On job security

So, one day a few years ago I was walking across campus early in the Fall Semester. One of the maintenance guys was in the quad raking leaves. Now, the quad had quite a few trees in it, so raking leaves was a pretty monumental job, and he was out there on his own tackling it.

I stopped, said hello to him, and went on to say something about what an arduous, thankless job raking the leave was. I looked around at all the trees, and said something about how many leaves were still up there, and how interminable it must feel to him.

He smiled at me, looked up at the same trees and leaves and said, “Oh no, Miss. That there is job security.”

It’s all how you see it. I’ve never looked at raking in quite the same way.

That brief conversation helped to nudge me to see more of life and the world around me as a gift – if only I have the eyes for seeing!

Life Lessons

We are kind of on the cusp of the New Year’s resolutions moment. And that got me to thinking about things I/we might have learned over the course of a lifetime. As I was web surfing, I came across this compilation of life lessons and I thought I would share it with you.  Enjoy!!


I learned that I like my teacher because she cries when we sing “Silent Night”. Age 5

I learned that our dog doesn’t want to eat my broccoli either. Age 7

I learned that when I wave to people in the country, they stop what they are doing and wave back. Age 9

I learned that just when I get my room the way I like it, Mom makes me clean it up again. Age 12

I learned that if you want to cheer yourself up, you should try cheering someone else up. Age 14

I learned that although it’s hard to admit it, I’m secretly glad my parents are strict with me. Age 15

I learned that silent company is often more healing than words of advice. Age 24

I learned that brushing my child’s hair is one of life’s great pleasures. Age 26

I learned that wherever I go, the world’s worst drivers have followed me there. Age 29

I learned that if someone says something unkind about me, I must live so that no one will believe it. Age 30

I learned that there are people who love you dearly but just don’t know how to show it. Age 42

I learned that you can make some one’s day by simply sending them a little note. Age 44

I learned that the greater a person’s sense of guilt, the greater his or her need to cast blame on others. Age 46

I learned that children and grandparents are natural allies. Age 47

I learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow. Age 48

I learned that singing “Amazing Grace” can lift my spirits for hours. Age 49

I learned that motel mattresses are better on the side away from the phone. Age 50

I learned that you can tell a lot about people by the way they handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. Age 51

I learned that keeping a vegetable garden is worth a medicine cabinet full of pills. Age 52

I learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you miss them terribly after they die. Age 53

I learned that making a living is not the same thing as making a life. Age 58

I learned that if you want to do something positive for your children, work to improve your marriage. Age 61

I learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance. Age 62

I learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands. You need to be able to throw something back. Age 64

I learned that if you pursue happiness, it will elude you. But if you focus on your family, the needs of others, your work, meeting new people, and doing the very best you can, happiness will find you. Age 65

I learned that whenever I decide something with kindness, I usually make the right decision. Age 66

I learned that everyone can use a prayer. Age 72

I learned that even when I have pains, I don’t have to be one. Age 82

I learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love that human touch-holding hands, a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back. Age 90

I learned that I still have a lot to learn. Age 92

Author unknown


Lanterns in the Church

Sometimes you find a story within a story. This story is one of those. I heard it nestled within a story called “Christmas has a secret” by Michael Drury.  The larger story left me kind of wanting. It was about giving bread to others while you are comforted by the knowledge/hope/expectation that in your time of need you will be given all that you need – and more. For me that is kind of like the platitude that the measure with which you give you will receive in turn, and you will receive it back pressed down and flowing over.  I KNOW I am missing something with those stories, but I keep hearing them as teaching that you should be generous because of what it will do for you in the long run – generosity as self-serving and selfish.  Call me old fashioned, but I want to be able to find it in myself (and others) to be generous just for the sake of being generous! Altruism for altruism sake.   But, that is another blog.  So here is the story that really resonated for me (of course with my own little quirks and tweaks:

Once, many years ago, outside a small village in the Tatra Mountains in Poland a lone Gypsy woman heard the bells of a church ringing. Intrigued and cold, she followed the sound thinking she might find some warmth in the church.  When she found the church, it was dark and she could not see anyone else around. But she decided to wait for a while and watch. What else did she have to do that evening?

After a short while, she began to see lights like fireflies in the surrounding woods. As she watched the lights grew brighter, and soon she could tell that those lights were lanterns carried by the families of the congregation as they assembled for the evening’s service. As each family entered the church they would hang their lantern on an iron hook secured within the church’s stone walls. As the families arrived, the church began to glow with the brightness of each and all of the lanterns. After the service, each family removed it’s lantern from the hook and set off through the woods back to its own home.

