a pile of clothes to go to Goodwill!