January 16, 2022

Suicide

by Rod Smith

Writers search within themselves for opening lines. Like athletes may recall a winning goal or an impossible rugby try, we admire a good one. My all-time favorite is Frederick Buechner’s opener of his memoir “Telling Secrets.” It lulls. It seduces. Then, all in one sentence, it delivers an unforgettable punch. I’d love to know how long it took him to perfect.

Buechner’s opener recalls that early one morning his father popped into the bedroom preteen-Frederick shared with his brother – the sentence suggests something habitual or repetitive is occurring – and then made his way to the garage, where within minutes, his father died at his own hand from exhaust fumes.

The sad event, the dad, the loss was never explained or referred to or talked about. Not ever.

The opener hit me hard as intended. Bullseye. The words on the page parraleled what suicide does to survivors. It takes us by complete surprise and it is then often locked away within forever, layered in shame, buried in secrecy, hidden like a lost or hidden grave.

Please, get the help you need, before you make a permanent choice over what are most surely powerful and driving destructive emotions. Help is available. There are armies of people waiting to help you.

January 12, 2022

Walking Away

by Rod Smith

“I have had worse partings,” writes Irish poet Cecil Day-Lewis in “Walking Away.” 

“Like a satellite wrenched from its orbit, go drifting away,” writes Lewis, having watched his son, “a hesitant figure, eddying away like a winged seed loosened from its parent stem.” 

Lewis, observing from a distance, sees the boy disappear into a mass of boys each beginning his new phase of life at boarding school. 

Lewis knows the inevitable separation necessary for his son’s selfhood, independence, then, interdependence but it nonetheless “gnaws” at his soul. 

The poet accepts the process of “nature’s give and take.”

I have held onto these words for decades, tried, for much longer, to live within the idea that everything that is living requires space. Everything living desires room to grow, room to be free, openness to leave the nest, and access to a “nest” willing to accept the ebbs and flows of life and growth.  

Now that my sons are both young adults I read Lewis’s closing lines – in fact the whole poem – vastly differently than I did before. 

I have had front row seats, watched two boys learn to crawl, then walk, then run towards manhood. 

“Selfhood begins with walking away and love is proved in letting go,” concludes Lewis.

January 11, 2022

Friends

by Rod Smith

The fingerprints, handprints, voiceprints, and footprints of really good friends

Friends are gentle and kind. They listen to you without judgment or assumption. They respect and honor you just as you offer respect and honor when the tables are turned. Friends are generous and kind. They often intuitively know exactly what you need, be it a good laugh, a welcoming shoulder for support or tears.

Friends learn to hear each other even if no one is talking, mutually hearing what is said and not said. You can read between the lines with each other and yet be careful to not jump to easy conclusions.

Your good friends will go the extra mile with you and for you so you may not have to leave your home. They will also go the extra mile with you in the event a literal journey is inevitable.

Your friends let you know you are not alone without having to say so. They bear your load, serve you in ways you may never thought necessary. Your friends know you well and want the best for you and mutuality, respect and equality are the hallmarks of what you enjoy together.

January 9, 2022

You have superpowers

by Rod Smith

I would like to remind you that you are endowed with superpowers. 

While you may not feel powerful or think of yourself as powerful, you are. 

It comes with your humanity. 

The superpowers to which I refer have nothing to do with money or status or what are generally considered necessary to be influential and, and this is most important,  they cannot be taken from you. 

You can only give them away. 

When you use them, by giving them away, they are immediately replenished so  you will never run out.  

You have the superpower of friendship. This is the capacity to reach out to people who think they have none.  

You have the superpower of generosity – the power to give of your time and talents to others and the ability to share what you have in excess. 

You have the superpower of grace – the ability to offer others room for error and failings and the privilege of being as imperfect as each of us is. 

You have the superpower of forgiveness. You can offer people, even those who do not deserve it, a clean slate and the opportunity to “start over.”

You have  the superpower of hospitality – the capacity to be open and welcoming to others, all others. 

Five radical powers all wrapped up in one person, you.

January 4, 2022

Larger than life

by Rod Smith

I know you have met or read about people who are “larger than life.” Perhaps you had a teacher or two who you may now describe as such. I was posed the question, “What makes somebody larger than life?” I’d like to hear your ideas and I am pleased to share mine with you.

The men and women I have met who are so described have all, without fail:

Been committed to purposes larger than themselves and from a long, long before that commitment made them appear larger than life. They never set out to become larger than life but wanted without fail to make life larger for others, even others whom they would never know or meet.

They embraced their own failings and shortcomings and decided these inevitable wounds and scars would  not impede or limit their passion to advance the causes in which they believed. 

They were and are listeners – regarding others as important, not as a trick, but because they are. When with them you feel as if you are the only person he or she has ever encountered. 

They have all had a handful of close friends who are unimpressed with who and what they are and who are able to tell them the truth as they see it. People who are larger than life are accountable to others.