The woman lingered after the service and asked the pastor about this practice. It was after all a unique way of lighting the church.

The pastor shrugged and said, “it is the only means that we have of lighting our church. When the church was built, it was far too costly for the parish to provide candles to light the church. But it was usual for families to carry their lanterns with them to services. Our church has chosen to carry on that tradition. Now, even to this day, if one of our families does not come to a service, we all feel it. The church is darker by one lantern.  The light and brightness of each family contributes to the whole.”

In the dark night when the earth sleeps – in the time of the winter solstice, of Chanukah, of Christmas, lights dance, the air is scented with hearth fires and spices, homes are polished and decorated. Bells ring and voices are raised in laughter and song. People greet each other and exchange gifts and more freely share their love – all because each human being makes it so. It is up to each of us to shine our light and brighten the darkness.

This time of year is a poignant and powerful reminder of the importance of each lantern, of each light, of each act of loving kindness.

Indeed, if everyone lit just one little candle . . . if everyone gave just one little smile . . . if everyone shared just one act of kindness . . . ah, if!

Love, yes!

I haven’t shared any poetry here for a little while, and the other day I was reading BrainPickings, and came across this poem by e e Cummings. I found myself re-reading it, and just thinking … hmmm, yes. Yes. Love move and yes life. All places, all words. Love, yes. Yes! Love. So, I thought I would share the poem with you . . . what do you find yourself thinking?

love is a place by e e Cummings

love is a place
& through this place of
love move
(with brightness of peace)
all places

yes is a world
& in this world of
yes live
(skillfully curled)
all worlds.

Thinking about Ruth and David and Christmas

Tis the season, and so I find my thought turning to scriptures and relationships. I mean, this is the moment when many folks celebrate the birth of Jesus, right? I got to thinking, Jesus was a descendent of David—that was what got Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem. And David was the son of Jesse, the grandson of Obed and the great grandson of Ruth.

Now my brain does two things with that.

First, Ruth is one of my favorite People of the Book – Ruth of Ruth and Naomi. And that is what this blog is really about.

But second, there is Ruth my sister, and it occurs to me that I have finally recognized Ruthie’s claim to Christmas. You see, when we were really, really little kids, Ruthie would get miffed, because everyone said “Mary Christmas” (who knew for spelling), and not “Ruthie Christmas”.  But think about it, if it weren’t for Ruth and David and the line of their offspring, there would be NO Christmas! So, “Ruthie Christmas” one and all!!

But back to the other Ruth, of Ruth and Naomi. You might remember that Ruth was from Moab, but she married into a Hebrew family.  After a very little while, all of the men in that family died, leaving Ruth, her sister in law Orpah, and their mother in law Naomi widows. Orpah decided to go back to her people. But Ruth said she would stay with Naomi.

Now, Ruth didn’t just say, “Hey Naomi, look, I know you are getting on in year, so I will hang around and help you out.” Oh, no, nothing like that at all. What Ruth said was something more like, “Oh, Naomi, do not ask me to leave you or to not follow you. Dearest Naomi, where ever you go I will go. Where ever you live, there I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God, my God. Where ever you die, I will die, and there also I will be buried. May the lord smite me and more also if anything but death ever parts me from you.”

Now, I’m here to tell you, that is one holy and powerful assertion of love! Indeed, it is a vow of love that has been borrowed and used in many heterosexual wedding ceremonies. So, let us remember that it was first and foremost an assertion of love between two women – two women of the bible who then went on to live a long term committed loving relationship together, a relationship that was acknowledged and blessed by their community.  Two women who have a book of Holy Scripture dedicated to them.

And let us also remember that genealogically, Ruth, one of those two women, is the Great Grandmother of King David, the ancestor of Jesus the Christ whose birth we celebrate shortly! Now this, I think is something to remember, and something for all women who love women to celebrate!!

On Seeing an Apparition of Millicent Fenwick

The other day we were driving through Bernardsville and I noticed a statue of a woman in a little park near the railroad station. Now we have driven down that street often enough that I should have noticed the statue before, but nope, this was my first time noticing it.  I thought I knew who it was, but I wasn’t sure. So, we had to pull the car over so that I could explore. The statue captured a woman just about mid stride, with her arms wide open, ready to embrace the world. That woman in that place could only be one person, and indeed it is Millicent Fenwick. All that was missing was the pipe! (And I later learned that if I had looked more carefully I would have seen the outline of the infamous pipe in her jacket pocket.)

If you are not from Central New Jersey, you are probably saying, “who on earth is Millicent Fenwick? She is the politician with the pipe. She is ‘outhouse Millie’ for her work to secure better working conditions (including sanitary facilities) for migrant workers. She was the Katharine Hepburn of politics.

Mrs. Fenwick was widely known for her wit, zest and idiosyncrasies like her pipe. The story goes that her doctor told her to quit smoking cigarettes and so she took up the pipe.  She has been described as tall and patrician, but down-to-earth. She was the inspiration for Garry Trudeau’s Lacey Davenport character in his “Doonesbury” cartoons.

Mrs. Fenwick came to politics as something of a second career. Before politics, she modeled briefly for Harper’s Bazaar, then worked as a writer and editor at Vogue magazine and compiled “Vogue’s Book of Etiquette” (Simon & Schuster, 1948), which sold a million copies. Her first election was to the New Jersey State Legislature at the age of 59 and then to the US Congress at 64.

Mrs. Fenwick was a lifelong Republican, but she was a woman of her own mind. Even while she was strong willed, she often charmed her ideological adversaries. Her advocacy included a wide variety of issues such as civil rights, peace in Vietnam, aid for asbestos victims, help for the poor, prison reform, strip-mining controls, reduction of military programs, urban renewal, campaign spending limits, gun control and restrictions on capital punishment, and establishing a mechanism to monitor compliance with the 1975 Helsinki accords on human rights.

Walter Cronkite dubbed her the “Conscience of Congress.” She was a strong voice of honesty, integrity, and ethics. When congress voted itself a raise, she thought it improper to give yourself a raise, so, she wrote checks to the U.S. Treasury to reimburse the government for those pay raises members. Not only that, she returned more than $450,000 to the U.S. Treasury in unspent office expenses. She was, not surprisingly, opposed to PAC money and she practiced what she preached. She advocated for campaign finance reform and refused to accept any PAC money.

In 1983, after she lost a race for the US Senate, President Ronald Reagan appointed Mrs. Fenwick as the first U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in Rome. It was the perfect ending to a 50-year career in public service that began with the local school board and ended in a country for which she felt at home and where her brother-in-law was an Italian Count. Fenwick’s fluency in Italian and French, and passion for the issues, served her well at the FAO.

In 1987 Fenwick returned home to Bernardsville, New Jersey. It is there that she was raised, and there that she died in her sleep in 1992, at the age of 82 years old.

Those are some of the facts as I have teased them out from various web sources and from Amy Shapiro’s book, ‘Millicent Fenwick her way.’

For all of the facts, my favorite Millicent Fenwick bit of trivia is this slightly apocryphal attribution to her debating skills: In a debate over equal rights for women, Mrs. Fenwick once recalled that a male legislator said: “I just don’t like this amendment. I’ve always thought of women as kissable, cuddly and smelling good.” To which she replied: “That’s the way I feel about men, too. I only hope for your sake that you haven’t been disappointed as often as I have.”

Oh, and the statue? It was first unveiled in 1995. At that time it was the first outdoor statue of a woman in New Jersey – and one of the first in the country. In 1996 a statue honoring Eleanor Roosevelt was unveiled in Riverside Park in New York City. But by and large most statues of women in the United State are of mythological figures.

Ah, Millie we miss you. We so need your wit, wisdom and integrity.


Wangari Maathai and Hope

Wangari Maathai (1940-2011) was the founder of the Green Belt Movement and the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.

I remember a moment shortly after she was awarded the Nobel Prize, I was celebrating her recognition; I was happy about her work being recognized and about finally a woman being selected. The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded 96 times to 129 laureates. Of those 129 laureates, 26 are organizations and 93 are individuals.  Roughly 52% of the world’s population are women, so you would expect about 48 of those individuals to be women, but your expectations would be shattered. Only 16 women have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. So I am always delighted when a woman is named.

And I remember a splash of cold water that was sprinkled across my joy when I mentioned Wangari Maathai’s selection to one of my friends who said, “Her! All she does is plant trees!”  But of course, there is so much more to planting trees than just planting trees. So, here is a little bit about Wangari Maathai – just because she is on my mind these days . . .

Wangari Muta Maathai was born in Nyeri, a rural area of Kenya (Africa), in 1940. She obtained a degree in Biological Sciences from Mount St. Scholastica College in Atchison, Kansas (1964), a Master of Science degree from the University of Pittsburgh (1966), and pursued doctoral studies in Germany and the University of Nairobi, before obtaining a Ph.D. (1971) from the University of Nairobi, where she also taught veterinary anatomy. The first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree, Professor Maathai became chair of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy and an associate professor in 1976 and 1977 respectively. In both cases, she was the first woman to attain those positions in the region.