December 30, 2021

Last Mercury column of 2021

by Rod Smith

May 2021, despite its challenges, losses, griefs, depart with our appreciation so we can roll out the red carpet of grace to welcome 2022.    

If today you had a meal, took a walk, even if it was a few steps, may you be filled with gratitude. 

You are rich!

If you have a place to live, a space to call your own, or you live with people who have offered you hospitality, may you be filled with gratitude and joy.

You are wealthy! 

If you have talked with kind people today and been able to return kindness and enjoy shared humor, may you wallow, yes, wallow, in the profound grace you have been afforded. 

If you have been able to earn your living today or are benefitting from a career from which you have retired or living off the benefits of the hard work of a spouse or parent then give thanks and dance for joy. 

Please, please, be ardently aware there are no self-made people. If, and while, you and I think of ourselves as “self-made” we will ooze arrogance and selfishness and prove to make 2022 not only difficult for those who love us but also difficult for ourselves.

December 26, 2021

Doldrum Days

by Rod Smith

I call the handful of days between Christmas and New Year the Doldrum Days. Perhaps I had heard it somewhere or it is a product of my imagination. 

Mr. Hockey, my high school geography teacher, taught us about the Doldrums, the lack of driving winds around the Equator as I understood it. 

The elements from above and below the Equator were somehow canceling each other out, making it tough for sailing ships to get wind in their sails. 

The days between Christmas and New Year are then for me aptly named. 

One year is pulling up ahead revealing its potential pressures. 

The old one lingering, trying to avoid its inevitable exit. 

It is last-gasping and we are in the middle, often exhausted and wondering why we may feel as if we have no wind in our sails. 

I am planning to use these days to rest. 

I don’t mean sleep all day although it is an appealing thought. 

I am going to rest from self-imposed pressures. I am going to rest from feeling as if I have to meet every personal deadline, the minutiae of housekeeping, and so forth. I am going to let the lack of currents take me nowhere. Then, around 36 hours prior to the arrival of 2022, I will reset my sails, chart a map for the coming year.

December 13, 2021

Unkindness to elderly parents

by Rod Smith

 I have noticed a theme emerging: adult sons and daughters dominating and being severely unkind to elderly parents. 

If you are an adult son or daughter inflicting this kind of pain on your parents, I beseech you to stop. 

You’re doing yourself no favors, never mind the pain you are inflicting on a parent or parents.

I have heard this behavior excused with, “she was a terrible mother and she deserves it”  or “he worked all the time when I was a child, I can’t be available whenever he wants.” 

I’ve also heard things like, “you have no idea what I have put up with, he’s lucky I talk to him at all.”

 I implore you, please stop. Unkindness now will fix nothing of a painful past.

 If it’s humanly possible, search your heart for grace and forgiveness even if it is underserved.

 It’s an extremely rare parent who sets out to hurt their child. 

It’s an extremely unusual mom or dad who intentionally created an unhealthy relationship with you, their child. 

If you’re able to find forgiveness and exercise grace, you will find welcome freshness entering your life.

It is possible. 

I’ve seen it many times. 

Turn to loving rather than paying back or settling scores and grace will re-enter your life in ways you never imagined.

December 8, 2021

Stutter and other fears

by Rod Smith

People who have read my work probably don’t know that I am a chronic stutterer. 

Chronic does not mean I always stutter. It means it is always a possibility and it is managed, not cured. 

The occasional person who has known me a long time will ask how I got over it.

My plan of attack became an approach for many issues I have faced. 

Please, insert your own issue or fear, and I hope you will find this helpful.  

I read as much as I could about stuttering. Then, I moved from the research and wrote honestly, even brutally about my experiences. 

As much as possible, I became an expert about my issue. 

This exercise took a few months and did wonders for the scared little boy within me.  

These were the keys: Be brutally honest. Look issues in the eye. Address scary things head-on. Difficult and scary situations might not go away but they will back down. 

If whatever it is, digs in its heels, don’t back down. 

Remind yourself that you are much more than a stutter. 

Put yourself at ease by talking about the very thing that is difficult at the moment. 

Make a plan. Be prepared. Become a resource for others

Does this approach always work? 

Of course not.

December 7, 2021

Things that usually reduce anxiety

by Rod Smith

Reconnect in person with old friends and family with whom you have really good memories and do a little re-living the past together. Try not to venture into gossip or into unresolved areas of conflict. Recalling the good times is soul-soothing.

Rearrange a room or two in  your home. Do a little deep cleaning at the same time. Get rid of clutter and things you know you will never use again. Sometimes you have to focus on making your space as beautiful as possible. Doing so is likely to ease your mind of anxious activity. 

Write about your life in short vignettes capturing moments that are important to you. Allow the vignettes to lead into each other like stepping stones across a pond. Don’t be overly concerned about grammar until you are well into the process and even then remind yourself you are writing for yourself. It is the process of recalling and writing that is important. 

Make phone calls to people who have loved you and those whom you have loved and express your thanks. Prepare for the calls so that you do not get hooked into unresolved matters or gossip. You are calling to express your love and your thanks and that is it.