The Green Belt Movement (GBM) is an environmental organization that empowers communities, particularly women, to conserve the environment and improve livelihoods. GBM was founded by Professor Wangari Maathai in 1977 under the auspices of the National Council of Women of Kenya (NCWK) to respond to the needs of rural Kenyan women who reported that their streams were drying up, their food supply was less secure, and they had to walk further and further to get firewood for fuel and fencing. GBM encouraged the women to work together to grow seedlings and plant trees to bind the soil, store rainwater, provide food and firewood, and receive a small monetary token for their work.

And here is Wangari Maathai in her own words:

It’s the little things citizens do. That’s what will make the difference. My little thing is planting trees.

When we plant trees, we plant the seeds of peace and hope.

African women in general need to know that it’s OK for them to be the way they are – to see the way they are as a strength, and to be liberated from fear and from silence.

And so I’m saying that, yes, colonialism was terrible, and I describe it as a legacy of wars, but we ought to be moving away from that by now.


And from this I will be remembering, attention to details, that every action contains within it the seeds of much larger actions, that there is strength in who we are as we are, and the importance of learning from the past and then getting over it and moving on to build the future for which we hope.

So, let’s get out our shovels and spades and begin to plant the seeds of the world of our best dreams!

Androcles and the Lion

Sometimes stories that are kind of old and maybe feeling a little worn out are still worth dusting off and looking over one more time – maybe even a couple more times. This story reminds me of the Eleanor Roosevelt quote that we should do at least one thing that frightens us every day. It also reminds me of the Good Samaritan Story (but that is a story for another day). And it also reminds me of the practice of paying it forward. But then it is really just a story about being kind. Or is it?

Once upon a time, it a land all too near to us, there was a slave named Androcles. One day Androcles managed to escape from his master. After Androcles made his way outside the master’s compound he fled into the forest. As he was wandering among the trees looking for a safe place to make a home for himself, he came upon a Lion who was lying under a lotus tree moaning and groaning.

When Androcles saw the lion he was about as scared as he had ever been. At first he turned to run for his life, but he notice that the Lion was not moving to chase him, so he turned back and went a little closer to the lion. When Androcles got closer the Lion put out his paw, which was all swollen and bleeding, and Androcles found that a huge thorn had got into it, and was causing the lion’s foot to swell and become so painful. Androcles took a deep breath, moved closer to the lion and ever so carefully, ever so gently he pulled out the thorn and bound up the lion’s paw.  After a day or so the lion was able to walk on his paw again, and he then licked Androcles’ hand of Androcles like a dog. Then the Lion took Androcles to his cave which they then shared.  When the lion had a successful hunt he would bring some of the meat back to the cave for Androcles to cook for himself.

But as we all know, life has both hills and valleys and all too soon the master’s soldiers found Androcles and they captured both him and the lion.

The master was angry with Androcles for escaping, and he wanted to make an example of him to the other slaves so that they would not attempt escaping, so Androcles was sentenced to be thrown into a pit with the lion, after the lion had been kept without food for several days. The master and all his court and all of the slave came to see the spectacle.

Androcles was led out into the middle of the arena. The hungry lion was let loose from his den, and rushed bounding and roaring towards his soon to be meal. But as soon as the lion came near to Androcles he recognized his friend, and fawned upon him, and licked his hands like a friendly dog. The master was stunned and ordered that Androcles be brought to him. Androcles told the master the whole story. The master’s heart softened when he heard about the relationship that had grown between his slave and the lion.  As he thought about Androcles act of bravery and kindness, and the lion’s response of appreciation, the master gave Androcles and the lion their freedom. Both of them were returned to the forest to live their lives in peace.


On Giving Thanks for Being a Guest House

Thanksgiving is nearly upon us, so I’m of a mind to be thinking about all of the people, opportunities and things for which I am grateful. It is a very long list. And as I think about this bounty, I find my Catholic roots tugging at my awareness – in the back of my mind is this little voice that says, “don’t let yourself get too happy, you know it can’t last, you know it won’t last.”  There was a time when I would have caved into that indictment and would have felt guilty for venturing out into the waters of happiness. These days I’m letting myself bask in the bounty and appreciating the moments while the sun shines. Sure clouds will come, but all the more reason to enjoy and appreciate the sun while is shines.

So, as I was thinking about all of this, I tumbled across Rumi’s poem, ‘the guest house’ … I hope you enjoy it as much as I do . . .

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

— Jallaludin Rumi,
translation by Coleman Barks

And, of course you MUST remember that this poem was written by Rumi, so the welcome he proffers is for all who come to our door, regardless of his or her race, religion, national origin, sex, gender, ability or any of that!  And, yes, Rumi was born and lived in 13th century Persia, the country we now call Iran. And yes he was a practicing Sufi which many people understand as a mystical branch of Islam. Ah, Rumi . . . you call us to honor the best that we are. Today I am thankful for you!

The Story of Two Peaches and Three Warriors

Sunday morning I was thinking about a blog, and wanted to find something on wisdom and peace, particularly after the terrorist attacks on Paris. I must have been thinking about something else because I typed ‘peach’ into the search box instead of ‘peace.’  I found this story from China that still has me thinking, so of course I had to share it with you.

Once upon a time in the province of Qi, there were three brave warriors: Gongsun Jie, Tian Kaijiang and Gu Yezi. They were arrogant and overbearing in the court. The royal ministers found them hard to get along with and Duke Jing was increasingly irritated by their rudeness. When Prime Minister Yan Ying greeted them, they did not bother to acknowledge him. Yan Ying decided it was time to get rid of them.

“Jing,” the Prime Minister said, “those three warriors are getting too proud of themselves. They should be respectful of their ruler and other officials, but their behavior is setting a bad example to their juniors. Such soldiers cannot be relied on to fight for the country. Sooner or later, they’ll get out of control.”

“But what can we do? They are strong and skilled in fighting. You have no way to get rid of them. Shoot, you will miss. Fight, you will lose.” Jing replied.

But the Prime Minister said “They’ve only got physical strength. That’s all.”

One day some time later, Duke Zhao, of Lu Province visited the Royal Court of Qi. Duke Jing gave a banquet in his honor. After the main course, peaches were served. Peaches were a rare delicacy in Qi and there were only five on the table. One went to Duke Zhao of Lu, one to Duke Jing who gave the third one to Prime Minister Yan Ying.  The Prime Minister quietly asked Duke Jing let him decide who among the three warriors, who were also attending the banquet, would get the remaining two peaches. The Duke agreed, suspecting that his Prime Minister had something beyond peaches on his mind.

The Prime Minister stood and said, “I will give a peach to one of you who has the greatest merits,” Prime Minister Yan Ying said, as he looked at the three brave men. “Please tell me who deserves it.”

“I deserve it,” said Gongsun Jie. “I saved the Duke’s life when he was attacked by a boar during hunting.”

Prime Minister Yan Ying promptly awarded him a peach along with a glass of wine.

Gu Yezi the second warrior then rose to his feet. “I am also entitled to one. Once I escorted the Duke crossing a river. Suddenly a giant turtle sprang from under the water. Our boat was almost capsized. I jumped into the water, fought the animal and killed it. I nearly got drowned saving the duke’s life.”

Prime Minister Yan Ying nodded and awarded him the second of the two remaining peachs and a glass of wine.

Then the last one of the three warriors, Tian Kaijiang, stood up. “I saved the Duke’s life twice with my sword when he was attacked by the enemy in battle. Do you remember?”

“Yes, indeed I do remember,” said Prime Minister Yan Ying. “Your merits certainly are superior to the others, but you spoke too late. I can only offer you some wine now. But you’ll be awarded a peach next year.”

Tian Kaijiang was enraged. “Killing a boar or a giant turtle is fine.  But I fought the enemy to save the Duke. Now I am denied even have a peach, I’ll be a laughing stock.”  So he drew out his sword and killed himself.

Gu Yezi was stunned. “I’m not as good as Tian Kaijiang. Now he is dead because I took the peach that really belongs to him. I hate myself. I would be a coward not to die.” And saying this, he fell on his own sword.

Gongsun Jie looked on in consternation. “The three of us are always together. Now two are dead, what face have I got to live on?” So he, too, cut his own throat.

And with that, Qi, the Prime Minister and the Duke were free from the troubles of the three rude warriors.


While I am not enthralled with the idea of tricking three guys into killing themselves, the story did get me to thinking about the importance of understanding others – both adversaries and friends. And, it got me to thinking about the importance of not being too predictable!  And then, there is this proverb from China:

To fight a hundred battles and win a hundred is not supreme excellence; what would be more supreme is breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.


So  . . . keep on thinking my friends!


From http://history.cultural-china.com/Wise/wise66.html